Though many PCs, tablets and hybrids will run some version of Windows 8, Surface was the main event at the San Francisco store, with around a dozen of the devices on display for shoppers' perusal.
Microsoft's first attempt at building its own hardware is unquestionably an impressive device. Though, with the tablet market getting more and more crowded, only time will tell if it's impressive enough to sway consumers in large numbers. Nevertheless, Surface inspires confidence. It's not just the magnesium alloy construction that impresses but also the overall balance. Nothing feels cheap or -- at least on first blush -- out of place.
Harm Diaconesu was part of the Microsoft retail team at the San Francisco store's opening day, and Surface's build quality was a big part of his pitch. He mentioned that enormous attention had been paid to small details, such as the device's kickstand, which he said had undergone upward of 70 revisions before the design was finalized. He also expressed tangible enthusiasm for the Touch Cover and Type Cover keyboard accessories, which magnetically connect to the tablet with ease.
"It's one of the most satisfying things you can do with technology," he said, clicking a Surface cover into place and touting the "nice luxury sound." Such comments would be expected of a retail employee, of course, but Diaconesu's earnest effusiveness was persuasive -- as was the fact that the tablet's quality seemed to fulfill his descriptions.
The keyboards have attracted skepticism, notably from HP CEO Meg Whitman. The relatively flat layout of the Touch Cover might prove difficult for power users, though Diaconesu said most people were comfortable after only a few minutes of use. The Type Cover, however, which features larger keys that more closely resemble those of a typical keyboard, appeared serviceable for heavier needs.
Some other Surface characteristics that staffers highlighted: the inclusion of a USB port, a perk that the iPad's base package does not include; access to 7 GB of storage on SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud-based storage; a contextual search function that intuitively allows users to narrow results and share content; and pre-installed editions of Office RT.