The original Surface was Microsoft's first big attempt to marry its own sexy hardware to Windows 8 software. Neither the Surface RT or Surface Pro, however, appeared to sell well at all, with the company ultimately writing off US$900 million in unsold Surface stock. How do you recover from such a setback? Well, if you're Microsoft, you wash, rinse, and repeat the same thing all over again, as the company today announced a second batch of Surfaces with some much-needed upgrades.
At today's event in New York, Microsoft pulled back the curtain on the Surface 2 (the new branding for the RT model) and the Surface Pro 2. They both look almost exactly like their predecessors, while sporting a few key upgrades on the inside.
The most interesting upgrade is the Surface Pro 2's shift to a 4th-generation Intel Haswell processor. This should give its battery life a big boost over its predecessor's sketchy four or five hours. Microsoft estimates a 75 percent improvement in uptimes, but we'll have to wait for some extended hands-on time to draw any solid conclusions on that front.
Otherwise the Surface Pro 2 is a lot like its predecessor. Same 1080p display (though it does supposedly have "46 percent more" color accuracy), same somewhat bulky and heavy body. It does have an adjustable kickstand, now letting you prop it one of two different positions (the traditional position and a new position that's supposed to be better on laps or other uneven surfaces). The new Intel engine also gives it 50 percent faster graphics and 20 percent more zip overall, according to Microsoft.
Though Microsoft describes the Surface 2 (again, that's the new ARM-based Windows RT model) as a "revamp," it also sticks with most of its predecessor's traits. Its big upgrades are that it's lighter and thinner, and picks up a sharper display (it jumps up to 1080p) and a new Nvidia Tegra 4 processor. It also gets the adjustable dual-position kickstand.
The Windows RT version of Surface's biggest problems, though, had little to do with display resolution or processor speed. The Surface 2 will have the same limited app selection as its predecessor, relying solely on the Windows Store for all of its software. Microsoft boasts of 100,000 available apps, but our experience with the Windows Store paints a picture of a selection lagging far behind the App Store and Google Play.
Microsoft also threw in a few new accessories for the Surface lineup. The most intriguing is the Power Cover. It's a variation of the original Surface Type Cover (that's the one with physical keys), only it holds a 30w reserve of battery power, which it can use to prolong the Surface's uptime. The new Haswell-based Surface Pro 2 might not be in quite as dire a need of the Power Cover, but it could be a must-have accessory for the original Surface Pro (it's compatible with it too). Microsoft says it will boost the original's uptime by 250 percent.
There's also a new slide-in docking station. Surface Pro can already dock on its own, but the station ups the ante in that department. It adds a few extra USB ports (three USB 3.0, one USB 1.0) and an ethernet port to the mix. You can power two monitors with the docking station.
The Type Cover and Touch Cover from the original Surface also saw updates, aptly named the Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2. Each keyboard is 1 mm thinner than its predecessor, comes in a variety of colors, and has backlit keys.
The new Surface 2 lineup launches on October 22. The Surface 2 will start at US$450 (a $50 drop from its RT predecessor), while the Surface Pro 2 will stick with the original's $900 starting price.
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