Hands-on with the new Microsoft Surface supertablet

The device is sleek and sexy, but can it hold up under pressure?
  When future historians look back at the evolution of the computer and corporate computing superiority, June 18, 2012 will be circled with red pen as a key date in history. On this day, Microsoft introduced the Surface, a revolutionary new supertablet product that helped the company regain its mantle as the market innovator, a mantle Apple stole long ago. Or, perhaps, this day will go down in history as a futile last-gasp attempt to stay relevant, much akin to how Polaroid and Eastman Kodak were a day late in jumping into the digital camera arena. The final verdict will, of course, be delivered on store shelves this fall.
At this moment in time, Apple is king of the tablet experience, with Android gaining ground. Microsoft is nowhere to be seen — nowhere, that is, until now. Meet the Microsoft Surface.
First Impressions
Without a doubt, the Surface is a sexy device. It's sleek — more angular than you'd expect, as if to set itself apart from the more rounded iPad. Though the Microsoft representatives made a big point about the device's low weight, it feels about as heavy as you'd expect. The Surface weighs in at 1.49 pounds, slightly heavier than the 1.44-pound iPad.
It's also hard to miss the unique shape of the Surface, which offers a 16:9 aspect ratio. That, combined with Microsoft's choice of Hollywood for the device's unveiling, all but screams, "I'm an entertainment device! You should use me to watch Netflix!" Indeed, that's what many will use this device for, but you have to wonder why, if the primary purpose of the device is streaming video and watching entertainment, you wouldn't just use a tried-and-tested Apple iPad instead.
MS Surface Keyboard
Microsoft made the keyboard attachments available for testing — or at least holding — and they felt pretty natural to the touch. As for the entry-level touch pad, think the felt underside of your iPad smart cover, but with slightly raised keys. The Surface Type version with actual keys was available, as well. Admittedly, the Surface Type keyboard felt the most natural to this born-and-raised PC user. Thankfully, with only 1.5mm worth of travel space on each key depress, even the Surface Type allows the new tablet to keep a low, compact profile.
But do you need one?
The Windows 8-powered Microsoft Surface fills a consumer void: A tablet that's powerful enough to deliver a full PC experience. But is it something you'll absolutely need? The jury is still out, if only because Microsoft is playing coy on price. A quick survey of my fellow press attendees produced a wide array of different opinions as to what, in Microsoft's words, "a price competitive with ARM-based tablets" means. Perhaps we're looking at $999 as an entry? Perhaps more, if you can argue that "more" is still competitive? There's a lot of wiggle room. But without a doubt, if this tablet is priced right (read: competitive with the most expensive iPad offerings), it could be a home run hit for Microsoft.
Microsoft truly believes that this is the future of computing. This device isn't a substitute for your home PC, this is your home PC. It's designed to do all the heavy lifting you'd expect from a desktop, from watching a movie to editing a photo using the memory-hungry Adobe Photoshop. Sadly, though, those of us in the press didn't get a chance to truly push the Surface to its limits. And before dropping a grand on a new gadget, the question of how the Surface handles under pressure is definitely one you'll want answered. What, exactly, do you have to sacrifice to get the highest level of portability?
If you're interested in seeing some Microsoft Surface eye candy, be sure to check out this video of the new Surface. But if you're looking for hard benchmarks, or specifics beyond the fact that an Intel i5 Ivy Bridge lives inside (much like an entry level MacBook Pro), you're sure to go wanting, at least until we approach the fall release date.
The final verdict
To be sure, what we got to see was impressive. But without true, extensive testing, it's hard to tell exactly how the Microsoft Surface compares to the competition. Perhaps that's not as important if you're talking about "just another Android tablet." But for the Surface, which bills itself as something far more powerful than your typical tablet experience, the most important selling point is about the only one the press was unable to verify. Don't take out a second mortgage for a Surface just yet. But keep your financial adviser on speed dial, just in case.