Microsoft Announces The Next Generation Of Surface Tablet

Will the sequel to the beautiful but not very popular Microsoft Surface succeed where the first couldn't?
Dan Nosowitz

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The Surface, released last winter, was the very first Microsoft-branded laptop, and an odd duck it was, too. A hard, seemingly Blade Runner-inspired chunk of metal, the Surface is a tablet that runs Windows, with a magnetic keyboard that clips onto the bottom of the screen with a satisfying “chnk.” We found the first model promising, but flawed, which is why we were so interested in the followup. And that followup, the Surface 2, was just announced today, here in New York.

The Surface line now includes three models: the Surface RT (which isn’t actually a new device; the price has been cut, but it’s the same Surface RT that was released last year), the Surface 2, and the Surface 2 Pro. All three have that same tablet-with-clipped-keyboard form factor, but vary in both hardware and software. The Surface RT is unchanged from last year, except in price. The “RT” in the name refers to the fact that this model doesn’t run a full version of Windows. Instead, it works more like an iPad or Android tablet, relying on apps from an app store and using an operating system called Windows RT that looks sort of like, but is not, Windows 8. You can’t run Photoshop on the RT, unless Adobe releases an RT-optimized Photoshop app. It’s also fairly low-powered, but it costs $349, so it’s hard to get too grumpy about that.

The Surface 2 is actually the sequel to the Surface RT, to be sold alongside. It too uses Windows RT, so you’re stuck with the Windows RT app store. Microsoft, for its part, says it’s rapidly expanding the app selection for the RT tablets. The main difference between the Surface 2 and the Surface RT? The screen. The new Surface 2 has a 1920×1080 screen, which on its small 10.6-inch display means you’ll be looking at a super sharp picture. It also includes a faster Tegra 4 processor, faster USB 3.0 for quicker external devices like hard drives and cameras, and will be available in both 32GB and 64GB storage capacities, starting at $449. (The Surface RT will only be available in 32GB.) Oh, also, the Surface 2 will be available in silver. It looks pretty cool.

The Surface Pro 2 is where things really start to get interesting. Of the three Surfaces, it’s the only one to run a full operating system–Windows 8, just like the Lenovo Yoga 13, our favorite early Windows 8 laptop. And, as Microsoft repeatedly stated, it’s a very powerful laptop, too: it’s using the newest Intel chips, which are called “Haswell,” and Microsoft says it’s got 50 percent more graphical ability than its predecessor, the Surface Pro. It’s got 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage, and either 4GB or 8GB of memory. It’ll start at $899, a touch cheaper than its chief rival, the Apple Macbook Air.

There are some interesting accessories to go along with the Surface 2 and 2 Pro; it’s inherently a more flexible platform, considering that it’s essentially just a screen. Microsoft has improved the two versions of keyboard cover from the first generation. A keyboard cover is a sort of separate keyboard that clips into the bottom of a tablet, and then folds up to cover the screen when not in use. Microsoft’s are very advanced; there are two main models and both are unusual. There’s the Touch cover, which is just touch- and pressure-sensitive fabric, so it feels like you’re typing on a carpet; and there’s the Type cover, an excellent and very slim keyboard. The Touch cover is now much more sensitive, with an upgrade from 80 sensors to over a thousand. The Type cover is now even slimmer, and Microsoft claims it’s silent.

But Microsoft has also opened things up to odder and more specific modular accessories. We saw the Surface Remix cover, which is a pressure-sensitive array for budding DJs, as well as a version of the Type cover with a built-in battery that extends the original Surface Pro’s battery life by two and a half times.

Oh, and there are some nice cloud-based updates as well; when you buy either a Surface 2 or Surface 2 Pro, you’ll get 200GB of cloud storage through Microsoft’s SkyDrive service. Plus, you’ll get a year’s worth of premium Skype service, meaning free international calls and access to the many Skype Wi-Fi hotspots littered around the world. Finally, something comes of that Microsoft purchase of Skype!

Pre-orders start tomorrow, and the new Surfaces officially go on sale on October 22nd.