Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2
At a press event in New York City Microsoft took the wraps off the refreshes to its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablet devices. Some areas of the product line have changed drastically, while others have pretty much stayed the same.
Surface Pro 2
The highlights on Microsoft’s higher-end device show some significant progress. The 46 percent-improved color accuracy, Dolby sound and updated kickstand with two-position design are all marked improvements. The real life implications of the new kickstand design should make things interesting for taller users and improve the likelihood that this generation will serve as an even more viable laptop substitute. The main updates in performance and battery life are, most likely, a combination of the Intel Haswell-based architecture and Windows 8.1. Microsoft touts class-leading performance, a 50 percent improvement in graphics performance, 20 percent uptick on raw performance and — probably the most important enhancement — a 75 percent longer battery life. The base model, at $899, includes 4GB of RAM with 64GB storage. You can also bump the storage up to 128GB with 4GB of RAM for $999. If you’re looking for even more power and storage there are two versions which sport 8GB of RAM. One has 256GB of storage for $1299, and one with 512GB for $1799.
The successor to Surface RT doubles the bus speed on WiFi and memory architecture, including USB 3.0. Overall performance is said to be 3x-4x faster. The screen technology has improved from 720p to 1080p with the same clarity they are offering on the pro class — a welcome improvement. Front-facing camera updates look dramatic in low-light environments. Surface 2 claims 25 percent longer battery life than its predecessor. The device also sheds weight and size. The price point for the entry-level 32GB unit is $449.
Microsoft also launched expected refreshes to its lineup of accessories for Surface. These included one surprise that expands the functionality of the pure tablet experience above and beyond Microsoft’s base price on the devices.
The docking unit was one of the rumored accessories shown and is anticipated in early 2014. The Surface Dock, at $199, will support outputting via Display Port to a maximum resolution of 3840×2160. It should be a welcome companion for both the original and newer Pro 2 models. Something not shown in the live presentation was a wireless adapter for typing covers. It will be priced at $59.99.
The series of keyboard covers that helped differentiate the original models from their competition all saw updates. The Touch Cover 2 for $119, became thinner, backlit and more accurate. The Type Cover 2 for $129, also became more svelte, backlit and offers multiple color options. Another rumored addition to the cover lineup, that was revealed in more detail, includes the Power Cover for $199. It, like the docking unit, will be out in early 2014. For the additional price this cover contains an additional power source that should boost the battery life 2.5x over the original. The last cover that was demonstrated provides a glimpse of Microsoft’s vision to expand the capabilities of the Surface family with options that may come in the future. Microsoft provided no pricing for something they called the Surface Remix Project Blade that works with Xbox Music to allow users to customize the mix of musical tracks on a specially designed Touch Cover type interface.
Software and Services
Lastly, Microsoft rounded out the Surface offerings in a way few companies can with software and services that improve their value proposition. Skype will come on both models and includes access to more than 2 million hotspots worldwide. From these devices, you will be able to leverage voice calling via Skype internationally for a year. To expand the storage scenarios presented to users local to their devices, they are also throwing in 200GB of SkyDrive for two years. With Surface 2, just like Surface RT before it, there will be a version of Office that comes with this class of device. This time around, the 2013 version on Windows 8.1 will include Outlook.
Microsoft has come out with what looks like a solid generational move forward addressing many of the pain points of its first take. It will be interesting to see how real world impressions, and the sales mirrored by those opinions, play out for the latest in the Surface line up. Pre-orders start on September 24, 2013, and the devices themselves are out on October 22, 2013.