Tech Talk: Windows shopping

Microsoft surface tablet
Microsoft surface tablet
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BETTER late than never, Microsoft has announced plans to take on Apple at its own game and produce a tablet to rival the mighty iPad.

Actually, it’s not just one tablet but a whole range, each using different electronics and sporting different versions of the new Windows 8 operating system. The top-of the-range “professional” model, which will have a detachable keyboard and compete with high-end laptops, will be capable of running conventional PC programs like Word and Excel.

But it’s at the lower (£400) end of the market where Microsoft’s so-called Surface tablet will meet the iPad head-on, with a touch screen and a range of apps. At least, that’s what the company hopes will happen – but at the moment apps for Windows are few and far between.

It’s unusual for Microsoft to produce its own hardware; its business in the past has always been in licensing its software to other makers, and where it has strayed from this path the results have sometimes been disastrous. How many of you, for instance, went out and bought the Microsoft Zune iPod clone? I’m guessing none. The company is setting out its stall this time on the premise that what people really want in a tablet is something with which they’re already familiar – namely, Windows. Three years ago this may have been true, but in the iPad Apple has developed an interface easier and more intuitive than Windows ever was.

And Microsoft isn’t the only other player in the market: the Chinese have moved into the tablet market in large numbers and are now turning out credible iPad alternatives at around a quarter of the price. All of these run on Google’s Android system. At current prices, £150 will buy you a no-name tablet the same size as an iPad and similarly powerful, with a half-decent screen. There are thousands of Android apps available.

You’ll find plenty of choice online, but make sure the model you select has the latest Cortex A9 processor, versions three or four of Android and a multi-touch capacitive screen of either seven or 10 inches.

If, on the other hand, a Windows tablet is what you really have been waiting for, the Microsoft Surface is due out in the run-up to Christmas.