Microsoft(s msft) 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 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.
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.
In addition to the physical changes, Microsoft has bumped up the Surface 2’s power with an Nvidia(s nvda) 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(s intc) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.