Microsoft's new tablets Surface

Microsoft makes 10.6-inch Surface tablets faster and adds more storage

By , IDG News Service |  Hardware

Microsoft unveiled the second wave of Surface tablets Monday, hoping that a 10.6-inch size and higher performance will appeal to consumers who showed little interest in the company's first effort.

The Surface Pro 2 will run Windows 8.1 on an Intel Core processor code-named Haswell and start at US$899, while Surface 2 will have Windows RT 8.1, an ARM processor and start at $449. Both models are faster and offer longer battery life than the original Surface tabs introduced about a year ago.

Microsoft will start taking orders on Tuesday morning, and the devices will ship on Oct. 22, four days after Windows 8.1 becomes available to the public. The Surface Pro 2 will come in four configurations with storage of up to 512GB and memory up to 8GB, while the Surface 2 will come with storage up to 64GB. The company will continue offering Surface RT at $349.

Microsoft hopes to reverse its fortunes in the tablet market with the new devices and the Windows 8.1 OS. Despite positive reviews, the first Surface tablets that shipped last year failed, partly due to poor acceptance of last year's Windows 8 and Windows RT. Microsoft's Windows 8.1 has an improved user interface.

The 10.6-inch Surface Pro 2 will provide 75 percent more battery life than its predecessor, said Panos Panay, corporate vice president at Microsoft. In general use, the original Surface Pro was measured at having five hours or less of battery life.

The Haswell chip will make the Surface Pro 2 faster than 95 percent of the tablets available, Panay said.

"It's a full PC," with overall performance improvements of 20 percent and a boost in graphics performance of 50 percent, Panay said, during the event.

Other features including a better ClearType display with 50 percent more color accuracy. The tablet has a kickstand that stretches across the entire back, which makes it easy to place the device on the lap.

The tablet can also be attached to a new dock that will provide additional network, port and display connectivity. With the dock, a Surface Pro 2 will have one USB 3.0 port, three USB 2.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort, Ethernet and audio in and out ports.

Users can also expect big changes with the ARM-based Surface 2 with faster speeds, Panay said.

The tablet has 25 percent more battery life, Panay said, adding that he used it for more than 12 hours for most use cases.

The tablet is thinner and lighter, and runs three to four times faster than the original Surface RT, Panay said. The device will come with a faster CPU and Wi-Fi capabilities.

The graphics enhancements allow Surface 2 users to play Xbox games streamed over the Internet, Panay said. The tablet also has a 1920 x 1080-pixel display, and a USB 3.0 port.

There are two cameras in the Surface 2, both improved from the previous model. The back camera can take clearer images in higher resolution, and has better lenses for improved images in low-light situations. The front camera is now better for video conferencing.

There are 100,000 apps in the Windows Store for this tablet, compared to 10,000 apps last year. Panay highlighted the Microsoft Office suite, which will come bundled with the tablet.

Microsoft is also offering a range of keyboard docks for the new tablets. It's providing free Wi-Fi hotspot and unlimited international calling on Skype with Surface and Surface Pro 2, but Panay did not say for how long. It is also providing free 200GB of SkyDrive online storage for two years with the tablet.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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