By Stephen Schenck | September 23, 2013 10:39 AM
After months of speculation, dozens of rumors, and refreshingly little hardware actually leaking in advance, it’s time for Microsoft’s second generation of Surface tablets to go official. The company took to the stage at this morning’s New York City press event to reveal its latest slates, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.
First off, Microsoft started the event by announcing that it had two tablets to share – that seems to dash our hopes of a surprise Surface Mini.
The Surface Pro 2 gets an improved display over last year’s model, supposedly offering greatly improved color accuracy. Audio performance gets a boost, too, with re-engineered speakers.
Microsoft is all about describing the Pro 2 in relative terms, claiming a 50% improvement in graphics performance, with the tablet operating 20% faster overall. The biggest change may be with the tablet’s battery life, which Microsoft says is extended by 75%.
That talk of battery life acted as a segue into the confirmation of the rumored Power Cover. The Power Cover offers a Type Cover with an integrated 30wh battery, extending the Pro 2′s battery life by a respectable one and a half times.
Keeping on the accessories front, Microsoft then confirmed the other big one we’ve been expecting, the Surface docking station. It brings the Pro 2 the latest connectivity options, including a USB 3.0 port and Mini DisplayPort, as well as Ethernet, plenty of regular USB 2.0 ports, and audio in/out. Look for it to arrive sometime next year.
Done with accessories for a moment, Microsoft moved away from the Pro 2 and introduce the new RT-running model, now simply the Surface 2. Sure enough, the rumored full HD display is confirmed, and it looks like a new silver color option will be available. Thought not getting into specifics just yet, Microsoft calls the tablet faster, thinner, and lighter than its predecessor – it even calls it “sexier.”
While the first Surface RT was known for its struggles with lag, Microsoft insists that the Surface 2 isn’t going to be slowed down by anything. On the topic of problems with last year’s launch, we also hear that the RT app library has grown significantly since then, and is up to 100,000 titles by now.
We get to see the new adjustable kickstand in action, propping the tablet up to take advantage of its front-facer for some Skype video call action. Improvements to the camera’s lens help with performance in low-light conditions.
Both Surface 2 tablets will come with what Microsoft calls its “best of Skype” package, giving users one year of free Skype Wifi and international calling. Integration with SkyDrive will let users keep their Surface tablets backed up on the cloud, storing all their files and allowing them to restore the contents of a lost or destroyed tablet. Microsoft’s including 200GB of such SkyDrive storage with purchases of the Surface 2, good for two years.
There’s a new Touch Cover this year, as well, also getting the backlight treatment and itself slimming down by about a millimeter. It shaves down its weight a little and increases typing accuracy by adding hundreds of additional touch sensors compared to last year’s model.
Those extra sensors also let Microsoft play around with the cover’s design a little, trying out different button configurations for special uses. For instance, it showed off the new Surface Music Kit, an accessory using that base Touch Cover hardware to give you slider volume controls and triggers for audio options.
All right, enough talk about accessories and general tablet performance – how about some hard specs and – perhaps most importantly – pricing info?
The Surface Pro 2 will offer shoppers four different storage/memory configurations: 64GB/4GB, 128GB/4GB, 256GB/8GB, and 512GB/8GB. We’re still waiting for details on the higher-end options, but that base 64GB/4GB RAM variety will sell for just about $900.
The Surface 2 will have either 32GB or 64GB storage, and that 32GB option starts around $450.
Both tablets go up for pre-order tomorrow morning, and retail sales will begin next month, on October 23.
Update: Video of the announcement is now available, direct from Microsoft.