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Surface 2: a closer look at Microsoft's more refined iPad competitor

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Gallery Photo: Surface 2 hands-on photos
Gallery Photo: Surface 2 hands-on photos

Microsoft's new Surface 2 tablet is now official, and it marks more of a refinement over the original than a radical rethinking of the basic Surface concept. The updated model includes Nvidia's Tegra 4 processor, a 1080p display, and a new two-stage kickstand. I got a chance to briefly try out the new tablet, and the first thing I noticed was the weight. Microsoft hasn't trimmed down the Surface 2, but it feels considerably lighter than the original. You'll obviously notice that improvement when you use the Surface 2 in tablet mode, but in the laptop mode the main addition is a two-stage kickstand.

The Surface 2 kickstand answers some of the criticisms of the Surface RT. However, instead of being fully adjustable with separate angles, Microsoft has opted for only two angles. One is the ordinary laptop style, but the other feels more like an angle you'd want if you were resting it on your lap. That makes the Surface 2 considerably easier to use on your lap, since it's neither tipping forward nor falling backward on your knees. It's simple to switch between the two angles, even at first it's slightly unnerving to push the kickstand back further than it seems like it should. It feels sturdy in either position, and a small mechanism keeps it locked in place.

While the original Surface RT debuted just in black, Microsoft has opted for a silver edition this time around. It's a new color that compliments Microsoft's push into new additions to its Surface cover colors. The front of the silver Surface 2 still has a black bezel, but you can see a silver trim that extends around the rest of the device. Along with the subtle coloring, the Windows logo at the rear of the Surface 2 has been replaced with the Surface wordmark in the typical Segoe font. Other than that, visually it's almost identical to the Surface RT. The speaker grills have been made slightly larger, and the keyboard connector has extra contact points, but if you put the Surface 2 side-by-side with the Surface RT it would be tough to tell the difference.

Most of the Surface 2's changes are internal — the new processors, improved speakers — or tangential, like the 200GB of SkyDrive storage and the many new colors and types of accessories. It's noticeably faster and more fluid, and longer battery life makes a huge difference. With the more pliable kickstand and the nice-looking new silver color, it's certainly improved on the outside as well. As Rolf Harms, Microsoft's Senior Director of Corporate Strategy, told us, "the Surface 2 is a thousand little things that add up to one big improvement."

Whether those can add to up a commercial success where the original Surface fell short, we're not sure. But Panos Panay and Microsoft are intensely focused on getting the Surface 2 into people's hands and showing them what to do with it. If that works, and Microsoft keeps listening to its users, the Surface 2 could have a real chance to be successful.