Adventure Tech: Microsoft Surface Pro 2

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When I reviewed the Surface Pro tablet from Microsoft last month I lauded it for being a lightweight and compact device that didn’t compromise performance. It is, for all intents and purposes, a full-powered touchscreen laptop in tablet form. I wasn’t so impressed with battery life however, which I felt was the main limiting factor for using the device in the field. I wasn’t the only one who felt the Surface Pro was a great product that was hindered by its lack of battery however and Microsoft certainly took note. Earlier today the announced the new Surface Pro 2 with a lot of upgrades and enhancements. The result is a more refined piece of technology that just might be the ultimate adventure travel/expedition computer.

Amongst the improvements on the the Surface Pro 2 are a 20% increase in it’s already fast processor performance, an improved screen with better color accuracy and improved graphics and sound as well. Microsoft is using Intel’s new Haswell chip to increase battery life and claims that the new model has a 75% increase in the amount of time it can run without needing a recharge. That would put it into the 8-9 hour category, which is certainly a significant upgrade over the first generation product. A new Power Cover integrates a battery as well, increasing the life by an astounding 2.5x the tablets stand alone performance. That’s enough to keep you going all day and then some.

Cosmetically speaking, the Surface Pro 2 looks exactly the same as the original model with the exception of a new integrated kickstand that now features two positions for propping up the display. Last year’s model only had one, which didn’t always work in every situation.

The Surface tablets get some new accessories this year as well. In addition to the Power Cover keyboard mentioned above, the new Type and Touch Cover keyboards are both 1 mm thinner and features backlit keys. A docking station adds additional USB ports (including a single USB 3.0 option), as well as a mini DisplayPort. Headphone and microphone jacks and gigabit Ethernet are also built in.

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The Surface Pro 2 will be available for preorder starting tomorrow with the entry level model starting at $899 for 64GB of storage. It begins shipping on October 22.

Remember, this is a tablet that runs full Windows 8 and when paired with one of its keyboard covers, it really does become a pretty awesome tablet/laptop hybrid. You can literally run all of your software on this device and still have access to an app environment that is not unlike what you find on other tablets from competitors. With its ruggedized case, compact design and relatively lightweight, the Surface Pro is an amazing device for adventure travelers or those heading out on an extended expedition. It has a feature set that is unmatched in any other tablet and really does bring a lot to the table. The new model really looks like it is upping the ante in terms of performance.

Microsoft also announced the non-pro Surface 2, dropping the “RT” that was part of the title last year. This model runs a simplified version of Windows that doesn’t grant you access to the desktop and won’t let you install any software that you like. It is instead confined to the app environment, which is still quite good but doesn’t offer the versatility available in its Pro counterpart. This model will start at $449 with 32GB of storage. It is also a little thinner and lighter than the previous Surface RT and includes the two-step kickstand as well.

To entice customers even further, Microsoft is offering Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro buyers 200GB of storage on Skydrive – their cloud storage system – and free international Skype calls for a year as well. Those are both excellent options to have at your disposal while traveling too.

Kraig Becker