Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has unveiled the long-awaited successor to its first series of tablets.

Surface 2, the follow-up to last year's Surface RT, will retail for $449 and ship on October 22 with a special 8.1 version of Windows RT.

The new tablet comes with a full-HD display and a CPU whose speed has been dramatically increased.

Microsoft heavily promoted the device's upgrades, which include a lighter and thinner form factor. Panos Panay, a Microsoft VP who is leading the Surface project, said that there is nothing that will slow down Surface 2.

When the original Surface arrived in October 2012, Microsoft and its partners had 10,000 apps in the Windows Store. Today there are 100,000 apps available.

One of the most crucial apps -- Office -- will come pre-loaded. Microsoft has not said if this version will come with the same licensing restrictions that plagued Office RT last year.

Nonetheless, Surface 2 may appeal to students who are looking for a cheap Windows tablet that can run Office without issue. All four Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) can run simultaneously.

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This isn't exactly a breakthrough for PC users who have been simultaneously running all of those programs for years. Up until recently, this was more difficult to do on a smartphone or tablet.

Surface 2 will come in two configurations: 32GB and 64GB. Both models will ship with a "Best of Skype" feature that will allow users to make free international calls for one year. Users will also be able to tap into free Wi-Fi, which will apparently be provided by Microsoft at select locations.

Surface 2 adopters will also get two years of SkyDrive (200GB storage) for free.

During the product's unveiling, Panay stressed the importance of Surface 2's front and back cameras. He did not list the specifications, but he said that Microsoft used a special lens that can filter light throughout the tablet. This is supposed to allow for better photographs and superior Skyping in low-light situations.

Microsoft has tweaked the Touch Cover to coincide with the launch of Surface 2. Last year's soft-touch cover had only 80 sensors; this year's edition comes with 1,092 sensors! It is also one millimeter thinner than the first-generation Touch Cover, and comes with a backlight.

Similarly, Microsoft has eliminated one millimeter of thickness from the second-generation Type Cover, which also comes with a backlight.

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Those who followed Benzinga's early coverage of Surface 2 will know that the device was rumored to get a new battery-extending cover. Microsoft unveiled that as well, but it seems to be made specifically for the next-generation Surface Pro. It will allow the tablet to run all day without a charge.

Last but not least, Microsoft introduced the world to its Surface Remix Project, which will lead to the birth of new and unique covers for the tablet. The first is a Music Cover that will allow DJs to take full advantage of what the tablet has to offer.

Following in the footsteps of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Microsoft will continue to sell the original Surface RT alongside Surface 2. Pre-orders for the new model begin on Tuesday, September 24 at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Users can pre-order Surface Pro 2 on the same day. The pro tablet will ship alongside Surface 2 on October 22.

Surface Pro 2 comes in four varieties:

  • 64GB storage / 4GB RAM
  • 128GB storage / 4GB RAM
  • 256GB storage / 8GB RAM
  • 512GB storage / 8GB RAM
As expected, Microsoft is also developing a new docking station to go with its second-generation Surface Pro. It will come with three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0, a mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, and Audio In / Out.

Panay claimed that Surface Pro 2 is faster than 95 percent of the laptops available. To illustrate this, he brought a 6K RED Dragon camera (the same one used to film Game of Thrones) onto the stage and processed the raw data with Surface Pro 2.

The improved processing performance is being accompanied by speakers from Dolby (NYSE: DLB).

Disclosure: At the time of this writing, Louis Bedigian had no position in the equities mentioned in this report.

Louis Bedigian is the Senior Tech Analyst and Features Writer of Benzinga. You can reach him at louis(at)benzingapro(dot)com. Follow him @LouisBedigianBZ

(c) 2013 Benzinga.com. Benzinga does not provide investment advice. All rights reserved.


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