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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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GarrettB719
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GarrettB719,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/14/2014 | 5:38:32 PM
Surface 2 RT Broken in less than 6 months
Thankfully it has a limited one year warranty and will be replaced, and mine could be an anomaly, but this is a disturbing lack of product reliablility for such an expensive product especially compared to the reliablility I have seen in its competitors.
Tom
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Tom,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/9/2014 | 8:06:23 AM
Surface RT & 2
Original Surface RT w/Type Cover owner here, and I've got my Surface 2 on order. In my opinion, the original RT was perfect for students and business use, whilst the new Surface 2 is ideal for a broader range of consumers as well.

All throughout University I'd just bought cheap Atom processor netbooks around the £150-200 with a version of Office supplied by my Uni. I liked doing it this way because they were light, they were cheap, they were expendable, and because I ultimately didn't see the point in buying a top spec laptop anyway. I had a proper gaming desktop I'd built myself at home I could use for intensive applications and games, and any laptop I bought would always fall short/seem inferior to it, so I just stuck with something basic that I could use for work, browsing and movies whilst on the move. I wanted a tablet, but wanted it to check these boxes as well. I very nearly purchased an Asus Transformer Prime with Keyboard Dock before I saw the Surface release statement.

Pros of the old RT were:

*Free Office. There's no comparable productivity suite out there as far as I'm concerned, and 2013 has Touch and Keyboard input modes that makes it ideal for the RT. Big factor for me over the Pro in fact.

*Great Software with update. Windows 8.1 syncs with my desktop, HTPC, work station and even my Lumia 920 to an extent. Native apps, like Mail and PDF reader, make good use of screen space. Bing News is great, as is the Recipes and Fitness apps. Bing search is still a bit rubbish, but there's option to easily switch default search engine to Google.

*IE11 is all the browser I need. Fast, well optimised for the Surface and obviates the need for many apps.

*Level of customisation on home screen. Live tiles.

*Portability. Lighter, thinner and slicker than a netbook.

*Multi-Tasking. I use snap screen all the time.

*Hand gestures are better than any other OS on the market. It's possible to do everything with quick swipes and pulls.

*Good battery life, no virus concerns.

*Expandable storage is great. You can get micro-SD cards for next to nothing, same with USBs. USB port full size too!) is also a massive plus for compatability.

*Good screen. Resolution was a bit sub par for the price point, but cleartype HD rectified it somewhat. It's a good screen quality.

*Kickstand is genuinely handy.

*Looks and feels good. They're pretty durable as well - I used a £1.99 netbook carrying case to protect it in my bag and, after over a year's ownership and regular use, there's not a scratch on it.

*Type Cover is very slick.

*Genuinely useable as a netbook (if perhaps not full laptop) replacement, and tablet. A very good hybrid device which makes better sense of Windows 8.1.

Cons:

*Too expensive at release. Tablet should have been £320, not £399, and Type Cover around £60 tops. The Type Cover in particular was a bit of a joke. I felt pretty cheated when the price on them plummeted 6months after release, as it meant the 2nd hand value on mine fell too so I had to wait a while to get the Surface 2. I still bought the RT at the first chance as it had everything I wanted, but it was certainly too pricey.

*Type Cover key travel is a bit hit and miss. It's a good productivity unit still, but I wouldn't want to spend all day typing on one.

*A small amount of lag when typing sometimes.

*Inability to install programs not in the App Store can be a little irritating at times, but not often. There are payoffs which make it worthwhile - most notably battery life, virus protection and, hopefully, as the App Store increases more of these programs will be integrated via the Store.

*Lack of a USB charger, or ability to charge from a separate battery. I always carry a spare power point for my phone, but can't re juice my tablet without a power socket. This limits its range and needs to be addressed.

*Camera isn't fantastic. I'm not bothered about the rear camera so much, but Skyping could be better.

What did the RT need? It needed a better (Full HD screen), a better processor, a better camera and Miracast. The Surface 2 has the lot. Now I look forward to wirelessly using my 40" Toshiba as a second screen for work and movies, in full 1080p.

Hopefully, the new Type Cover 2 is better too in terms of actual typing experience. I'll hold off on buying one for now as the advantages don't seem big enough to upgrade.

So, who is the Surface 2 for? For anyone who doesn't want to shell out for a low/mid-tier laptop and tablet, and who doesn't want to carry both around. Especially for anyone who will be using it for a fair amount work as well as play, so students and in business. Who isn't it for? Young children, the elderly, brand lovers and people who are seriously nuts about their apps/games. Also not suitable for power users who work on the move - they'll need a Pro, or an expensive laptop.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
12/6/2013 | 7:49:52 AM
Re: Anyone else?
This is where I think Microsoft got some things right.  Moving to one OS or at least a consistant experience across all of the device form factors makes the transition from tablet to desktop so much nicer.  I plan on replacing my work laptop with a Surface 2 or similar Windows based tablet device very soon since I'm not losing nearly as much as if I tried to move to an Android or iOS based tablet both of which I have had or currently own and use.   The tablet form factor is great for me but the frustration of keeping up multiple version of software or hunting for similar software between OSes kills the experience for me.
Shepy
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Shepy,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/28/2013 | 7:17:41 AM
Re: Anyone else?
"The new Mail app is so much better than its bare-bones predecessor"

Things like this irk me, this is a core app that has been crucial for years, why are devices being rushed out without this core functionality being spot on
samicksha
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samicksha,
User Rank: Strategist
11/28/2013 | 3:50:12 AM
Re: Anyone else?
Personally i never recommend ipad/ tablet but Win8.1 64 bit devices, that can work as laptops and tablets,  this shall create a different story.
dougee2fresh
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dougee2fresh,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/27/2013 | 12:21:26 PM
Re: Anyone else?
My daughter in high school wanted an iPad. Couldn't watch certain shows on Hulu because iPad is considered a mobile device. Then she realized she couldn't couldn't print or connect her phone or add music via usb or use Word or powerpoint to send work to teachers. Got her a Surface 2... No questions or problems. She loves it!
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2013 | 1:28:07 AM
Re : Microsoft Surface 2: Hands-On Review
@ thinkingdifferent, you seem to be more neutral voice than others in these comments. Having the option of plethora of different apps seems very fanciful, but in fact we don't need that much. If we still want to have things under hood that we might never use, that is a separate thing. But if we consider productivity, the things you mentioned are sufficient to play with. So let's not get too harsh on Microsoft except price.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2013 | 1:28:04 AM
Re : Microsoft Surface 2: Hands-On Review
@ Michael Endler, considering the almost negligible place of Windows based phones in smart phone market, Microsoft had better taken humble start in tablets market regarding price. They may have lost money on every unit, but then they have enough money to lose to make a place in tablets market and get back that money doubled in future.
anon9871515647
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anon9871515647,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2013 | 12:41:40 PM
Re: Surface 2 RT = Maybe, Surface Pro 2 = Yes
The Surface Pro is a $1000. How many people do you think are going to spend that on a tablet?
anon9871515647
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anon9871515647,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2013 | 12:40:21 PM
Re: Surface 2 RT = Maybe, Surface Pro 2 = Yes
Traditional Windows is crap on a tablet. It wasn't built for tablets. A stylus only makes it tolerable. Other than Office, Photoshop, Lightroom, and maybe CAD, what Windows software would you actually want on a tablet? x86 software is more bloated, more resource intensive, less battery efficient, and doesn't have the UI for touch. Ever used Windows 7 on a tablet. Outside of the Metro part of the OS, that's what traditional Windows 8 feels like on a tablet. Crap!
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