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11/21/2013
09:06 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Microsoft Surface 2: Hands-On Review

Microsoft's Surface 2 is a big improvement, but it's not for everyone.

Battery Life
Microsoft says the Surface 2 will run more than 10 hours between charges. I haven't tested this scientifically, but that's mostly because the device hasn't given me a reason to doubt its creator's claims. The Surface 2 makes it through a full work day without a problem.

SkyDrive
SkyDrive has always been a useful cloud storage option, but Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 take it a step further by integrating the service directly into the file structure, just like your Documents folder and Downloads folder. This makes SkyDrive easier and more convenient to use for 8.1 users in general, but the Surface 2 offers the added perk of 200 GB of free storage for two years. Other users get only 7 GB before they have to pay for more SkyDrive space.

Type Cover 2
Microsoft's keyboard accessory adds almost no bulk to the Surface 2 but is just sturdy enough to facilitate reasonable productivity. The new model's backlit keys are a nice touch.

The Type Cover 2 easily handles light word processing, but it feels a bit cramped for heavy typing.
The Type Cover 2 easily handles light word processing, but it feels a bit cramped for heavy typing.

App Snapping
Microsoft's original implementation of Modern UI multitasking was awkward because the apps could be viewed only in a specific ratio; one took up three-quarters of the screen, and the other took up the rest. In 8.1, users have more control over how much screen real estate snapped apps occupy, making it easy to, say, copy text from IE 11 and quickly paste it into OneNote.

The preceding list seems great -- so why am I not advocating the Surface 2 more aggressively? Simple: The Surface 2 is a good device, but for many needs, it's too compromised to be a great device, though it's priced like one.

If you're interested in a best-in-class tablet experience, for example, you'll probably be happier with an iPad. The number of Windows Store apps has slowly risen over the last year, with essential titles such as Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix now available. Windows 8.1 also makes it easier than ever to find titles. But iOS still dominates in both depth and breadth of apps.

Thanks to its two-position kickstand, the Surface 2 balances more easily than the Surface RT on one's lap.
Thanks to its two-position kickstand, the Surface 2 balances more easily than the Surface RT on one's lap.

By virtue of having so much laptop DNA, the Surface 2 also isn't an optimal form factor for a tablet, which is typically held in the user's hands. The device is light but not as light as the iPad Air. The 16:10 aspect ratio of the Surface 2's screen also makes it somewhat unwieldy when held in portrait orientation. With a slightly boxier display, iPads are easier to rotate and maneuver.

As a touch-first tablet OS, Windows RT 8.1 is enjoyable -- but despite its lack of true multitasking, iOS is still more polished and responsive. That said, I've found Windows RT 8.1 easier to use and more fun than Android, though most Android tablets have the advantage of being cheaper than any Surface or iPad currently on the market.

Plus, as capable as the Surface 2's processor is, it's not necessarily better than the Qualcomm Snapdragon chips found in newer Android models and competing Windows devices. I've found the Surface 2 buzzes along if you keep things light, but as soon as you move into moderately heavy tasks, like having a couple dozen IE 11 tabs open at once, the device gets overwhelmed and freezes up. The new iPads' 64-bit A7 processor, in contrast, is in a class of its own.

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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 1:49:36 PM
Re: Good for Students
@fjrangel1, thanks for the comments. You bring up a number of good points.


Regarding the screen's aspect ratio-- you're right: the Surface 2 is a terrific media tablet. It doesn't have the iTunes ecosystem behind it, which will matter to some people, but everything else is great. I've watched a ton of Netflix on the Surface 2.

If you like to watch videos with your tablet in a static position, rather than held in your hands, the Surface 2's kickstand is an asset. For the purposes you describe, I can definitely see someone preferring the Surface 2 over an iPad. But tablets have many purposes, and I don't think the Surface 2 stacks up as well with some of the other tasks. It's clearly subjective, but for handheld use, I find the iPad Mini and the iPad Air to be much more user-friendly, for example.

