If Microsoft indeed intends to release a shrunk-down Surface Mini this month, as an invite for a "small" Surface event suggests, merely downsizing the tablet's design to fit an 8-inch frame ain't going to cut it. Sure, the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 are beautiful pieces of kit, but they're made for big-screen productivity — the Surface Pro is essentially an Ultrabook without a keyboard. That experience won't translate well to a smaller form factor, better suited for content consumption than content creation.
Beyond that significant concern, a Surface Mini would be stepping into a crowded field of competitive 8-inch Windows tablets, all of which sport an almost disappointing degree of uniformity. The Surface Mini needs to stand out to succeed.
But how can Microsoft honor the natural strengths of the 8-inch form factor while still staying true to the Surface ethos? Here's what I'm hoping to see in the Surface Mini.
1. An LTE option
Microsoft's been skimpy on the portable connectivity options for the Surface line thus far. While an LTE-equipped Surface 2 was released in March, that's the only of four Surface models to sport a cellular modem. And that's fine! 10-inch tablets tend to stay in one spot — be it a living room or office — and that spot tends to have Wi-Fi.
An 8-inch tablet is a different beast all together, though — and one much more likely to be tossed into a travel bag for on-the-go email or Netflix sessions. Microsoft should offer a Wi-Fi-only version of the Surface Mini for budget-conscious folks, but an LTE upgrade is essential, especially given Surface's portable productivity focus. Getting things done often means checking Outlook or answering Skype messages on the bus.
2. Thinner, lighter, longer-lasting design
The Surface and Surface Pro aren't technically bulky, but they aren't all that svelte, either. Mass reduction matters in tablets, and doubly so in travel-ready 8-inch tablets. I'm hoping Microsoft skips the full-fledged Core processors in favor of something much more energy-efficient. Maybe even...
3. Mobile-first ARM processors and Windows RT
Yes, ARM processors. Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 chips are blazing-fast and utterly enduring. All the other 8-inch Windows tablets available now have turned to Intel's Atom processors, which are built using the PC-focused x86 architecture and thus allow access to the full version of Windows 8, but let me tell you something: Using the desktop on a small tablet sucks. Poking at microscopic menus and pinching-and-zooming all the time to make things legible gets real old, real fast.
Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 made for ARM processors, won't run traditional desktop software; instead, it only runs the Modern apps available in the Windows Store. But that's a good thing on a small tablet. Modern apps are designed with mobile devices in mind, complete with larger interface elements that work wonderfully on diminutive touchscreen displays. Plus, media apps — the very apps small tablets function best with — are one of the Windows Store's rare strengths.
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