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

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.


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.