Microsoft Surface Tablet Ready to Face an iPad Test

Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT tablet became available for preorder online and in stores as a display expert bucked Microsoft's claim that the device's display outperforms the iPad 3's.

Microsoft is now accepting preorders for its Surface with Windows RT tablet, which will officially become available Oct. 26 with the launch of its Windows 8 operating system.

Models in 32GB (for $599) and 64GB (for $699) with black Touch Covers can be preordered for delivery by Oct. 26, but anyone wanting a 32GB model ($499) without the black Touch Cover will have to wait for up to three weeks, according to the Microsoft site.

Two features—the OS aside—make the tablet distinctly un-iPad-like: a built-in kickstand and covers with built-in keyboards that attach magnetically to instantly offer laptop-like usability. (Anyone questioning the effectiveness of the clicky magnets, or whom the tablet is intended for, may want to watch Microsoft's newest commercial.)

The Touch Cover, priced at $119.99 and available in red, white, magenta and cyan, has a pressure-response keyboard with a trackpad and Windows shortcut keys. The Type Cover, priced at $129.99, is a more traditional keyboard; Microsoft calls it "one of the thinnest mechanical keyboards available." It's a QWERTY with a row of function keys, Windows shortcut keys, media controls and a trackpad.

If you live near one of the Microsoft Stores—and if you don't, you may soon, or least soon be treated to a pop-up Holiday Store—physical vouchers are now being handed out, WPCentral first reported. Anyone wanting a Surface but not wanting to preorder online can secure a "Surface reservation pass" that he or she will need to return to the store with on Oct. 26 before noon.

The Surface measures 10.81 by 6.77 by 0.37 inches, weighs less than 1.5 pounds and runs an Nvidia T30 processor with 2GB of RAM. It has front and back cameras, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity options, a full-size USB 2.0 port and a 10.6-inch ClearType HD display. The display also has five-point multi-touch capabilities—a version of the Surface running the full Windows 8 OS, expected in three months' time, will have 10-point multi-touch—a resolution of 1366 by 768, an aspect radio of 16:9 and recently became the source of some controversy.

Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate recently performed a "shoot-out" between the Surface RT tablet, with its ClearType HD display, and the third-generation Apple iPad, which features In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology and a 2048 by 1536 resolution in its 9.7-inch display. As the Surface RT is currently unavailable, in its place Soneira used an Asus netbook with "almost identical" specs.

His motivation, he wrote in an undated blog post, was a Cnet article citing a comment by Microsoft engineer Steven Bathiche.

"Doing a side-by-side with the new iPad in a consistently lit room, we have had many people see more detail on Surface RT than on the iPad with more resolution," Batchiche wrote in a comment on Reddit.

Wanting to see for himself, Soneira ran the Safari browser on the Asus netbook, iPad and iPad 3, compared them side-by-side, with The New York Times Website pulled up.

"All three displays have the same 5.9-inch screen height in Landscape mode, so it was an excellent and very fair comparison," wrote Soneira.

While the Surface stand-in blew away the iPad 2, he found the iPad 3 to be significantly sharper.

"It is certainly possible that the Microsoft Surface RT Tablet will perform better than the Asus Netbook, but it is very unlikely that it will turn out to be visually sharper than the new iPad 3," Soneira continued. "On the other hand, the Windows Pro version of Surface will have a 1920x1080 208 PPI screen, and it is quite possible that it will be comparable in sharpness to the new iPad 3 with 2048x1536 264 PPI. It will be really interesting to compare them all."

Soneira plans to do just that when the Surface RT becomes available.