The new Surface tablets are nice but the accessories steal the show

On Monday I gathered with a number of other journalists, analysts and guests to get the first official word on the new Surface tablets that will be released on October 22nd.  The Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 seem to be solid tablets with a lot of performance inside their thin cases. I am still skeptical that the Surface 2 will find a bigger audience compared to the original, simply due to the limitations of Windows RT, but the Surface Pro 2, with its Haswell processor and greatly improved battery life combined with Windows 8.1 could a huge hit for the holiday shopping season.

The Surface press event was a little bit of a mad cap attempt to get hands-on time with the tablets, as Microsoft made the decision to only bring a few units each of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 to the venue. Some of those units didn't even work properly; a couple of the Surface Pro 2 tablets had a display that was locked with a Windows 8 Start screen that could not be changed even when you touched the screen. My articles about the tablets were, by necessity, something of a hypersonic skim of quick impressions.

However, now that I am safely back home, I can gather my thoughts a bit better on the Surface event. As it turns out, I am actually a bigger fan of the new accessories for the Surface family than the tablets themselves.

The second generation versions of the Touch and Type Covers are thinner and have better responsiveness in terms of just simply typing. Having both of these covers contain backlit keys is an awesome touch and the Touch Cover 2's massive increase in sensors allows it to have some custom gestures that other keyboard can't have. The all new Power Cover is thicker than the Touch and Type Covers but since the Power Cover also increases the battery life of the Surface Pro 2 to (allegedly) 17 hours that's a compromise I won't mind taking. Then there's the docking station, which can charge up the Surface Pro 2 while also serving as a way to connect the tablet to even more devices, including a big monitor.

The truth is that, for myself, the accessories for the Surface family that were introduced on Monday stole the show away from the tablets themselves. We knew that both the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 would be more powerful and have longer lasting batteries while still keeping the same type of magnesium case that the originals had. The only major difference in the actual design is the kickstand which can now be placed in two different positions. It's neat but it's not what you would call a huge new feature.

Yet Microsoft seems to know that people who will want to buy the new Surface tablets will want to trick them out with other useful products. This is something that Apple doesn't seem to care about when it comes to selling accessories for the iPad. Apple has refused to release its own keyboard for the tablet. Yet there are tons of third party companies that are offering such keyboards for the iPad.

When I was traveling to and from New York City to go to the Surface press event, I spend a lot of time in airports. Even though we are supposed to be living in the age of tablets over PCs, I saw a ton of people in airport terminals working on good old fashioned notebooks with physical keyboards. When I did see people using an iPad, they almost always had a cover accessory that doubled as a keyboard for the tablet.

Apple wants to ignore the fact that the iPad is something of an incomplete computing device. It's nice that it's got a high resolution touchscreen and that it's thin and light, but people want to do more with tablets in general, and the iPad in particular, than touch the screen. They want to type long documents and interact with it on a deeper level. Working on a tablet should be different than working on a smartphone, which is supposed to be smaller and therefore can get away with a touchscreen only interface.

The Microsoft Surface team, lead by Panos Panay, knows that folks want more from a tablet with a 10.6 inch display than just a touchscreen. They have gone out of their way to provide some great add-ons for the Surface products that instantly make them stand out from the crowd. Yes, there are other Windows 8 tablets that have keyboard add-ons, but none of them really look or feel like what Microsoft has created for the Surface family.

Even the minor add-ons that were introduced today, such as the car charger and the adapter that allows the Type covers to go wireless, are evidence that Microsoft wants to make using the Surface tablets as easy as possible, without having to depend on third parties to come up with alternatives.

Even the rather odd looking Mix Cover that was shown off on Monday, which I think is going to be a highly niche add-on, shows that Microsoft wants to look outside the traditional keyboard for Surface accessories. Apple wants people to believe that a fingerprint scanner on their new iPhone 5s is something new but the truth is that Microsoft, not Apple, is the one moving into innovative directions with the Surface hardware division.

As I said, I still have major doubts that the Surface 2 will attract a wider audience. Microsoft may have over 100,000 apps in the Windows Store to download, but most of them are, well, bad. Yes, it's nice that Office RT, including Outlook RT, is included with Surface 2, but that doesn't change the fact that there are tons of useful legacy desktop applications that will never run on the Surface 2. That alone will make people pause as they decide whether or not to pick it up. The decision to price the 32 GB version at $449 won't change that.

However, as we move into a new phase of PC computing where mobility will replace the huge desktop case, Microsoft seems to have prepared itself very well with the Surface Pro 2 and its line up of add-ons. While we will wait for a final verdict on the tablet in our full review later this year, I am optimistic that Microsoft is heading in the right direction and that the "death" of the PC and Windows that's been predicted by many an analyst has been greatly exaggerated.

