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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.

I've been using Microsoft's Surface 2 for nearly a month, and it improves in literally every way over its misbegotten predecessor, the Surface RT. That's not necessarily saying much, given the low bar set by the original, but the Surface 2 is actually a pretty satisfying device.

I'm consequently disappointed that I can't wholeheartedly recommend the Surface 2. It's a terrific device for specific groups of users, but given its cost and limitations, many people will probably be better served by other options.

The Surface 2 is fun to use, but with a $449 base price, it might be too compromised for most users.
The Surface 2 is fun to use, but with a $449 base price, it might be too compromised for most users.

Still, progress is progress. The Surface RT, which Microsoft still sells for $349, doesn't warrant even a qualified endorsement -- its sales have been awful for a reason. Windows RT 8.1 adds some polish to the device's OS, but the RT is still hampered by a laggy processor and a subpar 1,366x768-pixel display. Even if you buy into some of the device's strengths, such as ultra-mobile access to Microsoft Office, you'll probably be discouraged by its cost-to-performance ratio.

[ How does the Surface 2 match up against the iPad Air? Read iPad Air vs. Surface 2: 9 Considerations. ]

The Surface 2 is far less aggravating. In fact, it's actually pretty fun to use. I'll discuss its drawbacks on the next page, but first, here are the things I liked:

Better performance
The Surface 2's NVIDIA Tegra 4 ARM processor is much zippier than the Surface RT's Tegra 3, and Windows RT 8.1 is far more fluid and intuitive than the original OS version. The device starts up in seconds, wakes up from sleep even faster, and is generally pretty responsive -- as long as you remember that it's not packing full PC power beneath the hood.

Improved core apps
The inclusion of Outlook and other Office titles is still a big part of the Surface 2's appeal. If you're happy using Word, Excel, and the others on a 10.6-inch screen, Microsoft's new tablet is an elegant option. But Windows RT 8.1's core Modern UI apps are much richer than those in the original version. The new Mail app is so much better than its bare-bones predecessor, for example, that some people might actually use it instead of Outlook.

Light and luxurious hardware
The Surface 2 is astonishingly light. Microsoft's spec sheet will tell you the device weighs less than 1.5 pounds and is only 8.9 mm thick, but those are just numbers on a page. They don't prepare you for how light yet sturdy the Surface 2's magnesium chassis really is. The fact that Microsoft managed to fit a USB 3.0 port is both impressive and useful.

The device's two-position kickstand is also a surprisingly important addition that not only provides more viewing angles but also makes the device easier to balance on a user's lap. The Surface 2's 1,080p screen is substantially sharper and more vibrant than the RT's, making the new device great for surfing the web, firing up Office, watching movies, and using Skype. Video chats are further enabled by a light-sensitive 3.5 MP front-facing camera. Microsoft also throws in a year of free Skype WiFi, accessible at more than 2 million hotspots.

Rapid update cycles
Traditionally, Windows updates arrive in discrete chunks, meaning users sometimes have to wait months or even years for performance enhancements and bug fixes. With Microsoft's newest OS, that's no longer the case; updates can be deployed and automatically installed on a continual basis. Microsoft has already released a few updates for Windows RT 8.1, and those updates have noticeably improved the Surface 2's performance. Internet Explorer 11 (IE 11) was prone to crashing at first but has since stabilized, for example.

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anon9871515647
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anon9871515647,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2013 | 12:37:57 PM
Re: Surface 2 RT = Maybe, Surface Pro 2 = Yes
"Surface RT might be the most useless laptop out there (compared to Android and iPad)"

LOL! This comment is straight up BS, considering it can do far more than either. It also has better performance than any Android tablet and as good as an iPad.

As for full Windows 8 tablets, the only part of them that is actually good on a tablet is the Metro part of the OS, the start screen and metro apps. Traditional Windows is garbage on a tablet, it wasn't built for touch, and doesn't have the UI for touch. Even with a stylus it's only tolerable. Not to mention who wants to run antivirus on a tablet, or experience Explorer crashes, things you don't have to deal with on a Windows RT tablet.

 

 
CharlesT591
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CharlesT591,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/24/2013 | 2:54:27 PM
Re: Surface 2 RT = Maybe, Surface Pro 2 = Yes
"Surface RT might be the most useless laptop out there (compared to Android and iPad)"

First Surface RT is a tablet not a laptop just like an iPad or Android tablets.

Also Surface RT is pobably the most underated tablet out ther compared to the iPad and Andriod tablets. Actually it can really do more. And in my humble opinion, it is more useful than the latter. Maybe after you watch the below video on YouTube you will have a change of opinion about the device.

And oh, Surface 2 is even better.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wG1b0yBJHLM (Why I Love my Microsoft Surface 2 : Tips and Tricks)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VYf5MWyTn8&feature=c4-overview&list=UUqD1vWlpai9SUvfNfzVvUqA (Why I love my Microsoft Surface RT)
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2013 | 12:33:15 PM
Re: Surface 2 RT = Maybe, Surface Pro 2 = Yes
Thanks for sharing-- great points. The stylus support is something that deserves mentioning. It seems like now that Microsoft has tweaked the design and added Haswell, the Surface Pro line is gaining fans.

Interesting to hear about the ThinkPad Tablet deployments. Are the students losing any productivity due to the lower-power chip? Or due to the form factor, since its 10-inch screen might be a bit small for laptop-style work?

