Microsoft Takes Another Stab at Tablets, Unveils Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro [Live Event Coverage]

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News Posted: Mon, Sep 23 2013 12:36 PM
There's really no arguing the fact that Microsoft slipped with its first generation Surface strategy, but rather than wave the white flag, the Redmond outfit picked itself up, dusted off its britches and listened to user feedback.  Today, in New York, Microsoft held a press event unveiling its new Surface 2 products and the usual superlatives apply -- thinner, lighter, faster, better.

Microsoft says that Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro both benefit from "significant updates." Among them are improvements to processing power, better battery life, display and camera resolution upgrades, and a niftier Kickstand that now sports dual angles, making it more comfortable to use on your lap or desk.

As was previously rumored, NVIDIA's Tegra 4 platform powers the Surface 2 and its 10.6-inch ClearType display, which now boasts a Full HD 1080p resolution. ARMed with this new foundation, the tablet is supposed to be three to four times faster than than its predecessor, along with providing up to 25 percent longer battery life.

Surface 2 and Surface
The original Surface (left) next to Surface 2

Microsoft also upgraded the full-size USB port to SuperSpeed USB 3.0 for up to four times faster file transfers. As for the cameras, Surface 2 features a 3.5MP front-facing lens and 5MP rear-facing camera, both of which are capable of shooting 1080p footage. Microsoft also says they're better at handling low-light situations (and the live demo certainly proved that out; impressive), something that's generally a weak point among built-in cameras on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.

Surface 2 Electronics
A look inside Surface 2

Dave was on hand at Microsoft's unveiling in New York to see Micosoft's new slates in action, and one thing that was really cool was seeing Surface 2 playing games like WOW and Portal 2 at high resolution using a wireless controller while multitasking at least three or more Office apps running in the background. The demo underscored the power of NVIDIA's Tegra 4 architecture, which Microsoft was wise to run with, but also the thread-handling efficiency of Microsoft's latest iteration of Windows 8.1.


Surface 2 Kickstand, Now With Two Angle Positions For The Lap and Desktop

Since this is an ARM-based tablet, Surface 2 will ship with Windows RT 8.1. It will also come pre-loaded with Microsoft Office 2013 RT, including Outlook RT. Surface 2 will come in 32GB and 64GB configurations starting at $449.

Surface 2
Surface 2 with Keyboard Touch Cover 2

Moving on, Surface 2 Pro boasts an x86 foundation with Haswell inside (Core i5 dual-core processor) and the same 10.6 full HD 1920X1080 ClearType display. Microsoft views Surface 2 Pro as a "true laptop replacement" that can run pretty much all of your Windows software, including the full Microsoft Office suite.

Surface 2 Pro 6K
That's 6K folks, not just 4K. - Surface 2 Pro Playing Video Recorded On RED Dragon Camera

While we couldn't help but be impressed with the Surface 2 demo, equally interesting was seeing Surface 2 Pro stream 6K super HD resolution video.  The video was shot on one of RED's super-pricey but amazingly high fidelity cameras. That's not a typo, what you see in the pic above is 6K streaming, not 4K, which is made possible in part by Intel's 4th Generation Core Series processor, otherwise known as Haswell.

Surface 2 Pro in Hand
A look at Surface 2 Pro

At a starting price of $899, Surface 2 Pro will be offered in 64GB and 128GB flavors with 4GB of RAM, and 256GB and 512GB configurations with 8GB of RAM.

Accessories


Microsoft also announced a new batch of accessories for its Surface 2 and Surface 2 products, including a Docking Station for the latter. The Docking Station lets you quickly connect Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 to desktop PC peripherals with little hassle, in essence transforming it from a laptop to a desktop. Using the Docking Station, you can connect to an external monitor, among other things.

Touch Cover 2
Touch Cover 2 is even thinner and lighter than before

Typing is a lot easier on Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro thanks to redesigned Touch Covers. As you can see above, the keyboard is wafer thin. It's also lighter, has a backlight, and according to Microsoft, allows you to type up to two times faster than onscreen. Part of the technology behind this claim comes as a result of the higher resolution membrane switch panel behind the key caps of the Touch Cover 2, which actually compensate for partially missed keystrokes and then auto-corrects for you on the fly, resulting in better key strike accuracy.  Nice.

