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Microsoft Surface tablets are Windows 8-powered iPad rivals

Microsoft has entered the tablet fray, with the Surface slates -- two 10.6-inch, Windows 8 devices.

After years of watching and waiting, Microsoft has entered the tablet wars with the Surface tablets -- a pair of iPad-bothering 10.6-inch slates that are powered by Windows 8.

Surface RT and Surface Pro

The Surface tablets come in two versions, both of which have 10.6-inch displays and built-in kickstands. There's the Surface RT, which measures 9.3mm thick, weighs 676g, has microSD and USB ports stuck on its side and comes in 32GB or 64GB flavours.

Running Windows 8 RT, the Surface RT won't offer the full Windows desktop -- instead limiting itself to the tile-based Metro interface seen on Windows Phone devices -- but you do get a version of Microsoft Office at no extra charge.

The Surface Pro, meanwhile, is more like a touchscreen ultrabook, and will launch approximately 90 days later. This more serious bit of kit rides to battle with an Intel Ivy Bridge quad-core Core i5 CPU, a thicker 13.5mm frame, and either 64GB or 128GB of storage.

Powered by the full Windows 8 operating system (which means access to the Windows desktop), expect this beefier slate to be considerably more expensive.

Touch Cover

Microsoft has also crafted a cover for the Surface, which features a touch-sensitive keyboard, working with the built-in kickstand to transform the Surface into an impromptu laptop. This attaches magnetically like the iPad's smart cover, and is just 3mm thick. There's also a second 5mm-thick version, which features both trackpad and keyboard.

Set to be one nifty accessory, the Touch Cover powers down when it's folded against the tablet. Here's hoping it makes typing a good deal faster.

Price and release date

Microsoft's being cagey regarding these specifics. There's no word on cost, but Microsoft said its new toys would be "competitively priced", with the RT version sporting a price tag comparable to rival ARM tablets, and the Pro version comparable to ultrabook laptops.

In other words, expect to pay about £400 for the lighter, RT model, and somewhere in the region of £800 for the heavyweight Pro option. Personally I think it's vital that the Surface RT is cheaper than the most affordable iPad -- £399 -- otherwise it will really struggle.

The Surface will be in direct competition with Windows 8 devices from manufacturers such as Asus and Samsung, which could damage its odds of success. Microsoft hasn't given a release date, but I'd expect to see the Surface hitting shelves alongside Windows 8 -- in other words, later this year.

Would you take a chance on a Windows 8 tablet? Tell me in the comments or on our Facebook wall.