Surface mini: A few more details about the upcoming device

The Surface mini is a device that has been rumored for well over a year. As the name implies, it will be a smaller iteration of Microsoft's Surface tablets, though specifics have remained a bit of a mystery, as several launch dates of when it might be released have come and gone. But, as with any good product, the details do eventually start to make their way out from the confines of Redmond, and we have a few more tidbits about the device that give us a better indication of what to expect when the device does arrive. 

For starters, we already know that the device will be in the 7- to 8-inch class, but that's really about it in terms of size. You can expect Microsoft will continue with the same Surface design language as the other devices with similar materials and build quality.

Marketing

The 8-inch tablet market is generally considered to be for "consumption-class" devices. With a smaller screen, it's not ideal for the Office suite, as the tinier display confines usability for power users. Sure, with Windows 8.1 on many of the devices, getting work done is feasible but not as desirable as on a proper laptop or a larger Surface tablet. So with the Surface mini, Microsoft will be positioning the device as a note-taking device.

Why note taking? Microsoft likes to market products at what they are designed to be used for, and for the Surface mini, it will be all about taking notes. That's not really a surprise; Microsoft wants the Surface brand to represent functionality and entertainment across the gamut, and with Surface 2 coming with Office out of the box, they want the Surface mini to be associated with note-taking. 

Pen Input

The Surface mini will support pen input – a proper pen, too, not an old-fashioned stylus. This means it should include support Wacom digitizer (or something comparable), as proper pen support needs this additional functionality. The pen support is obvious for a note-taking device and will help to make the Surface mini competitive in the market, as the 8-inch class of devices is filled with quality products. Beyond the branding, the Surface mini will need to compete on all hardware and software levels if Microsoft hopes to move any units, hence the pen input support.

Supply Chain

There has been a lot of speculation that the Surface mini was supposed to launch in the fall with the Surface 2 line of products. Admittedly, I had heard this information as well and now understand the source of the supply chain information, but as it pertains to the Surface mini, know that it was a business decision to not launch the tablet in the fall. 

The basis of the information of the issues with supply chain revolve around the fact that the Surface 2 was out of stock for quite awhile on Microsoft's own site and at some of their retailers as well. The connection seems logical – Microsoft can't make Surface 2 fast enough, so surely there is an issue with mini as well – but that's not what I'm hearing. 

Apps

Microsoft has a fantastic note-taking app in OneNote, and with the Surface mini, there might be more to the story. Now, the details here are a bit light, but we know that Microsoft is working the make the mini the "best note-taking tablet" on the market, and this could include new apps or modifications to existing apps to make them work better on the mini and with the pen. 

Microsoft is constantly updating is suit of applications on Windows and the improvements here will focus around using them on a smaller screen. While there are devices that are currently in this class of device, and we know that the apps work in the 8-inch tablet space, look for further optimization in the near future.

Release

The big question everyone wants to know is when they can get their hands on the device. While we wish we had some hard data here, we can give a bit more color to this subject. We are hearing several things, one is that the tablet is not dead. Not sure where this came from, but the Surface mini is alive and will make its way to the market in 2014. 

We have also heard from a couple of sources that it could arrive soon, as in the Spring, and this aligns to what Mary Jo Foley had heard as well. Specifically, we have heard that the mini is actually done, so it's really up to Microsoft to pull the retail switch to release the device. Knowing that, it could really come at any time, as soon as Microsoft wants to make the announcement.

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58 Comments

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It will get there. With all the latest stuff on BUILD Im pretty sure there will be more and more 'cross-over' coming.

On topic: whatever OS on the Mini, I really hope MS can keep the price in check.
If it's $300 or less, it will sell like hotcakes.
But like with the Pro, the addition of a Wacom layer might not help the price ;-)

But which operating system will it have? The most important question was missing. Windows RT doesn't support pen input as far as we know and an x86 architecture might not be as efficient.

I would imagine it will have RT, much much better battery life and once office modern is released later this year and wp and rt merged will be an excellent device.

korupt_one said,
much much better battery life

Not really tbh. The latest Bay Trail tablets are as good as their Surface counterparts in video.

Where x86 falls over, is in the "legacy" or "classic" apps, which aren't, and never have been, designed for power efficiency (wheras Metro apps by nature, suspend in the background)

tiadimundo said,
Windows RT doesn't support pen input as far as we know .

Here's hoping they've ported the Wacom driver over to Windows RT.

Oh man I'm totally keen on this. 8" Surface, Ultrabook (or larger Surface, maybe 13") and my desktop.. Chuck in a 930, and I'll have my perfect setup this year.

I have no interest in using a pen so this device sounds pointless to me. Hopefully there are other aspects about it that are worth highlighting.

Avatar Roku said,
I have no interest in using a pen so this device sounds pointless to me. Hopefully there are other aspects about it that are worth highlighting.

you can just not use the pen?

