About this time last year, Microsoft made some damn big promises about ushering in the future of computing. One year and two Surfaces later the future Microsoft's been dreaming of isn't quite here. Maybe the second time's the charm.
Microsoft is rolling out the next two versions of its Surface devices, the Surface 2 (formerly the RT) and the Surface Pro 2. Both of them are virtually identical on the (wonderfully designed) outside, but the insides are were it gets real.
Microsoft is pushing forward with its Surface RT crusade, but this time without the "RT". In its name, anyway. The Surface 2 (as opposed to the Surface 2 Pro) is mostly the same as its predecessor at first glance. It's got the same fantastic physical design, same thickness, same ports. But this time: it's white.
The new stuff is in the guts. The Surface 2 has a better screen: 1080p like the OG Surface Pro, instead of 1366x768 like the Surface RT. It's also sporting USB 3.0 ports, instead of 2.0. It's also faster thanks to wireless bus updates, and (probably) a Tegra 4 brain. It offers a 25 per cent battery increase too. And even with all that, it's even a little lighter.
But even though it's lost the "RT" in its name, the Surface 2 IS still a Windows 8.1 RT device. It's just not wearing that on its chest anymore. Still nothing but Metro Modern apps here. The selection's getting better all the time but it's still not great.
Surface 2 is available in 32GB and 64GB configurations and starts at £359 for the base model without the Touch Cover.
The Surface Pro 2, the real great hope of the laptop-tablet hybrid future, doesn't look very different on the outside either. In fact, the case is exactly the same as the OG Surface Pro, with the exception of a new 2-position kickstand.
Nothing mind-blowing here, but the Surface Pro was already magnificent from a design perspective. Not changing anything was one of the best moves Microsoft could have made. And again, the guts are where it's at.
Microsoft claims the Surface Pro 2 is more powerful than 95 per cent of laptops out there, 20 per cent improvement over the original Pro, with twice the graphical power. There's a 4th-gen Intel Core i5 in there to thank for that. That means a CPU that can really cook, better graphics, and most of all, better battery life. Microsoft claims it's 75 per cent better battery-wise. That's fantastic, but in fairness a lot of that is Intel's doing.
The Surface Pro 2 will be available in 256GB (!) and 512GB (!!) versions, in addition to the 64GB and 128GB options we had before. And the two new larger entrants have the option of rocking 8GB (!) of RAM. The load-outs start at £719, just like the original Surface Pro, but you can bet those higher capacities will cost you a pretty penny.
Microsoft's Surfaces are ostensibly tablets, sure, but their laptop-tablet hybrid potential leans pretty heavily on the Touch Cover and Type Cover that act as its future-keyboard. It's only fitting they get an update too.
The Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2 are both (almost miraculously) thinner than their forerunners by a millimetre. So the the new Type Cover is almost as thin as a normal tablet cover and is apparently totally silent. Microsoft is putting a lot of emphasis on getting the speed of Typing on the type cover up, which is good since the original Type Cover was usuable, but not exactly pleasant. Microsoft's also making a big point of saying how these will both offer "lapability." And we'd be stoked if that turns out to be true, but we'll have to see it close up to see if lapability is less dumb than it sounds.
Microsoft's got a new fabric-covered Power Cover which is pretty much exactly what you'd hope for: a Surface keyboard-cover that's also a battery pack. It looks a little thick. Like thick as a Surface RT or two first-gen Type Covers, but it does have real keys. It stands to reason it'll be a little stiffer than the other covers too, which could make the Surface finally work as a literal lap-top device. Maybe. The Power Cover only works only with the Surface 2 and Pro 2, though. But the battery boost it offers is apparently "significant."
Microsoft's also rolling out a Surface Dock, despite having been pretty dead-set against it not too long ago. The dock isn't backward's compatible; it only works with the Surface 2 and Pro 2, but it comes equipped with a mini DisplayPort for video-out, one USB 3.0 port, three USB 2.0 ports, microphone and headphone jacks, and a 1Gbps Ethernet port. It should make you Surface-Pro-to-Desktop-Voltron dreams a reality.
It's not exactly an accessory, but every Surface purchase comes with free international calling and a free year of unlimited hotspot-use through Skype.
The Surface 2 and Pro 2 are available for pre-order online, or at your local Microsoft store, from October 22nd.