Mark Lennihan, File, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Whether or not you like Microsoft's updated Surface tablets will depend on your needs.
On one hand, the tablets can be great for working on the go, especially if you spring for a $130 keyboard cover. On the flip side, the new versions still lack the elegance and fun that iPads are known for and many Android-based tablets now offer. People used to the hundreds of thousands of apps on those devices will be disappointed.
Both new tablets go on sale Tuesday. The Surface 2 starts at $449 and runs a lightweight version of Windows 8.1 called RT, meaning it works only with apps designed specifically for it. The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899 and runs a full version of Windows 8.1, so it also works with programs designed for traditional desktops and laptops, including Photoshop and Quicken personal-finance software. Microsoft also will continue to sell last year's Surface RT model for $349.
FUNCTION OVER FASHION
Microsoft takes a lot of pride in the new devices' redesigned kickstand. Previous models felt wobbly, while the new ones have a steady leg to stand on. The inclusion of a second kickstand position makes typing on your lap as comfortable as typing at your desk.
Like other RT tablets, the Surface 2 comes with a free version of Microsoft's Office, giving you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. The Surface Pro 2 has a more powerful processor and is designed for heavy work or gaming use, but you need to pay for Office separately or have a $100-a-year subscription. But at least you can get it. Microsoft doesn't make Office for the iPad or Android tablets.
Another feature that distinguishes the new Surfaces and other Windows tablets is their ability to run multiple programs side by side. Want to pull up a Microsoft Word document alongside a work email so you can reference it? No problem. Samsung devices do offer a similar feature, but it doesn't work with all apps. You're out of luck entirely with the iPad.
With the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft isn't just aiming to replace your tablet. It wants you to dump your laptop, too. To help with this, it will start selling a docking station early next year. The $200 accessory offers additional USB ports, which can connect to external monitors, printers and more. It's similar to docking stations available for many laptops and could help make the transition from the field to the office more seamless. Even without the docking station, there's one USB port, something rare in a tablet.
The use of Microsoft's SkyDrive online storage service also helps. You can access your files from just about anywhere with an Internet connection. It also could come in handy if your tablet happens to be run over by a truck, as you can download everything back. Both new Surfaces come with 200 gigabytes on SkyDrive for two years, on top of the usual 7 gigabytes.
WHAT ABOUT THE APPS?
While the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 may excel in productivity, they don't have the style and fun of their competitors. The construction is rugged, which makes me less paranoid about letting my preschooler play with it. But they also seem bulkier and heavier than other tablets. Surprisingly, the Surface 2 weighs just a pound and half, the same as the year-old iPad, while the Surface Pro 2 is about a half pound heavier. See if Apple will announce lighter iPads Tuesday.
And while Microsoft Office might be great for someone who wants to write a dissertation or create a PowerPoint presentation on a train, the dueling touch screen and desktop functions of Windows 8.1 might seem maddening to people who just want to play "Angry Birds," watch a movie or surf the Internet in bed. In addition, Microsoft's app store doesn't have as much to offer yet as its Apple and Android counterparts. Facebook, Netflix and ESPN are there, but not the multitude of games and other apps that Apple and Android users take for granted.