After the Surface announcement, Darren Yates considers what we still really don't know about Microsoft’s new Windows 8 tablets.
Microsoft has released a limited specification sheet on its new tablets – you can read it right here
- but after reading it, I’ve got plenty more questions than answers.
1. Why are Intel-based tablets always heavier than ARM-chipped models?
The word is the Windows 8 Pro tablet will be powered by a low-power Intel Core i5 chip while the Windows RT unit will run an Nvidia ARM processor. If that’s the case, then it continues the tradition of Intel-based tablets being considerably heavier than ARM tablets. Frankly, 903 grams is a lot to carry in your hand – and we complained about the 650 grams of the new 2012 iPad!
2. What's the Windows RT model’s processor?
Given the inclusion of Microsoft’s own Office Home & Student 2013 RT software, all eyes will be on the Win RT version as the mass-market model. So it’s pretty important to know which Nvidia ARM processor this will be running – will it be the dual-core Tegra 2 or the quad-core Tegra 3? Not only will the choice affect overall performance but it’ll have a significant effect on battery life too.
3. “Micro HD video” port?
It sounds silly but it’s a question worth asking. Android tablets are now routinely appearing with various versions of HDMI, but with the Windows 8 Pro tablet incorporating a mini DisplayPort output, Microsoft needs to choose the port here carefully. And don’t kid yourself it’s not important – with Google Play and Apple doing big business with online movie rentals, tablets are fast becoming the next-generation DVD player and HDMI output is critical for simple big-screen movie playback.
4. MicroSD vs MicroSDXC?
Assuming the Windows RT version is based on Nvidia’s ARM platform, the microSD card slot should be at least capable of 32GB cards, which should make it a MicroSDHC slot. Specifying the Windows 8 Pro model’s card slot as an SDXC (64GB up) type just adds to the confusion of exactly what’s being offered in the RT model. I’d assume it’s a MicroSDHC slot but Microsoft could be more helpful here.
5. Battery life?
The different battery capacities here are intriguing and could very well tell us a lot about the power efficiency of the two platforms. The fact Microsoft has gone for an iPad-sized 42-watt-hour unit in the Windows 8 Pro version as opposed to just a 31.5-watt-hour model in the Win RT tablet is significant. If both end up giving the same battery run time, it’ll give you a pretty good idea of the power consumption of each. And for the record, Apple gets 10 hours from its 42-watt-hour battery – can the Windows 8 Pro tablet top that?
6. Screen resolution?
Although we know both tablets will share a 10.6-inch widescreen LCD panel, we don’t know the exact resolution of the Windows RT model other than “HD”. The "full HD” offering in the Windows 8 Pro tablet clearly means 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. But unfortunately “HD” (high definition) is pretty vague and in TV land, simply means anything above DVD spec (720 x 576-pixels). Apple’s iPad 2 with its 1,024 x 768-pixel panel is technically ‘HD’, but Surface (Win RT) will need to be 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels) to compete with the bulk of the Android tablet market.
7. USB 2.0 versus USB 3.0?
The lack of USB 3.0 on the Windows RT tab may be a limitation in the ARM platform – at this stage we don’t know. But it’ll be important to know just what type of USB 2.0 port Microsoft is offering here. Is it a host port (meaning you can plug your printer or portable hard drive into it) or is it just an “upstream” port, meaning it’s supposed to just connect to your PC and act as a peripheral-only type port? A third option is what’s called a USB OTG (On The Go) port, which means it can do both. These exist in some Android tablets so it’ll be worth knowing how Microsoft implements USB here.
8. Gaming performance?
If the Windows RT tab comes with a video output port of some description that supports HD video of one type or another, what level of CPU performance will it come with? Will it be limited to just video playback? What gaming speed will it have? According to Microsoft’s Developer Network, MSDN, Windows RT tablets are not required to support features beyond DirectX 9.1-level, so we probably wouldn’t hold your breath for a top-drawer Crysis 2 kind of experience.
9. Wireless connectivity?
At this stage, the only hint of wireless connectivity is the mention of two MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) antennae in both models. MIMO is just as important to 3G/4G as it is to 802.11n Wi-Fi, so it doesn’t tell us much. Still, you’d have to expect at least 802.11n Wi-Fi networking to compete with most Nvidia Tegra 2-based Android tablets. As for 3G/4G options, it’ll depend on the data connectivity modules Microsoft chooses. Apple got stuck earlier this year by selecting a single-frequency option for its iPad 4G module that, while fine for the US, wasn’t compatible with Australia’s existing 4G network. Hopefully, Microsoft won’t make the same mistake.
This is obviously the key question Microsoft has to answer. The cheapest 10-inch tablet you’ll find in Australia is currently the Acer Iconia Tab A200 from Officeworks at $369, featuring Google’s Android 4.0 operating system. However, it comes with only the dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 ARM chip. Most tabs using the quad-core Tegra 3 chip sell for around the $500-600 mark. A price much beyond that might make it difficult for Microsoft to compete.
To see what might just be the secret weapon embedded in Microsoft's Surface tablet strategy, read this