Microsoft just announced the long awaited successors to its Surface RT and Surface Pro devices at a press event in NYC. We were fans of the original Surface devices, however neither was quite perfect. It'll be a short while before we can actually review these things (they ship on October 22nd), but on paper we can already get a good indication of what Microsoft has done to both lines.

Surface 2


Surface RT is succeeded (not replaced) by Surface 2. The previous generation Surface RT model will remain on sale for $349, putting it at a very compelling price point in the 10-inch tablet market - especially considering that it comes with a full version of Office. The new Surface 2 takes its place at $449 and features a long list of upgrades. The display is now full 1080p with improved color accuracy compared to the outgoing model. Microsoft spent a lot of time last year talking about how it's 1366 x 768 panel was better than most thanks to its optically bonded display, but it's good to see a shift towards a higher resolution panel. The focus on improving color accuracy is important as well. In our original review of Surface RT I found its display to be ok, but hardly accurate. Given that both Apple and Google are now shipping relatively well calibrated tablet displays, it's key that Microsoft does the same. The only downside is it looks like the new display isn't full sRGB but rather a smaller gamut.

Internally Tegra 3 is out and replaced by Tegra 4. Just like last time, Tegra 4's 5th shadow core isn't exposed or used under Windows RT 8.1. Update: NVIDIA tells us the shadow core is enabled (contrary to what we originally heard from MS at the event), although it won't tell us how it's used. I know I was personally expecting a Snapdragon 800 based device, but those initial rumors also pointed to the Qualcomm based Surface tablet being smaller than 10.6-inches as well so it's entirely possible that we'll see Qualcomm show up at a later point. The move to Tegra 4 comes with four ARM Cortex A15 cores and a much better GPU. The combination of the two should deliver a much better experience on Surface 2 than with Surface RT. The latter was simply too slow, but I'm expecting big things from the Tegra 4 upgrade. Although I completely understand why Microsoft is interested in going with an ARM partner for Surface 2, I do wonder if it might've been a better idea from a power efficiency standpoint to use Intel's Bay Trail instead. Note that with Surface 2 Microsoft drops the RT from the device's name. We'll see what happens with Cherry Trail next year.

Microsoft Surface 2/RT Comparison
  Surface 2 Surface RT Apple iPad 4
Dimensions 10.81 x 6.79 x 0.35" 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37" 9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37"
Display 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 w/ Improved Color Accuracy 10.6-inch 1366 x 768 PLS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS
Weight Less than 1.49 lbs 1.5 lbs 1.44 lbs
Processor NVIDIA Tegra 4 1.7GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3

Apple A6X

Connectivity 802.11n WiFi 802.11n WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE
Memory 2GB 2GB 1GB
Storage 32GB or 64GB eMMC 32GB or 64GB 16GB—128GB
Battery ? 31.5 Wh 42.5Wh
Starting Price $449 $349 $499

Surface 2 retains the full sized USB port and microSD card slots on the device itself, although the former gets upgraded to USB 3.0. Internal storage options remain at 32GB or 64GB eMMC. Both front and rear facing cameras are improved over the original design as well.

The design of Surface 2 improves over its predecessor. Surface 2 is slightly thinner than its predecessor and is a little lighter as well. The device now features a silver colored VaporMg finish and a 2-stage kickstand. Although I loved the idea of the kickstand with the original Surface devices, I felt that it was often not at the right angle for me to use on anything other than a table. Surface 2's 2-stage kickstand should allow for some flexibility, although I'm curious to see how this works in practice and if there are any sacrifices to the overall stability of the stand.

Surface 2 will ship with Office 2013 RT including Outlook RT and come with 200GB of free Sky Drive storage for 2 years. The entire package starts at $449, but once again does not include a touch or type cover. The 64GB Surface 2 will sell for $100 more at $549.

Surface Pro 2


Surface Pro 2 sees a similar set of upgrades. It gets an updated display (the original Surface Pro was already 1080p) with better color accuracy. USB 3.0 support existed on the previous model as well. The big upgrade here is to a Haswell based Core i5-4200U. That's a 15W Haswell part (similar to what you'd find in an Ultrabook) but with Intel's HD 4400 graphics and not HD 5000. The move to 15W Haswell means there's no real reduction in device thickness with Surface Pro 2. This continues to be an interesting design decision on Microsoft's part. While I'd personally advocate for a lower wattage Y-series SKU, it could be that Microsoft feels the added performance of a full Ultrabook Haswell ULT SKU is necessary for Surface Pro's target market. Either way the move to Haswell should come with significant improvements in battery life (Microsoft claims a 75% improvement for Surface Pro 2, and 25% for Surface 2). 

Microsoft Surface Pro Comparison
  Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro Apple iPad 4
Dimensions 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53" 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53" 9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37"
Display 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 w/ Improved Color Accuracy 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 PLS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS
Weight 2.0 lbs 2.0 lbs 1.44 lbs
Processor Core i5-4200U with HD4400 Graphics (15W Haswell ULT)

Core i5-3317U with HD4000 Graphics (17W Ivy Bridge)

Apple A6X

Connectivity WiFi WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE
Memory 4GB or 8GB LPDDR3 4GB 1GB
Storage 64 or 128GB (4GB RAM)
256GB or 512GB (8GB RAM)
64GB or 128GB 16GB—128GB
Battery 42.0 Wh 42.0 Wh 42.5Wh
Starting Price $899 $899 $499

Surface Pro 2 starts at $899 and now comes in four different configurations You can get Surface Pro 2 with a 64GB ($899) or 128GB SSD ($999) and 4GB of RAM, or if you want 8GB of RAM there are 256GB ($1299) and 512GB ($1799) versions as well. Surface Pro 2 retains the old front and rear cameras.

