A cheaper Surface tablet? Microsoft hints it may be on the way.

Microsoft's current line of Surface tablets are priced higher than the devices offered by many rivals. That could soon change. 

A Microsoft representative holds a Surface tablet computer at the official product launch last fall. A cheaper Surface tablet is likely on the way.

Microsoft has strongly hinted that a cheaper version of its Surface tablet may be on the way. 

In an earnings call yesterday, Microsoft CFO Peter Klein said the Redmond, Wash., company was "working closely with chip partners and OEMs" – original equipment manufacturers – "to bring the right mix of devices,” which would include a “a greater variety of devices at a bigger variety of price points.”

The Windows 8-powered Surface line launched last fall to generally favorable reviews. Critics liked the sleek, sturdy hardware, but questioned whether the software and app ecosystem were as dynamic as they could be. "If you're an early adopter willing to forget everything you know about navigating a computer, the Surface tablet could replace your laptop," summarized Eric Franklin of CNET. "Everyone else: wait for more apps."

Microsoft hasn't revealed exactly how many Surface tablets it has sold since launch, but as BGR points out, estimates for the most recent quarter hover around 1 million units. Not particularly good, in other words, and many analysts believe that may have something to do with the price: The cheapest Surface retails for $499, on par with the cheapest full-size iPad, but in order to get the most out of the device, you'll want the Touch Cover, which costs $120.

In related news, in early February, Microsoft will release a high-powered, heavy-duty tablet called the Surface Pro. The base price for the Pro, which gets a Intel Core i5 processor, is a whopping $899 – and over a thousand bucks if you want the Touch Cover. 

All of which has John C. Dvorak a little bit annoyed. 

"Over the past decade, there has been some indication that the retail pricing has actually been three times the bag of parts," Dvorak writes at PC Mag today. "Let's go with that theory regarding the Surface. The product is selling for $900, so the bag of parts is probably $300. It's just that simple. If the bag of parts is in fact $300, I see no reason why Microsoft cannot bite the bullet and sell the thing for $399."

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