At a swanky un-watchable event in NYC this morning the Redmond Surface team officially took the wraps off of the new Surface Pro 2. A substantial update to the progressive little Windows 8 tablet released in February of this year. This was a necessary release time table for Microsoft as the OG Surface came out right before a new generation of lower power processors from Intel.
The design and dimensions remain largely unchanged from the original. There weren’t many criticisms about the form factor or build quality. One of the few exterior updates is a change to the angle of the kickstand allowing for improved lap usability.
All of the exciting updates to Surface Pro are under the hood of course. This little slate is now utilizing the full power management capabilities of Intel’s Haswell processor. On its own, Haswell has shown us it can reduce power usage by around 20%, and Microsoft is claiming additional tricks to increase run time over the original Surface Pro by 75%. This was a very common criticism of the first SP as many found that run time could barely hit four hours under light usage. Now users should be able to count on around seven hours.
Haswell improves performance as well, and Microsoft was especially keen to show off its graphics prowess. Updated Surface Pro 2 was not only capable of running a 4K display, but part of their demo involved playing RAW 6K video off of a RED camera. Utilizing a new dock accessory, MS is pushing Surface Pro towards an even more flexible hybrid role, fulfilling the need for a tablet, laptop, and desktop all in one small form factor. The dock includes Ethernet, Display Port, and several USB connections allowing you to slide Surface Pro into a more workstation like environment.
The rest of the accessories got a refresh as well. There’s a new Power Cover keyboard which includes an additional 30wh battery. Microsoft claims this combo should provide two and a half times the battery life of the original Surface Pro. It’s an attractive looking cover which protects the Surface screen when closed like a book and has a fabric cover for the outer surface.
A new Type Cover was also introduced, now available in several different colors (Purple, Pink, Blue, and Black were shown on stage), Microsoft has also slimmed the affair, slicing a full millimeter out of the key travel, and this new Type Cover is almost as thin as the original Touch Cover. A really nice update to the cover is the addition of back lit keys. Impressive for a keyboard this slim.
Of course a new Touch Cover had to be unveiled as well. Type Cover couldn’t have all the fun, and new Touch features over a thousand more sensors to improve typing accuracy over the original Touch. Also folding up to protect your screen, the new Touch Cover is also thinner than the original. MS is looking to slice out any bulk they can as the actual Surface Pro wont be getting any slimmer. Happily, Microsoft says these new covers will work on “all our products”, so hopefully this means that people using OG Surfaces wont be left out in the cold.
Lastly, Microsoft also claimed improved audio with enhanced speakers. They aren’t front firing, but any improvement to tablet audio will always be welcomed.
In general, Microsoft seemed to only “fix” the things which were actually criticized about the original Surface Pro. Not a bad strategy for iteration, especially considering the relative age of the product line. In many ways this is Surface Pro 1.1, and that’s not really a bad thing given the current lack of competition for these kinds of Windows based solutions.
Surface Pro 2 will retail starting at $899 with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. We’ll now see more tiers as well, and you’ll be able to max out an SP2 with up to 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
Microsoft also showed off a new Surface RT, now simply called Surface 2. They’re doubling down on having a low power ARM based solution to compete with Androids and ipads. The improvements to Surface 2 were a little more substantial.
First off, we’ll see a true HD 1080p screen on Surface 2. Now any device rocking a 10″ screen or bigger without at least that resolution is pretty much going to look awful. Surface 2 is lighter and thinner than Surface RT, and the design got spruced up showing off a new silver slate and highlighting the Magnesium outer shell. Build quality was one of the few things not criticized about the original Surface RT, and it looks like Surface 2 is set to continue in that tradition.
Processing power is getting a bump thanks to NVIDIA with a Tegra 4 chipset on board. No word yet on whether battery life will be improved using this new CPU, especially as the thinner form factor probably means they can’t include a larger battery than the original.
Surface 2 will start at $449 for 32GB of storage. The original Surface RT will stick around as a lower cost option at $349.
Both Surface 2 and Surface Pro now heavily feature “Surface” branding on the back instead of the simple Windows logo. A curious move, maybe to get away from the initial negative image of Windows 8, even though now tech bloggers are suddenly discovering that it’s actually a nice OS. Surface Pro will ship with Windows 8.1 and Surface 2 will ship with Windows RT 8.1. Happily this ecosystem has grown up a lot from the original Surface RT launch, and the Windows app store now claims over 100,000 apps. We saw a handy little Office demo, and of course Halo: Spartan Assault was shown off with Windows RT able to split-screen and run multiple Office apps while an audience member played Halo. We’ll also see Flipboard and Facebook apps for the ModernUI side of Windows soon, but no official ETAs on those yet.
Microsoft will also leverage their Skype option with a “Best of Skype” one year deal for anyone purchasing either Surface with free WiFi and free international calling for one year. Similar to the move Google made recently with Google Voice. A new front facing camera element on Surface was demo’ed showing off some impressive low light capabilities for video calling. The death of MS’s old messaging products might not be so bad if we see continued improvements to both the hardware and software Skype ecosystems…
Skydrive got a plug as well, with new Surfaces including 200GB of cloud storage for two years. Touting file back up, and Bitlocker encryption, this could be a handy way to insure your data is safe in the event your tablet is lost or stolen. In combination with the MS app store, we could be looking at some decent restore options.
Lastly we saw a demo of Surface Remix, a prototype touch cover designed around remixing music through XBox Music. This cover should be available in late October near the launch of the Surfaces. There’s something really cool about the idea of purpose built control surfaces which can attach to your tablet to be used in conjunction with a touch screen. Audio recording/mixing, photo shop, video editing we could start moving away from keyboard shortcuts and start thinking of different ways to interact with pro software.
Pre-orders for Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 start tomorrow (Sept 24), and products should be available in 21 markets on October 22nd.
And seriously Microsoft, figure out a live stream. You can see Microsoft’s new Surface 2 ad below.