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Microsoft announces its Surface tablet: a good writing device?

June 18, 2012 |  5:33 pm

Microsoft_surface_debut

On Monday, Microsoft entered the world of tablets with Surface, announced in Los Angeles. It's Microsoft hardware designed for Microsoft software, with two models, the consumer-friendly Surface RT and the Surface Pro, meant for professionals. The prices were not announced.

That's partly because the Surface isn't available yet -- the Surface RT will debut in tandem with Windows 8. But Windows 8's release date, which has been the subject of much speculation, has not been announced. The Surface Pro is expected to arrive three months later. If I were guessing, I'd say they're aiming for a pre-holiday consumer release, and a professional release in early 2013. But I really have no idea.

Indeed, other than a lot of detail about the tablet's physical prorperties, we didn't learn much about what'll be happening inside Surface. We can assume it will be able to run Microsoft's suite of programs -- Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. -- and they showed (after a demo hiccup) that it can stream Netflix.

But bookish people will be curious (at least I am) about whether the Surface tablet, like Apple's iPad and the Kindle Fire, can serve as an e-reader. Maybe -- if an e-reader is built into Windows 8, which is of course a really big if. Because like so much else connected to Monday's event, the details of Windows 8 have not been announced.

If its capacity as a reading device was left unexplained, the Surface does seem to present great potential as a writing device. It comes with one of two kinds of covers, one flat and one deeper, both of which fold out as full-sized keyboards. For anyone who's tried and failed to adapt well to the compressed iPad onscreen keyboard, the idea of writing on a full-sized keyboard that's integrated into the tablet's functioning sounds fantastic. And it can be used with a stylus, which writes freehand on the screen -- if it's fully integrated with how the software works, that's a second way to write and edit.

Yes, writing on Microsoft's Surface will probably mean you'll have to use Word. So there's also a downside.

There was one strange bone thrown to books. Microsoft's Panos Panay, who designed the products, told the assembled journalists: "This spine feels like a book. You'll hold it like a book. It will feel like it's another book when you carry it with books." So books remain in the mix -- at least as a design reference.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Screenshot from Microsoft's Surface website.

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