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Microsoft-branded tablets rise to the 'Surface'

week in review The company joins the tablet wars in earnest this week with its own thin and shiny slates that some say might provide real competition for Apple's iPad. Also, Windows Phone 8.

week in review Microsoft stole the tech news spotlight this week, initially byintroducing its first Microsoft-branded tablet device, the Surface, which effectively helps it play catch-up in the competitive iPad-led tablet market. And then at the same developer conference, it made its next-generation mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8, official and promised the OS would ship on handsets starting this fall.

Microsoft is breaking with its traditional business model by building and branding its own Surface tablet, effectively competing with its own hardware partners such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Lenovo. The company has so far avoided irritating manufacturers that churn out Windows PCs, tablets, and phones. But the game has apparently changed with mobile devices. In addition to Surface, rumor has it Microsoft is working on its own branded phone device.

Surface tablets, not to be confused with their table-top cousin (now renamed Microsoft PixelSense), will be available in two versions. The first, running Windows RT -- effectively the "light" version of Windows 8 -- will launch in the fall, around the same time Windows 8 does, and run on an as-yet-unnamed ARM CPU. While it won't have the full desktop version of Windows 8, running only the Metro apps available through the Windows app store, it will include a version of Microsoft Office at no additional charge.

Now playing: Watch this: Microsoft's Surface tablet

About three months later, a Windows 8 Pro version of the tablet will follow. The Pro will offer the full Windows 8 OS running on an Intel Ivy Bridge CPU (the same chip found in ultrabooks and other laptops). The Pro version will also be slightly thicker, offer a more robust battery, and boast better peripheral support (USB 3.0 versus 2.0, DisplayPort, and an SDXC expansion slot) and twice the storage capacity of the RT version.

Microsoft has yet to release any pricing or availability on the two Surface models, making them hard to compare with tablet competition. CNET's Dan Farber points out that in not making the hardware available to the press on the preview day or before -- or to customers soon after -- it appears to be creating a sort of market freeze.

Still, at first glance, by most accounts, the Surface is kind of awesome. From magnetic, hydrophobic, touch keyboards to a built-in stand that's been acoustically tuned somewhat like a door on a luxury car, Microsoft is positioning the Surface as a premium device.

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