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Tech geeks, curious surface at Microsoft pop-up store to eye tablet

Microsoft's Surface tablet goes sale lobby pop-up store Shops North Bridge Michigan Avenue Friday October 26 2012 Chicago. | Richard

Microsoft's Surface tablet goes on sale in a lobby pop-up store in the Shops at North Bridge on Michigan Avenue on Friday, October 26, 2012 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 29, 2012 6:42AM

Curious shoppers and tech geeks flocked to the Friday opening of Microsoft’s pop-up store to try out the software giant’s debut of a hardware device — the Surface tablet computer.

The Surface is designed with many Apple iPad features such as sharp screen resolution, swipe motions to turn pages and updates accessible from a Windows app store.

The holiday-season setup — an open-air tabletop display just inside the Shops at North Bridge/Nordstrom’s entrance at 520 N. Michigan Ave. — lets shoppers play with the Surface tablets with Windows RT operating system and Sony Vaio PCs loaded with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system.

Allison Stroot, a native of downstate Quincy who works at United Talent Agency in Los Angeles, said the Surface would be an easy-to-carry device that would help her stay connected with the actors and actresses she represents.

“I work on a Microsoft PC computer all day, and many of the businesses I work with use BlackBerries, which sync up well with [Microsoft] Outlook email,” said Stroot, 28. “This would be ideal.”

Stroot liked the flat surface “touch” keyboard that easily detaches from the tablet and rolls up for quick setup and takedown.

Sean Mamsheim, a junior at Moody Bible Institute majoring in education, said he had researched the Surface and intended to buy one so he could attach his own USB drive and have extra storage. The iPad doesn’t allow outside devices to be attached.

“It’s a big step forward and will increase competition for tablets,” said Mamsheim, 20, of the Near North Side. “More competition is good.” A Microsoft spokesman declined comment on how many people were buying the tablets.

The Surface’s 10.6-inch display is slightly larger than the iPad’s 9.7 inches.

A Surface with 32 gigabytes of memory and no keyboard cover — the cover is needed to create content on the tablet — costs $499; a 32 GB version with a black cover costs $599; a 64 GB Surface tablet with a black cover costs $699; a 64 GB tablet with a touch-type cover costs $809, and a 64 GB tablet with a moving-keys cover totals $798.

Microsoft’s tablet shows how popular such computers are among consumers and how quickly they’re being adopted in offices, warehouses, showrooms and on retail sales floors.

A study by iYogi Insights showed 31 percent of small -business owners use iPads for various tasks, yet 33 percent intend to upgrade to Windows 8 on their PC devices. Nearly six in 10 — 56 percent — use tablets in their business network, and another 34 percent plan to do so.

Microsoft’s entry into the tablet wars prompted Apple CEO Tim Cook on Friday to compare the Surface tablet to an overengineered car that can fly and float, and Microsoft to counter that the Surface has twice the storage capacity as the Apple iPad.

The stakes are high, because tablets top many shoppers’ holiday wish lists and retailers increasingly equip their salespeople with tablets to walk the sales floors and help shoppers make quicker purchases.

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