Gadgets

Hands-on with Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2: The kickstand returns

Above: The Surface 2

Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Refinement. That’s what the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are all about.

Microsoft’s latest attempts at building truly hybrid computers, devices that can function as both portable tablets and traditional laptops, don’t offer many surprises. From afar, the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 look just like last year’s models. But the company hopes the massive internal changes — mainly a huge leap in processing power and battery life — will finally make consumers pay attention to the Surface line.

Like Apple’s iPhone 5S, the new Surface devices are more about perfecting the company’s initial vision rather than making revolutionary changes.

In my brief time with both devices today at Microsoft’s Manhattan Surface media event, I came away with a rekindled hope for the Surface dream. The Surface 2 is slightly lighter than last year’s model, but the difference was palpable as I held it with one hand. The Surface Pro 2 is physically unchanged from last year’s model, but its big hardware upgrades make it even more of a powerhouse.

Microsoft also upgraded its iconic kickstand in both new Surfaces by giving it another level of adjustment, so you can more easily use the device on your lap. Unfortunately, I couldn’t grab one of the devices to test out their lap comfort levels, but in photos and videos Microsoft has shown they look pretty stable.

I spent most of my time at today’s event with the Surface 2, as most of the Surface Pro 2 units weren’t functional (Microsoft reps say they were mistakenly shipped in a demo only mode). Both devices run Windows 8.1 (the Surface 2 runs the stripped-down Windows RT version), which adds more options for multitasking and brings back the Start button to the traditional Windows desktop.

I also briefly checked out the new Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2. The Touch Cover 2 doesn’t have any physical keys, but it feels vastly more responsive than last year’s model. The Type Cover 2 feels a bit thinner and the keys flow nicely. Given just how badly the Touch Cover bombed for me last year and how distractingly clunky the original Type Cover was, I certainly appreciated the changes.

I’ll have to spend more time with the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 before I make any final judgments, but at this point I’m intrigued by their improvements as well as their prices ($449 for the Surface 2 and $899 for the Surface Pro 2). Given that they undercut both the iPad and MacBook Air, Microsoft may finally have decent competitors to Apple’s popular gadgets.

Below, check out a brief video of my hands-on (excuse the noise, it was a very crowded event).