Second-gen Surface tablets have better screens, bigger bundles

Microsoft has lifted the lid on its second-generation Surface tablets. The Surface Pro 2 is easily the most interesting of the two, mostly because it's unburdened by Windows RT. As expected, the full-fat Windows tablet packs a Haswell processor. Ars Technica's live blog of the reveal doesn't mention the CPU model specifically, but Microsoft's press release confirms that it's a Core i5. Thanks in part to the CPU upgrade, Microsoft says the Surface Pro 2 has 60% better battery life than its predecessor.


The Surface Pro 2 also has a new screen, but the 10.6" size and 1080p resolution are unchanged. Instead of boosting the pixel density, the new display purportedly improves color accuracy by 46% versus the first-gen model. The screen's coating is less reflective, too, but it doesn't look like Microsoft has switched to a matte coating.

The same display powers the Surface 2, otherwise known as the second-generation Surface RT. Microsoft has dropped the RT suffix from the gen-two unit even though the ARM-based OS remains. Yeah, that's not going to be confusing for people at all.

Under the hood, the Surface 2 sports a quad-core Tegra 4 SoC. The Nvidia chip has faster CPU and GPU components than the Tegra 3 in the Surface RT. It also brings USB 3.0 connectivity. On top of that, Microsoft has added faster memory and Wi-Fi. Battery run times have improved by 25%, as well.

You'll be able to pre-order the latest Surface tablets starting tomorrow morning, with availability expected on October 22. The Surface 2 will start at $449 for the 32GB model, while the base 64GB Pro 2 model is priced at $899. Interestingly, Microsoft will continue to sell the original Surface RT for $349. I guess it still has substantial inventory to clear.

The Surface RT will be sold with the latest 8.1 version of Windows RT, and Outlook has been added to the included suite of Office apps. The Surface 2 gets the same Office bundle along with a couple of additional perks: a free year of Skype Wi-Fi and international calling, plus two years of SkyDrive with 200GB of storage. Those extras have also been tacked onto the Surface Pro 2.

Then there are the accessories. Microsoft has a Surface Pro 2 docking station loaded with USB ports, audio connectors, Ethernet, and a Mini DisplayPort out. The new Power Cover boasts a beefier battery than the old one. There's a thinner Type Cover, and it now comes with LED backlighting that senses when your hands are close to the keyboard. The same backlight is also incorporated into the updated Touch Cover, which increases the number of touch sensors from 80 to 1092. The sensors are laid out in a grid as opposed to being tied to specific keys, and the accuracy is supposed to be much improved as a result.

Although Microsoft has made some nice improvements to the Surface family all around, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. The Surface Pro 2 looks nice, but the lack of a clamshell-style keyboard dock limits the device's usefulness as a laptop. The addition of a second angle for the built-in kickstand isn't good enough. As for the Surface 2, well, there's the whole Windows RT problem. $449 is a lot to pay for a Windows device that lacks x86 application support, even if it has a great screen. Dropping RT from the name feels a bit sneaky, too.

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