Surface Prices
Microsoft Vice President Panos Panay Talks To The full Microsoft Surface Lineup

To wrap things up, we're cautiously rather optimistic with what we've seen so far of Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro. From the demos we witnessed, they're both capable and powerful products for their respective intended markets, and typing on them is a lot easier this time around.  It will be up to Microsoft to properly market these devices, which is something the company struggled with, quite frankly, with the original Surface.


VP of Surface, Panos Panay with Surface Pro 2 - "Faster than 95% of laptops in market to date."

It's also very much worth noting that Microsoft is including some value-added services with Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro. Customers who purchase either device will receive free Skype calling to landlines in more than 60 countries for a year, unlimited Skype Wi-Fi on their Surface 2 product, and perhaps biggest of all, a very healthy 200GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage for two years.  That's how you wrap ecosystem support for a product. Microsoft appears to be taking note of what works and then executing.
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sevags replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 2:33 PM

I am confused, from what I know the docking station is for the Surface Pro 2 and the article states that "for its Surface 2 and Surface 2 products, including a Docking Station for the latter." but then goes on to say "The Docking Station lets you quickly connect Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2". Does the docking station work on the non-pro or no?

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Still to expensive for my taste. It's not like a laptop where you can fix it yourself, or send it in to be fixed easily. Unless they offered a limited lifetime warranty or insurance plan it's not worth it for the price. It should be around $600 for the pro in my opinion...though I know it's very good hardware and has great features. I've played with the older ones, and $600 is just the price I would pay for it..any more I rather just get a laptop imo. Though I can see where this can be handy, maybe the healthcare environment specifically.

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No, it does not work with non-Pro models. It works on first and second generation Surface Pro devices (Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2), but does not work with Surface or Surface 2 (both of which are RT products).

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RiCoFrost replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 7:15 PM

Outlook on RT will be a big plus, with atom cpus why don't they just axe RT altogether?

The Pro 2 with a docking station does sound good.

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Dave_HH replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 8:15 PM

Seeing it in person, I can tell you the feel is much lighter and definitely more premium - and that's just the exterior design. These tabs are damn fast too. I was playing Portal 2 on one, which obviously isn't crazy demanding but it was running 720p with high quality settings like butter. I was genuinely impressed.

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RiCoFrost replied on Tue, Sep 24 2013 8:22 AM

I have to say after watching the whole event, im looking to replace my work computer with the pro. I currently have a work desktop, laptop and the surface rt tablet, would be nice to just have one.

The edit guys at my work want to give the pro a it a try for video editing, they all use mac's and they were impressed with it.

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sevags replied on Tue, Sep 24 2013 10:24 AM

I was far more impressed with the original Surface pro. Still no NFC, no .11ac wifi, and understandably no CPU upgrade options. I will be ordering a MacBook Air for work =\

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digitaldd replied on Tue, Sep 24 2013 11:16 AM

To be honest I am more of a fan of the detachable tablet from keyboard style of convertible. I think HP makes a couple. Why, a real keybaord even a shallow one seems better than either the touch or type keyboard for the surface (I used both when they launched the MS stores in NY and closed down much of Times Square for 2 days. other convertibles of note the Dell XPS12 has an aweful keyboard & touchpad, good hardware though. The Lenovo yoga models touchpad is pretty bad, the first gen was underpowered no idea on the new one. And going laptop with touch screen seems pointless to me.

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Dave_HH replied on Tue, Sep 24 2013 4:03 PM

I think there's a lot of MS bashing going on out there and it's pretty shallow negativity in my opinion. I've seen these devices first-hand. They're very capable products that offer a great user experience and a lot of performance for their respective form factors. sevags, NFC is more for smartphones and smaller devices currently for bump sharing and the like. Not saying it's not useful for tablets but you're not getting on your MacBook Air or an iPhone any time soon either. Just some observations but I think MS' challenge is pricing for Surface 2 (Win 8.1 RT). If they can get it down a bit more it becomes an even more compelling alternative in my opinion - 200GB of SkyDrive storage is no joke, as well as free Skype calling for a year. We'll see what OEMs like ASUS, Acer, Lenovo etc do with Tegra 4 and Windows 8.1 RT too.

