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Microsoft Reveals Pricing for Surface RT, Takes Preorders

Microsoft is now taking advance orders for its Windows RT-based Surface "tablet PC," the company announced on Tuesday.

Those interested can place their orders here, though the tablets will not ship until Oct. 26, the same day Windows 8 will become generally available. The displayed prices are only for Surface tablets running Windows RT, which uses ARM-based processors and is aimed at consumer users.

An x86-based Surface Pro running Windows 8 is scheduled to hit the market about 90 days after the Oct. 26 launch. Prices for the Windows 8-based Surface Pro are expected to be higher, based on a comment from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, with speculation in the $700 to $800 range.

Surface

Microsoft has noted a few differences between Windows RT- and Windows 8-based Surface machines. For instance, the Microsoft Office Home and Student RT preview edition comes preinstalled on Windows RT machines. Initially, this Office version, which is optimized for touch, will be a "preview," but it will automatically update to the full version at no extra charge via Windows Update, which is turned on by default in Windows RT systems. Also turned on by default in Windows RT systems is Windows Defender, a Microsoft anti-malware solution. Windows RT systems also come with drive encryption and a "connected standby" feature that instantly turns the machine on.

Windows RT-based Surface devices also have some limitations compared with their x86 Windows 8-based cousins. Domain joins using Windows RT devices can't be done. Windows RT users won't have the ability to use Microsoft's HomeGroup networking folder creation capability, although they can join an existing HomeGroup. Lastly, Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center aren't available to Windows RT users. However, Microsoft has previously indicated that Window Media Center will cost extra to use in Windows 8 machines and that Windows Media Player on Windows 8 machines will lack DVD playback capability.

Microsoft as Device Builder
Surface is a completely new device that the company first unveiled in June (see "'Surface' Observations About Microsoft's New Tablets"). It's built by Microsoft, which up to this point has relied on its hardware manufacturing partners to deliver new computing devices running Windows. Ballmer recently laid out a position statement for Microsoft, indicating that it will build its own hardware devices for specific markets, but many have seen its Surface move as a bid by Microsoft to catch up to runaway competition in the tablet space, dominated by Android and iOS. Microsoft has its own factory in China where it has overseen the manufacturing process for Surface, according to a blog post by Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Rotman Epps noted that Microsoft is now in a "cannibalistic" position where it's both supplier to, and competitor with, its hardware partners, which include Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Fujitsu, Samsung and Toshiba, among others. Moreover, Microsoft is entering the tablet competition about three years behind the leads of Android and Apple iOS-based machines.

At least Microsoft has entered the market with an interesting product that's distinguished by a thin, flat, "touch-cover keyboard" made out of magnesium, with a trackpad. It's also possible to order the Surface with a so-called "type-cover keyboard," which is a more traditional mechanical keyboard that contains all of the function keys. Both keyboards also serve as covers for the devices and will turn off the device's display to save power when closed.

Surface Pricing
Microsoft is pricing these devices based on storage and keyboard options. Those wanting 64 GB of storage can buy the Windows RT Surface for $699, which is about the same price as the new Apple iPad. Surface is also available with 32 GB of storage at $599. Both of those options come with black touch-cover keyboards.

It's also possible to buy Surface with 32 GB of storage without the touch-cover keyboard at $499. Optionally, Microsoft sells the touch covers separately for $119.99 in various colors (cyan, magenta, red and white). The type-cover keyboards are sold optionally, but only in black, for $129.99.

Surface devices come with a built-in kickstand. When it's set up, the kickstand points the rear-facing camera straight ahead for photo taking. The devices are capable of high-definition video output, but it requires the addition of an "HD Digital AV Adapter or VGA Adapter (each sold separately)," according to Microsoft's description. Here are the specs Microsoft has released for the Surface Windows RT models.

CPU NVIDIA T30 with 2 GB of RAM system memory
Storage 32 GB or 64 GB
Battery Up to 8 hours with mixed activity; idle time can last 7 to 15 days
Display 10.6-inch ClearType HD display, with resolution of 1366 x768, aspect ratio of 16:9 and five-point multi-touch capability

Wireless

Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0 technology

Cameras

Two 720p HD cameras, with one located at front and one in rear
Audio Two microphones, stereo speakers

Ports

Full-size USB 2.0, microSDXC card slot, headset jack, HD video out port, cover port
Sensors Ambient light sensor, accelerometer, compass and gyroscope
Exterior 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37 inches consisting of "VaporMg" casing in dark titanium color, with volume and power buttons
Weight Less than 1.5 pounds
Power Supply 24-Watt power supply
Apps (included) Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview (2), including Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word; Windows Mail and Windows Messaging; SkyDrive; Windows Internet Explorer 10; Bing; Xbox Music, Xbox Video and Xbox Games
Warranty One-year limited hardware warranty and 90 days of no-charge tech support

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About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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