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Microsoft formally announced that the company will begin producing and selling a Surface Tablet for consumers to compete in the tablet market. Two models will be sold, from Microsoft in stores and with retail partners. The first, Surface with Windows RT, is a tablet-esque device that runs on Arm architecture and is expected to act more like traditional tablets today. The second is Surface with Windows 8 Pro, which will ship with a complete version of Windows 8 Professional and run the latest Ivy Bridge i5 processor from Intel and will have power equivalent to today’s Ultrabooks.

No price point has been set for either, but Microsoft has stated that the Surface with Windows RT will be priced equivalent to today’s high-end tablets (roughly $350-$500) and will come in two models, 32GB and 64GB. Surface with Windows 8 Pro will be priced equivalent to today’s Ultrabooks (roughly $800-$1,300), and will come in two models, 64GB and 128GB. The Surface with Windows RT will release with Windows 8, and the Surface with Windows 8 Pro will release three months later.

Two accessories for the devices have also been announced, the Touch Cover which is a touch-type keyboard and acts as a cover for the 10.6″ displays, and a secondary cover that includes physical keys.

Check out the full gallery below, as well as our liveblog of the event.

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3:50pm: They’ve finally started letting us into the event space. Trippy colors and tablet-shaped designs on projected screens abound. There’s also what looks to be a runway for some reason.

4:00pm: I’m inside and there is a list of music playing with a recurring montage video showing plenty of rectangles. It’s safe to assume that we’ll be seeing tablets to some regard here today. Could this be Courier reborn? A lot of the screens are showing multiple rectangles side by side, one side always broken lines, the other solid.

4:10pm: Steve Ballmer is on stage without introduction and is talking about Windows 8, and the importance of the OS and how millions of people have tried it out. And he’s also talking about the importance of hardware for Microsoft. This bodes well for a Microsoft-created product. A video is now playing showing off all of the major hardware products that have come out of various parts of Microsoft, from keyboards to Xbox to webcams.

4:20pm: Ballmer is now talking about how today, Microsoft’s hardware products are based around partner company products. However, with Windows 8 there will be “it’s own companion hardware innovation.” What is it? “It’s something new, something different, and a whole new family of computing devies from Microsoft.”

That product is Microsoft Surface, a tablet computing device that offers both Windows 8’s tablet and PC portion. It’s a 9.3mm tablet, that’s has USB 2.0 ports. It has a completely magnesium case, called “VaporMg”. It’s under 1.5 lbs, 576 grams. It has a 10.6″ widescreen display that can play any game sold on the Microsoft store. And during the demo, it just broke down and they switched tablets.

Surface has dual meebo antennas for Wi-Fi. A stand is built right into the device that is magnetically connected, and pops in and out. The kickstand uses the same kind of magnesium alloy that, so it’s made to feel like it’s part of the case.

4:30pm: Surface also has a case that includes a touch-type keyboard that’s just 3mm thin, and includes a full QWERTY keyboard plus a trackpad. There are also going to be two types of Surface; one made for Arm Processors and another built using standard x86 architecture and Intel CPUs, called Surface with Windows 8 Pro. It’s a full PC, compared to the standard Surface tablet. It has a full 1080p display, running Windows 8 pro. It has a Cleartype display that is extremely dense, and uses the same VaporMg design and kickstand, and works with the same design overall. “It has specs that rival those of high-end Ultrabooks today.”

This unit is running the latest Ivy Bridge i5 processors, plus the Intel HD 4000 GPU. To deal with thermals, the Surface has what Microsoft is calling perimeter venting, where there is a tiny slit all around the frame that allows for air to flow freely through the tablet. Based on Sandy Bridge processor (Intel’s last-generation of CPUs) heat production would pose a serious problem for a small, enclosed space like a tablet. Microsoft didn’t state much about perimeter venting, but it’s likely that the venting system is designed to add structure to the frame while simultaneously keeping the handheld cool.

Surface for Windows 8 Pro also supports Digital Ink, with a pen stylus, and allows for instant notes written on any page. The screen samples written notes at 600dpi. For writing, there are two digitizers that enables the screen to disable standard touch presses so you don’t accidentally control the screen with a hand while writing. If the stylus comes within 7mm of the Surface screen, it’ll disable touch and enable handwriting only.

4:40pm: There will be a higher-end physical keyboard case that has physical keys with 1.5mm of keypress distance. It acts as a thicker case just like the touch-type keyboard, except for people who want to type with a physical keyboard. The Surface is built as an angular device, with 23 degree angled sides designed for comfort in the hand, while all of the other surfaces are completely flat.

We’ll get a chance to go hands-on shortly.

4:45pm: The hardware itself is physically molded to match the 7.3mm thickness, so much so that “if you put a piece of tape in between the frame, it’ll budge.” That doesn’t sound good, but the point is clear: it’s packed to the brim, but isn’t heavy. Now we’re hearing a more detailed look at the Surface itself and the parts, like the Touch Cover.

The different color Touch Covers automatically change the color of the Windows 8 background. It connects to the Surface itself with magnets, similar to the iPad and Smart Cover but, according to Ponoy, it isn’t a metallic surface that clamps on hard, but a cloth surface with magnets underneath that clamps on only in one space. Internal accelerometers also know exactly when the Touch Cover is held as a keyboard or held as a cover, so that there aren’t any excessive button presses.

Touch Cover also can detect the weight of individual key presses, made specifically to know when buttons are pressed. Touch typists will have some obvious fears regarding the Touch Cover’s typing experience, specifically with keys missing, but Ponoy stated that the Touch Cover reads keypresses 10x faster than traditional keyboards.

Surface for Windows RT will be available in a 32GB and 64GB tablet, and it will release alongside Windows 8. Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be available in 64GB models and will be available about 3 months later than the Surface for Windows RT model. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but they will be similarly priced to current-gen tablets with equivalent components. The Windows 8 Pro version will be equivalent in pricing to Ultrabooks.

Stay tuned for another story on how the Surface is in our hands-on preview!

This story is developing, refresh this page for updates.

Photo: James Pikover/VentureBeat

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