Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablet reviewed

Indeed, Windows RT’s software limitation still means relying on the travesty that is the Windows Store. That’s not to say the organisation of the Windows Store is terrible, as it’s certainly gotten a lot better under the Windows 8.1 update. Rather, the collection of apps that you can get still doesn’t quite have the same level of quality we expect out of regular Windows apps that we can buy or regularly rely on.

For instance, if you want to game and you have a Steam account with plenty of titles on it, you’re stuck. There is no Steam version for Windows RT on the Windows Store.

If you want a different browser outside of Internet Explorer, you get a few choices on the Windows Store, but they don’t include either the popular Google Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox, and there isn’t even the opportunity to install Opera. With fairness to Microsoft, the latest version of Internet Explorer is actually a relatively decent browser, but if you’re trying to sync over passwords and bookmarks through the cloud like you can with another browser, it just won’t happen here, as RT lacks the goods.

And if you want to edit photos, the full version of Photoshop doesn’t exist either. The full versions of InDesign, Illustrator, and just about every Adobe program are missing too, and there’s no support for the Adobe Cloud, so if you’re a creative type, this isn’t really the tablet for you, beyond the basics of Photoshop Express and Autodesk’s Sketchbook program.

To its credit, Microsoft does provide you with the full version of Office, complete with Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, and everyone’s favourite, Word.

But outside of the popular productivity suite, your app selection is one built from whatever people are creating for release on the Windows Store, and while that includes some cute little games and decent little productivity tools — we use the Australian developed MetroTwit for tweeting and Notesphere for writing — many of the apps are condensed versions of websites, aimed at bringing these experiences into the grid design that Microsoft has made useful for itself under the Windows 8/RT design.

There’s Quickflix, Network Ten, Domain, and of course there are tablet-style apps that the iPad and Android tablets get too, such as Flipboard, Skype, Dropbox, and Amazon’s Kindle app, but in general, it’s not the portable computer experience you think you’re getting.

And really, that’s the biggest problem the Surface still suffers: it’s one giant tease.

Looking at it, and picking it up, the Surface 2 feels like it could be a truly portable Windows machine. The kickstand is well designed in the second incarnation, the keyboard accessory — especially the proper full keyboard one with backlit keys — is comfortable and offers surprisingly decent travel, and for many, it feels like it could be that perfect middle ground tablet with Windows on it.

But it’s not full Windows, and you can’t really do any of the things you might normally do on a Windows machine.

Hence the tease.

There’s a Windows button on the front, and it feels like you’re using Windows, but your app selection doesn’t exactly extend very far, and while you have a Desktop mode like Windows 7 and 8, it doesn’t let you do much, unless you feel like fiddling about with the Control Panel or running those Office apps.

That’s the problem with this tease. While we love the idea of a properly portable Windows machine that has been designed this well, being told that we can only take notes with it, surf the web, tweet, check our calendar and mail, use Office applications, and play the odd game just seems a bit limiting, especially since this is supposed to be a Windows tablet, not a Windows Phone. We’ll freely acknowledge you need to sacrifice some things with a phone — it’s a phone — but you should be able to use a computer and tablet the way you want to.

Android and iOS both make up for this in their tablets not just because the app selection is freaking massive, but also because these are custom developed operating systems that never really looked like their desktop counterparts.

Unfortunately, Windows RT looks exactly like its desktop and laptop counterpart, and that separation — its inability to run anything you would normally do anywhere else — still makes the Surface a limited machine.

Conclusion

Microsoft’s sequel to its first tablet isn’t a bad one, and certainly has a lot of things going for it. It’s good looking, well designed, and comes with a very nice screen. It even looks like it should be able to handle a lot of apps, but there’s the catch: there just aren’t that many apps available.

If Microsoft manages to persuade more developers to craft apps for the Windows Store, we might just see excellence in this tablet, with more things you can run than a handful of games, social networking applications, and productivity tools.

Sadly, right now, it’s really best served as a web, email, and Microsoft Office tablet, because that’s what it does best.

 

Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
Reader Rating0 Votes
Beautiful screen; Well designed machine; Kickstand has two settings; Battery is decent;
Runs Windows RT, which means it doesn't run regular Windows apps despite it looking like a Windows tablet; Still not many apps available on the Windows Store;
3.9

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Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
Final Score