Along with its second generation Surface tablets, Microsoft is also offering an expanded set of new Surface accessories. The Type Cover 2, Touch Cover 2, Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition and some other accessories are shipping at the same time as the new tablets while a few others—the eagerly awaited Power Cover and Docking Station—won't ship until very early 2014. Here's a quick peek at the new Surface accessories I've used so far.
I will be reviewing all of the new Surface accessories in the days, weeks, and months ahead (depending on availability). This is just some first impressions.
Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2
If you already like Microsoft's existing typing covers, hold on to your hats, because the new versions are a considerable improvement. Both sport back-lighting, of course, which is incredible and works quite well. And both are inexplicably thinner and lighter than their predecessors, neither of which was particularly portly to begin with.
Touch Cover 2 is one of those technology miracles, where you look at the impossibly thin and light cover and think as you start using it—there's no way this will ever work, there's no way this will ever work, holy crap I am actually typing on this thing—and the joyful revelation that technology has proven you wrong once again. It's the reaction many of us had initially to typing on glass screens, and I never get tired of being surprised like this.
Type Cover 2, however, is the superior typing cover, and part of the reason is that, with this cover, Microsoft has combined the best of the original Type Cover with the best of the original Touch Cover. So we get the superior "real" keyboard from Type Cover, but with a shorter key throw and backlighting, but all of the non-keyboard bits—the area surrounding the keys, the wrist rest, and the touchpad—are made of the same felt-like material as is the Touch Cover. The result is a typing cover with better typing, and one that will not pick up the oils from your hands like the original Type Cover. Bam.
We also get colors. My review Type Cover 2 comes in conservative black, but you can order cyan, magenta or purple versions instead and add a bit of color to your life. I wish I had gotten the purple one.
Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition
I'm not exactly a fan of the Arc Touch Mouse, as evidenced by my review of the original version of the device, but most of my complaints were centered on the notion that you would be sitting in front of a computer and using the mouse all day long. That's not the point of this device, and if you add the fact that it's ambidextrous to the list of good points, you'll find that this isn't a horrible travel companion at all.
It's still too small for my gorilla-sized mitts, but I see the point of the Arc Touch Mouse: It uses Bluetooth, so it won't hog the single USB port on your Surface. It folds flat for traveling and doesn't weigh a lot or take up a lot of space. And what the heck, the new version is styled like the Surface tablets, sort of—it's matte black with no shiny bits—and sports a Surface logo. Some will want it just for that reason.
Power Cover and Docking Station
I don't have these at home for review, but I was able to spend a bit of time with each accessory this past week and can offer a few high-level observations. I'll be getting both, even if I have to buy them, as soon as possible.
If you have an original Surface Pro, you pretty much need the Power Cover. It's available in black only—where the new Type Cover 2 comes in various colors—and doesn't offer backlit keys, which is a curious oversight. But here's the thing: For just a small increase in weight—it's a bit hefty compared to a svelte Type Cover 2, but not a heck of a lot thicker—Surface Pro users will recognize a 2X increase in battery life. That means real-world battery life of about 9 hours. That's all day battery life, folks.
For Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 users, the value proposition is a bit less obvious. Both of these devices already provide at least all day battery life—heck, the Surface 2 is arguably in the "international travel" battery life category—making the Power Cover a bit less necessary. So I see Power Cover as more of an optional accessory for owners of those devices, something you maybe bring with you only when you're traveling.
As with Power Cover, the coming Docking Station is another accessory that will nicely extend anyone's investment in Surface Pro (not to mention Surface Pro 2). If you have any thoughts at all about using one of these devices at a desk in front of a large monitor and with additional accessories, you should seriously consider the Docking Station.
As I noted around the time of the Surface 2 launch, I had sort of expected a Surface dock to connect to the devices via their typing cover connector. That's not the case, and for some good reasons. First, doing so would have required users to remove and manage their typing cover when the Surface was docked. And second, and perhaps more important, such a connection would have resulted in USB-type video-out, which would limit performance.
Instead, the Docking Station connects to your Surface Pro or Pro 2 using brackets on the right and left, via the USB port (for USB expandability) and the mini-DisplayPort port (for video). The mechanism for this connection is super-smooth, and works much like the tumblers in a bank vault. Like everything else Surface, it just screams quality.
It's also useful, with its own charging port, mini-DisplayPort, three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, Ethernet, and separate audio-in and out ports. This is pretty much a no-brainer for any Surface Pro/Pro 2 user, assuming they ever stay in one place.
The only downside to the Power Cover and Docking Station is that they're not yet available. Microsoft tells me they should be shipping in volume by January 2014.
There are a number of other new Surface 2 accessories I can't claim to have spent much time with, including a Wireless Adapter for Typing Covers, which separates the typing cover from the device, a new Car Charger with USB Port, and a crazy Surface Music Kit, which is essentially a reskinned Touch Cover aimed at the DJ set.
I'll be obtaining and reviewing the Surface 2 accessories that make sense—OK, maybe not the Music Kit—going forward. But you can expect reviews of the accessories I do have on hand to appear soon.