Microsoft Surface 2 is a compelling choice for productivity on the go (October 24th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: Microsoft
Price: From $449
- - Keyboard integration excellent - Relatively light for 10.6-inch tablet - Stunning display - Great for productivity on the go - Windows RT 8.1 much improved
- - Needs a more complete app selection - Slightly awkward to hold one-handed - Not as comfortable as notebook on a lap - Still potentially confusing for consumers
The Microsoft Surface 2 is being positioned as a productivity tablet. When it comes to Office productivity, there can be little doubt that the Surface 2 delivers on this promise. However, so far it seems as though this is not entirely what consumers are looking for in tablet if sales of the original are any gauge. Yet at the same time, there is a very strong market for keyboard accessories for Apple�s iPad. So, given the reality that many iPad users are looking to use a keyboard with their iPad, is a tablet that makes a keyboard a more integral part of the overall design worth another look?
I will confess that I really liked the original Surface, even if many of the criticisms that were levelled at it at when it launched were accurate. It lacked many popular apps when it debuted, and even now there are still a number of popular apps that are available for iOS and Android that haven�t been ported across. There was also a lot of customer confusion over Windows RT and its incompatibility with legacy Windows apps despite for all intents and purposes looking and working exactly the same as Windows 8. The original split screen implementation was promising, but poorly implemented, while perhaps the biggest single blunder was deciding to launch it without Outlook. But I still liked it regardless, as there is simply no more productive device out there with its svelte and light weight, making it perfect for a regular commuter like me. In particular, the Microsoft Surface 2 comes with five substantial improvements over the original that I believe make it a pretty compelling product.
The Surface 2 comes with a new 10.6-inch 1080p display, which provides a very useful upgrade over the 720p display in the original. Even though you could make out pixels in the older display, it used Microsoft�s ClearType technology, it remains and excellent display for legibility, color and contrast. The new display looks superb and is simply a pleasure to use, although unlike the Surface Pro 2 display, it only supports 5-point simultaneous multitouch inputs, not 10. The only real problem with the display is that while the 16:9 aspect ratio is great for movies and side-by-side productivity, it makes the device harder to hold in landscape view than the 4:3 ratio iPad design because of the way its weight is distributed � the new iPad Air is even lighter and easier to hold one-handed. The iPad approach has its compromises of course, as videos can produce two large bars at the top and bottom of the image, for example. Overall, though, given the productivity-first emphasis of the Surface 2, it is the better of the two compromises for its intended function.
The second compelling upgrade is the addition of the Nvidia Tegra 4 processor. This chip is much more capable than the Tegra 3 powering the original Surface, although Microsoft and Nvidia did do a good job of optimizing its performance. Halo: Spartan Assault looks and plays exceptionally well on the Surface, but it looks and plays even better on the Surface 2 powered by the Tegra 4. The Tegra 4 incorporates four ARM Cortex-A15 cores, including a fifth low-power core that handles low-level tasks in the background to save power. It also incorporates 72 GeForce cores that help it deliver up to six times the graphics performance of the Tegra 3. This makes the Surface 2 a much more powerful machine, while its battery life has also improved to deliver around 10 hours of use on the go, up from eight previously.
Windows RT 8.1, Outlook
The compelling upgrades three and four are the user interface and system performance enhancements delivered by Windows RT 8.1 and the over due inclusion of Outlook to the suite of Office apps that are included at no extra charge, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Windows RT 8.1 makes the dual UI of Windows 8 much less jarring when switching between the desktop and Modern UI. The reintroduction of the Start button is welcome as is the inclusion of better Help services to get users familiar with the interface. The absolute highlight of the Windows RT 8.1 for me, is the ability to be able to properly view two apps side-by-side in a perfect split screen view. For someone who likes to surf the Net or do some work while watching a video, this is just a killer feature for a compact and full-featured tablet device.
The fifth of the key upgrades to the Surface 2 is the additional of the dual-position kickstand, which makes for a much better ergonomic experience. The original Surface only had one position that was a just acceptable compromise between a productivity mode and being able to stand your Surface in a near upright position for watching a movie. The second position is much more comfortable for viewing when working with the device on your lap in particular. A chunk of this review was written with the Surface 2 on my lap on the train ride home. While it is not quite as comfortable as having an Ultrabook on your lap, it is just so compact and light for a productivity tool with a well-integrated keyboard solution (the Type Cover in particular). It is also extremely convenient and easy to snap the rear stand in place and close the cover for stowing when you need to pack up and move on. This also makes great for toting around the office at just 1.4 pounds.
Added to this, Microsoft has delivered a much-improved Touch Cover 2 keyboard with illuminated keys, although our distinct preference remains to type on either the original (and still compatible) Type Cover or the Type Cover 2, which now includes keyboard backlighting. A Power Cover is due early next year, which will also help to substantially increase its already excellent battery life. As with before, on board storage is available in either 32GB of 64GB configurations, although this can be supplemented by up to another 64GB by taking advantage of the microSD slot tucked beneath the kickstand. Microsoft has also upgraded the USB port from 2.0 to 3.0, while you can output to a larger display using the HD output (combined with an additional adapter sold separately).
For a lot of people, from uni students through to professionals for use around the office or on the go, the Microsoft Surface 2 makes a great second device. Microsoft has also developed a very good content ecosystem in Xbox Music and Xbox Video services that come pre-installed on the Surface 2, although its app ecosystem still needs some fleshing out, which would really help to increase its overall appeal. (Microsoft may need to swallow its pride on this front and get more proactive to attract some of the top-notch iOS and Android developers.) That said, there are a number of quality apps out there, and Xbox fans will appreciate the mobile games that include Xbox live gamer points that will help to supplement their gamer score. The Microsoft Surface 2 is an excellent product and deserves to have commercial success � only time will tell if consumers will give it the second chance that it deserves.