There's no denying it now; the 8-inch Surface Mini does exist. How do we know? There's plenty of proof on Amazon in the form of product images revealing the tablet in a Bluetooth keyboard stand case (opens in new tab) ($32.99) and an ultra-thin Smart Cover Case (opens in new tab) ($9.99). The tablet in question is clearly labeled as the Surface Mini, and the two covers won't be in stock until May 18, 2014.
Of course, the displayed tablet could be from any OEM working on an 8-inch solution, but accessories vendor Vostrostone (VSTN) clearly has the unannounced product in mind, stating that the covers have "specifically designed cutouts for Microsoft Surface Mini tablet" so that the user has "access to all ports and controls."
"Fantastic looking case for your precious Microsoft Surface Mini tablet. There are plenty of cases out there but this is built to last with style," reads the description. "Made of premium PU leather, this flip case will wear well and maintain the look of your device. Design allows for full access to touch screen, side buttons, charging & headset ports and camera. Well-built to protect your Microsoft Surface Mini tablet for the years to come."
Just recently, we reported that the Surface Mini may include a built-in Wacom digitizer so that the consumer can use a pen-like stylus instead of the fat and round versions. This will be the tablet's biggest selling point, as Microsoft may have a long battle ahead if it relies on just software- and hardware-based competition. The Surface Mini, according to sources, is all about taking notes with a real, digitizing pen.
Sources say that the device is actually complete, and that it's up to Microsoft to make the announcement. The May ship date listed on Amazon could be a placeholder, but there's a good chance it's legit, landing on the market after BUILD 2014 and before the Computex 2014/E3 2014/Google I/O window. The question is, how much will this tablet cost?
We've already heard that Microsoft plans to make Windows 8.1 free on devices smaller than nine inches, thus reducing the overall price of the tablet given there's no licensing fee. Microsoft has also made the operating system's footprint physically smaller with the launch of 8.1, which should be good news for tablet owners given their small storage capacities. A smaller OS means more user files can be stored on the Surface Mini.
Unfortunately, the product images do not reveal anything about the tablet's hardware save for the size and a front-facing camera. There's a good chance Microsoft is waiting to announce two products instead: the Surface Mini and the "Gemini" touch-based Office apps for the Start Screen. The two seemingly go together like peanut butter and jelly.