Microsoft Surface 2 With LTE: Winner For Mobile Pros? - InformationWeek
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Microsoft Surface 2 With LTE: Winner For Mobile Pros?

Microsoft's Surface 2 is now equipped for LTE connections -- but still must compete with iPad Air.

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Microsoft on Monday announced a version of its ARM-based Surface 2 tablet equipped for 4G LTE connectivity. The new device is otherwise identical to the WiFi-only model, and will be available March 18 for $679.

The LTE-equipped Surface 2 comes with 64 GB of storage. It will be offered unlocked but is intended for use in the US with AT&T's LTE network. AT&T will not offer any subsidized Surface options, and it will be the customer's responsibility to sign up for a compatible plan. The device also supports GSM micro-SIM cards but will work only on specific bands: 1, 2, and 5 for 3G, and 4, 7, and 17 for 4G LTE.

[Is Microsoft's Surface 2 the right tablet for you? Read Microsoft Surface 2: Hands-On Review.]

At only two pounds, the Surface 2 has always been highly portable. WiFi networks still aren't ubiquitous, however, and without an LTE option, the Surface 2 is arguably less mobile-friendly than competitors such as the iPad Air. With mobile broadband now integrated, Microsoft hopes more on-the-go workers will consider the Surface 2's productivity-oriented features, such as native support for Microsoft Office, an integrated kickstand, and optional first-party keyboard accessories.

LTE is a notorious battery hog, but Microsoft claims the new Surface 2 achieves ten hours of battery life. Like the original 64 GB Surface 2, which sells for $549, the LTE-enabled model features a 10.6-inch full HD display, NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor, USB 3.0 slot, 3.5 MP front-facing camera, and 5 MP rear camera.

All versions of the Surface 2 run Windows RT 8.1, which includes Office Home & Student 2013 RT and Outlook 2013 RT but does not otherwise support desktop applications. Surface devices also come with free Skype calling for one year to landlines in more than 60 countries, unlimited Skype WiFi for one year at millions of global hot spots, and 200 GB of free OneDrive cloud storage for two years.

Microsoft said the Surface 2 with LTE will be available in the US through its retail and online stores, as well as via Best Buy. For reference, a cellular-ready 64 GB iPad Air is $829, though Apple offers LTE models with smaller SSDs for as little as $629. Nokia's Lumia 2520 tablet, which also supports 4G connectivity, is available only in a 32 GB configuration and sells for $499 without a contract and $399 with a two-year agreement.

The 2520 arguably offers the best baseline for handicapping the new Surface 2's prospects; in practice, the Microsoft tablet's industrial-inspired metal build handles differently than the Lumia's plastic shell, but aesthetics and ergonomics aside, the devices are very similar on paper. The new LTE-enabled Surface 2 can only help Microsoft attract new customers, but given that no one has reported exploding 2520 sales, it's hard to imagine the new device will dramatically improve Microsoft's tablet performance.

So far those sales have been modest. In January, Microsoft reported Surface revenue of $893 million, more than double the previous quarter's haul of $400 million. But the company's SEC filing revealed the Surface line still lost millions of dollars. Moreover, the revenue growth coincided with significant decreases in first-generation Surface model prices, suggesting that even if sales volume increased, per-unit margins dropped.

Microsoft will soon release an update for Windows 8.1 designed to make the touch-oriented OS more palatable to users of non-touch hardware. While this tactic could help the sagging PC market, Microsoft hasn't telegraphed additional steps it will take to jumpstart its floundering tablet efforts. Recent online reports that cite supply chain rumors claim Microsoft will soon debut a Surface Mini with an 8.5-inch touchscreen, but such sources generally have spotty track records, so it remains to be seen when or if new Surface models might appear.

Beyond the Surface line, Windows slates have struggled in general to carve out a niche; research firm Gartner calculated this month that Windows tablets accounted for only 2.1% of the market in 2013, even worse than the 3.4% share IDC estimated in December.

Incidents of mobile malware are way up, researchers say, and 78% of respondents worry about lost or stolen devices. But although many teams are taking mobile security more seriously, 42% still skip scanning completely, and just 39% have MDM systems in place. Find out more in the State Of Mobile Security report (free registration required).

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/18/2014 | 3:01:17 PM
Re: Surface and the IPAD
Not one has said they missed the iPad.  Nor did any have any real complaints with it either.  We all knew what it was good for and its limits as a tool. That is not to say that many of us had tried to stretch the limits of use of the iPad.  All of us knew we had to eventually return to a laptop or desktop to get real work done in an efficient manner.  And I say efficient as much of what our people do could be done on an iPad.  But it was often laborious.  The lack of a cursor for selection, cut and paste, etc. makes routine tasks more difficult.  It was just easier to switch to a laptop/desktop and knock out the same work in half the time.  I tried to expand the use of VM's for access via RDP but again, the lack or an input device made things difficult.

In our case, I supposed most are not app crazy and use the minimal available which may be one of the reasons why we have fewer issues.  Hence why with the Windows tablets with Office 2013 installed, there is little need for apps.  And in the cases where we need to install an application from one of our partners, we can.

