Channel 5

Microsoft Surface 2

Friday 22 November 2013

G-Rating

Rating of 3

The basics

Here we go: the sequel to the original Microsoft Surface is here, with improvements across the board. It's a different beast from its Pro 2 cousin, sporting Windows RT instead of full-fat Windows 8, and it's more business than play thanks to its handy keyboard cover. But does that hinder the Surface 2 in any way? Let's find out.

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The good

At first glance, there's not much difference between the Surface 2 and its predecessor. Aside from the slight colour change (it's now got a silver finish), it's still pretty much the same as the rest of the Surface family: an attractive, minimal, solid tablet with a pop-out kickstand. It’s slimmer and lighter than the first model though, measuring up at a svelte 8.89mm thick, while the kickstand now clicks into two different angles, meaning you can actually prop it up on your lap this time. But the most obvious change is the display.

Microsoft's binned the 10.6-inch, 1366x768 screen on the first model, and now you'll find a 1080p, full HD display in its place - the same as on the Surface Pro 2. It's crisp and clear, and a definite improvement over the previous model, making movies and photos look great, while text is sharp. It feels like there's just more room to breathe in Windows RT itself too. Touch recognition is superb, viewing angles are great, and colours pop. Joining the screen are some surprisingly loud stereo speakers, as well as high-definition front and rear cameras, making the Surface 2 a great video chatting machine. But it’s just as capable playing your favourite movies through Netflix.

You won't find a plethora of buttons and ports here, which is all part of the Surface 2's minimalistic charm. There are power and volume buttons, a single USB 3.0 port, a microSD card slot, a headphone jack and video output for a second display - all enough for working on the go. On the bottom is the Surface's docking port which the various keyboard covers attach to - we tried out the new and improved Type Cover 2, which has individual backlit keys. Despite there being not a whole lot of travel between keys, it’s very satisfying to type on. That said, it is an eye-watering £109.99.

On the software front, Windows 8.1 brings a host of welcome upgrades, like an even more powerful search that crawls your hard drive and the web. And there’s the Snap multitasking option that now lets you adjust how much of each app is shown on screen. Microsoft has also bundled Office into each Surface, so you'll be able to continue working on the move.

Performance wise, it's even snappier that the original RT model. The Surface 2 is powered by Nvidia's 1.7GHz quad-core Tegra 4 processor, which is paired with a beefy 2GB of RAM, and Windows RT zips through seamlessly. Apps are quick to open and resume, while it’s lightening fast to boot up. It's also got a decent amount of battery life - we managed to squeeze just over six hours of use from the Surface 2 under heavy load, and while it's less than the Surface 2 Pro or even the iPad Air, it's still impressive. You'll be bound to get your work done in between power sockets - and you can surely get more life out of it if you're careful.

The bad

The Surface 2 still isn't sure what it's supposed to be. It's a tablet/laptop hybrid that wants to be both, but only partially succeeds in either. While Office is bundled, it's not a touch-optimised version, meaning you'll have to use either the Touch or Type Covers to get work done - making it more laptop than tablet. But as it's also a Windows RT machine, you won't have access to all the legacy and desktop apps you're used to on regular Windows. You’re limited to the Windows Store for apps, but even though it's still growing, it's still lagging behind Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store. Which means Android and iOS users will have to go without familiar apps. It's worse on the Surface 2 than it is with the Surface Pro, but until the Windows Store catches up with more versatility and choice, it's not an ideal machine.

While the screen is superb, the ratio is not ideal. The 16:9 display ratio works wonders in landscape, but turn the Surface to portrait to read a book or comic, and it's almost laughable at how tall it becomes. There's also the matter of using the Surface 2 on the move. You need to be sat down at a desk, or working on your lap, as using it while standing up is not ideal. And Microsoft's on-screen keyboard is woeful at best.

The Touch Cover 2 isn’t much better. It’s even thinner than its Type Cover brother, and gets rid of physical keys in favour of a backlit touch surface. While Microsoft has added even more sensors than before, we found it almost impossible to type on. The trackpad on either cover is also absolutely tiny, but it's a trade-off for a better-sized keyboard.

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The bottom line

Microsoft's cheaper Surface offering is still a puzzling device. It's better than the previous version in every way, but it still doesn't solve the laptop/tablet conundrum. It tries hard to be a tablet, but it also clings to its laptop heritage, yet it's not the master of either. For £359, you do get a compelling platform for using Office on the move, something no other tablet can do, making it ideal for work - but what about play? With the Windows Store still lacking apps, and being stuck with Windows RT, it's still a hard sell for the Surface 2. Maybe next time?

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Microsoft Surface 2 is tagged with Microsoft, Surface, microsoft surface 2 and Surface 2. Select a tag (Microsoft, for example) to find everything on The Gadget Show about the subject.

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