Microsoft unveiled the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets at an event in New York Monday morning. As predicted, these are substantially upgraded versions of their late-2012 predecessors. There had been some buzz about Microsoft launching a smaller-screen tablet as well, but that didn't happen.
The Surface 2 is a major overhaul of the original Surface RT tablet, the one intended to compete with Apple's full-size iPad. The Surface 2 has a high-definition screen, answering a key gripe about the original tablet's lower-resolution display. It also has a faster chip and faster connections to USB and the Internet.
"It feels amazing and is even lighter, thinner, and has longer battery life than before," wrote its chief creator, Panos Panay, a corporate vice president at Microsoft, in a blog post. The Surface will start at $449 for a 32GB model — there's also a 64GB one — and it'll be available for pre-order right here on Tuesday. It ships Oct. 22.
The Surface Pro 2 didn't get as major an upgrade — mainly its chip is now a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor that's supposed to make things faster while extending the battery life by 60 percent. There's also now a "dual-stage" kickstand, that lets you set it on your lap without it falling over.
The tablet itself will start at $899 for a 64GB model with 4GB of RAM, and can be configured with up to 512GB of internal flash storage, and 8GB of RAM — at a substantially higher cost, of course. Pricing on those higher configurations will be available Tuesday when pre-orders begin. Like the Surface 2, the Surface Pro 2 ships Oct. 22 in its initial markets.
For both tablets, there'll soon be a $200 Power Cover, which is like a Type Cover only has an added battery tucked inside. If you use it with the Surface Pro 2, you should get more than 10 hours of juice, says Microsoft.
For people who are really committed to the Surface Pro platform, there's an imposing-looking Docking Station, which gives users a Mini DisplayPort video output, three USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port, an Ethernet port and 3.5mm audio in and out jacks. It connects to the Surface Pro 2 via the same contacts that the typing covers use, and charges the Pro while it's docked. The dock will be released in early 2014 for an estimated price of $200.
While these improvements are certainly nice for people who were already sold on the idea of the Surface tablets, they're too much more of the same to lure in new customers. Sales of the Surface tablets have been lackluster (to put it mildly), and a smaller tablet may have helped. Still, with Apple's iPad Mini, Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire crowding out that space, Microsoft may have a hard time breaking in. The good news for Microsoft devotees is that the new tablets will ship with Windows 8.1, a free update going out to all Windows 8 users containing some meaningful improvements to the platform.