Or has the ThinkPad been fine for its intended purposes? Are students using it primarily for content consumption (e.g. electronic textbooks, etc), coursework (e.g. word processing), or other things (e.g. using educational touch apps, using the tablet's mobility to integrate it into field trips and lab work, etc).

We've done a few stories on tablets in schools-- both iPads and Windows devices. Always interested to hear more about how educators are putting these devices to work in the classroom.
MatthewGudenius
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MatthewGudenius,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/24/2013 | 4:20:12 AM
Re: Surface 2 Price Point
Unfortunately, even a Macbook PLUS iPad can't do what a Surface Pro can do. I know this article is not about Pro, but wanted to point out that this is a major point -- even with a Macbook and an iPad, you can't get precise, accurate, pressure-sensitive writing and drawing capabilities on the screen.  That might not matter to everybody, but for anyone who works in a creative or multimedia capacity, it makes all the difference in the world.
MatthewGudenius
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MatthewGudenius,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/24/2013 | 3:53:09 AM
Re: Anyone else?
Yep -- but it's really not the keyboard that makes the Surface Pro so great (in fact -- I really don't like Surface keyboards, and they are definitely overpriced); for me, it's the ability to use legacy apps, to access ALL websites (whereas iPads can't access about 25% of them due to Flash, Java, Silverlight, etc.), and last but certainly not least, the active digitizer stylus -- I love to be able to jot handwritten notes and diagrams, and I do a good deal of design, drawing, illustration, and planning diagrams, so that is a super powerful tool that you can't get on ANY Apple device  (nor on most Android tablets, although the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 offers nice functionality there -- I use the Galaxy Note II and it is definitely the only smartphone I have ever wanted to use, and I use the stylus pen on a regular basis, probably more than any other feature...)
MatthewGudenius
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MatthewGudenius,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/24/2013 | 3:49:15 AM
Re: Surface 2 RT = Maybe, Surface Pro 2 = Yes
Totally agree, 100%

 

Surface RT might be the most useless laptop out there (compared to Android and iPad), but Surface Pro 2, on the other hand, is exactly what I have been waiting a long time for.

It has all of the power of an actual laptop, plus the nice built-in HD cameras, and touch is now actually reasonable to use thanks to Windows 8 (and 8.1 truly is an improvement over 8 in many ways)

And, for me, the active digitizer stylus is a huge asset. More important than touch-screen, IMO. (I have enjoyed tablet PCs since I bought my 2004 Toshiba Portege, but unfortunately the Windows OS was less than ideal for tablets, and caused the workflow to be a bit clunky.  That is no longer the reality.)

 

Right now, I feel the Surface Pro 2 is the best all-purpose device out there -- costs less than a Macbook, has the same processing power, and lets you do a heck of a lot more.  (as a teacher, I would love to get a class set of these, but unfortunately I need something with all-day battery power, and even the improved efficiency of the Pro 2 doesn't cut it at only about 6 hours... I need 8+ hours. So we ended up adopting the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 -- also a great device, with a lot of similarities to the Surface Pro 2, but much weaker processing power due to the Atom. The upside is a $550 pricetag and 10 hours of nonstop battery life)
Bob Gill
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Bob Gill,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/23/2013 | 10:56:14 AM
Surface 2 RT = Maybe, Surface Pro 2 = Yes
I realize the article is about RT and maybe it can find a market, but the Pro 2 is really awesome.

The Pro 2 works so well as a full replacement and can dock.

In Irvine, CA several small to mid companies are starting to replace desktops and desk phones with the Pro 2, Lync 2013 and Windows cell phones.  The combo is not perfect, but it's far better than anything else.
NSMuraliMD
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NSMuraliMD,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/23/2013 | 9:28:35 AM
Re: Surface 2 Price Point
Have you used Dragon 12.5 professional on this device?

How is the quality, fidelity and responsiveness of the built in array microphone? Is it practical to use this for high quality fast dictation ( like we do on Pentium i-7 computers? )

I would appreciate your observations and comments.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/22/2013 | 8:48:32 PM
Re: For Some a Surface is the Perfect Device

"When I get home, I can plug my Surface into a 32" monitor and use my wireless full size keyboard to work as if on a desktop. My Surface might not be a complete laptop replacement, but it comes awefully close.

If you use MS Office, a Surface may well be the perfect device for you as well."


Thanks for sharing your positive experiences with the device. It's good to get a mixture of reactions in here, and it's good to see Microsoft is winning over some people.

I think the two points of your points that I've quoted above are really important. I suspect that for many, the extent to which these ideas (Office, connecting to an external monitor and full keyboard) fit into one's workflow will the extent to which that person will be able to rely on the Surface for productivity. Otherwise, like I said in the article, I see it more as a great, albeit pricey, companion device.

But maybe I'm finicky about my keyboards and screens. Any other people who feel they're just as productive on a Surface as they are on a traditional laptop?

Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/22/2013 | 8:39:49 PM
Re: Surface 2 Price Point
@Tom, I think if you're an Apple user who is skeptical of this whole convergence thing, the Surface 2 is going to do little to persuade you. If you thought the original Surface was a poor execution of a worthwhile idea, then perhaps the new model will sway you. Personally, most of the tasks for which I could use a Surface, I'd rather use a MacBook and iPad, even though it means sticking with seperate devices. My two cents, anyhow.
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