Microsoft Surface 2 Review – Past the Surface

Welcome to Twenty First Tech’s Review of the Microsoft Surface 2. Check out what we felt were hits, and what we felt were misses.

Introduction

It’s been a rough ride for Windows RT. While Microsoft entered the arena to much fanfare in 2012, introducing their first ever tablet, the Surface RT, sales were much poorer than expected. The immature Windows RT platform, with its lack of apps and inability to run legacy Windows desktop apps, repelled manufacturers from producing Windows RT tablets, leaving only Nokia and Microsoft itself.

While the Surface RT might have been seen as a failure to many, Microsoft refused to give up on its tablet and pushed out the second generation Surface 2 a year later. With a faster Tegra 4 processor, 1080p screen and a slew of improved touch and type covers, the Surface 2 seems like a mighty contender in the tablet arena. But how does the tablet stack up against the competition? (Check out Should I Upgrade? Surface 2 vs Surface RT)

First let us take a look at the overview of pros and cons:

Pros

– Much faster than the Surface RT

– Same 1080p screen as the Surface Pro 2

– Great battery life

– Windows has greatly matured with Windows 8.1 Update 1

– Free Office 2013 suite onboard

– Many connectivity options

Cons

– Tablet is too heavy for its size

– Windows Store provides limited app selection compared to iOS and Android

TL;DR

The Microsoft Surface 2 is a brilliant device for those who want to get some serious work done with Microsoft Office, browse the web, transfer files, and watch movies, thanks to its USB 3.0 port, mini display port, and microSD card slot. But those who want a lighter tablet with a greater selection of apps and games should look elsewhere.

Specifications

Surface 2 Specs
Processor 1.7 GHz Quad core Nvidia Tegra 4
Display 1920 x 1080, 10.6” (208ppi)
RAM, Storage 2GB, 32GB/64GB
Weight and dimensions Less than 676g, 275 mm x 173 mm x 8.9 mm
Kickstand 24 degrees or 40 degrees
Cameras 3.5MP front, 5.0MP back
Miscellaneous USB 3.0, micro-SD card slot

Design and Build Quality

 

Surface 2 Side View

There’s no denying that the Surface 2 is a solidly-built device. It’s made of 2 solid pieces of magnesium welded together, down from 3 used in the Surface RT. But the build quality comes at a compromise – the Surface 2 is a rather heavy tablet for its size.

Tipping the scales at 676 g, the Surface 2 isn’t exactly one of the lightest tablets around. While it’s not particularly uncomfortable to handle in the hand, you can’t help but wonder if it could’ve been lighter, especially with the heavy type cover 2 attached. To put this into comparison, the iPad Air only ways 469 g.

Weight aside, the device also gets a new paintjob. Instead of the classic gloss black, Microsoft decided to equip the Surface 2 with a matte silvery-grey. And we must say, we definitely prefer the matte silver of the Surface 2. The texture in general feels much better, and it is much more resistant to fingerprints.

Touring the device, on the front you’ll find the 3.5MP camera at the front and Windows button on the bottom. The right is home to a mini display port, speakers, magnetic charging port and a USB 3.0 port.

The top is bare other than the power button. On the right you have a standard headphone jack, speaker, and volume control. The back is home to the 5MP camera and kickstand, under which you’ll find a MicroSD slot.

Overall, build quality is impressive, and improves upon the already impressive build of the original Surface.

Display

surface 2 v rt
Surface RT (left) next to the Surface 2 (right)

This is one of the main selling points of the Surface 2. It has the exact same 1080p HD display as the one on the Surface Pro 2. That adds up to a pixel density of 208ppi. While still not as sharp as the 264ppi of the iPad Air, it is still a marked improvement from the original Surface. Viewing angles are great, and colour reproduction is good.

Basically speaking, it’s a really sharp display. And it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself disappointed with it.

Performance

Powered by a 1.7Ghz quad core NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor, the Surface 2 promises to be faster than the Surface RT’s Tegra 3. And sure enough, through my time with the device, I’ve found it to be much faster than its predecessor. Apps load up quickly and games run smoothly.

The only real issue is the rather slow load times for webpages, especially Facebook. This is fine for tablets of other operating systems, as their Facebook apps pretty much have the same capability as the desktop webpage version. This is more of an issue for Windows because its Facebook app is rather limited in functionality.

It is worthy to note that the Surface 2 isn’t as fast as some other tablets out there. Loading times are longer than an iPad Air’s, though it is still bearable and is a marked improvement compared to the extremely sluggish Surface RT.

Overall, the Surface 2 is a great performer and will likely leave you satisfied with its power.

Battery life

Battery life for the Surface has always been rather good. A single charge can give you hours of web browsing, video streaming and working on office documents for several days, depending on your usage intensity. The Surface 2 promises to have slightly better battery life than the Surface rt, but this is rather unnoticeable.

