Microsoft's Surface tablet officially launches Friday, but tech reporters have already had a play.

Tech writers who got their hands on the Microsoft Surface tablet early are returning their results today, with lots of reports balancing gushy praise with harsh criticisms.

The pros: 

  • Price: The Surface starts at $499 for 32GB or $599 for 64GB, versus the now 4th generation iPad which starts at $599 32GB or $699 for 64GB.
  • USB 2.0: Compatible with current accesories and peripherals.
  • Expandable memory: Offers a memory-card slot to up capacity by as much as 64 GB.

The cons: 

  • Software: Windows RT, the variation of Windows 8 the device runs on, won't support current Windows programs, and thus will have a limited selection of apps (3,500 in the Windows App Store compared to 275,000 in Apple's App Store). Though previously expected to only run a preview version of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint, Microsoft was able to deliver the final version of Office 2013 RT earlier than expected and users may download it starting October 26.  
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi only.
  • Screen sharpness: Even at 1,366 by 768 pixels it can't approach the iPad’s Retina screen at 2,048 by 1,536 pixels.
  • Battery life: Up to eight hours, versus 10 on the iPad.
Features that are both pro and con: 
  • The keyboard: Reviews indicate poor experiences with the Touch Cover, but the Type Cover with real keys seems to perform as promised, letting you decide when you want the expanded keyboard of a laptop, and when you'll opt for a tablet experience. 
  • Size: Larger and heavier than the newest iPad at 10.81 inches tall and 1.5 pounds vs. the 9.5-inch and 1.44-pound iPad, but a smaller width at 6.77 inches vs. the 7.31-inch-wide iPad. The longer rectangle shape of the Surface and 16:9 ratio make it better suited for movie watching, some reviewers said, in which case the 10.6-inch screen size (vs. iPad's 9.7 inches) may be a plus as well.

Considerations for photographers: 

  • Desktop editors on tablet: The Microsoft Surface won't run full-scale Windows programs, but the upcoming Surface Pro will. Think Photoshop and Lightroom on a tablet. However, this device is going to be heavier and more expensive, so you may be back to pondering if a small laptop or something like the Surface is the better way to go for on-the-go workflow solutions.
  • Foldable keyboard: Though it sounds like the Type Cover is the better choice, the option of a keyboard may make it easer to switch between tablet and almost-laptop on the fly, allowing you to choose when to use the device for portfolio display or when to switch to serious editing work with the benefit of laptop functionality. Don't forget this in the price though -- neither keyboard is included and the Touch version will add on another $120 or $130 for the Type version.
  • Smart stylus capabilities: The Surface's proximity sensor makes for seamless swiching between stylus and your fingers.

The tablet officially launches on Friday, Oct. 26, though preorders started last week. If you just can't wait to hear more, Microsoft will also offer a webcast about the Surface tomorrow, starting at 1:30 p.m. EDT on its consumer site.

Next up for Microsoft: The release of its Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system (first available on phones from both Nokia and HTC) on Monday, Oct. 29, the same day Google is expected to showcase a new Nexus smarthphone from LG, an updated Nexus 7 tablet and a larger tablet from Samsung.