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Microsoft Surface Tablet Hands-on: The Future of Windows

Microsoft says Windows 8 re-imagines its OS, and now we have hardware that re-imagines tablets to match. We just spent some time with the Surface for Windows RT tablet, an ARM-powered magnesium beauty with a built-in kickstand and very unique Touch Cover keyboard that does Apple's Smart Cover one better. Here's our initial impressions.

Made out of magnesium, the Surface is solidly built, yet light for a 10-inch tablet. At 1.5 pounds, it's a bit heavier and thicker than the iPad, but you're getting more real estate. It's also fairly thin, at just 0.4 inches thick. We liked the sturdy build, as well as the beveled edges, which made holding it fairly comfortable.

The tablet's integrated kickstand, which is quite sizable, also feels very sturdy for something so thin. Two small indentations on the long ends of the Surface allow you to flip it out easily, but we, along with some others here, struggled at first to figure it out. It was a small learning curve, though. 

Aside from the kickstand, the other big hardware feature is the magnetic cover with the built-in keyboard. One version uses a touch-sensitive keyboard and touchpad, which measures how hard you press on its felt-like surface. It measures just 3 mm thick. A more traditional keyboard, with mechanical keys and touchpad, is about 5mm thick. Both snap on firmly to the tablet, and, in a neat trick, will change the background color of the Surface to match the color of the keyboard.

While a Microsoft representative said that typing on the touch keyboard was twice as efficient as typing on glass, the lack of any give still means it'll be less efficient than typing on a traditional layout. However, we did like the way it integrates with the Surface, and are a little surprised that something like this hasn't come out for the iPad yet.

Both tablets have a 10.6-inch ClearType display with Gorilla Glass. In our very brief hands-on time, flicking through menus and opening items was quick and smooth, and the screen had very wide viewing angles, too. Microsoft is being a little cagey on the resolution of the screen, though.

The RT version of the tablet will run an Nvidia Tegra processor, and measure about 0.4 inches thick and weigh 1.5 pounds. It will have a full-size USB 2.0 port, and come in 32GB and 64GB sizes. It will cost roughly the same as other ARM-based tablets--we're guessing in the $500 range--and be available right around the same time as Windows 8, later this year.

The Windows 8 Pro version will be a slightly thicker 0.53 inches, and come in at a heavier 2 pounds. That's because this tablet will have an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor. Unlike the RT version, this Surface tablet will have a USB 3.0 port, and support Pen input with palm rejection. Microsoft says that it will come in 64GB and 128GB flavors, and will be available about three months after Windows 8.