Microsoft Surface 2 Review – Hands Down, the Best Windows 8 Tablet

The original Surface launched along side Windows 8. A year later Windows 8.1 has been rolled out, and it’s chock full of tweaks and refinements. At the same time, Microsoft has released the Surface 2, a new and improved version of the original Surface, that is faster, a bit thinner and lighter, and its accessories have been improved too.

They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. To that effect, the Surface 2 still looks like its predecessor and sports the same incredibly super durable build quality with a matte magnesium-alloy body that is complimented by a scratch resistant glass display. The Surface 2 is just 8.9mm thin, making it a smidge thinner than its predecessor, and weighing in at 1.49lbs it’s also just a bit lighter than its predecessor. Notably, the integrated stand on the Surface now sports two positions – one that is ideal for having it sit on your desk next to you, and then it also offers a lower angle resting position for using the Surface 2 on your lap. The latter makes the Surface 2 extra practical for impromptu use at the airport, on a park bench, or in bed. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the big difference, and this is one of them. A Micro-HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port and a microSD card slot can also all be found on the Surface 2.


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Totally lap friendly

The original Surface’s display was top-notch, yet Microsoft has managed to up the ante on the Surface 2. The display on the Surface has been upgraded to a 1920×1080 IPS LCD with improved color accuracy, and it’s a total pleasure to use. As a matter of fact, between its excellent color gamut, resolution, and great viewing angles, the display is so good that you won’t feel hampered by its physical 10.6” display, even for serious work. Overall, this is one of the best displays on the market and it can go head to head with the iPad’s Retina display.

The Surface 2 is powered by a 1.9 GHz Quad-core Tegra 4 processor and 2GB of RAM. Under 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme test, it earned a very healthy score of 9246. Meanwhile, system start up time is about 19 seconds to get to the log in screen, and another 3 seconds to get to the start screen. And for everyday performance we can testify to the system feeling peppy and running very smoothly.

The 3.5MP front-facing and 5MP rear-facing cameras on the Surface 2 have also been improved. The front facing camera in particular has been improved for low light performance for use on Skype video calls, so that you can even have a video chat in a dark room, which is a nice ability to have out of the box. Unfortunately the rear facing camera is still pretty average and comparable to most other tablet’s cameras.

Battery life on the Surface 2 is about 14 hours when used on a lower brightness setting. In addition, Microsoft will soon be offering a battery cover which can double the Surface 2’s battery life.

Fortunately, Windows RT has come a long way over the past year. Windows 8.1 offers plenty of improvements and tweaks, including a more usable app store, and the much missed Start button. However, the selection of apps for Windows RT is still lacking. Fortunately, many of the apps that ARE available for Windows RT include very slick apps like Xbox Music, Fresh Paint, and the Windows RT native photo app, which are all superb. One year later since the introduction of Windows RT and there are also now official Facebook and Twitter apps, and the general library for Windows RT apps is growing steadily. However we’re still missing many of the essentials like Spotify and Instagram.

Don’t let the thin appearance of the new thinner Type Cover 2 fool you, the updated keyboard cover is more rigid than its predecessor, and now sturdy enough to use on your lap. The keys are also backlit and feature a neat new auto dimming feature. Overall, despite having slimmed down, the Type Cover 2 is a pleasure to use.  And while its $129 price tag might seem pricey, it’s totally worth it in comparison to the landscape of other tablet’s keyboard covers out there.

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Thin but sturdy Type Cover 2

When the first Surfaces were released alongside Windows 8, there were very few players in the Windows 8 tablet space at the time. A year later, you can now pick up a Windows tablet, running a full version of Windows 8, for just $350. However, the hardware isn’t going to be nearly as top notch as the Surface 2’s hardware at that low price point. Regardless, we still wish that Microsoft had scrapped a Windows RT version of the Surface 2 altogether, and instead opted for a cheaper, lesser performing, Surface 2 running a full version of Windows 8.

In any case, with the Surface 2, for $449 you’re getting a crazy solid piece of tablet hardware. And there is extra value thrown in, in the form of one year of free Skype voice calling to landlines in over 60 countries, as well as 200GB of Sky Drive storage for 2 years.  So as long as you can look past the lack of apps, the Surface 2 running Windows RT is a pretty great value.

However, if Windows RT won’t suffice, there is also the new Surface Pro 2 which runs the full version of Windows 8.1. Unfortunately the pricing doubles with the Surface Pro 2, and it starts at $899. But that higher price tag brings you significantly better performance with an Intel Core i5 processor. Furthermore, those considering the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 need to keep in mind that it’s not just a tablet, but also a serious laptop replacement, which does help justify its pricing.

Verdict

The Surface 2 is not a massive evolution over the first generation of Surface, but Microsoft has made a great tablet even better. Our biggest gripe with the Surface 2 however, is that it’s held back by Windows RT and its limited selection of apps.

Overall the Surface 2 is an excellent work + play tablet. Its premium hardware, excellent display, incredible battery life, and its great selection of practical accessories, all help make the Surface 2 worth the additional cost over some more affordable Windows 8 tablets out there. Unfortunately, the Surface 2 is still held back by Windows RT. So unless you can live with Windows RT’s limitations, we say go Pro, or go home.

Buy it!

The Good: Top notch display, super premium build quality, dual-position kickstand offers super convenient for lap use, amazing battery life, microSD expansion, competitive pricing, improved cameras, Office 2013 RT is preloaded, excellent well thought-out accessory selection, new and improved type and touch keyboard covers, improved graphics performance and start up time, and Windows 8.1 update offers lots of tweaks and refinements.

The Bad: Proprietary charger, 1 year later – Windows RT still lacks in the apps department, track-pad is a bit cramped (but still very usable), heavier than we would like it to be, mediocre speakers, and rear camera is still mediocre.