So that Surface Mini was real after all; maybe it’s not quite dead yet

The Surface Mini that reportedly was set to launch but then yanked at the last second in May is alive. No, you still can’t buy one: Microsoft never released it. NeoWin’s Brad Sams, however, said he recently got to use the Surface Mini although he wasn’t allowed to post any pictures. Sams thinks Microsoft “killed the wrong product” in the Surface Mini and keeping the Surface 2 alive.

surface mini case

That’s nice praise for a device that never launched. Why did Sams like the Surface Mini? Partially due to the size, portability, digital ink support and case [company]Microsoft[/company] was slated to include with the tablet. As he said:

This device is the pen and paper killer. The size is fantastic, although the bezel does seem large for the size of the display, but the case creates a compact, easy to carry and highly functional tablet. The bezel size is large enough to have a full size Windows button, exactly like the Pro 3 at the bottom; at the top, there is a front facing camera with roughly the same size bezel.

Digital ink, especially when combined with Microsoft’s OneNote app, makes for a solid combo. Sams’ description reminds of the leaked Microsoft Courier concept from 2009; that too was a pen-centric tablet although it had two displays in a portfolio case. Even so, I don’t necessarily agree that Microsoft killed the wrong product here. From what Sams described, unless the device was going to be cost $149 or less, the Surface Mini still would have faced the same challenge from competing tablets I noted in April:

There are already a number of solid Windows slates available in that size that can run for 8 or more hours on a change. Some even have a digital pen. And here’s the kicker: These current models all run Windows 8.1 not Windows RT, which is still a bit hobbled in terms of its app ecosystem and lack of legacy Windows app support. These slates also start at reasonable prices: You can nab a Dell Venue Pro 8 for $249, for example and get Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 software included.

Since then and now a little has changed: Microsoft has started to unify its Windows software between phones, tablets and traditional computers. That’s not just a branding change: Developers can now write one Windows app and with minimal changes have it work on various devices. So that does — or would have, over time — helped the ecosystem challenge on a Windows RT-based Surface Mini.

dell venue 8 pro

The cost and performance challenges still remain though: Sams said the Surface Mini he used ran on a [company]Qualcomm[/company] Snapdragon processor. Compared to the [company]Intel[/company]-powered Dell Venue Pro and similar tablets I’ve seen fall to under $200, the Mini wouldn’t likely perform as well and wouldn’t offer any battery life benefit.

I’m not so sure Microsoft has completely abandoned the Surface Mini idea just yet, however.

Last month, Microsoft detailed its latest Windows Phone update, which adds support for Wi-Fi devices up to 7-inches in size. That means a slightly smaller Surface Mini is feasible even if Microsoft lets Windows RT slowly fade away as all of its branding changes to Windows. I still worry about the price of such a device if full Windows tablets are coming in with $199 price tags but perhaps the Surface name and some unique features could give a new lease on life to a revised Surface Mini tablet.