I think the highest compliment you can pay a vendor is not one about the quality of its products, not one about its staff or its stores. It's telling them that they listen, and thanking them for doing so. Today's thanks goes out to Microsoft, for listening to the gripes with the Surface tablets. We've been hands on with the Surface 2 and the Surface 2 Pro, and they're amazing.
First things first: they've dropped the RT moniker from the entry-level Surface model, mainly because it was confusing buyers and leading to more people leaving the store without the product they wanted, or the product Microsoft wanted them to have, rather.
The most important changes to both Surface models are concealed under the hood.
What we know so far is that the Surface 2 is packing the shiny new Tegra 4 processor, clocked at 1.7GHz, USB 3.0 ports (rather than the 2.0 ports it had), 25 per cent larger battery (which most likely means an 8-9 hour life) and a beautiful new 1080p screen that had been reserved for the Pro model until now.
And despite all the new trimmings, the new Surface 2 is actually slimmer and lighter than it was before.
The most notable change on the outside comes from an additional angle on the kickstand, which allows the Surface 2 to be used on your lap without leaping off and smashing its own face on the floor. That was the biggest problem with the last Surface tablets Even if this was the only change in the new line-up, it'd be worth trading up. This is a big deal.
We unfolded the new Surface kickstands to try out their lapability, and found that the length between the kickstand and the end of a Touch or Type cover stretches comfortably over your lap and locks in just above your knees, so it's not going anywhere unless you do. Perfect.
The Surface 2 is running Windows RT 8.1, which still isn't your fully-fledged Windows 8.1 operating system that runs on the Surface 2 Pro model (and pretty much all laptops), but that's less of a concern than it was before.
There are now 100,000 apps in the Market rather than 10,000, it's just as speedy, works with all the same accessories and looks better than ever.
The design is thin, svelte, smart. Microsoft is colour-coding the new Surface models so that you can tell the difference between an RT device and a Pro device: silver for RT (Surface 2 as it's now known), jet black for Surface 2 Pro.
Honestly, with the new design, more powerful processor, better battery life and a tweaked stand for added lapability (it's a thing, alright?), the Surface 2 is the most compelling Surface yet, especially at the price. Surface 2 is available in 32GB and 64GB configurations and starts at $529 in Australia for the base model without the Touch Cover. We'll touch on those accessories in a moment.
Surface 2 Pro
The Surface 2 Pro runs the risk of being too similar to its predecessor.
On the outside it's pretty much exactly the same: same heat sink fan panel on the rear, same jet black design, same thick bezel, same port configuration. Hell, it even weighs exactly the same. The only real difference comes from the extra angle added to the kickstand to make it more lapable. The real differences are concealed under the hood, and they're designed to push the Surface 2 Pro even deeper into laptop-tablet hybrid territory.
The new Surface 2 Pro is running the new Intel Fourth-Generation Core "Haswell" chips, which means Microsoft is able to claim a 75 per cent battery improvement, dragging the overall usage time up to around 7 hours.
Customisability at build has also become a priority, with storage variants now ranging up to 256GB and 512GB solid-state options with 8GB of RAM apiece. That's some seriously impressive hardware, and it's doubtful you'd be wanting for much more in a mobile computing solution anytime soon. Don't worry if you can't afford a massive physical storage variant, however: both Surface 2 models will have microSD expansion slots and 200GB of free Skydrive storage for two years.
Gaming ability on the Surface Pro 2 is going to depend on the graphics hardware under the hood, if there's any at all beyond the Intel Iris system running on the Haswell chips. We'll have to wait and see. We played a few minutes of a Wipeout-style boating game on the Surface Pro 2 and noticed that the water effects were crisp and fluid, the game ran quickly with no stuttering or lag, and it had no problem letting us use the Xbox 360 controller as an external accessory. That's what you want out of your portable gaming experience: something easy that works with what most people already have.
Having used it for a brief spell today, you can really see the work that has gone into making these tablet-laptop hybrids really pop. Between the nifty changes in Windows 8.1 (due to become available on 17 October), and the souped up hardware options, you're unlikely to be left wanting if you buy a Surface 2 Pro instead of a traditional ultrabook or laptop.
It's super-portable, the battery goes forever and it's powerful enough to probably write your reports for you. We'll dive into the nitty gritty a little more in our upcoming detailed review.
Microsoft's biggest play with the Surface tablets has always been providing accessories you can use to turn this thing from just a big, sexy tablet into something you can be productive with.
The Touch and Type Covers are back — with their soft and physical keyboards respectively — albeit with minor tweaks. There are new colours to choose from, and even a Type Cover that conceals a 30 watt-hour battery underneath the keys, extending the battery life exponentially.
There's also a new DJ cover, which turns the Surface into a pseudo-DJ device, complete with a soft MIDI controller deck. That's designed to work with a free first-party DJ studio app for creating music, and that's a seriously compelling portable music solution for any aspiring or fledged musicians out there. The DJ deck is responsive, fast and easy to get around for those looking for a quick change between sample tracks.
There's also a bespoke desktop stand designed to connect with a few external monitors and what-have-you so that it can become a serious do-everything device once you get back to your desk.
Microsoft have tried to think of everything, right down to a car charger attachment for mobile workforces. Don't expect this accessory drive to slow down any time soon.
Overall, we think Microsoft is onto a winner with the new Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro tablets.
Surface 2 starts at $529 in Australia for 32GB with no Type Cover, which is $30 cheaper than last time around. The 64GB Surface 2 will go for $639.
Surface Pro 2 starts at $1019 for the 64GB version, which is actually $20 more than the launch price of the original Surface Pro back in May. The 128GB Surface Pro 2 is priced at $1129, the 256GB model is priced at $1469, and the 512GB version is priced at $2039.