Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 Hands-On Preview

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It’s obvious Microsoft thinks very highly of its first-generation Surface tablets. How else can one explain why the Windows maker changed so little for the follow-up models, appropriately dubbed the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2?

New Kickstand!

In fact, at a glance, both sets of devices appear exactly the same. The Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 are not larger or thinner than the Surface Pro and Surface RT, and they all sport the same form factor. In fact, the only real design tweak is related to the kickstand, which now clicks out to two stages, instead of just one, as with the original.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2Admittedly, it’s a marginal change, but a welcomed one, as anyone who has tried using a tablet as a literal laptop device will likely be able to testify. The old Surface models, and just about all tablets, are unstable and awkward when resting on a lap. The kickstand helps stabilize things, and Microsoft claims it added the new kickstand stage precisely for this use case. In casual testing at the Surfaces’ unveiling, it worked well enough to earn its mention during the presentation.

It’s particular useful with the Surface 2, the ARM-based unit (Nvidia Tegra 4, specifically) that runs Windows RT. That unit is quite light, and could easily slide off a lap and onto the floor with little force.

Light and Not So Light

In fact, in comparison to the Surface RT, the Surface 2 is incredibly light, almost on par with the new iPads and Android tablets vying for the title of “lightest tablet.” But, as stated before, it’s not noticeably thinner than the previous model, and feels a bit hollow as a result.

But don’t tell Microsoft that. Reps at the unveiling were adamant that the Surface 2 is built to last, and even teased a planned stunt in which they attempted to break one on stage with a sledgehammer. Alas, good sense and attendee safety combined to override that decision, but reps also claimed they also nixed the stunt because they couldn’t guarantee the tablet would break.

Oddly enough, the Surface Pro 2, now sporting an Intel i5 “Haswell” processor in lieu of the Core i5 “Ivy Trail” that shipped in the original, seems just as heavy as its predecessor. It’s still a bit bulky and heavy for a tablet, but that doesn’t matter much to Microsoft, which is marketing it as a performance PC. In fact, Surface chief Panos Panay claimed it was faster than 95% of Windows devices on the market today, and even poked fun at all the slower devices he saw event attendees using during the unveiling.

According to Panay, overall Surface Pro 2 performance is 20% better than the original Surface Pro, with 50% better graphical performance, and 75% better battery life. It’s the “most powerful professional, and productive tablet ever made,” according to Microsoft.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with Type Cover and Desktop DockIt will also function as a laptop, with a thinner, back-lit Type Cover 2 that promises silent key strokes (during a quick hands-on demo, TPCR was able to hear the keys just fine, but we were really listening to test the claim), or a Power Cover, with a built-in battery for extra juice. Oh, and it will function as a desktop, with a docking station that outputs the 1080p Surface Pro 2 display up to 4k resolution.

Revamped Surface 2

Panay made no such claims in regards to the ARM-based Surface 2, but did call it a “revamping,” referring to the numerous and slight tweaks and additions Microsoft made to the product.

That includes a new front-facing camera sensor with improved low-light image performance, suited to Skype calls. That also includes 200GB of free Skydrive storage for two years, and full versions of Office included with the tablet.

Also apps, lots and lots of apps. According to Panay, there are now more than 100,000 in the Windows Store, whereas there were only 10,000 last year.

Or perhaps he was revering to the new Touch Cover 2. Like the previous Touch Cover, this QWERTY keyboard and display cover features sensor-based keys that the user taps, rather than presses (the keys have no travel). This new version is more sensitive however, with more than 1,000 sensors to register taps, whereas the previous model only had 82. This should help reduce dropped keystrokes, as there is no, or at best, very little, dead space on the keyboard.

Both the new Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2 are backlit, with lighting that will dim and turn off when the user is not typing. Both also magnetically attach to the Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro, and offer a satisfying click when attached or detached.

Preliminary Conclusion

Both the Microsft Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 seem like quality devices that could compete as productive machines. That said, so did the original Surface Pro and Surface RT, and while the Surface Pro found an audience, the Surface RT failed to gain traction in a market filled with low-cost Android tablets and the iPad.

Microsoft was careful not to compare either of its new tablets with the iPad and Android competition during the unveiling, instead pushing both as machines for work and play. The marketing campaign will likely reflect this, and not feature large-scale outdoor dance numbers (however entertaining those original Surface ads were). And this will likely put Microsoft at odds with its hardware partners, also pushing out new Windows 8 tablets, notebooks, hybrids, and convertibles.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out, how well these tablets hold up to Microsoft’s bold performance claims, and if Microsoft’s faith in its Surface products will be rewarded. TPCR will find out some of that for ourselves when we get them in the test lab for a full review.

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