As one simple example.  Shortly after getting the first Windows 8 tablet, we were having our annual sales meeting.  We had one of our partners in town and he asked me if I could upload some presentations and product datasheets to our documents system (mapped drive which is also accessible via FTP).  He gave me his USB flash drive to which I simply plugged it into the Samsung tablet I had at the time, switched to the desktop, opened Windows Explorer and copied the files to the share.  Pretty simple but had I had an iPad, I would have had to walk back to my office to my desktop.  I then went back to using it as a tablet with the mail app, etc.

We still have a couple of our sales people using iPad's and that is fine if they want to as they are comfortable and understand they will need to go back to a laptop at times.

I read about the issues some have with the "schizophrenic" nature of the OS.  I suppose we have been able to embrace it to allow for a lesser number of devices to rely upon.  Going back to using just two, phone and tablet, is a nice and simplistic change.
User Rank: Author
3/18/2014 | 2:24:49 PM
Re: Surface and the IPAD
Thanks for sharing your experience. It is great to hear stories about tablets rooted in experience rather than visceral dislike for apple or microsoft. what was the feedback from your small business users? did they miss the ipads?
User Rank: Apprentice
3/18/2014 | 1:17:51 PM
Re: Surface and the IPAD
Typically just reading the comments but would like to expand based on our experiences and deployments.

1.5 years ago I would use my iPad (of two years) at home and some travel but relied upon my laptop as well when the iPad could not get the work done or was too laborious/tedious.  I also used a desktop at the office.  A little later I picked up a Samsung 500T tablet and found that it could do the vast majority of what I needed at home and on the road causing the laptop to collect dust.  The Windows tablet replaced the laptop and iPad I had previously used.

Fast forward to approximately eight weeks ago and I picked up Surface Pro 2 and have now replaced my desktop at the office thus bringing three devices down to one.  The Surface Pro 2 works quite well when docked and using the DP daisy chaining ability to two Dell U2414H monitors.

Point being, when docked, I am in desktop mode using typical applications like Outlook similar to the way one would use a desktop or laptop.  When at home on the sofa, I use the mail app and IE app like a tablet, which it is, albeit a bit on the portly side.  Of the approximate twelve deployments, using various Windows tablets but seem to be settling on the Surface Pro2, all were also Windows laptop and iPad users.  Now all are just Windows 8/8.1 tablet users where their iPad's have gone to children or sold.

Now, as related to the subject regarding LTE.  I simply enabled Internet Sharing on my phone and I have data anywhere.  Granted, there is a loss of convenience as the phone has to be near but that has hardly turned into a major issue.  On the flip side it has financial benefits.  Adding the Internet Sharing onto my phone cost $10 additional per month.  An Enterprise data plan was $30 per month for a tablet.  Not a tremendous amount of savings but when multiplied by ten users, does start to add up for a small business like ourselves.
User Rank: Ninja
3/17/2014 | 10:25:58 PM
Re: Surface and the IPAD
The Surface 2 Pro can be used as a fully functioning PC.  The Surface 2 LTE (the topic of this article) is just Windows RT.  Once again, Microsoft's marketing confusion claims another victim.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/17/2014 | 7:43:00 PM
Re: Surface and the IPAD
I think there are a number of reasons not to compare Windows tablets and iPads. As you point out, a Windows tablet can be a fully-functioning PC. Valid point.

Even so, I think comparisons between iPads and Windows RT tablets are more reasonable-- especially if there's any truth to today's report that Office for iPads will debut later this month. Based on its marketing, Microsoft seems to believe consumers care about this comparison.

Speaking personally,I don't always use my iPad and my Surface 2 in the same ways. They overlap in some ways but also have different strengths and weaknesses. But that is, to some extent, a moot point. Most people are forced to choose a single device, rather than match various devices to their best individual roles. So for that reason, I think some amount of "Surface 2 vs. iPad Air" talk is natural. Either device is capable of boosting productivity, depending on how the user intends to implement it into his/her larger workflow. If you really want a light laptop that runs Office and some web apps, Surface 2 (plus keyboard cover) might be the way to go; if you want a pure tablet, most people would probably recommend the iPad Air.

On another note, before now, if you wanted touch-oriented, on-the-go productivity ("touch-oriented productivity" is not an oxymoron; it's just different than mouse-and-keyboard productivity), an iPad with LTE a better option than a Surface 2. Now, an argument for the Surface 2 can at least be made. The fact that the Surface 2 also doubles as a laptop could be an extra benefit for this need, but (given that the iPad's screen dimensions are arguably better for hand-hold-ability) it could also be a drawback. 

User Rank: Ninja
3/17/2014 | 7:12:04 PM
Surface and the IPAD
The surface seems like a pretty good deal. I don't really compare Ipads to Windows tablets. The Surface can be used as a fully funtioning PC. The iPad cannot and it's more $$$. If the iPad ran OS X then maybe I would change my mind.
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