The Microsoft tablet Surface is unveiled during a news conference at Milk Studios in Los Angeles, California. AFP
As journalists get their first chance to put Microsoft's eagerly awaited Surface RT tablet through its paces, the company claims that it is better than a tablet or a notebook.
When Microsoft Surface was first demonstrated back in June, it was notable because it was very hands off. The invited journalists were unable to play with or even hold the devices themselves, leaving many to speculate that the tablet was far from complete and had only been demonstrated to upstage Google, which was about to announce its own 7-inch Nexus tablet.
However, as the device becomes officially available for preorder ahead of its October 26 launch, Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to impress the tech community, including demonstrating the device's strengths as a skateboard, and journalists have finally been able to get to grips with the device and share their thoughts with the wider world.
Chief among them has been Wired's Mat Honan, who was invited to the company's Redmond HQ to see the lab where the Surface was developed. It was an event where Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's head of Windows development claimed: "I've used a lot of tablets and this is not a tablet but it is the best tablet I've ever used. And I've used a lot of notebooks and laptops and this is not a notebook or a laptop but it is also the very best laptop I've ever used. It is a new kind of device."
A bold statement that some industry observers like Business Insider read as a statement of indecision rather than of intent. Honan was quick to point out in his report that the Surface is aimed directly to counter the iPad and not the wealth of Android tablets on the market. He was impressed by how the device felt and in particular the touch screen. Of the touchcover keyboard, which until the event, no one other than Microsoft employees had even touched, he said: "It was responsive and impressive and, well, weird. Keys fired well, but other aspects, like the track pad or pressing keyboard combinations, felt odd."
Others, including CNBC's Job Fortt have chosen to focus on what sets it apart from Apple's iPad. "Surface has some things going for it. For starters, the $499 price comes with twice as much storage as the entry-level iPad, 32 gigabytes vs. 16 gigabytes. Office, one of the most popular software suites around, comes preloaded. This amounts to a big bet on Microsoft's part that tablet buyers value Office so much that it will influence what tablet they buy."
All Things D went one step further and has produced a table that directly compares the features of the Surface with the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 While all three are competitive in terms of price, the Surface won on storage (32GB as standard), screen size (10.6-inch compared with 9.7-inch for the iPad and 10.1-inch for the Samsung) and cameras -- as it is the only tablet of the three to feature 720p HD cameras front and rear. However, the iPad wins on screen resolution (2048x1536 pixels compared with 1366x760 pixels for the Surface) and the Samsung, at 1.31 pounds is the lightest of the three models.
The Microsoft Surface RT is available to pre-order online and goes on sale in US and Canada in Microsoft stores on October 26. Priced at $499 for the entry-level model, it will also be available online in the UK, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia and China following the official launch.