Microsoft on Monday announced two new Surface models, a Surface 2 that runs Windows RT 8.1 and a Surface Pro 2 that runs Windows 8.1 Pro. Both are bolstered by improved specifications and an expanded set of accessories. But Microsoft has unexpectedly held firm on pricing, suggesting that it hasn't completely learned from the mistakes of the past.
"There's a transformation happening," Microsoft's Panos Panay said at the opening of the press event in New York, explaining how the new products differ from their predecessors. "Surface Pro was already working, so when we set out to make it better, we put our energy into that. We didn't reinvent the wheel ... Surface 2 [however] is not subtle. This is a complete revamp that people need."
I attended the launch event and posted some photos in "Live from New York: Surface 2 Launch," if you're curious.
As Panay suggested, the new devices offer varying levels of change. The Surface Pro 2, Microsoft's take on a new kind of Ultrabook, provides a faster and more efficient processor, much better battery life, and a slightly improved screen. But it's a very evolutionary and unsurprising update to the Surface Pro that debuted in January. You can see more in "Surface Pro 2 – Visually."
The Surface 2, however, offers more dramatic changes. It looks much like its predecessor, Surface RT, but now features a silver magnesium exterior that is the "natural" color of the material, Microsoft said. It utilizes a much faster TEGRA 4 processor that should dramatically improve performance—a key concern with Surface RT. And while the preceding device wasn't exactly hurting for battery life, Surface 2 bumps that figure up by 25 percent to "12-plus hours in the real world," Panay says. The device is also thinner and lighter and features the same brilliant 10.6" 1080p screen as Surface Pro. Check out "Surface 2 – Visually" for some imagery of the product.
"There are no trade-offs this time," with Surface 2, Panay said. "It is faster in every single way. The speeds are unprecedented. It is the fastest personal tablet."
Both devices also share a new two-position kickstand, where the first-generation devices featured a single-position kickstand. The second position makes the devices easier to use on your lap—a key complaint about Surface RT and Surface Pro.
Please refer to "Surface 2 Specifications" for a rundown of the hardware components in each device.
Both devices also benefit from improvements to Windows, which in Windows 8.1 or Windows RT 8.1 guise is a much more mature system that was co-developed alongside Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. And the ecosystem surrounding these products has improved dramatically in a year: Panay noted that when Surface RT launched in October 2012 there were only 10,000 apps in the Windows Store. Today, there are more than 100,000. "These are critical apps, great apps," he said. "The Store is coming to life." He noted apps like Flipboard, Facebook, Mint, and the NFL Fantasy app that are all expected to launch soon.
The new Surface devices are also accompanied by a new lineup of accessories, though two of the most sought-after (a new Power Cover with additional battery life and a nice-looking Docking Station) won't ship until early 2014. For this holiday season, customers can choose from new Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2 covers, which both feature backlit keys, a Wireless Adapter that works with all of the typing covers, a new car charger, and some new Surface-branded mouse devices. I examine the new accessories in "Surface 2 Accessories – Visually."
This all sounds reasonable until you arrive at the pricing. As I note in "Surface 2 Pricing," the Surface 2 lineup comes in at just $50 less per model than the initial pricing structure for Surface RT—$449 for the 32GB version and $549 for the 64GB version—and starts at $100 more than the current Surface RT price. (Microsoft, aping Apple, will actually keep the lackluster Surface RT in the market so that it can field a cheaper offering. That device will continue to sell for $349.)
There are now four Surface Pro 2 models, up from two with Surface Pro, but the pricing maps exactly to the January launch prices for that initial device: A 64GB Surface Pro 2 with 4GB of RAM will cost $899, while a 128GB version, also with 2GB of RAM, will cost $999, as before. The two new models—256GB of storage with 8GB of RAM for $1,299 and 512GB of storage with 8 GB ofRAM for $1,799—are ludicrously expensive.
Microsoft tries to justify these high prices with a couple of benefits all Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 customers will receive—200GB of SkyDrive storage for free for two years and a "Best of Skype" deal that provides free international calling and free Skype Wi-Fi hot spot usage for one year.
If you're interested in purchasing a Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2, the devices and many accessories are available for preorder starting today. They will be released on October 22, 2013.
Related: "Watch the Surface v2 Press Event Here"