Can Microsoft challenge Apple for tablet dominance? The Redmond, Washington-based company is hoping to do just that with its Surface tablet with Windows RT, the pricing for which has just been released. It is clearly courting the iPad crowd, with an ultra-slim design, a re-imagined touch-friendly operating system, and a new ad full of bright colours and catchy pop-rock intended to give the new Surface tablets the same hip cachet that has brought Apple so much success. But while Microsoft may have Apple in its sights, the new Surface with Windows RT is its own beast.
When stacking the Surface against the iPad, the most direct comparison available is the 32GB Surface with Windows RT (available to pre-order for £399) and the 32GB Wi-Fi only Apple iPad (£479). That £80 price difference will lure a lot of budget-conscious buyers.
It's worth noting, however, that both tablets come in other configurations. The 32GB version of the Surface with Windows RT is also available for £479 bundled with a black Touch Cover, and a 64GB version bundled with a black Touch Cover is priced at £559. The Apple iPad, on the other hand, is available in a smaller 16GB capacity for £399, a larger 64GB model for £559, and all three capacities have configurations with 4G mobile data (16GB for £499, 32GB for £579, and 64GB for £659).
Surface with Windows RT has another big draw for undecided tablet buyers: the familiarity of Windows. Apple's iOS requires buying into the Apple ecosystem, an option at which many potential tablet buyers may balk. While Windows RT isn't exactly the same as Windows 8 (and certainly not Windows 7), the promise of easy compatibility with all of your existing documents and files - not to mention the business ramifications of fitting into a Microsoft-dominated IT world - is appealing.
The new Windows RT operating system is made to look and feel just like Windows 8 - the two also share a lot of the same code under the hood - but is designed to be lighter and speedier for use on ARM processors, like the Nvidia Tegra 3 T30 used in the new Surface. It does this, in part, by dropping all compatibility with traditional Windows software, opting instead for Windows Apps. Included on the slim tablet is a preview version of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT, which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote.
When it comes to hardware, however, it's a toss-up. We can't directly compare the Apple A5X dual-core processor to the Nvidia Tegra T30, but Apple pairs its processor with 1GB of RAM, while Microsoft beefs things up with 2GB. We'll need to test both in the PC Labs before we make further pronouncements.
Apple's iPad puts the Surface to shame with its Retina display, which has a whopping 2,048 x 1,536 resolution, as opposed to the Surface's ho-hum 1,366 x 768. The screen proportions are also slightly different, with the Surface's 10.6in display putting the familiar 16:9 aspect ratio into a handheld form factor.
The Surface offers 720p cameras both front and back, while the iPad offers a better rear-facing camera (1080p) but lower-res front-facing camera (VGA only), meaning that the Surface will offer better video in face-to-face chat, but not the full HD video shooting of the iPad.
And finally, the Surface offers a wider selection of ports than the iPad, with flexible interfaces like USB 2.0, a micro SDXC card slot, and an HD video-out port. This is in addition to the headphone jack and Cover port, which match up with the headphone jack and 30-pin docking connector of the Apple iPad.
For those who are willing to pay a premium for Apple's highly polished iPad experience, head to an Apple store. But for those who want greater flexibility, a better price, and maybe wish their tablet could be a little more like their laptop, the Surface with Windows RT may be the tablet for which they've been waiting.