September 23, 2013, 6:19 PM — Microsoft's latest Surface tablets boast many hardware and software improvements from their predecessors released last year.
The new tablets, announced Monday, are the Surface 2, with the Windows RT 8.1 OS, and the Surface Pro 2 with Windows 8.1. I got to use the tablets briefly at a launch event in New York and found improved performance compared with the earlier products in graphics and in loading applications. The tablets will ship on Oct. 22.
Both of the new tablets have 10.6-inch screens, and it was difficult to tell the two apart when they were sitting side by side.
On performance, the Surface 2 tablet was a pleasant surprise, loading applications instantly and running a video without any lags. That is a big improvement from its predecessor, the Surface RT, which had good graphics but seemed slow when running applications. For example, Microsoft Office loaded more quickly on the Surface 2.
The Surface 2 has a sharper 1920 x 1080 pixel display, which is an improvement from the 1366 x 768 pixel display on the Surface RT. When playing a video, the screen was more crisp and bright than in the earlier product.
The Surface 2 has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4 processor, which delivers better graphics through 72 graphics cores. The tablet has a 3.5-megapixel front camera and a 5-megapixel rear camera. Other features include Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, but it lacks 802.11ac, the latest Wi-Fi technology, which is already used in some smartphones and tablets from other vendors. There's also a MicroSD card slot.
The Surface 2 is priced at US$449 with 32GB of storage and $549 with 64GB. Its primary uses are meant to be gaming, productivity software and social networking, Microsoft said.
The more expensive Surface Pro 2 is intended to be a PC replacement, and a thin keyboard accessory gave it a laptop-like feel. The Surface Pro 2 was slightly thicker and heavier than the Surface 2, possibly because of the PC-like components used in the device. The size and weight of the Surface Pro 2 were not provided by Microsoft. Its predecessor, the Surface Pro, weighed 907 grams.
The screen on the Surface Pro 2 felt similar to that of the Surface 2. The tablet loaded applications such as Microsoft Office almost instantly on Windows 8.1, and it was noticeably faster than the Surface 2 and the previous Surface Pro, which was released last year.
Microsoft claims improvements of 20 percent in application performance and 50 percent in graphics compared with the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro 2 has Intel's fourth-generation Core i5 processor, code-named Haswell.
Perhaps the biggest claimed improvement is 75 percent longer battery life compared with the Surface Pro, which had battery life of about five hours. The earlier product used an Intel third-generation Core processor.