The Surface Mini in Red

Posted on June 30, 2017 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 39 Comments

Several years ago, Microsoft was planning to release a smaller Surface device known to those following the company closely, as the Mini. The device was canceled at the last minute and the final fate of the tablet is unknown.

The reason I say it is unknown is that this tablet had been mass produced in the tens of thousands before it was canceled and in some instances, Microsoft had to turn around trucks that were carrying the devices to shopping centers and retail outlets to prepare the device for sale. This was, by all accounts, a last minute cancellation of the device and frankly, it was the correct move but what happened to the machines that were produced remains a mystery.

The tablets were likely recycled but it’s fun to think the shells were turned into Surface Pens or buried in the desert next to the ET games Microsoft dug up.

We know it was the correct move to cancel the device as the 8in tablet market does not exist today. Apple has a few devices in this segment but has not updated them frequently and Windows OEMs are not selling tablets in this size either.

Yes, the device is crudely cut out from another image I have…this was done to protect the source of the information.

That being said, earlier today Windows Central posted up shots of a black Surface Mini without the cover and I figured it was time to post the image I have of the device now that the cat is out of the bag (I honestly forgot about them).

The device ran Windows RT, had a 1440×1080 display, Snapdragon 800 processor, 1GB of RAM (yes, just one) and 32GB of storage (although I believe 64GB would have been an option as well). The cover, which is a rubber-like material was around the outside of the tablet and added a kickstand and the connection point for the cover.

The Surface Mini would have made a few fans but overall, it didn’t offer enough differentiation from what was already available in the market and Microsoft was still recovering from the massive write-down of the Surface RT which means they were hesitant to take additional hardware risk at that time. Since this device was canceled, the Surface brand has become a staple of the industry and continues to be a bright spot for Microsoft hardware.

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Comments (39)

39 responses to “The Surface Mini in Red”

  1. MerlinE.

    Can you tell us anything about the smart cover? I noticed it doesn't have key's on it and you called it smart cover and not typ coer on twitter :D.

  2. John Scott

    I remember trying a 8" HP tablet, believe it still was running Windows 8.1. The apps were OK what few good ones their was at the time. But Windows just did not work well on that small of tablet. I use a iPad Mini 2 for a second device and IOS works better with a small tablet. Although trying to make anything that small a decent laptop replacement is a stretch. I think 11-12 " screens is plenty small and my sweet spot is probably more 14".

    The other problem with small tablets is they tend to be cheap and skip on really fast hardware. It's less of a issue with a iPad Mini with IOS tweaked well to that hardware. But Windows has never been a OS built on running on really small screens or low end hardware. As much as Microsoft tries to sell its Chromebook killers. They do not run as well as similar Chromebooks with similar hardware.

    • Darmok N Jalad

      In reply to John_Scott:

      I tired the Dell Venue 8 Pro for a while. It had an Atom inside, and it was overall a well-built device. The problem was that Windows 8.x was not very good at handling font scaling. The default font size was a little too small, and because the display was only 800P, Windows didn't allow you to increase font sizes in metro apps. Scaling them in classic control panel didn't work either. I ended up returning it because my eyes couldn't take it. Shame, since it felt like a really good device.

      • Chris_Kez

        In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

        I still have, and occasionally use, my first gen DV8Pro. It's a pretty good little machine but I've always thought it needed a 1920x1200 screen; that 800p ended up being a bigger annoyance than the Atom professor, the RAM or the storage.

  3. Awhispersecho

    Can't believe they were going to release this thing with 1GB of RAM. Good thing it was canceled.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Awhispersecho:

      At the time, 10" tablets generally had 1 - 2GB RAM. Even 2 years later, low end Windows tablets were being sold with full-fat Windows and 1GB RAM. For the conceived usage, 1GB would have been adequate at the time, 2GB would have been better, but probably would have pushed it above the perceived golden price point.

  4. prettyconfusd

    The market is there, it's just that these things simply don't need to be re-bought every 12-24 months like phones.

    My 2013 Nexus 7 is still perfectly fine for everything I use it for, and the iPad Mini 2 still does all the things it needs to. Generally if people are using their tablets for consumption they don't need to upgrade until their current one breaks.

    The new iPad Pro, however, may see more regular pick-up due to it's productivity focus and that the version they release in 2019 will probably make for a better productivity experience and therefore have more of a reason to upgrade.

    I've always wanted a Surface Mini for the aesthetic of the brand and the pen support. But with the poor state of the Windows 10 store with productivity and creative apps that will run well on a screen smaller than 10" they simply don't have enough of a value proposition yet.