I'll buy this day one. I use my Gen 1 Surface pro hours a day and an 8 inch version would fit right in to my needs.

Pen input would also benefit review processes (i.e. track changes/comments) for Office documents; I'd see that as a major use-case for a 8" Surface.

I am will be very interesting on an 8inch Surface mini. The only thing I am worrying about is the screen resolution. I hope the learn from the first Surface mistake and introduce a high-resolution, high-ppi screen.

I totally agree using that resolution on a 8" device for the traditional Windows desktop is going to be borderline unusable but if we consider Surface and Surface mini as consumer oriented devices that (in the case of the mini, may) run on Windows RT and that the eventual end-game is to remove the desktop (once Office runs as modern apps like on iPad) then 1080 resolution will work great on metro apps and video playback.

spc1972 said,
I totally agree using that resolution on a 8" device for the traditional Windows desktop is going to be borderline unusable but if we consider Surface and Surface mini as consumer oriented devices that (in the case of the mini, may) run on Windows RT and that the eventual end-game is to remove the desktop (once Office runs as modern apps like on iPad) then 1080 resolution will work great on metro apps and video playback.

What about Outlook?....

Bay Trail based and it will be a runaway success. Cripple it with that RT crap and you may as well stick with what's out there now. As its Microsoft, they will probably go the crippled route.

efjay said,
Bay Trail based and it will be a runaway success. Cripple it with that RT crap and you may as well stick with what's out there now. As its Microsoft, they will probably go the crippled route.

I'd rather it be RT without a desktop.

Indeed. If only they could manage to get the Modern version of Office out at the same time as the Surface mini and do away with the desktop completely. That would represent a hugely capable device (consumption and productivity) that would be ideal in the consumer and BYOD markets.

I wouldn't mind if they could go full blown Windows 8.1 with an optional docking station to hook up to my current desktop setup. I wouldn't mind that to replace my aging PC. It would also make sense of Windows 8.1 and upcoming Threshold for being a combined mobile/desktop OS.

Anthony Tosie said,

I'd rather it be RT without a desktop.

Then MS needs to improve the file management tools in Modern, one of the few things that really bothers me on the Modern side. The Onedrive app is ok, but for serious management I still drop into the desktop and use Explorer.

What desktop apps are people running on an 8" tablet? I do not understand people.

Why would you ever touch the desktop on a machine like this? The screen is too small and the processor too weak for desktop productivity or games.

Avatar Roku said,
What desktop apps are people running on an 8" tablet? I do not understand people.

Why would you ever touch the desktop on a machine like this? The screen is too small and the processor too weak for desktop productivity or games.

Windows Explorer, Outlook, OneNote in its full glory... just few examples.... Others might have different priorities.

Cosmocronos said,

I would not....

And that's fine. But I would seriously doubt if you fit in with what the majority of users need from a small-screen tablet. The desktop is a terrible interface for a tablet, let alone one with a smaller screen. That was already proven with the terrible experience of Windows 7 tablets, then again with Office on average-sized tablets.

Anthony Tosie said,

And that's fine. But I would seriously doubt if you fit in with what the majority of users need from a small-screen tablet. The desktop is a terrible interface for a tablet, let alone one with a smaller screen. That was already proven with the terrible experience of Windows 7 tablets, then again with Office on average-sized tablets.

Speak for yourself.

We deployed thousands of Windows 7 TabletPC and the users loved them.

(People forget that a few metric changes in the UI and it became very touch/pen friendly. Thankfully we made these changes for the users, as it is sad to see 'tech' minded people try to use the device without the changes and then complain how 'hard' it is for them.)

Mobius Enigma said,

Speak for yourself.

We deployed thousands of Windows 7 TabletPC and the users loved them.

(People forget that a few metric changes in the UI and it became very touch/pen friendly. Thankfully we made these changes for the users, as it is sad to see 'tech' minded people try to use the device without the changes and then complain how 'hard' it is for them.)


I do speak for myself. I also speak for the facts of the colossal bombing of any and every Windows 7 tablet commercially released as well as every review of those tablets from reputable outlets.

Anthony Tosie said,

I do speak for myself. I also speak for the facts of the colossal bombing of any and every Windows 7 tablet commercially released as well as every review of those tablets from reputable outlets.

Wow, so I can safely assume you never used a Windows 7 TabletPC, nor have you read any reviews of a Windows 7 TabletPC.

Do yourself a favor, hit up a search: Windows 7 TabletPC

If you want, I can post about 30 positive reviews from just the first couple of results pages. They are even from several 'reputable' outlets, that carry more weight that even Neowin. ;)

TabletPCs were considered to be successful in their time and got decent reviews even back when they were running on WinXP that wasn't as tailored to the touch and stylus as Windows 7.

