Monday, September 23, 2013

Updated: Surface 2 release date, news and features

Updated: Surface 2 release date, news and features

Updated: Surface 2 release date, news and features

Surface 2 news and features

Microsoft has announced Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 at an event in New York.

Surface Pro 2 features Windows 8.1, while Surface 2 will feature the Windows 8.1 retread of Windows RT, known as Windows 8.1 RT.

Surface chief Panos Panay claimed the new tablets could continue Surface helping "people get away from their iPad a nd be more productive".

We're long-time fans of Surface on TechRadar, even if we thought that Surface Pro was too expensive and Surface RT was too limited (due to the still too-limited Windows RT).

Surface 2 is the new Surface RT

The faster, lighter and thinner 10.6-inch Surface 2 comes in black and silver and now features a 1080p Full HD display as well as an Nvidia Tegra 4 ARM-based processor.

Surface 2

We'd expected it to be a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip, due to that company 's relationship with Nokia and Windows Phone. However, Nvidia has been a Windows RT (Windows on ARM) partner from the start.

Microsoft thinks you'll get up to 10 hours of video playback out of the battery. As for cameras, we're looking at a 3.5MP front-mounted snapper and a 5MP lens on the back. There's also USB 3.0.

Surface 2

"We've added the Surface logo. You're using a Surface, you want people to know you're using a surface," Microsoft's Panos Panay said optimistically.

Surface 2 is lighter and thinner than Surface RT

Surface 2 comes with Office

Surface 2 still comes with Microsoft Office 2013 on the desktop, but now boasts a special version of Outlook 2013 - Outlook RT. Panay demonstrated the processing power of Surface 2 by showing us all four Office apps running simultaneously.

As with the original Surface RT, Surface 2 will come with Office

Surface 2 price and release date

Surface 2 pre-orders open on September 24, with the 32GB model starting from £359 in the UK and $ 449 in the US. A 64GB model will also be available and it will cost £439 in the UK and $ 549 in the US.

Although you can pre-order pretty soon, there's a bit of a wait for the actual tablet to materialise: the Surface 2 release date is set for October 22 in 22 initial markets, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

China will follow in early November. Additional countries will be announced in the coming months, says Microsoft.

The back of the new silver Surface 2

Surface Pro 2 is the new Surface Pro

The latest-generation Intel Haswell Core i5-powered Surface Pro 2 features a 20 percent speed improvement and 50 per cent graphics bump as well as beefed up sound thanks to Dolby. The screen is the same ClearType HD display, but with 46 percent improved color accuracy.

The Surface Pro 2

The kickstand also has more angles it's positioned at 22 degrees, though you can readjust to 55 degrees), while battery power is 75 per cent up - we're pretty relieved about that, since the Surface Pro is pretty poor on battery life.

To demo the new and improved Surface Pro 2's PC-like capabilities, Microsoft edited raw 6K film, which has a resolution of nine times that of HD.

The Surface Pro 2 features 4GB/8GB memory configurations and 256GB and 512GB configurations.

Multiasking in Windows 8.1

Surface 2 accessories

But there will be new peripherals launched to go with the new Surface - including a Surface Docking Station, Surface Power Cover (with integrated 30W battery) and new colour Type Cover and Touch Cover colors. There's also a Car Charger with USB and an Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition.

The Docking Station in action

The Surface Docking Station comes complete with three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 slot, a mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, audio In, audio Out and power.

Type covers

The backlit Type Cover has 1mm taken out of the travel of the keys, so it's now almost as thin as the original Touch Cover.

Microsoft says the Power Cover brings the Surface Pro into the realm of all-day use (improves overall life by 2.5x), while the Surface Pro simply slides in and out of the Docking Station.

Surface Keyboard

Surface Pro 2 price and release date

The Surface Pro 2 price starts at $ 899 in the US and £719 in the UK, available in 64GB and 128GB configurations with 4GB of RAM. Bump it up to 8GB of RAM and the Pro 2 can come in 256GB and 512GB flavors.

Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 come with free Skype call ing

To help people get the most out of Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, Microsoft says that buyers will also get free Skype calling to landlines in more than 60 countries for one year plus unlimited Skype Wi-Fi and 200 GB of free SkyDrive storage for two years. That's pretty cool.

Free Skype

Original Surface problems

It seemed sure that a new Surface 2 running Windows RT was imminent due to price reductions and now Microsoft has sent out invites to the media for a New York City event which is now getting underway.

Despite the many problems and drawbacks, Microsoft says it is committed to Windows on ARM, although a cynic w ould say that Windows Phone also runs on ARM, so it could be that Microsoft is referring to.

