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FAQ: What we don't know about Microsoft's Surface tablet

June 20, 2012 01:49 PM ET

(Apple's Smart Cover was unique when it debuted, but it's showing its age...and Apple has shown no interest in adding a keyboard to the tablet, with CEO Tim Cook famously dissing the idea of a hybrid as akin to creating a combination toaster-refrigerator.)

Later, Microsoft refused to clarify the cover situation, which we thought odd, again because of the attention paid to the keyboards by the company.

Not surprisingly, questions about the covers came fast and furious: Does one come with each tablet? Is the Touch Cover, with its pressure-sensitive plastic for a keyboard, bundled with the Surface? Does the Type Cover, a thicker but more tactile keyboard, come with the Surface Pro? If they're not included, what will they cost? $50, like the new Smart Case for the iPad? Over $100, like some third-party case-keyboards for Apple's tablet?

We're in the dark here.

Who will manufacture and/or assemble the Surface? Hope you know, because we don't. Microsoft didn't clue anyone in on what company -- maybe one of its OEMs? -- it's contracted to build the tablet.

We may never know: Only recently did Apple publicly name its suppliers. Foxconn -- the Taiwanese-Chinese firm that builds the bulk of Apple's iPads -- could be the maker, but it could also be anyone from Nokia to Samsung.

It's possible, though unlikely, that there will be clues inside the Surface, but we won't know what's there until units ship and teardown specialists like iFixit pull one apart.

Does the Surface or Surface Pro support cellular wireless? That's for Microsoft to know and us to find out.

The tablets do include Wi-Fi connectivity, of course -- if they didn't, they'd just be expensive doorstops or devices that dangled off a Windows PC -- but Microsoft didn't bother to detail any links via mobile data networks.

Most rivals offer the latter as an option, so we're assuming Microsoft will, too. They may have skipped past that part this week because they don't yet have deals done with mobile service providers, or an even better bet, because the Surface hasn't gone through the necessary testing and certification by government agencies, such as the U.S.'s Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

We'd also like to know whether the Surface will connect with only 3G networks, or the faster LTE (4G) as well.

You can depend on one thing: Surface tablets that will access the Internet over a cellular link will cost more than the Wi-Fi-only models.

Can I use the USB port to expand the tablet's storage capacity? We're not certain, at least not on the Windows RT-powered Surface.

The Surface Pro, being a Windows 8 PC for all intents and purposes, should let you use the USB port -- there's a USB 3.0 one on that tablet -- for the same purposes as other PCs, including using it to jack in an external drive, a printer, keyboard, what have you.



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