New rumors about what is being called the Surface Mini by most industry insiders surfaced today. Though admittedly, the details are a bit shaky – a single report from Microsoft news site Neowin – they do paint a picture of a device for users who simply don’t have enough reasons to buy a Surface tablet today.
For starters, the report pegs the Surface Mini as a device with a 7-inch or 8-inch display. Reportedly, that display would include native Pen support that’s very similar to what Microsoft offers Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 buyers today. Users would be able to take handwritten notes that don’t resemble the scribble that jotting down notes on a tablet with just a multitouch display like the iPad gets users today.
Allegedly, this functionality will feature heavily into advertisements for the tablet since the device’s smaller screen would make it “not ideal for the Office suite,” according to today’s report. This Surface Pro Mini would be available as early as this spring, so it’d have a launch sometime between now and late May.
What’s interesting here is that release date. Rumors have swirled that Microsoft is preparing to enter the small tablet space ever since the company announced that it would support smaller displays in the Windows 8.1 update, even though the company has yet to confirm it has a Surface Mini tablet in the works.
The thinking goes that it would be silly of Microsoft to not enter that space, tablets like the iPad mini and Nexus 7 have proven that consumers will purchase high-end tablets with smaller displays. Sales of these tablets have been so great that they’ve effectively killed off the digital eReaders which once dominated tablet sales. Smaller tablets are simply better for activities like watching video and reading. Users can also do these things with 10-inch tablets, but they’re slightly unwieldy in the hand. Microsoft will need to have something in this space if it hopes to compete with other consumption devices and services.
The report was very light on what things other than the smaller form factor and stylus support would make the Surface Mini so great for note taking. There isn’t a single new software feature mentioned in the report that makes this device better than using the iPad mini for the task. Microsoft could add new functionality to the OneNote app that it makes available to Windows 8 users already, however it’s already pretty fully featured and lets users create and sync notebooks between multiple devices. That includes the iPad mini. It’s for that reason that these rumors of the Surface Mini being “best for note-taking” fall apart. It just doesn’t make sense yet and won’t until we have more information about what kinds of users the Surface Mini is meant to attract. It could be meant to compete in the high-end convertible space like the rest of the Surface line or low-end tablet space like the Nexus 7.
Of all the possible questions about a Surface Mini, the biggest has to be what operating system this device will run. Today, Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT both have their respective niches in the tablet space. Windows 8 RT is used on tablets that are similar to the iPad. These tablets get better battery life than Windows 8 tablets but don’t allow users to install apps to the desktop. More and more tablets come with Windows 8 these days. This allows users to load up Desktop apps lowers those tablets battery life. Microsoft and anyone buying a Surface Mini would have to weigh the benefits of each.
Being able to install Desktop apps like iTunes is great, but a tablet meant for note-taking will need to last the entire day without a charge.
The Surface 2 uses Windows 8 RT so users can’t install Desktop apps. The Surface Pro 2, another 10-inch tablet includes Windows 8. That tablet can run any Windows application but has worse battery life than the Surface 2. It’s also notably thicker when placed next to the Surface 2.
This report didn’t discuss much about pricing at all, but we can gather that Microsoft would at least have to price any Surface Mini competitively against the iPad Mini. It starts at $399 for 16GB of storage space and Wi-Fi internet access. Buying a version with mobile internet access and Wi-Fi starts at $529.99. If the Surface Mini is on its way, Microsoft will need to price it below or near the Surface 2 for its existence to make any sense in the line up. The Surface 2, which has a 10-inch display and doesn’t include a stylus or necessary digitizer for very accurate note taking, starts at $449. It sounds like a $399 price tag for the Surface Mini might be in the cards.