Surface 2 launch

By general concensus the Surface RT hasn't done that well, although we've never been crystal clear on how many slates Microsoft has sold with RT.

But the fact there's now a price cut amounting to $ 150 per model (equal to £98, AU$ 163) and a $ 900 million accounting writedown in the company's financials is a sure sign the numbers aren't stellar.

Our earlier Surface 2 rumours

There continue to be rumours that the new Surface 2 could be launched in an 8-inch version. Samsung will supposedly supply the panels for these displays.

The 10.1-inch tablet would boast the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, probably wi th 32GB of internal storage and 2GB of RAM.

Microsoft has been bolstered by the successful sales and international pre-orders of the Surface Pro and that means we'll definitely see a Surface Pro 2 release date soon as a result - a device that will surely feature Intel's new Haswell processors.

The 128GB version sold out numerous times and there was a definite shortage of the tablet across the US and Canada in the weeks after launch and subsequently some shortages in Europe.

The Surface Pro 2 is also supposed to truly replace PCs by providing the Surface Dock, an accessory that allows more device connections, along with a Power Cover to supply extra battery juice.

As well as Windows 8.1, we could definitely see newer technologies in a forthcoming Surface, including NFC and LTE as well as, potentially, wireless charging.

We're also hoping Microsoft will be one of the first tablet makers to use the new high-speed, low-power 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, especially a s even the first Surface model has twin antennas.

We heard back in November that a new Xbox Surface could be on the cards and this could also be the smaller ARM-based Microsoft tablet we keep hearing about. As for when it will be here, analyst NPD DisplaySearch believes that a Microsoft 7.5-inch slate won't hit until 2014.

1st gen Surface Pro battery life

A big problem with the existing Surface Pro appears to be battery life, with around four hours reported for most. That's about half the battery life of Surface RT and the iPad, but while you might not be too surprised considering the Intel Core i5 that the Surface Pro runs, we'd point you in the direction of the six or more hours that many Ultrabooks can reach.

Microsoft's leaks also show new Surface accessories and accessory colours, which could mean new charge covers for extra battery capacity.

In a two hour AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on Reddit, head of Surface Panos Panay talked about the Surface Pro in detail and had to defend the battery details against Redditors who suggested Panay - and fellow engineers who also appeared to be participating in the chat - were giving guarded answers drawn from marketing speak.

They had a point. Exhibit A is a key passage about the battery life and siz e, and the compromise that has been made. "If you compare [Surface] to say a MacBook Air, you will quickly see that pound for pound in battery size vs battery life, you will find optimizations that puts Surface best in its class.

"That said we picked a smaller battery to be sure we were able to give you the same performance and to keep it thin. This kept the weight under 2lbs. While these tradeoffs are challenges as much as they are opportunities, we think given the performance and experience you will be getting, it is an exciting product."

Put simply, the 42Wh Surface Pro battery had to be small and, while it's good for the size, there are compromises as a result.

Commenter Wiseasss wasn't appeased. "In every paragraph you insist that the computer has 'no compromises', and then turn around and talk about the compromises you made. What exactly is the difference, in your mind, between 'compromises' (which you say this product does not have) and 'tradeoffs' (which you say it does)?"

Microsoft Surface power saving

His thoughts echoed many comments that suggested the Surface Pro's battery life made it poor value up against competitor tablets and Ultrabooks. But Redditor marm0lade could see that physical size was the restriction, and that's how it had to be.

"Do you not think they are squeezing every ounce of battery life that they can get? It's a power hungry CPU with a tiny battery. But you need that CPU to be able to run desktop apps (do actual work). I have the Samsung Ativ tablet, which is running the same CPU as the Surface Pro, and I get 7 hours battery life. It, again, has a bigger screen/body which allows for a bigger battery."

You'd hope Microsoft could pack a bigger battery inside the Surface Pro, but judging by its responses here, there is precious little that will happen in the short term - it simply opted for power over longevity. After all, if it had wanted to o ffer a more frugal Intel solution, it would have opted for the Atom chip being used by others such as the Asus VivoTab.

Some respite was provided by the Surface engineers, who were surprisingly positive when questioned about whether an external battery could be on the way for Surface Pro. "That would require extending the design of the accessory spine to include some way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery. Which we did..."

Commenters were immediately enthusiastic. Here's Skaarg: "That response 100% sold me on the Surface. I'd been debating between the Surface Pro and other devices such as the Vaio Duo 11, Yoga 11S, etc. but knowing that an extended battery or keyboard with a battery is in the works makes me much more comfortable buying this device."

