Microsoft's Surface tablet was supposed to usher in a new generation of Windows RT products, targeted to compete more with iOS and Android tablets than full-featured laptops. The lukewarm reception Windows RT received meant that we've seen very few RT products since, and the Surface tablet itself was outshone by the superior Surface Pro, a slightly heftier version that ran full Windows 8 with an Intel Core i5 CPU.
Both halves of the Surface line have been refreshed just in time for the 2013 holiday season, but it's the Surface 2, still running Windows RT, that has undergone a more complete makeover.
This updated Windows RT version of the Microsoft Surface features a slightly slimmer body, an updated 1.7GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 processor (as
While the Windows 8 Surface Pro 2 still comes in a slatelike black, the Windows RT Surface 2 is now a lighter color, more of a silver/magnesium (and the bodies of both are made of mostly magnesium).
The logo branding on the back panel is different, reading "Surface" rather than "Microsoft," and the built-in kickstand now adjusts to two different angles, making the system easier to see from different positions. The original one-size-fits-all kickstand made the screen hard to see and interact with unless you happened to be sitting at precisely the optimal angle. MS says the new angle is 40 degrees, while the original is about 24 degrees.
The keyboard covers get thinner, add backlights
The best part of the original Surface line was its optional snap-on keyboards, and both have been updated. The Touch Cover has flat keys that work, but offer less tactile feedback than serious typists need, while the Type Cover has island-style keys that are shallow, but still very usable.
The Touch Cover is about one third thinner than the original version, but at the same time, more rigid for easier typing. The old system of one sensor under each key has been replaced with a full array of sensors, allowing for partial keystrokes to be counted more easily and accurately, plus support for a handful of gestures.
In our hands-on time with the new Touch Cover, typing felt faster, with less latency and with great accuracy, especially when typing quickly.
The Type Cover, with its full separate-key keyboard, is thinner as well, and remains one of the things people like best about Surface. Microsoft has also shown off a second kind of Type Cover that includes an integrated battery. Only slightly thicker than the standard Type Cover, this would allow the systems to run even longer by combining the internal battery and the secondary keyboard battery, a idea already used in a handful of Windows 8 laptop/tablet hybrids.
A Bluetooth adapter for the keyboard covers is also in the works (yes, it's an accessory for an accessory), and that will snap onto the top of the keyboard and allow you to use it remotely as a Bluetooth keyboard.
Both the Touch Cover and Type Cover are now backlit. Especially in a system intended for frequent travel, as a tablet is presumed to be, a backlit keyboard is practically required, as you can easily end up in a dimly lit coffee shop, airplane, or meeting room.
The only real downside here is that the keyboard covers are not included with the $449-and-up Surface 2, and remains an expensive add-on.
For Surface 2, an interior and exterior makeover
In our hands-on sessions with the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 prior to its official unveiling, both come off as modestly improved versions of what we had seen before, although the new, thinner body for the Surface 2 has more of a version 2.0 feel.
Both the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 will be available starting October 22. The Surface 2, with Windows RT, starts at $449, but the previous model Surface RT, will still be available for $349. The Surface Pro 2 starts (as the original Pro did) at $899, but the internal storage can be upgraded to a 512GB SSD.
CNET editor Tim Stevens contributed to this report.