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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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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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