Some other quick thoughts about the Surface event:

  • Panos Panay seems to be a guy who really, really wants to make the best tablets he can and it shows in every one of his press presentations for the Surface. He's very passionate about his views on what he and his team have created. He's also not afraid to go "off book" to tease certain reporters on how he has the plans for the next generation of Surface tablets on his personal machine.
  • Like our editor-in-chief Brad Sams, I think that an Xbox Surface cover needs to be made, and pronto. In fact, I wouldn't mind a full fledged Surface gaming tablet with a more powerful processor in exchange for a smaller battery life. Hey, Razer made Windows 8 gaming tablets earlier this year and their CEO told us that sales were much higher than anticipated. This would seem to be a no-brainer for Microsoft to launch at some point.
  • Now that Microsoft is also going to be making its own phones alongside the Surface tablets, I wonder if the company will eventually make a move to release a full fledged notebook, or perhaps a notebook-tablet hybrid, at some point. Since Microsoft is going to be investing $2 billion in the soon-to-be-private Dell, it stands to reason that Microsoft could launch a Dell-made notebook with Microsoft's brand name, like Google has released Nexus tablets that have been made by LG and Samsung.
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"Microsoft may have over 100,000 apps in the Windows Store to download, but most of them are, well, bad.....

This again.... really? There's not a lot missing in my book, and for the rest I just linked the website to the startscreen. Sometimes that's just more convenient.

And for a Surface Pro there is -NO- app limitation.

Dutchie64 said,

And for a Surface Pro there is -NO- app limitation.

Very true, Surface Pro has more apps than any platform. There are no apps on competing platforms that hold a candle to full Illustrator, Photoshop, Lightroom, Blender, Reason, etc. I own Nexus 7, New iPad, Surface RT and I always grab the pro in every situation.

Sometimes I will be tempted to grab the Nexus if I will be at the car repair place and worried about battery, but I always remember that the 4 hours of use I will get is so much better on Surface Pro that I accept that problem. New Surface Pro even makes that a non issue though.

incendy said,

Very true, Surface Pro has more apps than any platform........

Well, the Pro runs basic old regular Windows. So all of the mentioned above is -normal- 'application behavior" for the Pro.

Something that a lot of people still refuse to understand, as it looks like a iPad of sorts.

And for your battery worries there's the PowerCover soon :-)

Did the new typecover improve the touchpad and touchpad buttons? That is really my only gripe with the current type cover is the touchpad buttons don't have a consistent or good click mechanic. I would like the power cover and dock but 200 is a bit steep.

As for the Mixer cover, I love the idea. I would buy that for sure as long as it is under 100. I hope they make a developer cover that can be completely customized any way you want. I have so many ideas of creating keyboards that are customized for Illustrator and Blender.

Yes... watch the video my friend ... the Touch and Type covers have been drastically improved. The amount of sensors in them are crazy.

j2006 said,
Yes... watch the video my friend ... the Touch and Type covers have been drastically improved. The amount of sensors in them are crazy.

I didn't see them talk much about the touchpad, just the keys. Although I did just see an interview on the Verge that does go into it. Looks great, just pre-ordered the Type Cover 2

I'm puzzled by the statement about Apple not caring about iPad accessories. Apple clearly made the iPad with accessories in mind - that's why it has Bluetooth. There are a ton of accessories for iPad such as cases, keyboards, styluses, speakers, printers, adapters, musical instruments, remote controlled robots, stands, including many accessories Apple makes itself. The article's writer is strangely unaware that Apple has been making wireless portable keyboards for years that work with the iPad - flat out stating "Apple has refused to release its own keyboard for the tablet" as if that was true.

Also, where were the exciting new Surface accessories? All I saw here was a bunch of keyboard cases. Granted, those can be useful when you need to type, but they have been around for a long time and were never all that exciting to begin with. The only worthwhile upgrade that can be made with one is making typing easier, and I'm not giving extra credit for that - unmistakably easier typing is a prerequisite for even using this type of accessory, given that large touchscreen keyboards are already very easy to use. Where there other accessories not mentioned in the article that were actually exciting?

Edited by kayan, Sep 24 2013, 2:56pm :

Yesterday I kept telling myself I'd preorder today. When I went to the page and saw Surface Pro 2 goes all the way up to $1.8K and then you drop another $129 on a type cover(power cover isn't available for preorder yet/no pricing). I then start looking at Surface 2 deeper and just grumble. The Asus T100 is coming out 3 days before the Surface 2, will be $100 cheaper(with keyboard $200) and I'll be able to run all my existing apps. If the T100 had the same screen resolution as the Surface 2, it'd be a complete no-brainer. I'm really looking forward to side-by-side reviews. Certainly holding off until after the 21st now.