The screen-size issue is a bit ironic. The iPad has a reputation as a consumer device, but its aspect ratio is actually perfect for reviewing documents-- a trait that's helped iPads to become popular in the workplace. At the same time, the boxier aspect ratio can detract from on the device's alleged core strengths-- media consumption. With an iPad, you're sometimes forced to choose between viewing content at the desired resolution, the desired size, or the desired aspect ratio.

The Surface 2, meanwhile, has a reputation as a "productivity" tablet, but its screen is arguably better suited to watching movies than the iPad's, , as noted above. So in a small but noteworthy way, both devices defy their reputations.

I'm a little surprised to hear you don't find the keyboard cramped-- but again, it's subjective. I have medium-sized hands, and it's my job to produce a couple thousand words worth of content daily, so my relationship with keyboards is going to be different than those of many IW readers. As noted in the article, I think the Type Cover is perfectly usable, but I wouldn't recommend relying on it if heavy typing is part of your routine.

Ultimately, I think your positive experience with the Surface reaffirms that it can be a terrific device depending on your needs. For certain use cases, it's clearly better than other options, from small laptops to iPads. I still suspect the Surface will attract only a niche audience, as the areas in which it excels don't necessarily offset the ways in which other options are more desirable. But it's always possible I'm underestimating things.
fjrangel1
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fjrangel1,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 11:52:11 AM
Good for Students
I have to disagree with the author regarding the 16:10 form factor (I assumed it was 16:9, but I digress). Watching videos on the iPad is mediocre, at best. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's ever watched YouTube and Netflix videos on his tablet. It's probably why so many Android tablets are at a 16:9 ratio. Besides, I don't hold tablets one handed for more than a minute. Usually it's resting on a table top, the ground, or my knees (I watch a lot of video on it).

 

The surface is bigger than your average tablet, but there's a reason for that. It also acts as a laptop. How tiny would the keyboard be to fit the width of an iPad? I've typed on the Surface 2's keypad, and it's no less comfortable than my laptop (except there is no space for a number pad).
Texas888
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Texas888,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 11:12:21 AM
Surface Pro 2
The Surface Pro 2 runs the full version of Win 8.1. Judging by the comments so far they all appear to be apple fan boys/girls.
sfreeves
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sfreeves,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 10:39:32 AM
Surface 2 vs. iPad
Thanks for the review! I have been going back and forth between what to get, either an iPad of a Surface 2.  I know all tablets have their flaws but I have heard more flaws about the Surface 2 than I have for the iPad.  I will be using the device for personal use and maybe down the road work use when traveling, so from the other reviews that I have read and this it seems that an iPad for me is a sure-fire way to go!
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 10:22:07 AM
Re: Microsoft Surface 2
I find it interesting that you have reservations about bringing Surface into the business environment, Li. If experienced IT professionals like you have doubts about Surface's place in the enterprise, that doesn't bode well for Microsoft. 
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
11/21/2013 | 10:09:28 AM
Re: Microsoft Surface 2
I am a little bit reluctant to take it into use for business use. It's an innovation for consumer electronics but may not be suitable for full-fledge business use. Its functionality is still limited and there are restrictions as was mentioned in the post. So I would keep watching out instead of trying by myself.:-)
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 9:55:09 AM
Re: Microsoft Surface 2
To most businesses, I think Microsoft is pretty relevant. But that's part of the problem. They market the Surface as a consumer device, when they should be trying to sell it to businesses that need the application integration and security it can provide. Some of that is happening, but in isolated cases.
loudidonato
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loudidonato,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 9:29:33 AM
Microsoft Surface 2
Why does Microsoft think they are relevant anymore? Who do they appeal to?

The many things they are into that the majority of the public does not know or even see, that is what they should keep focusing on.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 9:13:21 AM
Anyone else?
Are any of you using the new Surface yet? Tell us what you think.
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