Windows RT 8.1 still can't run traditional desktop apps, but the OS nonetheless offers a smoother, more intuitive user experience than its predecessor. Those unfamiliar with Windows 8.1's Modern UI will still face a learning curve, but between UI refinements and a newly integrated tutorial app, Microsoft's lightweight OS doesn't pose the challenge it once did.
Nonetheless, iOS has traditionally been seen as easier to use than its competitors, and most users will probably find that this remains the case with iOS 7.
8. The Surface 2 has better apps than the Surface -- but the iPad still has more.
With only a few exceptions, the original Surface 2's core apps were discouragingly anemic. Its Mail app, for example, barely let users do more than send and receive basic messages. Windows RT 8.1 delivers improved versions of these old apps, such as a Mail client that supports rich formatting. It also includes several sorely needed new ones, such as Alarms and Tutorials apps.
Moreover, Surface 2 owners get several app-related perks, such as 200 GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage for two years and a year of free Skype Wi-Fi at more than 2 million hotspots. From Office to Skype to Internet Explorer 11, the Surface 2 provides all the tools many workers need to work on projects, collaborate with friends and colleagues, and stay connected to the Web.
That said, the iPad Air still has the edge in apps. Apple's iOS platform offers by far the largest number of titles optimize for full-size tablet screens. The Surface 2 boasts some novel titles and has become more competitive -- but if you like app smorgasbords, the iPad Air might be a better match for your needs.
9. Neither device is cheap.
Smaller, cheaper tablets are all the rage, but neither Microsoft nor Apple seemed intimidated by their competitors' plunging prices. The iPad Air starts at $499 for the base 16-GB edition and $629 for the 16-GB LTE version. The Surface 2 starts at $449 for the base 32-GB model and pricing has not yet been announced for the LTE version, which will arrive early next year.
Those who need keyboards will have to shell out a little more. Third-party iPad keyboards generally range between $50 and $150. Microsoft's original -- and flimsy -- Touch Cover keyboard is only $79.99, but many users might prefer the Touch Cover 2. The newer model is $50 more, but boasts at least three advantages over the older one: more sensors to make typing more accurate; backlit keys for easier typing in dim settings; and a more rigid design that's better suited to lap use. Microsoft also sells the $129.99 Type Cover 2, which is even more rigid than the new Touch Cover 2, and the $199.99 Power Cover, which includes an onboard power source to increase the Surface's battery life and will start shipping next year.