Microsoft Announces Surface 2 Family and Accessories

Microsoft announced its most important product for the year after Xbox One, not Windows 8.1, but the Surface 2 family of tablets. There are two major changes to the nomenclature here. Last year's ARM-based Surface RT is this year's Surface 2, while this year's x86-based Surface Pro 2 is a successor of both last year's Surface and Surface Pro, with several sub-variants.

We begin with the Surface Pro 2, a tablet which, as Microsoft puts it, is not just a tablet for consumption, but also creation in equal measure. The tablet brings the "full PC experience" to a handheld, which used as everything between a tablet, a notebook, and a desktop-replacement, with the right accessories.

To begin with, the two biggest features on the Surface Pro 2 are Microsoft's Windows 8.1 operating system, and Intel's Core i5 "Haswell" processors. The ingot-shaped tablet comes with a uniform 1 cm-thick bezel, framing a 10.6-inch screen, with 50 percent bigger color palette than its predecessor's screen. What that means is that the screen can accurately reproduce about 8 million more colors. The screen features a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Microsoft speaks of 20 percent higher CPU performance, 60 percent higher graphics performance (including support for Ultra HD displays), and 250 percent higher battery-life. The Core i5 "Haswell" chip inside the Surface Pro 2 is wired to 4 GB of dual-channel DDR3-1600 RAM for the 128 GB variant, and 8 GB of dual-channel DDR3-1600 RAM for the 512 GB variant. Connectivity includes 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, LTE (optional), one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, and mini-DisplayPort output with support for Ultra HD (3840 x 2160 pixels).

Moving on, the Surface 2, as we mentioned earlier, really succeeds the Surface RT. It runs Windows RT 8.1, a variant of Windows 8.1 for the ARM machine-architecture. It features more or less the same overall product design as the Surface Pro 2, but with slightly different connectivity. You get the same 10.6-inch full-HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) screen. You get a combination of 5-megapixel and 3.5-megapixel cameras. Differences kick in under the hood.

Surface 2 runs NVIDIA's Tegra 4 SoC, which packs a quad-core Cortex-A15 CPU clocked at 1.90 GHz, with GeForce ULV graphics, that packs 72 CUDA cores. The SoC is wired to 2 GB of LPDDR3 memory. Another major difference is with the pre-installed software. A major gripe with Surface RT buyers was the inability to run Office. Microsoft decided to pre-install Office RT 2013, which includes all popular apps in the suite, including Outlook RT. Surface 2 will be available in two variants based on capacity, 32 GB and 64 GB. It will further be available in LTE-enabled and WiFi-only sub-variants.

Lastly, Microsoft launched no less than seven accessories for the Surface 2 family, which convert its functionality between a conventional tablet, to a notebook-replacement, and even a desktop-replacement.

To begin with, there's the familiar TouchCover, which gives you a felt-touch keyboard and trackpad. Then there's TypeCover, a variant of TouchCover with a physical membrane keyboard with actual tactile feedback that's comparable to that of most notebooks. Next up, there's PowerCover, which goes a step further up TypeCover, and adds an additional battery pack, which nearly doubles the effective battery life of the tablet.

While the three kinds of covers make the Surface 2 family effective notebook-replacement, its the Docking Station for Surface Pro 2, which makes the tablet a desktop-replacement. In addition to consistent AC power, the dock gives you additional connectivity, and a firm stand for desktops. Next up is an car charger accessory, which does as it's named, and the new Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition, for those who simply can't do without one. While not launched today, Microsoft unveiled the MusicCover, a TouchCover for DJs

Surface 2 starts at $449.99. Surface Pro 2 starts at $899.99.