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With a 1366×768 10.6-inch ClearType HD display, coated in tough Gorilla Glass, front and rear HD cameras, two microphones, expandable storage using SDXC cards, stereo speakers, a quad-core Tegra 3 CPU (similar to those found in Android smartphones and tablets) clocked at 1.3 GHz, 9 hours of battery life and a built-in kickstand than spans the full width of the tablet, Microsoft should be proud of what they have produced. It’s a beautiful device, and Windows RT looks gorgeous on the bright, clear display. It’s no Retina display, but it’s among the best available on a tablet, and the build quality is comparable with the iPad, which is high praise indeed. Microsoft has also developed the Touch Cover and Type covers. The first is a 3mm-thick cover that connects magnetically to the bottom of the device, and features a full capacitive keyboard, which Microsoft claims replicates a normal keyboard without adding any bulk to the device. The Type cover is 6mm thick, and features a full keyboard with physical keys. Both feature sensors that know when they are folded behind the device, preventing accidental key presses, and have tough, fleece-like exteriors to keep the device safe. Both are impressive engineering feats.
The Surface costs $499 for the 32GB tablet, or $599 with a black Touch cover. 64GB if storage will cost you $699. There’s no 3G or LTE available, its Wi-Fi only, and prices are comparable to the iPad. Touch cover is available in 5 hues, for $119.99, with the Type available in black for $129.99. Microsoft has pop-up stores appearing nationwide for the Surface launch, as it is only available directly from them in-store or online, though in-store is the safest bet as all online pre-orders sold out, leaving new purchasers waiting 3 weeks for the next batch.
Windows Phone, meanwhile, is the relative underdog of the smartphone world. Launched by Microsoft in 2010, it has struggled to gain a strong foothold, despite critical acclaim, well-received updates and several attractive pieces of hardware. Android is the all-conquering king, and iPhones continue to attract millions each year, though with RIM continuing its long, slow slide into insignificance, the time is ripe for Windows Phone to achieve something more than single-digit market share. Enter in this year’s update to the OS, Windows Phone 8, and with it the greatest emphasis on hardware that Microsoft has given since launching it over 2 years ago.
Windows Phones have been praised for their usability, with a slick, fast UI that is consistent across every device that runs it. Microsoft enabled this through a strict set of hardware requirements – all phones had to have the same type of processor, the same screen resolution, the same number of buttons and each had to offer at least the minimum set amount of RAM, camera resolution and screen size. It kept the experience consistent, but it also gave handset makers little room to play with. The first batch of Windows Phones were slick, and attractive, but, in comparison to their Android cousins, they lacked wow factor.