    That could change though, and I'd expect whatever this next-gen mobile device they keep hinting at is will be more related to the Surface Mini in lineage than the Lumia 950 - but they need to put a heck of a lot of work into getting apps for it. Adobe and Autodesk have some great pen capable apps for Android and iPad Pro but only Autodesk Sketchbook is on Windows 10, Affinity Photo now has a touch version too but Windows only has the desktop version. And that doesn't count the hundreds of other pen capable apps for iPad Pro, and with OneNote essentially being identical on iPad to the UWP - there needs to be more of a hook... Though I'd probably still buy one just for OneNote, Sketchbook, and Sketchable... ;)

    It's a shame they didn't just release it anyway for those of us who wanted it - they can't have been expecting huge sales anyway. But I suppose they had realised Windows RT was getting canned and didn't want to support it any longer than the Surface RT 2 support window required them to.

    Great to finally see it though, and shows how the design ideas here have found there way into the Surface Laptop design.

    But 1GB RAM? Jeez... Taking the wrong lessons from Nokia's latter Lumias there, guys... The thing would have struggled to do much of anything even with the lower capabilities of WinRT apps of the time.

  5. zself

    RE: 8" tablet:

    I hate it when people say there is no 8" market. It irks me.  I'm in the market for an 8" Windows 10 tablet!!!! And I'm mad that I can't buy a decent one. I understand that very intelligent people have decided there is no market. Perhaps not in quantities they care about,

    If anybody reads this, I'm standing up for a decent 8" windows 10 tablet. I'm starting a nascent market on

    • skborders

      In reply to zself:

      Give me an 8 inch LTE windows tablet with pen support, 10 hrs of battery life, and an ePub application as good iBooks and I would switch in a heartbeat.

  6. Ugur

    I think it was a good decision to cancel it even if big waste to not release them at all when they were already at shipping to store level, would have been an interesting move to announce openly that we decided to not push further with this device anymore right now so will sell the already made units as collectors item.

    I bet you, those units would have all sold right away.

    So here as tip for you for the next time MS =)

    Regarding why i agree in general though that it was a good idea to not go through with that tablet size in longer term with big focus:

    I used iPad Mini 2 and Nexus 7 (2nd edition) most, i loved those tablets. But that was when i used phones with smaller screen more and large screen tablets were still a good bit more heavy, too.

    Meanwhile, i, like many others, use phones with way larger screen most times, so then a 7 or even 8 inch tablet is not such a huge win in screen size over my phone that i'd want to always carry around a second device for that, if i carry around a second device it better has a bigger usability gain/difference.

    And there the small form factor tablets also don't fully deliver by current standards, since of course they can't pack in that much better specs while not having that much more room for way larger batter compared to a large phone.

    Also some things like split screen multitasking etc don't make as much sense on a small screen tablet when one would then only see the split views small anyway.

    So yeah..overall not a bad decision by MS.

    Still shows though that they need some people there who have better vision and outlook thinking and decide which things make sense in the future or not earlier on.

    I feel like for many things they should do, they decide late on it or half heartedly and for some things they cancel they decide late, too.

    And then sometimes it's even the case that something released feels like they are not convinced they should do it themselves much so that it is never pushed fully and then of course also cancelled usually a short bit later.

    Like for example the zune or microsoft band which only ever were released in few countries and only very few iterations and never big push.

  7. Narg

    There was and still is a market for an 8" tablet. I have a couple, and still use them. No, it would never sell millions, but it would sell. Companies today just don't want to mess with smaller sales of devices, which is sad for the consumer.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Narg:

      Exactly, a decade ago, many companies would have been delighted with sales reaching 100,000 units, especially as they often had sales in the low to mid 5 digits. But today, everything is a failure if it isn't selling in at least 8 digit numbers. :-(

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to wright_is:

        Percentages matter. 5-10% of a market is fine. 0.05-0.10% of a market isn't.

        • wright_is

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          It depends on where you are coming from and where you want to get to. For a mega corp, no, it doesn't make sense but there again neither does the 5% - 10% either.

          Small niche players, offering quality products and reasonable prices have existed throughout history, why are we abandoning it now for a one-size-fits-all mess?

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Narg:

      8" tablets may not sell even 10 million annually worldwide, but there are a few dozen companies still making them. Just no one bothering to make 8" Windows tablets any longer.