Interestingly enough, the internal shots of the Surface Pro 2 feature a SKhynix mSATA SSD. I wonder if it's using a Link_A_Media controller:

As you can see in the gallery below, the PCB for Surface Pro 2 is absolutely huge. I'm really curious to see why Microsoft went this route vs. trying to fill the device's volume with a battery like most of the other tablet makers. I know in the past Microsoft was very big on weight distribution vs. lower overall weight, but I do wonder if a lighter Surface Pro 2 might've made sense here.

A big part of the Surface story is of course the detachable keyboard covers. This generation both type and touch covers see upgrades. They are both thinner and lighter, and both are now backlit as well. The new touch cover features 1092 sensors (up from only 80 in touch cover 1), which should improve response and accuracy. If you remember back to our original Surface reviews, touch cover accuracy was one of my biggest complaints. It was better than typing on a screen, but not as good as a real keyboard. I'm wondering if the new design helps here at all.

The type cover sees a 1mm reduction in key travel, which helps reduce thickness of the cover itself (although potentially at the expense of typing feel). You can also now get the type cover in four different colors as well (purple, pink, blue and black), instead of just black like the original design.

Other accessories include a new power cover with integrated battery, a docking station, and a music kit that replaces the traditional keyboard with something optimized for music playback/remixing. 

Both Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 will be available for pre-order starting tomorrow, with devices available on October 22nd. 

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  • jasonelmore - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    windows has way more apps and quality apps than ios, much less ios for ipad. ios may have more "touch" apps, but this is a full fledge laptop with the keyboard accessory.
  • bplewis24 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    I hate Apple just as much as anybody (and they haven't innovated much, if at all, over the past 4 years), but calling something like a new cover and an improved stand "innovative" is a big silly.
  • bplewis24 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    A "bit" silly.
  • name99 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Let's put aside the crazy rant and ask the only question that matters:
    Is there anything different about either of these two products that justifies a claim that they will be more popular than their two predecessors?

    I'm sorry but my answer to that is no. I don't see a single compelling thing here that makes a Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2 more desirable than their predecessors were yesterday.
    That's the HW side. One the SW side, we likewise haven't seen any compelling new feature in Win 8.1.

    To me it looks like one more lost year for MS. We can basically tune out and see if anything changes in September 2014 when they give us their third attempt.

    Meanwhile end of October we'll be seeing the new iPads. I think it goes without saying there'll be a retina mini and the iPad5 will get an A7X and TouchID. I'd guess (but can't be sure) that the iPad5 will also get 2GB and the A7X will have a triple CPU core on it --- we're getting close to the point where that makes sense, but maybe the extra GPU on the chip will mean the third core has to wait for a die shrink.

    Finally the interesting question there (from a business/fashion PoV) is how the iPhone 5C aesthetic affects the line. My guess would be that iPad5 continues the high end metal look, while the mini adopts the 5C plastic and multi-color look; but I could see it going many different ways --- for example the iPad5 is called the iPad S and comes in metal, A7X etc, while the existing iPad4 gets recased in plastic as the iPad C and loses $50 in price.
  • crypticsaga - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    ^This. Thanks Microsoft for a thinner lighter more power efficient version of a product nobody wants. Here comes another billion dollar write down.
  • Ikefu - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    How do you say Microsoft did nothing when it added all day battery life to an ultra book class tablet that has access to full windows software library. By those standards the Apple iPhone 5s and 5c are beyond irrelevant. Adding color to the case and a fingerprint reader lots of laptops have, that's exactly zero innovation.

    The point I make here is that Microsoft addressed the big complaint most had with the Surface Pro 2 in battery life and kick stand and should be applauded. Don't bash them for iterating a good design just because it's not your device of choice. Apple also iterated and you're excited. Device choice and competition is good for all. I'm glad we have Apple, Google, and MS since they all learn from each other and keep getting better.
  • Nagorak - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Well, it's kind of debatable whether "Microsoft" did that, or whether Intel did that. Regardless, the Surface Pro 2 is not unreasonable, it's the crappy WinRT version that is highly suspect, when it costs as much as full Win 8.1 tablets that will be coming out.
  • Ikefu - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    Agreed, Windows RT needs to die. The difference between Surface and Surface Pro should be Bay Trail versus Haswell. Full Windows 8.1 all around with Office included.
  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    Well my issue with surface RT was it was too expensive, used a year old processor, couldn't join a domain, had no outlook, and a low res display. And they didn't allow porting third part desktop apps.

    All of those things were fixed (afaik)... except for the deskop apps. But with bay trail giving essentially the same package with desktop apps I think surface 2 is a disappointment.

    Surface Pro was heavy, had poor battery life, no dock, and 128gb of storage isn't enough. They addressed battery life, dock, and storage. So it's pretty decent actually.

    I'm not sure if it's enough as neither device addresses all of my issues. But I find both tempting. That's more than I could say a year ago. I might still be temped to get a T100 and a nice laptop with a dock, but we'll see how the reviews turn out.
  • jxb767 - Friday, September 27, 2013 - link

    Ok, we get it, your excited about the new iPad.

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