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Microsoft Steps Up Surface Tablet Performance, Adds SKUs

 New York – Microsoft plans Oct. 22 U.S. availability of upgraded Surface tablets that feature the new Windows RT 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro operating systems, faster CPUs, longer battery lives and a two-position kickstand.

Microsoft is also expanding its selection of Surface Pro models to four from two with two models offering the same amount of RAM (4GB) and embedded memory (64GB and 128GB) as the original two Surface Pro models and two other new models offering 8GB RAM with embedded memory of 256GB and 512GB.

All new versions feature 10.6-inch widescreen touchscreens like their predecessors. They come with a free year of Skype calling to landlines in more than 60 countries, free year of Skype hot spot service, and two years of 200GB of SkyDrive Cloud storage.

The new two-position kickstand in all models is said to be suitable for desktop and laptop use.

The RT version, called the Surface 2, will retail for an expected $449 for the 32GB version and $549 for the 64GB version, or $50 less than their predecessors’ launch price. The Surface Pro 2 with Windows Pro 8.1 OS starts at $899 and $999 for the 4GB RAM versions with 64GB and 128GB of embedded memory. Those prices match the launch prices of their predecessors. Two additional Surface Pro models with 8GB RAM will be available in 256GB and 512GB versions at $1,299 and $1,799, respectively. Surface Pro prices include, like before, a Surface pen to draw on files and enter data.

In the U.S., the tablets will be available through Microsoft stores, and select retailers. The products will roll out in 19 other countries Oct.22, with China due in November. Additional countries will be announced in the coming months.

 The Surface 2 sports multiple enhancements over its predecessor with an Nvidia Tegra 4 1.7GHz quad-core ARM processor, said to be three to four times faster than the prior version; FullHD widescreen display at 1,920 by 1080p vs. 1,366 by 768; 5-megapixel and 3.5-megapixel 1080p cameras vs. 720p cameras; improved low-light camera performance; full-size USB 3.0 vs. full-size USB 2.0; and Outlook RT, joining Office Home & Student 2013 RT.

The predecessors were preloaded with Microsoft Office Home and Student. The battery is said to last 25 percent longer than before, with up to 10 hours of video playback or seven to 15 days of idle time.

 Like before, the Surface 2 features 2GB RAM and MicroSDXC card reader, five-point multi-touch screen, WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, metal chassis in silver color and stereo speakers.

 The Surface 2 weighs in at 1.49 pounds and it measures 10.81 by 6.79 by 0.35 inches.

 The more powerful Surface Pro 2 uses the fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor and operates at 1.6GHz with an Intel Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz. Battery life has been extended to 10 hours of video playback from less than eight hours.

Carryover features include 1,920 by 1,080 10-point multi-touch display, front- and rear-facing cameras capturing 720p video, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, metal chassis, full-size USB 3.0, MicroSDXC slot, Mini Display Port and stereo speakers. Size remains the same at 10.81 by 6.81 by 0.53 inches, and weight stays the same at 2 pounds.

 All new versions also come with accessories, including the first docking station for Microsoft tablets and the first optional keyboard cover with built-in battery to extend battery life on the Surface Pro 2.

 The optional Touch cover ($119) still acts like a cover but flips open to double as a touch-sensitive keyboard. An optional $129 Type cover still doubles as a mechanical keyboard and comes in four colors but now adds backlighting. A proximity sensor reduces the backlight’s battery drain. A new $199 keyboard option called the Power Cover incorporates mechanical keyboard and its own battery to boost the Surface Pro 2’s battery life by 50 percent. It also works with the original Surface Pro models.

The Windows RT tablet can download any of 100,000 apps in the Windows Store up from 10,000 a year ago.

 Microsoft is also launching a docking station for the Surface Pro at $199 with an expected availability date of early 2014.