With Windows 7, there were a few touch screen devices, and one HP Slate that sold out, but HP got money from Google to stop producing it. (Use your journalism and a couple of calls to confirm this.) Even as crappy as it was and 'forced' to be released by Microsoft because of the CES unveiling, it was still well received and got ok reviews, and it wasn't a full TabletPC.

Enterprise shipped tens of millions of TabletPCs, and they worked well in several industries, and yes WERE WELL RECEIVED by users.

PS The metrics and options I am talking about that are baked into Windows 7, allow the desktop to function like iOS or Android if you know the settings. It really doesn't take a genius to turn on one click to open, enlarge title bars/borders, item checkboxes, and a few policy settings.

I don't mind that you disagree with me, but if you never worked with these devices, and are only going by a few reviews, and yet you know I have worked with these devices, why do you assume you understand them better than I? I wouldn't be as bold to make such an assumption.

You started out with an incorrect assumption (an assumption by your own admission) and then get mad at me for an "assumption" that is actually an opinion? OK then.

You're taking this way too personally. I disagreed with you. I didn't insult you in any way.

Anthony Tosie said,

And that's fine. But I would seriously doubt if you fit in with what the majority of users need from a small-screen tablet. The desktop is a terrible interface for a tablet, let alone one with a smaller screen. That was already proven with the terrible experience of Windows 7 tablets, then again with Office on average-sized tablets.

To each his own.... I fell in love with the Tablet concept when I bought a Toshiba 3505, in 2002, running.... XP Tablet. Not to mention using WM on a Motorola MPX 200 with a 2.2" screen.

I don't know if the Surface Mini will see the light of day. If it was reasonably close to being released, they would have announced it during the BUILD keynote(s).

Surface has always gotten it's own event to announce. And the event is usually around the summer time.

There may be another BUILD conference this year.

Avatar Roku said,
Surface has always gotten it's own event to announce. And the event is usually around the summer time.

There may be another BUILD conference this year.

Indeed, it's not that unlikely that Microsoft will announce another Build conference for later this year. After all, Windows 9 is rumored to be with us next year, in that case, they still have some announcements to do. If we can follow the timeframe for 8.1 announced in May, preview in June, release in October. Then they might announce Windows 9 (by the way, could also be 8.2 or 8.5, etc.), then it will be announced in November and preview in December with its release in April. Build 12 was also held in November. It could.

Hurry up. I'm really looking forward to this and wouldn't mind if it'd run RT either. No viruses, toolbars, sneaky crapware, etc. to worry about.

I'm planning to use it mainly as a internet surfing device, on the couch or in the bed. Full windows not really needed.

I expect a 8" device and a price tag starting at $299. I would have originally said a Snapdragon 800 or maybe a new 801 SoC but it seems people like the idea of x86 mini-tablets more at this point so MS could come out with a new Atom x86 tablet to. Guess we'll have to wait and see what they do.

Avatar Roku said,
Maybe it is just me but it makes more sense to have x86 for the 10" tablet and ARM for the 8" tablet than the other way around.

That's what I think as well but who knows?

hungb.nguyen said,
Good. I hope that Microsoft will soon anounce a bigger Surface too

Anything bigger and it'll probably be a 13.3" ultrabook and not a tablet like we have now. I know a few people who'd jump on a Surface ultrabook though.

hungb.nguyen said,
Good. I hope that Microsoft will soon anounce a bigger Surface too
You mean the touchscreen laptops that are already available?

JHBrown said,
You mean the touchscreen laptops that are already available?

Not necessarily: 12.1" screens, like the one of my actual convertible Tablet, mimic quite well both the standard size of US paper notepads and A4 standard, based on ISO 216, ones used in Europe.
I would buy a 7/8" mini Tablet right away to replace completely my Filofax agenda but I use my Tablet as a laptop replacement and 10' would be too small.

hungb.nguyen said,
Good. I hope that Microsoft will soon anounce a bigger Surface too
This is exactly what I want. I want the form factor of the Surface Pro, but the size of 13" and possibly even 15".

I absolutely adore my Surface Pro, but I have found that sometimes I just want more physical screen space to be able to see what I am doing (e.g., software development).

I love my Dell Venue 8 pro but I miss the quality of the Surface. Hope its the x64 Atom chip that can support 4GB of ram with a proper stylus.

I love mine too and just updated to 8.1 Spring Update last night. I am hoping that Version 2 of the Dell will also support 4 Gigabytes of RAM. This mini is intriguing.

I like tablets of all sizes but 8" is perfect for me. I just want future tablets with 4 Gigabytes min. of ram, 64-bit support, etc..

thats exactly what I want to see, 8 inches and 10 inches version with broadwel Intel CPU. 10 hours+ battery and 1.4 pound + stylus. perfect combination of all time

este said,
PLEASE, please don't forget about the battery life. Please include a GOOD built in battery!!! :D

That I can also replace. So the device doesn't last a measly 2 years.