Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablet reviewed

Performance

Earlier in the year, we checked out the Surface Pro, a Microsoft tablet modelled on the original Surface that used proper PC parts to make a Microsoft-engineered Windows 8 tablet experience. But that’s not the same as the Surface unit we have in front of us today.

No, this Surface is a new edition of the Surface 2 tablet that comes with Windows RT, the special edition of Windows designed for the ARM-based processors users in smartphones and tablets, instead of the chips you find in typical computers from either Intel or AMD.

This Surface is designed to be relatively thin, easy on the eyes, lightweight, and capable of taking on tablets like the iPad.

Picking up the Surface 2, it’s easy to acknowledge that this is a good looking device that doesn’t really take any design cues from anything that isn’t a Surface.

It’s not the same as the Surface Pro we looked at earlier in the year, but the look sure isn’t far off, with a colour change from dark grey to a much lighter grey, and with edges that slant and make the Surface look like a tablet from tomorrow, rather than a device of today.

There’s not a whole lot of weight to the device, though it’s certainly not as light as some of its competitors, with 676 grams to its name. That said, it’s well distributed, and the Surface 2 never feels like it’s too heavy in specific areas.

Overall, it’s a comfortable hold, and Microsoft’s included kickstand is still a nice touch, just like it was in the Surface Pro, only now it can be set up at two distinct angles, perfect if you like the screen to fall back just a little more, like that of a laptop.

Microsoft’s choice of screen is also an excellent one, with a very clear Full HD screen that looks fantastic from every angle, and while it’s glossy, it doesn’t appear overly reflective during most of the activities we were trying it with.

In regards to system performance, the Surface 2 seems to handle its own, which is hardly surprising since the Tegra 4 chip is a very capable piece of hardware. The tablet switches on very quickly, with a second or two from standby, though it’s not the speediest when turned on from cold and off, taking just under 20 seconds to be completely on.

We can put it through some benchmarks, with 3D Mark telling us that this machine really does fly, and should be able to handle a lot of what you send its way. The applications have to be found on the Windows Store, so you might be waiting for games and apps for a while there, but like the top tier tablets we’re seeing from other manufacturers, the Surface 2 definitely looks like it can hold its own, and take on many of the tasks its owners will have for it.

Over in the battery department, the Surface 2 handles quite well. Microsoft quotes up to 10 hours of battery life for video playback, and we had around eight hours working while we were writing, surfing the web, tweeting, and trying to find apps to install.

That’s not bad at all, and with up to two weeks of standby time, it’s easy to see that the Surface 2 is one of those devices you don’t have to constantly keep charged to use, a positive thing since the power pack takes a couple of hours minimum to give the Surface 2 tablet a decent boost.

There are also a few accessories designed for the Surface 2 that are optional, though we suspect the typing cover is one most owners will want to have.

Two typing covers exist, one with a flat travel-less touch keys, while the other has a full fledged keyboard inside. Both have a small trackpad complimenting the tablet underneath the keyboard, and both have a felt back that folds over the front, protecting the screen from knocks.

We reviewed the Surface 2 with one of the touch keyboard covers, typing the review on it, and finding it a necessary accessory, especially since the on-screen keyboard is only so good. If a Surface tablet is going to be used for typing, these keyboard cover accessories don’t rely on Bluetooth and offer a much faster and more accurate typing experience than relying on the on-screen keyboard of Windows RT.

The keyboard includes a trackpad.

While Microsoft has certainly made some strides in the Surface 2 — better screen, faster innards, much better hinge design — the Surface 2 still comes with the same problem that every Windows RT device comes with: a lack of apps.

It’s a problem that Microsoft’s other mobile platform also shares, with Windows Phone only now beginning to get some of the more popular social apps that have graced other platforms previously. Similarly, Windows RT lacks much of the popular release software that your regular Windows 8 machine can run, especially noted because Windows RT — which is a special version of Windows 8 (now 8.1) designed for the low power ARM processors used in many tablets and phones — cannot run the regular executables that will run on Windows 8.

That means no Photoshop, no Steam, no Chrome, and none of the apps you might normally rely on with a Windows 8 laptop or desktop, and it even means we can’t run our regular battery testing tool for Windows.