Microsoft is widely expected to simultaneously expand and shrink its lineup of Surface tablets next week by unveiling a smaller version of its flagship model.
Until now, all Microsoft’s offerings have been full-size tablets with 10.6-inch displays and prices from $450 and up, so the unconfirmed reports that one with an 8-inch screen is in the offing seem to indicate that the company is breaking into a new product category.
Windows RT Inside
Published reports indicate that this model — generally referred to as the Surface Mini — will have at least one significant difference from its rivals offered by Dell, Asus, and others: it will run Windows RT 8.1, not the standard version of Microsoft’s operating system. The already-available Surface 2 also runs this version, and that device is considerably less expensive than the Surface Pro 2, which uses standard Windows 8.1.
RT does not use the x86 processors that have been at the heart of Windows PCs since their inception, but is intended for a separate processor family designed by ARM. The Surface Mini is reportedly going to be built around a chip made by Qualcomm, not an Nvidia one like the Surface 2.
Windows RT and Windows look and act almost identically. The major difference is that RT is not backward compatible with software written for Windows 7 and earlier. It does, however, come with a version of Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote.
Display and Active Touchscreen
The exact size and resolution of the display for this mid-size model is not yet known, but Microsoft strongly discourages its licensees from making 7-inch models, so it will almost certainly be about 8 inches measured diagonally.
The Surface Mini is reportedly going to have a pressure-sensitive display, and will come with a pen/stylus. If done correctly, it will be well-suited for taking handwritten notes with OneNote, and this could be the feature that Microsoft most often uses to advertise this product.
Most tablets have touch-sensitive screens, but only a few take the next step of being pressure sensitive, which greatly improves on-screen drawing. The Surface Pro 2 is one of these devices, and that full-size tablet uses the much-praised Wacom technology for this feature, but it’s not yet known if the smaller version will as well.
As this computer remains in the rumor stage, it’s not surprising that there are still plenty of details that remain a mystery.
For example, will the Surface Mini have a silo to store its pen/stylus? The Surface Pro 2 does not, depending instead on magnets to hold this accessory onto the outside of its casing, a solution that is often criticized.
Also, will the tablet have a full-size USB slot? All current Surface models do, but this forces them to be thicker than many of their rivals.
Will Microsoft offer a keyboard for the Surface Mini? Those buying the other Surface tablets have the option of purchasing a clip-on keyboard, but it’s unknown whether there will be a smaller version of this accessory.
Some of the more tech savvy want to know what the aspect ratio will be. Previous Microsoft tablets have a 16:9 ratio, but an unconfirmed report points to the Mini having a 1400×1050 screen, giving it a 4:3 ratio. This is the the same one as the Apple iPad.
We’ll Know Soon
However, even if the device is announced next Tuesday it probably won’t be released at that time. Instead, it is expected to hit store shelves in June.