The date's set, and the invites are signed, sealed, and delivered: It looks like we'll get our first glimpse of Microsoft's second-generation Surface tablets on September 23.
At first glance, the Surface lineup seems desperate for a refresh. Windows tablet sales have yet to take off, and the Surface line alone dealt Microsoft some staggering financial losses over the past year. But don't let that fool you! Microsoft's tablets are actually remarkably well-engineered pieces of kit, from their sleek VaporMg exteriors to the Surface Pro's speedy, Ultrabook-level firepower.
That doesn't mean the Surface is perfect, though. Here's what we need to see in the Surface Pro 2 and the second-generation Surface RT.
Both models: lower pricing
The original Surfaces just cost too much.
The Surface RT debuted at an iPad-mirroring $500, despite the fact that Windows RT's app ecosystem is nowhere near as rich as Apple's. The cheapest Surface Pro, meanwhile, cost a wallet-busting $900—and no, neither shipped with a must-have Touch Cover, which were sold separately for $120. That's far too rich for mainstream blood, especially now that the Surface RT carries the stench of failure, rather than prestige.
All is not lost, however: Surface RT sales have exploded since the slates were reduced to $350. If Microsoft wants the second-generation Surface slates to sell well, the recent price reductions should carry over to the new hardware. If Microsoft really wants Surface RT 2 slates to move, they need to be in the $250-$300 range.
And yes, those prices should include gratis Touch or Type Covers. An IHS iSuppli report estimated it costs Microsoft a mere $16 to $18 to produce one of the keyboard accessories. Unfortunately, most experts and rumors say that second-generation Surface pricing should remain relatively static.
Both models: a more flexible kickstand
The original Surface slates sported a kickstand that locked the tablets at a 22-degree angle. That's great when you plop the hardware on a standard-height table, but not so great when you're trying to use it on your lap. Early rumors suggest the second-generation Surface tablets will feature two different kickstand angles; that's a good start, but I'd like to see a wider range of orientation options.
Surface Pro hardware
PCWorld's review of the Surface Pro called it "the best pure Windows tablet," thanks to its mixture of killer design and potent PC-grade hardware. But those capable components also worked against the Surface Pro, which was chunky and almost appallingly short-lived compared to Android tablets and the iPad.
"Primarily what I expect to see is hardware that delivers better performance and better battery life, ideally with less weight," says Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "Design-wise, it appears Microsoft is staying the course with the same landscape-based design seen in the first generation of Surfaces."
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