Microsoft has unveiled the Surface Pro 2, a new version of its flagship 10.6-inch Windows tablet at an event in New York City. It’s a 10.6-inch tablet with enough specs that can turn it into a laptop or even a PC replacement. Microsoft has bumped the specifications to the latest Intel Haswell processor, extended the battery life, and generally improved what was already a fast tablet. According to Microsoft it received constant feedback that business customers were interested in the Surface Pro, but could not bear its underperforming battery life. So, instead of changing the device externally, Microsoft redefined the unit into what it calls the Surface Pro 2, which will have around 60% better battery life, a figure that it claims can skew higher in certain use cases.
Hardware upgrade for new OS update
The Surface Pro 2 looks all but exactly like its predecessor, but sports the new Intel Haswell chips, more ram and SSD options, and the improved kickstand. The new Surface Pro 2 is timed for the release of Windows 8.1, a major update to the current Windows OS.
The Pro 2 keeps the best features of the original Surface Pro, adds new internal hardware and new accessory options, and is supposed to fix one of the primary problems with the original Surface Pro, mediocre battery life.
It upgrades the processor to Intel’s newer fourth-generation Core i5 Haswell generation running at 1.6 gigahertz and sometimes known by the code name Haswell. These new chips offer only modest boosts to system performance, but based on our prior testing on other laptops and hybrids with Haswell chips, serious battery life improvement can be expected. It includes front and read 720p cameras, as with the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro 2 does not have the low light upgrades that are part of the Surface 2, as a warning.
The Pro 2 will be available in 64GB and 128GB versions with 4GB of RAM, and 256GB and 512GB editions with 8GB of RAM. Microsoft is calling it the “most powerful, professional, and productive tablet ever made.”
The screen remains the same at 1080p resolution, but Microsoft claims that the new display offers 46 percent more color accuracy. The Surface Pro 2 still comes in a slatelike “dark titanium” color, the Windows RT Surface 2 is now a lighter, silver color called magnesium.
The body of the Surface Pro 2 looks and feels just like the original version, and Microsoft says the chassis measurements are the same. The logo branding on the back panel is swapped, reading “Surface” rather than “Microsoft,” and the built-in kickstand now adjusts to two different angles, making the screen easier to see from different positions. MS says the new angle is 40 degrees, while the original was about 24 degrees.
The keyboard covers
The other half of the Surface Pro 2 story is the new power cover keyboard and docking station. The Touch Cover is about one third thinner than the original version, but at the same time, more rigid for easier typing. The Touch Cover has flat keys that work, but offer less tactile feedback than serious typists need, while the Type Cover has island-style keys that are shallow, but still very usable.
The old system of one sensor under each key has been replaced with a full array of sensors that allows partial keystrokes to be counted more easily and accurately, plus support for a handful of gestures.
The Type Cover, with its full separate-key keyboard, is thinner as well, and remains one of the things people like best about Surface.
Microsoft has also shown off a second kind of Type Cover which is slightly thicker than the standard Type Cover because of an integrated battery. The power cover offers a 30 watt-hour battery that gives the Pro 2 two and a half times the battery life of the original Surface Pro, according to Microsoft. This would allow the systems to run even longer by combining the internal battery and the secondary keyboard battery, a idea already used in a handful of Windows 8 laptop/tablet hybrids.
Both the Touch Cover and Type Cover are now backlit. Especially in a system intended for frequent travel, as a tablet is presumed to be, a backlit keyboard is practically required. A Bluetooth adapter for the keyboard covers is also in the works and that will snap onto the top of the keyboard and allow you to use it remotely as a Bluetooth keyboard.
The new Docking Station accomodates the Surface Pro 2 with the power cover attached, and offers three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, audio in and audio out, a Mini DisplayPort, and an ethernet jack.
An evolutionary update
Anyone shopping for a new Windows 8 system right now should demand Intel’s fourth-gen CPUs, available since June, if only for the increased battery life and power efficiency. The Surface Pro 2 gives you that, and the new second angle on the kickstand does make it more convenient to use the Surface Pro 2 in your lap. Microsoft is pushing the Surface Pro 2 as a complete replacement for your main computer, so the Docking Station helps get it there.
With no major new features or design changes, the Surface Pro 2 still relies heavily on its accessories to stand out as the market leader. But, with few new slate-style Core i5 tablets coming out, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 manages to maintain a leading position in its small corner of the market.
Overall, the Surface Pro 2 is a welcome improvement over the Surface Pro — it’s faster, lasts longer, and is more flexible than before. Paired with the updates coming in Windows 8.1, the Pro 2 might not only be the Windows tablet to get this holiday season, it is likely the laptop to beat, too.
Pricing and availability
The Surface 2, with Windows RT, starts at $449, but the previous model Surface RT, will still be available for $349. The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899, but the RAM can be upgraded from 4GB to 8GB, and the internal storage can be upgraded up to a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD), with a full 8GB/512GB configuration costing $1,799. Both the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 will be available starting October 22.