The should allow Xbox 360 Games to be played via Cloud (similar to GaiKai) and XB1 Game Streaming over LAN. Neither of these solutions would be CPU intensive... allowing them to work on RT/Phone.

SCOOBY_666UK said,
The should allow Xbox 360 Games to be played via Cloud (similar to GaiKai) and XB1 Game Streaming over LAN. Neither of these solutions would be CPU intensive... allowing them to work on RT/Phone.
Yep, just go whip that out real quick. See you next week with a beta.

The Power Cover will be available, but I don't know why it's not mentioned in this article. it's pretty crazy since it increases the already long battery life by 250%!

j2006 said,
The Power Cover will be available, but I don't know why it's not mentioned in this article. it's pretty crazy since it increases the already long battery life by 250%!

I think the power cover isn't till 2014, it wasn't available for me when I visited.

CygnusOrion said,
250% of the original power, not increase. So 12.5 hours, not 17.5.

You might be able to use a Power Cover with the Surface Pro and get up to 12.5 hours battery life, but the Surface Pro 2's more thrifty chipset means it has longer battery life than the first one, about 7 hours. 250% of 7 is 17.5 hours.

Don't forget the services. 200GB Skydrive + all that Skype access included in the price. Office too for the RT version... I'm sorry, but that's phenomenal value right there.

Great value sure, and for many people the Surface is an instant buy. But I'm afraid for MS apps are more important and for the majority of people looking for a tablet the iPad or some Android tablet is a better proposition. They would also rather spend less money (Android) and just play games/browse than think about Skype, Skydrive and suchlike. Hate to say it, but while this is a lovely device MS are out of touch with what the majority of the buying public are looking for. Me, I want a Surface Pro 2.

I bought a Nexus 7 and first thing I needed on it is OneNote to sync the notes I jot down with work PC and laptop. I wish I had office too. Hey you know what... the rest of the apps are crap. Tried to install a money converter. The ones on Windows 8 are a million times better. The tried to install a unit converter. Again I couldn't believe the level of crap out there on the Play Store. I don't want my tablet to play games. Do you think it is OK for adults to play games on tablets ? I find it WEIRD.

TheShark said,
Great value sure, and for many people the Surface is an instant buy. But I'm afraid for MS apps are more important and for the majority of people looking for a tablet the iPad or some Android tablet is a better proposition. They would also rather spend less money (Android) and just play games/browse than think about Skype, Skydrive and suchlike. Hate to say it, but while this is a lovely device MS are out of touch with what the majority of the buying public are looking for. Me, I want a Surface Pro 2.
I think it's a bit over reaching to say they are out of touch. All MS can do is create a great platform for the applications. The more compelling the platform (software and hardware) the more dev's and user's will look at it. You can't say the are out of touch because they are working on the parts they can change. They are obviously playing the long game.

IMO they need to start getting game dev's on board. App dev's are coming but games have more engineering to them than a stupid feature app. MS needs to get in there and put their money on the table to get the popular games over (which they have and they are coming). That is the only issue people have when I bring up my surface "does it have xyz app?" As soon as that question can be answered with yes or a confident no, but it has all of these other apps/games then they have the market worked over... the surface hardware and windows 8.1 are superior to android and ios as a platform. It just needs the applications to get past that barrier.

That's the beauty of Surface. While there's already a lot of apps available, they're not really required since you get a nice touch-enabled browser. Unlike the iPad and Android tablets where you really do need apps, Surface brings websites to life and makes them better touch ready. That's what I learned using my Surface RT on my last vacation, my friends felt stupid with what I was able to do compared to their tablets lol. :-)

ZipZapRap said,
Don't forget the services. 200GB Skydrive + all that Skype access included in the price. Office too for the RT version... I'm sorry, but that's phenomenal value right there.
It's great value for sure, but the 200Gb skydrive is not forever - it's for 2 years. 2 years is an awesomely long time, way better than the 50Gb for 2 months dropbox deal you can get with new Android devices. it's also a very big hook, how could you not want to pay for it after using it for 2 years

What camera were the pictures in the article taken with? I was expecting much better quality here on Neowin...

"As I said, I still have major doubts that the Surface 2 will attract a wider audience. Microsoft may have over 100,000 apps in the Windows Store to download, but most of them are, well, bad. Yes, it's nice that Office RT, including Outlook RT, is included with Surface 2, but that doesn't change the fact that there are tons of useful legacy desktop applications that will never run on the Surface 2. That alone will make people pause as they decide whether or not to pick it up. The decision to price the 32 GB version at $449 won't change that."

