Surface with Windows 8 Pro: What we still don't know

If you don't mind the price, the Surface Pro sounds like it could be a good tablet; but a number of questions remain

Microsoft last week answered more questions about its upcoming Surface with Windows 8 Pro (Surface Pro) tablet, but also left out a few essential details as we approach the device's January debut.

We know the Surface Pro will be available with a storage choice of 64GB (for $900) and 128GB ($1000). Microsoft's tablet will come loaded with an Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor, 10.6-inch screen with 1920 by 1080 resolution, 4GB RAM, front- and rear-facing cameras, one USB 3.0 slot, a microSDXC card slot, a miniDisplayPort, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 4.0, and, of course, Windows 8 Pro.

A free digital pen comes with your Surface Pro, but an external keyboard such as the Touch Cover or Type Cover will cost extra, as with the Surface RT. The new tablet also lacks GPS and cellular connectivity.

If you don't mind the price, the Surface Pro sounds like it could be a good tablet; but a number of questions remain.

When will it go on sale?

So far, Microsoft has only said Surface Pro will be available in January 2013. It's not clear if the company plans to take advance orders as a pre-sale period during the holiday season leading up to the New Year.

When will Surface Pro ship?

Closely related to the first question is when Microsoft plans to put Surface Pro in the hands of paying customers. Just because the new tablet will be available to order in January doesn't necessarily mean it will start shipping immediately.

Since Microsoft is expected to roll out the Surface Pro in a manner similar to its release of the Surface RT, it is probably safe to assume the new tablet will start shipping right away. But there's no guarantee.

Which processor?

We know the Surface Pro will come with an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5, but we don't know which model it will use and what the clock speed will be.

How much storage space do you really get?

Surface Pro tablets will come in 64GB and 128GB storage sizes, but don't expect to be able to use even close to that amount of space to store personal files and other data.

Microsoft's storage FAQ on the Surface Website does not specify how much real storage space is available on a Surface Pro. But the company warns under the upcoming tablet's specifications that the system software uses significant storage space.

Microsoft means it when it says the OS will take up significant storage space. A 32GB Surface RT, for example, translates into 16GB of actual storage space; and the 64GB model offers just 45GB for your stuff. The good news is that Surface Pro will come with a microSDXC card slot supporting up to 64GB of removable storage. You can pick-up a SanDisk 64GB microSDXC card on Amazon for about $50.

How bad is the battery life?

When Microsoft said the Surface Pro was a PC, it wasn't kidding. The company's Surface social marketing team recently told several customers via Twitter that Surface Pro will have about half the battery life of the Surface RT. That would put Microsoft's battery life claim for Surface Pro around 4.5 to 5 hours. PCWorld's Loyd Case recently noted that battery life for Ultrabooks averages six hours or more, making the Pro's promised battery life fairly disappointing.

Even more concerning, third-party independent testing often finds real-world battery life to be worse than manufacturer claims. Bottom line: you may want to hold off on buying a Surface Pro until you see some reviews that include battery life tests.

If you need a tablet or new laptop right now and can't wait for Surface Pro to launch, check out PCWorld's top 100 products of 2012 to see if other critically acclaimed Windows-powered devices will work for you.

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