      If you'd accept an Android tablet, you have choices. If you insist on a Windows tablet, you have to buy a larger tablet PC, so called because it'll come with Windows 10 Home or Pro rather than Mobile.

      There's no money to be make making and selling small Windows tablets or Windows phones either for large or small OEMs. If you mean small Windows tablets, consumers may have unreasonable expectations, and MSFT ain't exactly blame-free. If you mean small tablets running other OSes, there are still plenty of choices.

      • Nonmoi

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        In 2016, total tablet sales were north of 150m, and 7-9" tablets accounted for 39.7% of the total shipment. So, this in turn, translates to 60m units sold, give or take.

        While it is worth noting both total sales and percentage of small tablets sold are on the consistent decline, but factually small form factor tablets still sold a lot more than the 10m number you gave.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to Nonmoi:

          I was trying to be conservative. Thanks for the links, though I'm not a subscriber for the 1st.

          Anyway, back to a premise of this article, the 8in tablet market does not exist today. Apparently only true for Windows. It'd seem there are lots of 8" Android tablets on the market. Dangerous for Windows commenters to become so parochial that they equate the lack of Windows devices of some device type with the whole market for that device type. That only holds for desktop PCs and laptops. Nothing else.

          • Nonmoi

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            Well, the post you responded to clearly states that "There was and still is a market for an 8" tablet.", so there is that.

            Now, assume that if Surface Mini was not canceled and can have about 5% shares in the market category, that means in 2016, it will be able to push around 3m units. (and more for the years before that, if we assume it can at least have 5% market share through out). And that is meaningful: not only it will give the upcoming WoA transition a smooth start (note previous Surfaces were using Nvidia Tegra chips, not Qualcomm) , it is also means that there are millions more devices running UWP over the years. (While Mini has only 1G RAM, the CPU was much more powerful than the Surface 2, which received update to run UWP). And it will also contribute billion dollars if not more to Microsoft (revenue, assume it sold at around 300ish).

            But here is a problem with above assumption: while Snapdragon 800 was already a year old chip when Surface Mini suppose to be announced, it still is a top of the line chip for the time being. Will Microsoft be able to price it at the sub $400 range? If not, there is very little chance that it can compete with the Android tablets of the same time period and have that 5% share, not to mention ones in 2016, where majority of the Android tablet sold in the size range were super cheap Fire tablets. If Surface Mini could not make a couple million units in sales per year, the chances are that even if it was not canceled out right, it will be canned after couple generations. So it will still not give Microsoft that smooth transition to WoA. :(

            My personal opinion is that the cancellation was a mistake, but what is done is done. Let see what Microsoft and Qualcomm can offer with WoA. (Side note, Nvidia has now team up with Nintendo, and offered us the Nintendo Switch, which in some sense, is the most successful small form factor tablet in 2017, so far.)

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to Nonmoi:

              When, if ever, did Windows RT reach 5% user share of any segment of the tablet market?

              I think you're making a very big assumption about the Surface Mini's popularity.

              Picky: Windows RT was Windows 8 for ARM plus restrictions. It didn't run UWP anything. Also, given the dearth of apps in the Windows Store, I doubt a few million Windows RT tablets would have done much to have altered the fact that a few tens of millions of Windows phones in use at the peak was still unattractive to mobile app developers.

              • Nonmoi

                In reply to hrlngrv:

                a prosumer small factor tablet with pen support at the price of lower end iPad Mini 3 (same year) that will have a chance to get 5% market share of the small form factor market it is in (with little actual competition from android side) is a big assumption, but not a huge one.

                This will be the supplemental device for college kids and office note takers alike, imagine the "productivity"!

                The thing is, it may be a huge hit, or it may be a flop, you will actually know once you push it out to the market. And since they are already building up the physical stores and devices were already on its way to the shop, why not give it a try, instead of be the know it all and pull it before it see the light of day? Especially since they have no alternative plan to replace the already a year old (at the time) Surface 2 at the time, and Surface 3 was, in retrospect, an other year out. If they pushed even 0.5%, that is close to 100 thousands more surface device that can run UWP in 2015, and tens of millions dollar back into MS' coffer, not MS' landfill.

                After all, its not like any hardware from Microsoft but the Surface Pro 3 from that year became a huge success story.

  8. wolters

    I remember the invite to this event...a "small" announcement they called it. And turned into the Surface Pro 3 evening if I recall.

  9. skane2600

    I guess correcting a bad decision at the last minute is better than letting it go forward, but it's just another indication of Microsoft's aimless direction. Nothing in the market had substantially changed between the time the product was conceived and the time it was almost released. If it was a bad idea at delivery, it was a bad idea from the beginning.

