(Credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET)Editors' note: This story was updated on November 29, 2012 with additional details on pricing, availability, and battery life.
The Windows 8 version of Microsoft's Surface tablet will be hitting store shelves in January 2013 at $899 for the 64GB version and $999 for the 128GB version.
The "Surface Pro" is the more powerful version of the current Surface tablet, which debuted on October 26 for $500. That original Surface tablet has received mixed reviews (including from CNET), largely because of its Windows RT operating system, a less powerful variant of Windows 8 that includes some notable limitations.
If the Surface RT tablet represents a direct assault by Microsoft on the "computer-light" tablets like Apple's iPad and its various Android-based competitors, the forthcoming Surface Pro seems like a more significant attempt to reinvent laptop computing. Its design is very close to that of the Surface RT tablet -- 10.6-inch touch-screen display, magnet-connected keyboard cover -- but the Surface Pro also ships with a full-fledged, third-generation Intel Core i5 processor, not the less powerful (and less power hungry) ARM process found on the Surface RT.
The combination of the full Intel CPU and the full version of Windows 8 brings the ability to run traditional desktop PC software programs (in addition to all of the apps that Windows RT can run).
|Surface with Windows 8 Pro||Surface with Windows RT|
|Screen size and resolution||10.6 inches, 1,920x1,080||10.6 inches, 1,366x768|
|Dimensions (HWD)||10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 inches||10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37 inches|
|Weight||<2 pounds||1.5 pounds|
|CPU||Intel Core i5||Nvidia Tegra 3|
|Storage capacity||64GB (128GB option)||32GB (64GB option)|
|Ports||USB 3.0, microSDXC, headphone, DisplayPort video out||USB 2.0, microSDXC, headphone, HD video out|
Microsoft has also confirmed that the Surface Pro is expected to have half the battery life of the Surface RT tablet. That would net out to four to five hours -- not exactly notable for a tablet or a laptop.
The Surface Pro starts at $899 for 64GB of storage, or $999 for a 128GB configuration. Comparatively, the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T, a Windows 8 tablet that will also have a Core i5 CPU option, is currently listed for $1,199. It may be more affordable, but the Surface Pro still sits firmly in laptop territory, and will find itself in competition with a broad array of other Windows 8 devices.
Whether the Surface Pro is the best product in its price range will be determined. We've already seen a number of hybrid and convertible laptop/tablet designs from Microsoft's usual hardware partners, including the Lenovo Yoga 13, the Dell XPS 12, and the Acer Iconia W700.
The Surface Pro will compete with those devices and others. One advantage for Microsoft's design might be the snap-on keyboard cover (in either the soft Touch or mechanical Type variation), which seems an effective blend of tablet portability with a full typing surface. Many of the other hybrid or convertible designs out there look cumbersome or flimsy in comparison, but those keyboards will cost Surface owners extra.
tablets and hybrids, it also presumes you've eliminated Android, iOS, and OS X devices.
In that narrow head-to-head, the Surface Pro seems the most fully realized device. Because it uses an ARM-based CPU, the Surface RT can only run software sold via the Microsoft's Windows RT app store. As we found in our review, the RT app selection is rather barren at the moment. Microsoft also requires Web sites that run Flash to pass an approval system in order to run on Windows RT's Web browser, Internet Explorer 10.
Between those two factors, it's not unlikely that you will find some program or a Web-based tool that the Surface RT cannot run. That hurts the Surface RT's suitability as a productivity tool. Because the Surface Pro uses the full version of Windows 8, you have less risk of meeting a software roadblock.
Of course, the Surface RT only costs $499. The higher price tag might be worth it if the Surface Pro really can work as a laptop and a tablet, but some are already calling the lackluster battery life a dealbreaker. We'll find out definitively once we have a chance to test the Surface Pro when it ships in January 2013.