The iPad was introduced 2 1/2 years ago, and Microsoft finally has its answer: Microsoft Surface. It's an iPad-style tablet, with its main claim to fame being the Touch Cover, a Smart Cover-style thin magnetic cover which has embossed keys and a touchpad on the inside. Just fold out the Surface's kickstand and lay the Touch Cover flat, and you have a netbook-style keyboard for typing on.
The base cost for a Surface tablet (without Touch Cover) is $499, and for that you get a tablet that's slightly bigger than the iPad and comes with twice the storage space -- 32 GB as opposed to 16 GB. There's just one problem.
You don't actually get 32 GB
Look at the retail packaging for a gadget which advertises how much storage space it has on it, like a music player or portable hard drive. You may see a disclaimer which says something about its "actual formatted capacity," which is the storage space you actually get despite the number on the box.
Usually, it's a tiny bit less than that number. My 16 GB Nexus 7 tablet, for instance, actually has 13.24 GB according to its Settings app, after the Android operating system and such are taken into account. I'm given to understand that the situation is roughly the same on the iPhone and iPad, as well as most other gadgets.
A Windows 8 RT Surface tablet is slightly different, in that out of its 32 GB capacity ...
You only get about 20 GB
Microsoft's FAQ lists at least 16-20 GB storage space as part of Windows 8's system requirements. That means you need to install it on a drive at least that big just in order for it to function, because it takes up most of that space.
How much space does it take up? In an AMAA ("ask me almost anything") thread on Reddit, Ricardo Lopez, Test Manager for Surface RT, says that after Windows, Office, and "a bunch of apps" are installed on a Surface tablet, "you will still have more that [sic] 20GB." He doesn't say whether those apps are the ones that come preinstalled, or whether they tested this out after a downloading spree from the Windows app market. But the numbers are roughly in line with the system requirements published above, and the upshot is that unlike with other 32 GB tablets, you only get about two-thirds of those 32 GB to play with.
No apps on expandable memory, either
With Android devices that have microSD cards, you can put at least part of a game or app's data on the card, which can have up to a 64 GB capacity depending on how much you're willing to spend and how much your phone or tablet will support. (Some only allow up to 32 GB.) It can be a bit fiddly to put each app's data on the card, and some apps (like Google Currents) insist on caching things like high-res photos on your gadget's internal memory, taking up more space. But the card at least offers an option for people who want more storage space, but who don't want to buy a new tablet or smartphone ... and, unfortunately, for manufacturers who want to cut costs by not including much memory.
Microsoft Surface has a microSDXC card slot, which supports up to 64 GB cards. You can only put things like music and movies on it, though; "you cannot add apps there," according to Lopez. Although given the fact that there aren't nearly as many apps available for Surface yet as there are for the iPad or Android tablets, that may not be a problem for a while.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.