Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2: Microsoft refreshes its hybrid tablet/laptop range

Ambitious launch shows that the company still intends to compete with Apple in the tablet market

Microsoft has announced a “fundamental revamp” of its Surface tablets, with second generation models offering improved battery life and processing speed, as well as addressing criticisms of previous models.

The original Surface and Surface RT (a cheaper, lower-powered device that used a similarly downgraded operating system) were launched in June last year but failed to sell well, leading to a $900 million writedown by Microsoft for unsold units.

The new tablets look identical to the previous generation, offering a tablet form factor, optional covers that can be used as keyboards and a new kick-stand to prop the device up on laps or desks. The kick-stand can now be adjusted to two different angles – an improvement on the previous models that could only be set at a steep angle, making the ‘laptop’ aspect of the device impractical.

The new tablets have been designated the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2, although despite removing the ‘RT’ tag attached to the lower priced model it still runs the stripped down-version of Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8.1 RT.

Windows 8 RT was heavily criticized for its inability to run 'legacy apps' (older software that included well-known programs such as Photoshop) despite looking identical to Windows 8.

A recent update to the Windows operating system, Windows 8.1, solved some complaints voiced by users (including the absence of a traditional desktop-and-start-button environment) but the operating system is still unfamiliar for many.

The new Surface tablets both have full 1080p, 10.1-inch HD screens (previously only available on the pricier tablet) and upgraded processors. The Surface 2 uses Nvidia’s Tegra 4 1.7GHz processor whilst the Pro 2 has Intel’s fourth-generation Haswell i5. Battery life on the Pro 2 is said to be 75 per cent better than the previous generation with 20 per cent better graphical performance.

Customers also have more memory and storage options to choose from. The Pro 2 will be available in 64GB and 128GB versions with 4GB of RAM, or with 256GB and 512GB of internal memory and 8GB of RAM.  The cheaper Surface either comes with 32GB or 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM.

As well as updating the internal hardware, the new Surface tablets also come bundled with Windows software. Surface 2 gives users the full Office suite (though last year's models also did that), "best of Skype" for a year (which includes free international calling), and 200GB of cloud storage via SkyDrive.

The lower priced model will be sold for between £359 and £439 whilst the Pro 2 will retail between £719 and £1,439.

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