Next-gen Surface tablets jack up components

The software giant has beefed up the insides of its tablet, adding better graphics performance and longer battery life.

Panos Panay unveils the Surface Pro 2. Sarah Tew/CNET
NEW YORK -- Microsoft on Monday unveiled an update to its Surface tablets, both the full-Windows Surface Pro 2 and the stripped-down Surface 2.

Surface tablets are Microsoft's own take on the burgeoning niche -- one that is largely dominated by Apple's iPad, but with a healthy dose of competition from devices using Google's Android OS. Microsoft, not wanting to miss out on the tablet gravy train, opted to push Windows 8 and Windows RT through its own products. While Microsoft's first attempt last year led to disappointing results, the company is trying again with improved internal specs.

The Surface Pro 2 is a full laptop in a tablet design, said Panos Panay, the Microsoft vice president in charge of Surface, who noted that the graphics performance is 50 percent better and its battery life 20 percent longer than its predecessor. It includes a tweaked "dual-position kickstand" that allows users to tilt the screen at two different angles.

The Surface 2 is the successor to the original Surface RT, which runs a stripped down version of Windows 8. The company said it is lighter, thinner, and faster.

The RT version contains a Tegra 4 chip from Nvidia, as CNET previously reported. It also features a full HD 1080p screen and runs three to four times faster than its predecessor. At the same time, battery life is 25 percent better than the first Surface.

"This is the fastest product I have used relative to a personal tablet," Panay said. "This product is faster in every single way. ... You're using this thing at speeds that are unprecedented."

As for the accessories, Microsoft also showed off a new back-lit, snap-on keyboard, the Power Cover, as well as a thinner Type Cover, and a dock for the tablet.

The 32GB Surface 2, which runs Windows RT, will retail for $449, $50 less than its predecessor. A 64GB will cost $549. The Pro version, meanwhile, starts at $899 for the 64GB version. Both tablets will be available for preorder at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday and will arrive in stores on Oct. 22.

Microsoft launched the new tablets during a press event Monday in the Skylight Modern event space in New York's Chelsea neighborhood.

Sales of Microsoft's first Surface tablets -- the Pro with an Intel chip and RT with an Nvidia processor -- have been dismal. Microsoft had to write down $900 million for Surface RT in July, and the software giant later revealed it had generated only $853 million in revenue from Surface RT and Surface Pro since their debut last fall.

As of the second quarter, Windows 8 and Windows RT devices comprised just 4.5 percent of all tablet shipments, according to IDC. The operating system only launched in October, however, and the tech research firm said that "Microsoft-fueled products are starting to make notable progress into the market."

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Panay noted that Surface Pro 2 features Intel's latest processor, dubbed Haswell. That makes the tablet faster than 90 percent of laptops on the market today and 20 percent faster than its predecessor. Surface Pro 2 also has 75 percent better battery life than the first version of Surface Pro.

Microsoft said the power cover gives the Pro 2 two-and-one-half times the battery life of the original product. The type cover, meanwhile, is now almost as thin as the original touch cover.

"The point of this product is to work fast," Panay said. "The need of the product is to work all the time. We couldn't miss either of those."

The Surface Pro 2 screen also includes a 46 percent improvement in color accuracy.

The Windows app store now has 100,000 apps versus 10,000 when the first version of Surface launched. Surface 2 also now includes the full Office suite with Outlook, unlike its predecessor.

Updated throughout the event with details and again at 2:30 p.m. PT with pricing and availability.
 

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