With Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro, Microsoft Gives Its Tablets a Second Kick

After a disappointing first run, new Surface tablets aim to do better.

ByABC News
September 22, 2013, 7:32 PM

Sept. 23, 2013 — -- Last year along with Windows 8, Microsoft released two tablets of its own.

The Surface RT and Surface Pro were meant to derail the iPad with productivity features like a different keyboard and Office, but despite millions in marketing and advertising, the tablet failed to impress.

If you need proof of that, just look at the $900 million write-down due to unsold inventory, the price cuts and the lackluster reviews. But Microsoft is back at it this year with the some much-needed updates to the tablet duo.

"We're launching two of the most productive tablets on the planet," Panos Panay, general manager of Microsoft's Surface, told ABC News. "We really focused on making sure these are the most productive tablets people can buy."

The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, which will ship with the improved Windows 8.1 on Oct. 22, directly addresses the criticism Microsoft has heard from customers and reviewers.

Surface 2: Thinner, Lighter, Faster

The Surface 2 is the replacement to the Surface RT tablet, which means similar to its predecessor, it runs Windows RT -- the stripped down version of Windows that only runs new Windows apps from the Windows Store. However, unlike its precursor, the Surface 2 is everything you'd expect from a second generation product -- it is thinner, lighter and faster.

Powered by a quad-core Nvidia Tegra processor, the tablet isn't only faster at running apps and multitasking, but it powers a higher-resolution 10.6-inch, 1080p screen. The screen is much crisper and so are the photos and videos taken by the cameras. It has an improved 5-megapixel rear camera and a 3.5-megapixel front-facing camera.

"People are proud that they bought Surface."

The tablet remains just as tough as the first version with a magnesium build to withstand drops and bumps, and Microsoft has brought out the silver metal color on this version. It also now says "Surface" in big letters on the back because "people are proud that they bought Surface," Panay says.

"We spent every bit of energy improving the battery life on this product."

It also has an improved two-stop kickstand. You can lock it in at a nice angle for typing on a desk and then a lower angle, which is better for your lap. The 32GB version of the tablet will start at $449.

Surface Pro 2: Better Battery Life
The more expensive $899 Surface Pro 2, however, has some more subtle changes.

"We really knew there were a few elements we had to get right and better," Panay said. "We spent every bit of energy improving the battery life on this product."

Battery life, which was one of the main reasons we couldn't recommend the original Surface Pro, is said to be 60 to 100 percent better, with anywhere between 8 to 10 hours of endurance, depending on what you are doing. Panay says that it is a combination of the the new Intel Haswell chip and other parts that were reconfigured to get the thicker and more powerful tablet running longer.

Unlike the Surface 2, the Pro runs the full version of Windows 8.1, which allows it to run apps from the Windows Store and any older Windows programs. Both tablets will be available for pre-order on Sept. 24.

Keyboard Covers
Microsoft has also improved the two keyboard covers that you can buy with the tablets. The Touch Cover 2, which doesn't have physical keys but rather a touch layer built into the soft cover, is now 2mm thinner and has a built-in backlight. The light in the keyboard turns off when you aren't using it and automatically turns on when you are.

But beyond the hardware improvements, Panay says the integration with Microsoft's newest version of Windows -- Windows 8.1 -- and other Microsoft services is going to make a real difference. "To a large extent, Surface's woes have been tied to Windows 8's woes," Ross Rubin, a principal analyst with Rectile Research, told ABC News.

Windows 8.1 specifically addresses a lot of user complaints about the software and adds some features, including a Start button and instructions that make it easier to navigate the software. Additionally, both new Surface tablets will come with 200GB of Microsoft's SkyDrive Cloud storage space and unlimited free Skype calling to landlines.

Ultimately, Panay thinks those enhancements matched with the hardware improvements will allow the second generation of Surface to avoid the issues and compromises of the first product.

"When you look at the improvement at how many apps and the update from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, I think people are excited about it," he said. "The hardware, the software and the services are all coming together to make sure we brought it to life right."

We'll know if that's the case after Oct. 22, when both the new tablets go on sale.