There's good news and not-so-good news about Microsoft's Surface 2 with 4G LTE.
The good news is it's available starting tomorrow, March 18, at Microsoft retail stores, MicrosoftStore.com and Best Buy in the U.S. The not-so-good: The $679 estimated retail price, reported last week by WPCentral.com, is correct. And that's for an ARM-based Surface 2 with no keyboard/cover included.
Microsoft officials said last fall that the company would be bringing to market a 4G LTE-enabled version of its Surface 2 tablet in early 2014. At that time, Microsoft execs said AT&T and Vodafone would be providing the LTE service.
A 64 GB Surface 2 sells for $549. A 32 GB Nokia 2520 ARM-based tablet sells for $499 with no contract and $399 with an AT&T contract. (There is no 64 GB version of Nokia's 2520.)
AT&T is not offering a version of Microsoft's Surface 2 with subsidized contract pricing, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed. The Surface 2 with LTE is unlocked, but a "qualifying" AT&T plan is required for use on AT&T.
I realize the Surface 2 with LTE comes an integrated kickstand, support for a MicroSD card and 64 GB of storage compared to Nokia 2520's 32 GB. But $679 plus another $80 (for a first-generation Touch Cover) to $200 (for a Power Cover)?
Microsoft is aiming to position the Surface 2 primarily as a competitor to the iPad Air and MacBook Air devices.
The Microsoft spokesperson provided this statement when I asked about the company's thinking around pricing for the Surface 2 with LTE:
"Surface 2 (AT&T 4G LTE) offers an unparalleled value for the price, especially when you consider pre-loaded Office, 200GB of free OneDrive (formally known as SkyDrive) storage, free Skype calling and unlimited Skype Wi-Fi. Now with LTE capabilities, Surface 2 (AT&T 4G LTE) is the most productive tablet on the planet for personal use on the market, and we’re proud to offer it for a competitive price of $679 USD."
The Surface 2 with LTE has all the same features and specs as the current Surface 2. It is based on an NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor; features a 10.8-inch screen and weighs about 1.5 pounds (without the keyboard/cover). It ships with Windows RT 8.1.
The Surface 2 wtih LTE is capable of accepting any GSM micro-SIM card, but works only on the following bands: 2G GSM (Quadband: 850/900/1800/1900); 3G UMTS (Bands 1, 2, 5); and 4G LTE (Bands 4, 7, 17), according to Microsoft's spec sheet.
Update: Microsoft's Surface 2 with LTE is the first member of the Microsoft Surface family to include GPS support -- something Microsoft surprisingly isn't touting publicly. Paul Thurrott of the Windows Supersite mentioned this to me today and Microsoft verified with the following statement from a spokesperson:
“With Surface 2 (AT&T 4G LTE), we are proud to offer the first device in the Surface family with standalone GPS, assisted GPS and GLONASS.”