Starting the build up to what will be an enormous Christmas for new products Microsoft has this week (Sept 23) announced a new generation of Surface tablets, re-vamping the Surface range.
Presented on this fine day in New York was the evolution of the Surface range, nothing radical but with the updated hardware and new accessories the Surface and Surface Pro are starting to make far more sense. October 22 has been set as the release date (most countries) for the Surface tablets, with many of the accessories due in early 2014.
Watching elephants learn to dance is a highly amusing pastime we can all enjoy, although if the Surface Pro 2 is any indication they may finally have found a little rhythm. Can they turn their Surfaces into all they can be?
A Surface RT by any other name…
The Surface RT lives on for another generation, albeit with much lowered sales expectations after MS was stuck with warehouses full of unsold units, $900 million worth of RT apparently. A strange thing to say when they are worth zero dollars if no-one is buying them. Technically the correct way to put it would be they have 0 dollars worth of obsolete RT tablets filling warehouses.
Attempting to perform some of its marketing magic on the RT range Microsoft has cleverly dropped the RT from the name, going forward the RT will simply be known as the Surface 2. The refresh also extends to hardware which now includes the latest Tegra 4 chipset, a full HD display and redesigned case. All round these are actually a very good product.
Here at Highpants we love a game of Angry Birds but at the office we would prefer being forced to watch a behind the scenes making of big brother rather than use Android, iOS or RT for work. This isn’t to say there is no place in business for the ARM based tablets, you just need to be realistic about their limitations. For most users though the decision of which tablet to buy is most simply answered by the question ‘which phone do you use?’ To be honest the fastest and easiest of all of them is Windows Phone and Surface (the OS formerly known as RT), but it does still trails on the software front.
Surface Pro 2
The Pro Surface is the only tablet that can do it all, with the upcoming accessories it will be able to seamlessly shift from road warrior to desktop monster, then as the night draws on it will even transition to couch surfer. All with the software you’re used to, no compromise.
Under the hood the hardware has been updated to the latest Haswell Core i5-4200 running at 1.6GHz, replacing the old Ivy Bridge Core i5-3317u that ran at 1.7GHz. This should translate into 10-20% more CPU performance with much lower power consumption. The display stays full HD but the new panel now has 46% better colour accuracy.
Power usage was an issue for the original Pro, under load it was known to chew through its battery in 2 hours flat. The Haswell CPU and extra battery capacity should increase this to 5 hours. This is only an estimate till the release in October. The Power Cover with integrated battery should take the run time close to 10 hours, hopefully the Power Cover works on the first generation Pro tablets, it is needed.
With the new generation CPU games also become an option; the Pro 2 was demonstrated in New York running World of Warcraft and Portal 2 smoothly. Older generation games sure but at least this chipset makes it past slideshow like frame rates.
The kickstand now has 2 positions, with a new laid back 55 degree angle, hopefully improving the places the kickstand can be used, not just for flat surfaces anymore.
The base model Pro 2 will include 4GB of RAM and 64GB of Flash for $1019 AUD ($899 USD, £719), the 128GB will cost $1129. The new generation brings with it 2 new models that feature 8GB of RAM, the 256GB version will set you back $1469 while the 512GB model will cost a heart stopping $2039 AUD.
Many of the missing pieces in the Surface puzzle are shaped like accessories. The accessories being key to the Surface Pro 2 being able to fit many roles, becoming a true transformer.
The Docking Station will be a hugely popular accessory when it’s released in early 2014. Once dropped into the cradle the Pro 2 will charge while doing desktop duties, simple but game changing. Ports will include a USB 3.0, 3 USB 2’s, mini Display Port, Ethernet port and audio in/out jacks.
The new Power Cover will give the Pro 2 more than 2.5 times the capacity of the internal battery thanks to its 30watt hours worth of lithium. The new cover features a more compact keyboard that has given up space for the batteries. The cover itself does appear fairly bulky.
The original Touch Cover and Type Covers have been given the once over by Microsoft’s design team, updated to include back-lighting, slimmer design and even more colours than ever.
The Surface Music Kit caught everyone’s attention, something this cool from Microsoft as surprising as it is functional. The Kit combines the special touch sensitive DJ keyboard / cover with their own software called Remix Project.
Other accessories announced include a wireless keyboard adapter that allows the keyboard covers to be used when they’re not plugged in, there was also a car charger for more power on the move. Finally there’s a new Arc Touch Mouse that can be pre-ordered now, the Bluetooth mouse features a touch surface covering the top of the mouse.
The tablet revolution thus far has been driven by entertainment and personal computing; they are the personal computer of choice for many. Cheap and easy to use both iOS and Android have put computers in the hands of millions, many of these people not inclined to use a desktop or laptop.
The last bastion of resistance remaining for tablets is the professional or corporate worlds. The Surface Pro represents the best chance for tablets to take this market by storm. With the Surface Pro 2 poised to become the tablet of choice for techies and professionals the only question is what can Microsoft do to stop it? Or will they hold their nerve and adapt to this brave new world?