The Microsoft Surface 2 was announced on September 23rd but reviews are coming in one day before they go on sale. The critical consensus has been pretty positive especially with the inclusion of Windows 8.1. If you’re interested in purchasing one of these tablets, these are the top ten reviews you need to read.
Surfaces were never designed for people who just want to kick back and watch a movie, or listen to music. They’re designed for People Who Get Things Done. Microsoft seems to have watched as we started to replace our laptops with iPads, and figured it could offer something better. It’s a tablet, but everything about the Surface is designed to make you more powerful and more productive.
Take the Touch Cover and Type Cover, the most innovative parts of the entire Surface lineup. These keyboards dock into the bottom of the Surface 2, turning your tablet into something vaguely resembling a laptop. Neither has keys as good as a laptop, though the clicky Type Cover comes close; the Touch Cover is thinner and lighter, but even with the addition of hundreds of new sensors in the device itself it’s not as comfortable or as accurate as the accessory with actual keys.
Pierce was impressed with the productivity and performance of the device. He enjoyed the touch covers which enabled easier productivity. Also, most of these reviews have emphasized the lengths Microsoft went to in order to fix the biggest complaints revolving around the first version.
As you can imagine, there are a few benefits to having a more versatile kickstand. One of them is better viewing angles, though really, the original already had a low-glare screen that was easy to read under harsh light. No, what Microsoft was really after here was to make the Surface easier to use in the lap. Indeed, thanks to that wider stance, the Surface feels less precarious when you rest it on your legs. That’s not to say using it in your lap was impossible before; just a bit clumsy. What’s especially nice is that not only does the Surface feel more stable now, but the kickstand also digs into your legs less because the blunt metal edge is coming in at a less direct angle. Take it from me: If I can comfortably use the Surface on my legs while wearing tights, you all will do just fine with pants on.
The kickstand was positively received by Dana Wollman. She felt that it helped make the transition between a tablet and a laptop.
Microsoft also upgraded the cameras. There’s a 3.5-megapixel camera on the front and a 5MP camera on the back. Their low-light performance is as good as advertised and even the color verity is strong. The camera software includes an onscreen exposure control, though I do wish it had a button to snap it back to the pre-set level. Also, I would be somewhat less inclined to shoot photos or video with the Surface 2, as it’s wider than any other consumer tablet on the market. Seriously, people already look silly enough taking pictures with their iPad. The Surface moves your two hands even further apart.
Ulanoff wrote one of the few reviews that touched upon the camera. While he felt that the tool needed work, the rumored iPad could overshadow it.
Speaking of the keyboards, these too have gotten upgrades. I had gotten used to typing on a Touch Cover and can hit it quickly enough and without making a sea of errors, but the new 2.75-millimeter-thin Touch Cover 2 is far more responsive than its predecessor. The keys are illuminated so you can use it in the dark. It’s more sensitive. It’s easier. Similarly, the 5.4-millimeter-thick Type Cover 2 has been improved in subtle ways (it’s also backlit and hey you can get it in a few different colors). But while both are responsive, both still feel small. If this were your only computer, my guess is that you’d find the keyboard cramped.
Microsoft touted the touch covers on the backlight ability when they announced it in September. Honan liked it but thought it could still use some work when it transitioned to the desktop environment.
The Surface 2 is fast, benefiting from a speedier quad-core ARM chip. Windows 8.1 doesn’t lag due to processor load, though the operating system can sometimes confuse itself. Its screen, now sporting 1080p, is crisp and attractive. I’m a bit blind, but it looks as nice to me as any iPad screen that I have used.
Its speakers are improved. This is a small issue, for most, as we all now spend the bulk of our time wearing headphones, but having improved speakers when you need them is nice.
Factoring in the new Windows 8.1 operating system, Wilhelm felt pretty strongly about the running speed. It’ll be interesting to see how the new iPads could stack up against this tablet.
The Surface 2 doesn’t just look like the Surface RT, it acts like it too. Just better. Where the Surface RT was noticeably laggy, the Surface 2 is not. And the better screen is, well, better also, if not quite up to par with similar 10-inch tablets like recent full-size iPads, or the Nexus 10. But even so, them live tiles really pop now, and video looks crisper than ever.
Aside from the general lagginess, the other big issue with the Surface RT was the apps, or rather the lack thereof. The Surface 2—and in fairness, any Surface RTs out there and in use—aren’t suffering nearly as badly as they were a year ago. The Windows Store is now home to absolutely essential apps. Apps like Facebook and Twitter.
Performance issues was another area of criticism for the first set of Surface Tablets and Limer points out that Microsoft has managed to repair these problems.
Well, wouldn’t you know, Microsoft listened. Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 both feature a new, 2-stage kickstand. You still get the same solid action, same sound and even the same 24-degree opening angle, but now there’s a second stop in the kickstand’s travel at 40-degrees. The 2-stage design almost completely addresses my issues with the first generation of Surface tablets. While the 24-degree stop is perfect for desk use, the 40-degree stop is ideal for in-lap use. The second stop keeps me from having to strain my neck looking down at the display when I’m typing in cramped quarters (e.g. having to type out this review in the back of a car heading to an airport).
Microsoft clearly listened to the complaints and adjusted every aspect to meet customer’s needs. The kickstand works effectively when rotating between the different modes.
If you’ve already made a substantial investment in either of the two dominant mobile platforms, iOS and Android, you’re likely to find the Surface 2 and Windows RT 8.1 extremely limiting. And if you’ve designed your workflow and your social life around popular independent online services, you will find the Surface 2 enormously frustrating.
Windows RT 8.1 can’t run any desktop apps. If the program you’re trying to use won’t run in Internet Explorer 11 or in an app available from the Windows Store, you’re out of luck.
Bott liked the tablet but advised others who are interested in Apple and Android devices to stick with those gadgets.
On the Surface, the new Start screen apps are a dream. Microsoft includes simply gorgeous apps for news, weather, recipes, sports, finance and more. The full-screen images on the sports app are a fan’s dream – go Red Sox! – and the ease of scrolling through any of these apps makes them weirdly fun to use. I find myself browsing stock prices simply because I can, and I don’t give two hoots how the Dow did last week.
Kaplan considered the redesign of Windows 8.1 to be an excellent addition to the tablet and has strengthened the processing power.
One important improvement that the Surface 2 brings over the original Surface RT is a higher resolution, full 1080p display, rather than maxing out at 1366 x 768 pixels. The difference is noticeable and ultimately makes the device far nicer to use, or to watch movies on, as well as giving extra on-screen real-estate. It also brings the device closer to parity with other competing tablets with a similar retail price, which is an important factor for Microsoft to keep in mind considering its first RT foray wasn’t received all that well.
Woods enjoyed the enhanced specs but thinks the pricing still may be an issue. Both of these tablets go on sale October 22.