Microsoft Surface 2 review: Sink or swim
Considering the different dimensions of user experience the Microsoft Surface 2 offers, we found it hard to make a definite judgment - a classic case of perception skewed by perspective.
When viewed in isolation, the Microsoft Surface 2 is a mighty good tablet. It's properly powered, exceptionally well built, and with rich productivity and multimedia capability available right out of the box. It is also handsome to look at, even if a bit long in the tooth already.
The second generation of the Windows RT tablet also makes a strong case for itself for users already invested in the Windows RT ecosystem, looking to upgrade their first generation tablet. The newcomer offers an improvement in every aspect, except for exterior design.
Things take a downturn for the Surface 2 when it gets compared to the iOS and Android competition. The recently launched iPad Air and the high-end Android tablets have higher-resolution displays, and a much better optimized tablet experience. They also offer a significantly wider app selection to users.
There is also the Intel-based Windows 8.1 competition. The latest generation Intel Bay Trail tablets (the ones based on chipsets such as the quad-core Intel Atom Z3xxx) offer full Windows for less money than the Surface 2, thus seriously questioning its RT credentials.
The Microsoft Surface 2 is priced at $449 for a version with 32GB of built-in memory. Touch 2 and Type 2 covers are priced at $119.99 and $129.99 respectively - we strongly suggest that you budget for either one if considering the tablet - they do make a difference.
There are plenty of alternatives to the Surface 2, sitting in its price range. Here go some of the ones worth considering.
The iPad Air is arguably the best full size tablet available at the moment. It offers higher screen resolution than the Surface 2, as well as superb design and ergonomics. To cap things off, Cupertino's entry offers close to half a million apps optimized for tablet use.
The iPad Air is priced at $599 for a 32GB version - only slightly more than the Surface 2. Those not heavily invested in the Windows RT ecosystem, should give the tablet a look.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) and the ASUS Transformer Pad TF701T are Android realm's heavy hitters at the moment. Both slates offer significantly higher-resolution displays when compared to the Surface 2, in addition to a better established tablet OS with a fine integration of Google's many services.
The Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is priced at $549, while the ASUS goes head to head with the Surface 2 at $449. As expected from an ASUS slate, the TF701T also offers a seriously good keyboard dock.
The ASUS Memo Pad FHD10 offers a 1080p display, dual-core Intel Atom CPU, and Android on a budget. It is priced at $299, thus leaving users with plenty of cash left to buy the optional keyboard cover.
The Nokia Lumia 2520 is a direct Surface 2 competitor - the only other current gen tablet to run Win 8 RT. The Finnish device offers better tablet-only ergonomics, LTE connectivity, and Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC to go with its Windows 8.1 RT OS.
The Nokia Lumia 2520 is priced at $499 unsubsidized. AT&T however, offers the slate at $199 for users who opt for it alongside a Nokia Lumia 2520 or 1020.
Finally, there's the latest Intel Bay Trail competition with full Windows 8.1 on board. Two of its most prominent members include the recently launched HP Omni 10 and ASUS T100. The HP Omni 10 flaunts a 1080p display, while the ASUS tablet makes up for the lack thereof with a bundled keyboard dock.
Both the HP Omni 10 and ASUS T100 are priced at $399.
A year ago when we first met the Microsoft Surface RT, we reckoned that the device showed promise, despite not feeling like a complete package at the time. The Windows RT OS was the reason why we had that feeling - it had just launched and it was still a work in progress.
A year and an OS update later, we still have the same feeling. The Microsoft Surface 2 is a fine piece of hardware, held back by an OS which is stuck in no man's land between Windows Phone and full-blown Windows 8.1 territory. Intel Bay Trail powered tablets manage the same battery life so it's understandable that Microsoft's hardware partners have slowly quit making Windows RT hardware altogether.
Things can be very different for the tablet, should Microsoft marry its ARM hardware with the constantly growing Windows Phone 8 library of apps. Until then, the Surface 2 is bound to remain a niche product - full of character but not quite hitting the bar yet set by Google and Apple tablets.