  10. Care

    I'd actually like an 8" Windows tablet, with an active pen. I was in the market for one about a year ago, and they had all disappeared. :(

    • wolters

      In reply to Care:

      I loved my red Dell Venue 8 pro until I was on my third replacement. The third replacement was because it was bowing from the inside. So weird...and Windows 8,1 was pretty darn good on this tablet.

      I have a Surface Book but if I need a tablet, I really like my Samsung Tab S3 with S-Pen. It is the only option right now for a smaller tablet for this Microsoft fan.

  11. Finley

    I am actually reading this article on a 8" Toshiba tablet. It is just good enough for web browsing and watching video. I use it so I'm not having to plug in my phone 4times a day.

  12. RobertJasiek

    OMG. A Windows tablet with 4:3 not published! Sry! 4:3 was perfectly correct but RT was perfectly wrong.

    8" is not a failure but currently 8" does not sell well because a) those wanting an iPad Mini already have it and b) quality 8" Windows hardly exist and endconsumers do not buy rubbish. That said, light, large ebook readers show what might be possible if smartphone tech and functionality makes it into them becoming real tablets. I have said it before: Microsoft (because no other company does it) still needs to reinvent the hybrid of tablet and ebook reader, e.g., with 10 - 12".

  13. hrlngrv

    I suppose you could say the 8" tablet market doesn't exist today if you ignore Kindle Fires and Android tablets. Seems most Windows fans would indeed prefer to bury their heads in the sand than accept that Android and Amazon control the small tablet market about as thoroughly as Android controls the phone market. Just one more market where MSFT and Windows will have no presence, so for some Windows bloggers the market doesn't exist. Alternative realities are so much nicer to inhabit.

    • John Scott

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      Too many cheap Android tablets in the 7 to 8" range. I couldn't imagine Microsoft or any partner making any money on them. I could argue the same for the Chromebook killers Microsoft is pitching. Other than trying to stop the market share loss there is not much positive building cheap devices with Windows.

    • skane2600

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      I don't think anyone is ignoring those tablets but are sales of them increasing or declining? In any case, the narrative that pure tablets are mostly about consuming content is even more true for these small ones. You could say that we are in the post music player and portable DVD player era with about as much evidence as Post-PC.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to skane2600:

        I can't find any public info on just 8" tablets, so I figure they're declining along with tablets generally. OTOH, IDC shows total tablet shipments for Samsung, Huawei and Amazon for 2017Q1 of 10.9 million and for Other of 14.4 million. Most of those would be Android tablets, but be conservative and figure half of those, so roughly 13 million Android tablets vs 8.9 million iPads of all sizes.

        If only a quarter of the 13 million Android tablet estimate were 8" and smaller, that'd still be over 3 million in one quarter. How does that compare to the thriving Surface Book and Surface Studio?

        So, sure, the 8" (and smaller) tablet market is small and shrinking, but it's not as nonexistent as the article above makes it appear. I'll close with this: as small as the current 8" tablet market may be and as fast as its shrinking, the Windows RT tablet market was even smaller and few things have declined as quickly than they did after hitting their peak. MSFT did make the right decision not to release the Surface Mini.

  14. daveevad

    The fact that this was going to be available in red makes me think that it was somehow intended for Verizon (Sold thru, maybe with LTE). If that was the case then Microsoft likely built thousands of these just so they could cancel them last minute and "Eff" with Big Red again! Ala the Kin & Just like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown, Haha.

  15. bleeman

    I'm reading this on my black Dell Venue 8 Pro with pen support running Windows 10 Home Anniversary Edition. I love this little device. I only have one regret and one wish. The regret was being cheap and buying the 32gb model when they were first released instead of the 64gb model. The wish that they had released the rumored LTE version. Even so with the hot spot on my phone I use this every time I don't need my bigger Surface Pro 4. I was really looking forward to the release of the mini. I had hoped it was going to use the same pen my Surface was so I'd have one less device to maintain.

    Then again I'm generally off to the left of everyone else. I loved my Betamax, Zune, Windows Home Server, and still have and enjoy my Nook far more than most Kindle's. I have the one based on the Samsung Galaxy S2 tablet. Now if Samsung would release that device with LTE and Windows 10, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. It is lightweight, performs well, and has great battery life.

    I too would like to see a good 8" Windows tablet. In the meantime I'll keep plugging away with my Dell Venue 8 Pro.