How do you improve upon the Surface, Microsoft's tablet-as-PC that debuted last year? Internal upgrades are always welcome: more battery life, a better display, amped-up graphics. But the real killer apps of the next tablets might once again be the accessories.and
The Type Cover was the one part I loved the most about the last Surface Pro, for good reason: it worked great, felt small, and acted as a screen cozy. The Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2 make small but very important improvements: they both add backlit keyboards, and the Touch Cover 2 has far more sensors under its microfiber surface.
The $130 Type Cover 2 has four colors now (2013 is the "Year of Colorful Electronics") -- cyan, magenta, purple, and black -- and a quieter click mechanism, plus the pressure-sensitive touch pad works with Windows 8 gestures. The $120 Touch Cover 2 has faster type responsiveness in addition to the backlighting and added sensors, but I imagine most people would spend the extra $10 for the Type Cover. All of these will work with older Surface Pros and new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets. Surface RT owners, you might be out of luck.
There's one other new cover, and it's the one I'd buy: the Power Cover (price not available yet), a thicker Type Cover accessory that adds a battery pack, adding 50 percent more battery life, and charges the Surface (Surface 2, Surface Pro, and Surface Pro 2 -- again, sorry Surface RT users) in your bag when not in use.
Besides new keyboard covers, Microsoft also debuted a $200 Docking Station, a long-awaited (and needed) way to connect your Surface easily to extra ports while on a desk. Tall, angular, and black, it's a tiny bit bulky but slides around the Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2, locking into the side ports and offering up one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0, audio in/out, Ethernet, and a Mini DisplayPort. It's not much different from other charging docks seen on laptops and tablets, but the Docking Station also allows users to use the Type/Touch Cover at the same time -- and, you can daisy-chain extra monitors via Mini DisplayPort.
Microsoft will also be offering a Car Charger ($50) for Surface road-recharging, and a Wireless Bluetooth Adapter ($60) to enable typing covers to work when disconnected from Surface, which might be helpful for long-range operation -- but, then again, you could always purchase a separate wireless keyboard for the same price.
Do these make a difference in a crowded tablet market? The dock keeps the Surface competitive with equivalent Windows 8 tablets for business markets. The keyboards continue to be excellent. But the Surface 2 and Pro 2 accessories, while refined, are hardly surprising. They are, however, undeniably useful.