Hands on with the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2

Surface 4

Microsoft just announced the second generation of Surface tablets on Monday – the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2. It also introduced a host of new Surface accessories. I got a chance to check them out, and while I think the prices are still a little high, I liked what I saw.

Surface 1

Surface 2: Thinner, lighter and more powerful

The first thing you notice about the Surface 2 is its display. The 10.6-inch screen has received a full HD upgrade, which is a huge improvement over the 1366 x 768 original screen. Colors really pop and everything looks nice and crisp. The demo area where I saw the tablet was relatively dark, but Microsoft claims the tablet offers improved readability under bright light.

Microsoft has put the Surface 2 on a diet as well. It now measures 0.35-inches thick and weighs 1.49 pounds. That’s not a huge reduction from the 0.37-inch, 1.5-pound original, but you can feel a slight difference when you handle it.

Surface 9

Another nice new change is in the kickstand, which now clicks into two different positions. The first is the same angled, upright position as the original Surface, but a new setting allows it to lie much further back. This makes it easier to use the tablet in your lap. I didn’t get a chance to actually sit down with the tablet, but the kickstand swiveled into both positions without a hitch. And it now comes in a nice shade of ivory-white and has a big Surface logo on the back.

Surface 2

In addition to the physical changes, Microsoft has bumped up the Surface 2’s power with an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor. This should make it much faster than the original, and the tablet I handled felt quick and responsive. Battery life is better this time around as well. Microsoft claims the tablet should work for up to 10 hours of active use.

Surface Pro 2: Top performance and better battery life

Not to be outdone, the Surface 2 is powered by Intel’s fourth-generation Core “Haswell” chip. Microsoft claims this makes it faster than 95 percent of laptops currently on the market. That’s important to remember, because, starting at $899, the Surface Pro 2 is designed to compete against laptops as opposed to tablets.

Surface Pro 3

Physically, the Surface Pro 2 is virtually identical to the original. It measures 0.53 inches thick and weighs 2 pounds. And unlike the Surface 2, it only comes in black. It uses the same two-stage kickstand as the Surface 2, and features the same 10.6-inch, 1080p display. Like the Surface 2, the Pro 2 looks extremely clear and vivid in person.

Surface Pro 1

But what makes the Surface Pro 2 markedly different than the original is what’s going on inside. You get either 4 or 8 GB of RAM, and a demo at the press event showed the tablet processing raw 6K video flawlessly. The Haswell chip also makes for a huge improvement in battery life, which was a major shortcoming for the original Surface Pro. Microsoft claims the new tablet’s battery life should be up to 60 percent better than the original.

Docking Station and a few new covers

To further illustrate the Surface Pro 2 as a laptop replacement, Microsoft introduced Surface Docking Station. It looks a bit big and boxy in person, but it provides your Surface Pro 2 (or original Surface Pro) with three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, audio in and out ports, as well as a mini DisplayPort. It’s an easy way to set the Surface Pro up like a desktop PC.

Surface Pro 4

I also got to check out the new, thinner Touch Cover 2. It works with the Surface 2 and features 1,092 touch sensors that help register key strokes and makes for faster typing. It felt super smooth and responsive when I used it. Microsoft also introduced a new wireless adapter accessory that connects to any typing cover and creates a Bluetooth connection between the cover and your tablet.

Surface 5

The new Type Cover 2, meanwhile, remains mostly unchanged, save for back lighting, which illuminated the keys for me to notice even in the demo area. I also got to check out the new Surface Music Kit, which is basically a Touch Cover for creating music. Using it felt similar to the Touch Cover 2, which is a good thing.

Surface 6

Pricing and availability

The new Surface tablets and most of the accessories will be available for pre-order beginning tomorrow, September 24, though they won’t ship until October 22. Although the Surface 2 is $50 less expensive than the original, pricing remains at a premium all around: The Surface 2 costs $449, while the Surface Pro 2 starts at $899. There’s no price or release date yet for the Docking Station or Surface Music Kit, but the Touch Cover 2 will run you $119.99 while the Type Cover 2 costs $129.99.

There’s no doubt that Microsoft has made some huge improvements to the Surface line. But it’ll be interesting to see whether there’s enough of a balance between price and performance to resonate with buyers, particularly with the $449 Surface 2 when full Windows 8.1 hybrid tablet / laptops start at $349.

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