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Microsoft's Windows Surface tablet will launch in Australia next Friday, October 26, starting at $559 and ranging up to $779, with pre-orders now available through the online Microsoft Store.
The base model of the 10.6 inch Windows tablet with 32GB of storage comes fully kitted out with 2GB of RAM, WiFi and Bluetooth.
There are front- and rear-facing 720p HD cameras, plus a microSD memory card slot and full-size USB 2.0 port – no fiddling with tiny plugs!
However, Microsoft seems to have opted for a proprietary 'HD video out port', for which you'll need a near-$60 Surface HD Digital AV Adapter to hook up to an HDMI display.
Still, that's a pretty solid-sounding package for under $600, and we think the inbuilt kickstand which props the tablet up towards the user is a clever little touch.
That price doesn't get you the unique pressure-sensitive Touch Cover which protects the screen but flips forward to act as a wafter-thin (3mm) keyboard to create a stunning ultrabook-tablet hybrid.
The 32GB Surface with Touch Cover sells for $679; shoot for 64GB of storage and things top out at $779.
You can also buy Touch Covers on their own at $140.
Note that none of these tablets comes with 3G or 4G mobile broadband: if that degree of connectivity is paramount to you, we suggest you keep a 3G-WiFi modem at hand.
The highly-anticipated Surface tablet is a standout for two reasons beyond the product itself.
For starters, it's the first time Microsoft has produced anything near its own PC: the company has previously drawn the line at the Xbox game consoles, keyboards, mice and the like.
However, determined not to have Windows miss the tablet Tsunami and not willing to leave its fate in the hands of PC manufacturers churning out uninspiring designs, Microsoft has in effect jumped into competition with its hardware partners.
As a result, the Surface's eye-catching design, sub-700 gram weight and Twiggy-esque 9.4mm width – not to mention the undeniable 'wow' factor and affordable price points – are exactly what Microsoft feels to gain traction in the tablet market.
Secondly, this debut model of Surface runs a special lightweight version of Windows 8 called Windows RT.
Windows RT (which stands for 'Run-Time' and couldn't possibly be burdened with a more geeky, less appealing moniker) has in turn been built around the low-power ARM processors common to most tablets, including the iPad and its Android challengers.
You don't get the full-blown Windows 8 experience but you get the next best thing: core Windows features and functionality, including the slick new 'Metro' user interface, in a slim light package with all-day battery life.
There's even a special RT version of Microsoft Office 2013 – including Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote – bundled into the Surface, so right out of the box you're ready to get to work.
And while you won't be able to run regular Windows software on Windows RT, Microsoft is lining up a fleet of new Windows RT apps to be available through Microsoft’s online Windows Store
If you want the full-blown Windows operating system, with full desktop-grade features and the ability to use all your favourite software, Microsoft will serve that up on a second edition of the Surface in the early 2013.
For more details, click through to Surface.com.
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