Microsoft sees pen, computing power as differentiators for Surface Pro tablet

By Neil Versel

Microsoft Windows 8 Surface Pro tabletMicrosoft is upping the ante in the tablet game.

The Redmond Empire announced Tuesday that Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro, a business-class line of its Surface tablets, will hit stores in the U.S. and Canada on Feb. 9. The Pro models will have third-generation Intel Core i5 processors, touch screens with 1080p (1,920 by 1,080) HD resolution, plus an included digital pen and "Palm Block" technology that prevents extraneous marks and commands when users rest their palms on the on the screen while writing with the pen. Each one also has a full-size USB 3.0 port and a Mini DisplayPort interface that can output to external displays with up to 2,560-by-1,400 resolution.

Unlike basic Surface models that start at $499, Surface Windows 8 Pro tablets will run any Windows 8 application or Windows 7 desktop software, so they are just as powerful as a laptop. However, the 10.6-inch Pro tablets are not cheap: $899 for a 64-gigabyte version or $999 for 128 GB, with an add-on keyboard available for $100-$120 – more than the most expensive iPad. Apple's 64 GB tablet with built-in 3G or 4G cellular connectivity tops out at $829; the entry-level 16 GB iPad mini with just WiFi costs $329.

In healthcare, Microsoft is pushing the computing power, the pen, and Palm Block features as a differentiator.

"For years I have been writing about the challenges of data input in clinical medicine. Doctors and other clinicians need all of the data input options possible including keyboard, mouse, touch, pen and voice," Dr. Bill Crounse, Microsoft's worldwide senior director for health, writes on the Microsoft HealthBlog.

"With Surface Pro, you'll have it all. With EMR solutions and apps that have been optimized for Windows 8, you’ll be able to tap into discrete data fields and enter information (with handwriting to text conversion) using the pen. The pen can also serve as a navigation, tap and dictate tool if you are using voice recognition software," Crounse continues.

Microsoft will sell the Surface Pro tablets through its own bricks-and-mortar and online retail stores in the U.S. and Canada, as well as at Best Buy and Staples locations in the U.S., the company says.