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