Occasionally though, the Surface 2 would suffer from overheating issues while sleeping, followed by a faster than normal battery drain. We are unsure if this was an issue with our review unit or with the software, but it shouldn’t be something that you’ll have to worry about.

Camera

surface build

The Surface 2 comes with 2 cameras, one on the front and one on the back. Video and stills quality from both cameras are rather good, but please don’t go around taking pictures with the Surface 2’s 5MP rear shooter.

Taking photos with a tablet is just weird; you have a phone for that. Rather, the rear facing camera on the Surface 2 is for those who would like to share the environment around them with whoever they’re having a video call with.

The 3.5MP front facing camera is something that you’ll be using more often, considering the Skype integration on board. The new front facing camera of the Surface 2 works extremely well in low light conditions, so the quality of video calls has been improved.

Touch and Type Covers 2

Type Cover 2 Family_Print

The launch of the Surface 2 also comes with the launch of Microsoft’s next generation touch and type covers, which have been vastly improved from the original. There is a third cover, the Surface power cover, but this is not available in Singapore as of now.

The Touch Cover 2 is now much thinner, lighter, and is backlit. Microsoft got rid of the old sensors (of which there were less than a hundred), and replaced them with over a thousand sensors under the hood.

This means that you’ll have more accurate typing, as the touch cover 2 will be able to recognise which key you were intending to press should your finger land in between 2 keys. The new sensors also allow for gestures to be carried out on the cover.

A two finger swipe across the keys moves the cursor around text on the screen, and a two finger swipe along the row of numbers highlights text. Releasing your finger will delete the text. While this is neat and at times useful, it’s not very accurate.

Other than this, the material has also been changed from the original cloth-like material to one with a more leathery feel. We definitely prefer the new feel.

The type cover 2 is thinner, albeit a little heavier than its predecessor. Once again, the material is different, and we do prefer this to the previous one. Like the new touch cover, the new type cover is backlit.

If you’re thinking about which cover to get for your Surface 2, we’ll tell you this: get the touch cover 2. Sure, the type cover provides superior typing performance compared to the touch cover, but the added bulk and weight that it brings to the Surface is just not worth it.

Retina MacBook Pro (left) and the Surface 2 (right)
Retina MacBook Pro (left) and the Surface 2 (right)

In fact with the type cover on, the Surface 2 is incredibly heavy, and almost as thick as my Retina MacBook Pro. It really just beats the purpose of getting a tablet. And trust me, the touch cover is pretty darn accurate. And it’s so amazingly thin and light it’s like it’s not even there.

Windows RT, Thoughts, Prices, and Conclusion

The Surface 2 is a great tablet from Microsoft, though we couldn’t help feeling that this is what the Surface should’ve been at launch. It seems that Microsoft has lost valuable time and market share by producing the Surface RT, which failed to meet the expectations of consumers and investors alike.

It is a solid offering, and a great upgrade from the Surface RT, addressing most of not all of the original’s flaws, but this is probably all that the Surface 2 has going for it.

Apple is still going strong in the tablet race, while Google is not too far behind with its army of affordable droids. Microsoft’s Windows RT 8.1 has matured well with Update 1, but the general concerns are still the same: the apps are not here. Sure there has been some improvement in the quantity of apps on the Store, but in terms of quality and function, they still lack behind its other counterparts.

But who is it for?

The Surface does have a trick up its sleeve – Microsoft Office. Free of charge and fully functional, the Surface 2 provides the best document editing experience on any tablet. And with its couple of helpful keyboard covers, the Surface 2 works really well at what it does best.

surface 2 office

Ultimately, here’s our take on the Surface 2: it’s for the student, or the business professional, who needs a tablet that’s just as good for work as it is for entertainment. The built-in Office suite, mini display port for presentations, and USB 3.0 port for lightning fast file transfers all bode well for those who need to get some serious work done.

We love the Surface 2, but we’re afraid that with poor advertising and a deteriorating impression of the Windows RT platform, Microsoft won’t be able to get others to feel the same. (Though hopefully, we would’ve convinced you to get one.)

Personally though, I would definitely get a Surface 2 over an Android tablet. Microsoft Office is a compelling reason to buy a Surface, on top of the obvious wow factor of having what is arguably the best laptop/tablet hybrid. If you’re able to look past the few flaws of the Surface (mainly its weight and lack of apps), then this is the tablet for you.

Those who are looking for a more portable alternative would likely go for the iPad Air. This is something that Microsoft has to look into – the premium look and feel of the Surface 2 comes at a heavy price (its hefty weight, pun intended).

Microsoft’s Surface 2 retails at $618 for the 32GB version, $748 for the 64GB version, while the Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2 will set you back by $168 and $183 respectively.

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