Microsoft’s Surface-level improvements

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24 September 2013 | 0

Microsoft continued its evolution into a devices and software company yesterday with the announcement of the Surface 2 and Pro 2 tablets. That would be the same Surface range cost the company $1 billion and accelerated the departure of CEO Steve Ballmer.

So what does Microsoft have to offer this time around? Well, the concept behind the Surface hasn’t changed. Productivity is still its core function, with content consumption a clear second.

Delivering the keynote presentation at the Surface Pro 2/Surface 2 launch, Microsoft vice president, Surface, Panos Panay called the Surface Pro 2 “the most productive tablet ever built” and it has the specs to back it up.

The Pro 2 will be available in four configurations: 64Gb storage, 4Gb RAM; 128Gb storage, 4Gb RAM; 256Gb storage, 8Gb RAM; 512Gb storage, 8Gb RAM. It also boasts a ClearType HD display with 46% greater colour accuracy, Dolby sound and an Intel Haswell processor. Quieter and cooler than its predecessor, the Pro 2 is also 20% faster and has 20% better battery life – lasting about 10 hours on a single charge.

One point it was great to see addressed was the Surface’s biggest weakness: you can’t work with it comfortably on your lap. The solution: a revised kickstand with greater stability. We won’t know how successfully it solves the problem until we get our hands on one.

The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899 and will be on the shelves in the US on 22 October.

Also on sale that day, Its little brother, the Surface 2 runs Windows RT 8.1 and gets a silver body and a 1080p ClearType display and is available in 32Gb and 64Gb versions from $449. As before, its problems aren’t in build quality but the stripped down version of Windows 8 it runs. Maybe it will find its niche in education or business but it won’t be any threat to the iPad.

Peripherals
In terms of peripherals there was a lot of eyecandy. An all-new Power Cover comes with an integrated 30W battery that can triple the Surface 2’s battery life. The new Type Cover comes in a choice of purple, blue, pink, black, is 1mm thinner (almost as thin as the first Touch Cover) and is backlit.

There was also a docking station comes with three USB 3 ports, one USB 1 port, minidisplay, Ethernet, audio in, audio out, and power but it’s hard to see what it offers the user when the station doesn’t come with a keyboard or mouse. The Touch Cover 2 is 1mm thinner than last touch but is now backlit.

Panay had plenty to talk about on the app front, as well. The Windows Store now boasts some 100,000 apps, with Facebook and Flipboard yet to arrive. Office will come as standard on both tablets, as will a one-year “Best of Skype” subscription and 200Gb of SkyDrive storage for two years.

Probably the most fun part of the announcement Panay left until last – although Panos didn’t go so far as to introduce it with the famous line “one last thing”. The Surface Remix Project is a mixing desk touch cover that lets you remix and share your music through the Xbox Music app. For pure fun value it was a good punchline and I look forward to getting my hands on one.

Has Microsoft done enough to save the Surface? If you’re already sold on the Surface concept then there is plenty to recommend both models. They’re well made, have an improving app store and feel good in the hand. However, they still suffer from the same flaw as their predecessors: a muddled concept. The Surface Pro is effectively a high end ultrabook – a productivity tool dressed up as a consumption device. The Surface 2 is a content consumption device that wants to be a productivity tool. For as long as the Surface suffers this identity crisis it won’t be able a credible competitor for the iPad or the myriad Android tablets on the market.

 

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