This is something I can understand coming from an uninformed person, but not someone 'in the know' - the std surface is meant to compete with your iPads and Android tablets, which also cant run legacy x86 apps but seem to sell perfectly fine, there is a market for them and its mainly made up of people that do simple things (browse, use some apps, email, watch video etc.) all of which the std surface can do easilly just like the iPad and android tablets - BUT you also get USB, external storage, HDMI out, dock, touch/type covers, solid design, multiple apps on screen - and yes finally a growing but possibly underpar app market place (this is getting less of an issue for me, as the apps are coming at a fast rate and are starting to raise the bar in terms of functionality and quality).

The hardware is impressive, it's got everything everybody would want.

Many missing Apps can be replaced by their full Website. But still, many apps are missing, more so if you think about games.

I get the impression that the "author" is being deliberately obtuse and other than being a blind MS hater I don't understand his agenda.

he is not comparing it against the products that it was designed to compete against but finding faults comparing it against something that it was not designed to do. Yet, it doesn't have issues with Android tablets or Ipads. What is most baffling is that he calls himself a tech a writer and is doing a technical review.

"A honda civic sucks because it doesn't have the towing capacity of a pickup truck" is his argument.

red hook said,
I get the impression that the "author" is being deliberately obtuse and other than being a blind MS hater I don't understand his agenda.

he is not comparing it against the products that it was designed to compete against but finding faults comparing it against something that it was not designed to do. Yet, it doesn't have issues with Android tablets or Ipads. What is most baffling is that he calls himself a tech a writer and is doing a technical review.

"A honda civic sucks because it doesn't have the towing capacity of a pickup truck" is his argument.


That's John for you. To be honest, he shouldn't be allowed to post MS-related articles. I think Brad does a much better job without being a troll.

red hook said,
I get the impression that the "author" is being deliberately obtuse and other than being a blind MS hater I don't understand his agenda.

he is not comparing it against the products that it was designed to compete against but finding faults comparing it against something that it was not designed to do. Yet, it doesn't have issues with Android tablets or Ipads. What is most baffling is that he calls himself a tech a writer and is doing a technical review.

"A honda civic sucks because it doesn't have the towing capacity of a pickup truck" is his argument.

I agree 100%

I agree about the accessories being the stars as the tablets are nothing special bur how did this story become about apple?

everything microsoft has done has always been about apple. deep down inside their hollow and empty souls. microsoft ant-boys know this to be the absolute truth. it gives them a reason to live. oh and make disparaging remarks and report 'unprofessional journalism' on neowin.

Albert said,
everything microsoft has done has always been about apple. deep down inside their hollow and empty souls. microsoft ant-boys know this to be the absolute truth. it gives them a reason to live. oh and make disparaging remarks and report 'unprofessional journalism' on neowin.

There you go trolling again, I agree I also wondered how the story became about apple. I seriously don't get what a person gets out of trolling threads when they don't even like the products.

It's quite annoying, perhaps that's the point of you being here.

A Tablet is a tablet. It's is the accessories that may differentiate them. Though the Mixer cover is extremely niche, it shows what could be done. They just have to get the price down a bit and you could have all types of task specific covers.

Spicoli said,
Except they pretty much are part of the product in this case.

... that you have to pay extra for. suuuure.

Albert said,
when accessories over-shadowed the product. that's when you know the product is doomed. lol.

Albert said,

... that you have to pay extra for. suuuure.

Dude, go away, all you are doing is adding FUD to the conversation. Stop trolling.

Besides, that's one man's opinion. I was personally more interested in knowing that the device has 50% more graphical power, and 75% more battery life. The addition detent in the kickstand was nice to see also.

So the guy saying that the accessories stole the show is utter BS to me. I think the accessories were nice, but they hardly stole the show. IMO

I am most impressed by the backlighting on the touch covers. I really want to see that in action with my own eyes.

An xbox tablet? as if they arent milking the brand enough.

I think they should just expand smartglass functionality, perhaps go in the direction sony is going with their PS vita (streaming the games to the handheld), offer a way to connect xbox controlers to the surface... maybe a type cover designed for the games would be a good idea as well. I just dont see an xbox tablet, rather a powerful surface, selling fantastic.

I know they will have even better thing. That is flexible paper thin display that can be clicked in. And this display can display any type of keyboard you like. Remember project courier?? It will come in the future. I am sure of it. Right now, they are just milking the cash from different types of cover

Spicoli said,
The problem with that kind of design is you don't have tactile feedback. You have to look down at your hands to do anything which is slow and fatiguing.

I can touch type on my touch cover. You eventually get used to the keyboard (like typing on glass with predictive text) I can type pretty fast in my surface keyboard know because of predictive text, I know it will correct it and with the ounce cover, you have a limited number of buttons and more sensors, enough so you never "miss" a key

If you watch the announcement video or you can go to the Surface Youtube page where they have the art school video. It shows you the future of Surface covers. The possibilities are endless. It's going to be wicked.