Microsoft Surface future connectivity

Panay also provided more detail about new connectors found on the Surface Pro's bottom dock, writing, "Wow - I'm pumped you caught that! We haven't announced what they are for but they aren't an accident!" he continued.

Surface Pro

"At launch we talked about the 'accessory spine' and hinted at future peripherals that can click in and do more. Those connectors look like can [sic] carry more current than the pogo pins, don't they?"

So as well as a powered keyboard dock (the like of which is appearing on many other Windows 8 devices, could we also see other peripherals appear such as a battery pack or full dock? Only time will tell.

Surface Pro storage issues

Storage space - or lack of - was also a bone of contention during the AMA. According to Microsoft recently, the base model Surface Pro with 64GB of stora ge only comes with 23GB of free storage. That means Windows 8 Pro and whatever other default programs and apps come loaded on the tablet will leave just 36 per cent of the drive open for users.

The 128GB model fares better, with 85GB (64.8 per cent) of the storage space left open for people to use. The Surface RT also went through some similar memory troubles. The 32GB Surface RT included just 16GB of storage when it arrived, and the 64GB version allowed users to work with 46GB of space.

Over the course of many tens of comments, Redditers were highly critical of the amount of space used up, comparing the device to others where free space was not as cited, but was still a smaller proportion of the storage space (the iPad or an Android tablet, for example).

Sag969 suggested they should have "cancelled the 64 GB model, sold the 128 GB model at $ 899 with no keyboard and the 128 GB model at $ 999 with a touch OR type cover" to alleviate the storage issues but still hit a reasonable price point.

Surface Pro

An interesting titbit was revealed in the talk â€" that Office 2013 is actually pre-installed on Surface Pro - you just have to activate it. Asked if this was the case, the Surface team replied "Yes, that's exactly what it means :)."

On the 128GB version, the drive is formatted to 119 binary GB of which 89 GB is available. 10.4GB of that is taken up by Windows, while there's 2.3GB of Office 2013.

7.8 of those can be freed up by using the built-in tool to move the recovery data to a USB drive.

The Surface team unsurprisingly suggested that the answer to a lack of storage lay with extending space via the memory card slot, plugging in an external drive or using SkyDrive adding, "Windows does provide tools that allow you to free space by easily removing applications you are not using as well as move the recovery image to a USB thumbdrive."

Surface RT

"We decided to ship a Pro 64GB sku as it provides full Windows 8 and enough storage for a number of large application installs. It also provides you flexibility to extend storage should you need. If you plan to carry more personal items with you locally, our 128GB may be the better option for you."

"Available disk space is a design choice and a tough one to make as an engineering team," said the engineer, saying it was the result of "a clear set of tr adeoffs to provide the customer more space while providing them the tools out of the box".

"There has [sic] also been questions about why including the recovery image by default. Ideally, you will never need your recovery image, however this is a choice we would prefer the customer to make vs. having the customer need the recovery image not realizing they needed to create one themselves."

Microsoft Surface display issues

During the chat the Surface team also cleared up how it came to ship the Surface Pro after RT. And the answer is surprisingly simple: "We started the Pro 3 months after we started Surface RT :-) That is exactly when we staffed the team to go and bring this product to life."

The final point of interest from the AMA concerned the 1920 × 1080 ClearType display that comes with the Surface Pro. Primarily because Windows has been, well, a bit poor with 72dpi+ displays in the past.

As we've used an HD Asus Zenbook Prime with Windows 8 before, we can confirm that Windows 8 can play ball in this area, but the Surface Pro is reportedly not too good with this. But Windows 8 also can't scale differently on two displays, which is a problem for some.

About this, the Surface team said: "The Windows team is aggressively working on this feature to fix this for all high resolution Windows devices. We don't have a date yet to share, so sorry. But in the meantime here are some things I do to maximize my external monitor experience."

Surface Pro

Ed from the Surface hardware development team also commented that DisplayPort on Surface Pro can drive an external monitor with resolutions up to 2560 x 1600p: "We wanted to give the most flexibility with monitors available toda y, and generally speaking most HDMI monitors are limited to 1080p." Microsoft has also published a separate engineering briefing on the Surface's display.

Naturally Microsoft will be working to fix these limitations, and it will be extremely interesting to see how Surface Pro performs in the market. After all, it's an extremely capable device by any metric, but while it isn't as powerful as many laptops, it is more expensive than them. It's also isn't as energy frugal and is more expensive than many tablets. Can Microsoft make it work? Or has the Surface RT just confused things? Roll on Surface 2.


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