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sevags replied on Tue, Sep 24 2013 10:38 PM

Dave, I am not bashing MS at alllll. I'm a fan and I am a fan of the Surface Pro's! I could care less about regular tablets like iPads or surface RT's I think they are all useless. As for NFC it is still usefull and since I would like to use my computer for at least 3 years it would be nice to have and not just for bumps but there are routers that use them to connect to devices now, portable keyboards, payment systems and more to follow. No .ac wireless when other devices and phones ship with it now is a big negative I've especially for a device meant to always run on wireless and I happen to have an Asus 66u .11ac router (thank you HotHardware news!). CPU for me isn't an upgrade... 1.6ghz i5? First gen was 1.7ghz, factor in haswell CPU is only 10-15% faster than ivy bridge it doesn't come out to a big enough difference from gen1 though I do know video is much faster on haswell. I waited almost a year for the refresh and for my intents and purposes the only upgrade is the battery life and usb 3.0.

So when it comes down to everything I was between the surface pro 2, MacBook Air, and Lenovo yoga pro 2. I would have bought the click keyboard for the surface and get it in the 256gb hdd 8gb ram trim costing a little over $1200. The Air I'm going to be ordering with the same 256gb hdd 8tb ram with the upgrade 1.7ghz core i7 for $250 more it has .ac; but downsides are lower resolution screen (but I will be mainly using video out), no touch, and a portion of my hdd will have to be dedicated to OSX which I will never ever use.

The yogo 2 pro I am no longer considering because I don't trust it for the amount of traveling it will be doing and I don't want to feel the keys or watch where I set it down in tablet mode.

Digitaldd, why is touch pointless on a laptop? It is MOST home on tablets and laptops! Often people's TV's and computer monitors are too far to constantly touch but a laptop is always up close and just feels more intuitive to touch what you want rather than control a pointer by proxy through a keyboard touchpad or external mouse! I would almost never use a touchpad if touching the screen if an option.

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FearTec replied on Wed, Sep 25 2013 11:39 PM

$2,039 AUD for a Surface Pro 2 with 512GB

http://surface.microsoftstore.com/store/msaus/en_AU/html/pbPage.PDPS/productID.286920100

WTF. I'd rather chip in a few hundred more and get a kick ass PC or Mac Laptop.

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digitaldd replied on Thu, Sep 26 2013 3:23 PM

sevags:

Digitaldd, why is touch pointless on a laptop? It is MOST home on tablets and laptops! Often people's TV's and computer monitors are too far to constantly touch but a laptop is always up close and just feels more intuitive to touch what you want rather than control a pointer by proxy through a keyboard touchpad or external mouse! I would almost never use a touchpad if touching the screen if an option.

 

I find the touch screen on a regular laptop to be very awkward to use. Also many of the thinner laptops will fall backwards when you attempt to touch the screen if the hinge is tight. My 9 year old god daughter almost broke her Mother's 15 inch Asus ultrabook by touch the screen about as hard as she touches the screen on an iPad or smartphone, the laptop fell off the coffee table onto the carpet in their living room. if it were possible for the screen to lay flat that wouldn't have happened. I've wondered if some regular laptops with touch screens might need a kickstand at some point. And on my last couple of flights I've noticed a few touch enabled laptops get knocked off the snack-tray from the screen being manipulated, though on the snack tray the back of the screen could have been propped against the seat in front of them.

 

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Dave_HH replied on Thu, Sep 26 2013 8:04 PM

FearTec,

Surface Pro 2 is a totally different animal, much more powerful, full Windows 8.1 machine. Also, that's a 512GB SSD on board, pretty pricey just for the storage. You can get a Surface RT with 32GB at $449, or an iPad with 32GB and no direct expansion option for $599.

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Dave_HH replied on Thu, Sep 26 2013 8:22 PM

sevags,

Some good points there. And for the money, a MacBook Air (Haswell, latest gen) is stiff competition, agreed but with that comparison, you just hit the nail on the head. A tablet that can compete with an ultralight notebook in terms of utility and content creation, not just consumption, is the holy grail here I think. Has Microsoft hit it? Nope, nor have other solutions currently but we're getting closer now.

And Haswell, clock for clock generally is a significant upgrade for things that you care about General compute perf is not the differentiator with thin and light devices now; graphics, multimedia and storage subsystem (system responsiveness) is where it's at. That new MacBook Air has it, as does Surface Pro 2.

Anyway, as always, it all depends on your specific needs and usage model. For what it's worth, I think Microsoft is a quick study on market trends and is starting to deliver.

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