More powerful than '95% of laptops', the Haswell equipped Surface Pro 2 was shown processing 6K videos at Microsoft launch event. K. Stewart reports
To underline the claim that Surface Pro 2 is faster than 95% of today's laptops, Microsoft Surface VP Panos Panay showed a RED Dragon - the 'camera used to make Game Of Thrones' - transferring 6K footage via USB3 into a Surface Pro 2.
And while the resolution of the Pro 2's screen is just 1080 Full HD, a £165 Surface docking station due in 2014 has a Mini Display Port capable of driving a 3840 x 2160 resolution monitor. The dock also offers a USB 3 port, three USB2, Ethernet and audio in/out.
While you can plug in virtually any USB keyboard, Microsoft offer a choice of three specific to Surface. The Power Cover is the bulky one, as it includes a 30Wh battery, while the £110 Type Cover 2 is improved over last year's model with backlit keys and a refined feel. The £99 Touch Cover 2 is enhanced with a doubling of the sensors to 1092 and there's a variation of this same technology in a Surface Music Kit that has a custom control layout for remixing music. A custom layout for NLE operation would, obviously, be welcome if Microsoft really is seriously about video!
In truth, Surface 2 isn't going to be anyone's first choice for high-end video editing, but for an ultra mobile device to take on a shoot for a photographer to store and review pictures, or a videographer wanting a compact viewer for content, Microsoft is seriously in the mix. USB 3 and micro-SD expansion ports drive the point home about professional usage.
As does the price...
Microsoft turns cannibal?
Launched on the same day as Tesco revealed its surprisingly decent £119 7-inch Hudl tablet, the New York press conference for Surface 2 seemed very Microsoft. Which is to say the same emphasis on productivity as at the launch of Surface 1, but with more power, more accessories. The prices start at £359 for a 32GB surface 2 and £439 for 64GB - which is to say around £100 cheaper than equivalent iPad models.But that said it's not a direct comparison as Surface 2 requires more space for the OS and Office (the 32GB version only has 15GB free for user content according to MS) and the £100 keyboard is a pretty much essential extra.
Plus Surface 2, it should be pointed out, is actually Surface RT2 - which is to say the latest iteration of the ARM-based Surface variant which offers iPad-style battery life at the price of incompatibility with all those Windows/Intel apps. Whether comparing Surface RT/2 to iOS or x86 Windows, its range of apps is disappointing.
The full fat, real x86 experience starts at £719 for a Surface Pro 2 64GB machine with 4GB of RAM and rapidly increases up to £1439 for a top spec of 512GB and 8GB RAM. Which is to say MacBook Air territory more than iPad.
Hitting pretty much exactly the same play with productivity lines as last year may seem stupidly bullheaded on Microsoft's part, but the Redmond giant is used to misfiring on a first iteration and then slowly crushing competitors over the long term.
Speaking to CNET, Panos put Surface into context; "We have such a long road map ahead of us, and we know we're in this marathon. The team knows that. You start with your first generation of products, you put them out there, you know they're good. There are ways they can get better. Now the second generation comes, they only get more motivated and when you look at our road map to come."
Second generation Surface clearly has nothing to offer for the Huddl, Nexus 7 or Kindle HD customer. Microsoft would no doubt love to conquer the higher priced, iPad market, but it's clearly not very likely and the press conference didn't give a sense of Microsoft going all out to do so. The pricing wasn't aggressive enough, there was no bundling of the keyboard and no killer game from Microsoft Studios.
Instead, Microsoft is leaning toward more power, more capability. By all accounts, the original Surface Pro was the better selling machine and that's where Microsoft is moving. Ideally it will take consumer market share, but if not there's the business market. If you're an IT manager who's been thinking Surface was underpowered for your cubicle drones to do email and run spreadsheets, well here's Surface Pro 2 running 6K video! And even Surface 2 was shown running four Office apps simultaneously.
At the introductory price points, Surface still looks expensive. However, when you look toward the next generation and the inevitable price reduction of the second generation, then things become more interesting.
At a certain price-point, the mix of a Windows licence, Office and Surface starts to become a compelling proposition. The Windows OEMs didn't much like Surface last year and obviously felt relieved it misfired in the market. Sooner or later though, their ability to compete with Microsoft when it owns the OS and the Office suite is going to become very marginal.
Whether or not Surface 2 is a big hit, this time next year Surface 3 will come around and ensure Microsoft is a very serious candidate for disrupting its existing enterprise business before anyone else can. And one side effect of its desperation to protect the Office monopoly in enterprise, is that immense engineering resources are being devoted to produce some very cool hardware.
Specifications & more
Both Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 will go on sale in the UK on October 22nd, with pre-orders from September 24th. The first generation Surface RT will continue to be sold, however, as an entry level machine but we wouldn't recommend it.
Both new Surface machines have 10.6 inch 1920x1080 Full HD screenshots Microsoft that rely on ClearType processing technology to compete with Retina-type displays.
Surface 2 is upgraded over last year's RT model with a 1.7Ghz NVIDIA Tegra 4 chip which was shown running four Office apps simultaneously. A significant step forward as Windows RT could struggle in Word if you typed a bit too quickly.
Surface 2 Pro has an Intel Core i5 with integrated HD4400 Graphics. It's a Haswell chip which offers a 20% improvement over last year's model and helps achieve 60% better battery life. Plus there's a Surface Power Cover that boosts battery life by a further two and a half times.
Both machines update the kickstand, that snaps out at the back to prop up the machine, with two positions rather than one to offer more flexibility although in lap use is still a bit questionable.
200GB of Skydrive storage is also supplied for free for the first two years, neatly doubling the 100GB offered by Google with its Chromebooks. Apple is rather more parsimonious with a mere 5GB, although at least iTunes purchases don't use up space.
Surface 2 is bundled with Office 2013 RT, which unlike the original version now includes Outlook. Surface Pro is simply compatible with standard Office which is an extra cost. Both machines will have Windows 8.1
We expect new iPads to be announced next month and it'll be interesting to see if that press conference makes more of the iWork suite going free. There's also rumours of a Nokia Windows RT tablet being imminent, almost certainly with cellular access. Asus, HP, Samsung, Lenovo and HTC have, by contrast, exited the Windows RT business.