Microsoft has unveiled its second generation Surface tablets that are due to go on sale on October 22 just days after the updated Windows 8.1 operating system is released to general availability.
Most buyer interest in Microsoft's devices has centred on the Surface Pro, which is able to run existing Windows applications as well as the newer Metro-style Windows Store apps, and so we've drawn up a quick list of the key features of the Surface Pro 2, and some of the differences between it the original model.
Tempted customers can pre-order the Surface Pro 2 from Microsoft's Surface website, with prices starting from £719.
The original Surface is powered by a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 chip, and this has been upgraded in the Surface Pro 2 with a 4th generation Core i5 processor, which Intel launched earlier this summer.
This latest family of Intel chips, previously codenamed Haswell, offers increased performance, especially in the area of its integrated graphics, but its chief advantage is greater power efficiency when compares with the previous generation. This should translate into longer battery life, and Microsoft in fact claims that the Surface Pro 2 lasts up to 75 percent longer than its predecessor.
Meanwhile, Intel's 4th generation chips have several different levels of graphics capabilities. The new high-end Iris graphics, for example, is claimed to offer performance comparable to some discrete adapters from Nvidia.
The exact chip in the Surface Pro 2 is a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5-4200U, which can run at up to 2.6GHz with Intel's Turbo Boost technology, and which includes Intel HD Graphics 4400. This is a step up from the basic HD graphics in the previous generation, but not as impressive as Microsoft's claims about the new device might lead you to believe.
The display on the Surface Pro 2 is the same in terms of specifications as that of the original Surface, offering a full HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels in a 10.6in, 16:9 ratio (widescreen) format.
As with the original Surface Pro, the display of the new model supports 10-point multitouch input, and it comes with a digitiser pen included for handwriting and other input using the screen.
Memory and storage
While the original Surface shipped with 4GB of memory and a choice of 64GB or 128GB flash solid state drive (SSD) in the UK, the options are more diverse with the Surface Pro 2.
You can still opt for a Surface Pro 2 with 4GB of memory, combined with either 64GB or 128GB SSDs, but there is a beefier tier now available, combining 8GB of memory with either 256GB or 512GB of storage instead.
This is not the first time that Microsoft has offered more than the standard storage; when the Surface went on sale in Japan earlier this year, it was available in 128GB and 256GB versions, as well as including Microsoft's Office suite in the price.
A notable feature of Microsoft's Surface tablet devices is the kick stand, which flips out at the rear to hold the system at a convenient angle for viewing when standing on a desk or other available surface.
This also works if you are sitting using the device on your lap, but the angle of the kick stand on the original Surface Pro was not quite right for this configuration. In the Surface Pro 2 this has been fixed with a dual-stage kickstand that can be set at two different angles, one for use on a desk and another when resting on your lap.
One of the things lacking in the original Surface was an easy way to connect up to desktop peripherals, which is a key requirement if you are a business professional using the device as your chief computing client.
Microsoft has addressed this with a Docking Station that lets you slot in and connect your Surface Pro 2. As well as charging the tablet, it offers an Ethernet connection to a LAN, three USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort video out and audio in and out.
Even better, the Docking Station can be used with the old Surface Pro as well as the Surface Pro 2.
New keyboard Covers
The Touch Cover and Type Cover where essential accessories for anyone wanting to use the first generation Surface devices for heavy text entry, and Microsoft has now introduced thinner and lighter Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2 versions. Like the originals, these snap into place for use, and can be folded over the screen to protect it in transit.
Meanwhile, a new Power Cover offers the same typing experience of the Type Cover, but also includes batteries to extend the usable life of your Surface 2, Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 by up to 50 percent.
Finally, the Surface Pro 2 will ship just after the availability of Microsoft's updated Windows 8.1 operating system and will ship with the improved platform installed.
Windows 8.1 delivers a broad range of enhancements and improvements, the most significant of which are changes to the user interface based on user feedback that make it more customisable and intuitive, plus an updated IE11 browser.
The new release also comes with updates to all of the platform's built-in apps, makes greater use of Microsoft's SkyDrive to make data available across multiple devices, plus a slew of enterprise mobility and security improvements aimed at helping organisations meet the challenges of bring your own device (BYOD) features and improved enterprise support.
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