A week ago, I expected to have so much to say about the Surface 2. Fast forward, and I simply don’t. I am going to provide my thoughts on from using the Surface 2. However, I also have to explain why I no longer have it. The Surface 2 could be the perfect device for you, and one day, could be the perfect device for me. Today just isn’t that day.
Listen to our latest podcast here. You’ll see and hear the excitement I had for holding the device. The VaporMg casing feels superior in its raw form. The texture and temperature of the in hand experience is second to none. Although marginally so, it truly does feel lighter. The screen is beautiful, and for photos and videos it shines. However, the Surface RT screen can hold its own for other tasks. The kickstand seems to work better when used at both the old and new angle. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it is how it feels. “Lapability" is better, but still lacking. One still needs to work around the Surface 2, as opposed to it working around them. Oddly enough, more people commented on the Surface RT than the Surface 2 when proper up on my desk. I think the Surface 2 looks fresh, but some perceptions clearly differ.
I used the same case for the Surface 2 that I bought for the Surface RT. Being able to share and reuse accessories is nice. But I will note here that weight begins to add up. A Surface 2, plus a Type Cover 2, placed in a case with a few extra items is not feather light. I leaned towards Surface like tablets because of weight concerns. In my experience, a Surface 2 with a type Cover 2 rivals some thin and light ultrabooks. The Sony Vaio Pro 11 and MacBook Air 11-inch come to mind.
It’s faster. The Surface 2 can multitask more seamlessly. It loads and buffers music, photos and videos very well. Apps load quicker. However, there is still that inherent lag when loading Modern UI apps for the first time. It is an improved an experience, but I grew to get used to the Surface RT’s loading times. I know apps load faster on the Surface 2, but not fast enough. Surface RT has seen countless OS and firmware upgrades over the last year. The circa 2013 Tegra 3 inside the Surface RT has been maximized to its full potential. I can’t say the same about this year’s Tegra 4 today. But I am sure it’ll get better over time. ALthough Qualcomm insists their chipset in the Lumia 2520 will prevail.
Battery life is hit or miss. And not just for me, but with top blogs reporting polarizing findings. Some reviewers see 6-hours on average, with others quoting 14-hours in battery rundown tests. In general, I believe it is about the same as the Surface RT. I also owned a third-party Windows RT tablet, the Samsung Ativ Tab (imported from the UK). That device blows away both the Surface RT and Surface 2 in terms of battery life. The Qualcomm SoC also performed somewhere in between the Tegra 3 and Tegra 4 in my real world experiences. For most people, the Surface 2 needs to last all day. I’d prefer having two day battery life, for the rare moments you can’t put in on the charger. Long story short, your mileage may vary. Don’t forget it can take days or weeks to fully break in the battery of any device you buy.
Windows 8.1 on a Surface RT versus a Surface 2 is virtually no different. I didn’t find one thing I couldn’t do on one versus the other. Windows 8.1 is a great upgrade to the veteran OS, and it offers the best of both a laptop and tablet. The desktop in Windows 8.1 is easier to use, and Modern UI “Start Screen” tiles and apps offer users more options and control over their experiences. It also appears many new features are waiting to be unearthed by developers. Developers should be able to provide better updates, and even websites can join in the fun with Internet Explorer (IE) 11 offering web-based live tile support. This means websites “pinned to Start” can have live tiles that behave like local apps.
Apps are still an issue. Many will argue that I am wrong. They will say IE11 is a great browser, and websites offer users everything they need. Personally, if I wanted to live in a browser, I’d get a Chromebook. Chrome is by far more versatile for a web-based life. IE11 is decent, but the navigation between tabs, favorites, and pages themselves are lacking. I want new and unique applications customized for the Surface and similar devices. It was nice to get Facebook this month, and to know Flipboard is coming soon. But iOS, Android, and even Chrome offers apps and utilities for things above and beyond social networking and news readers. Listeners to the podcast will know that although not technically “needed”, a healthy app ecosystem is nice to have. I want to check-in at Great Clips, book my flight and have my boarding pass for JetBlue, access my home Time Warner DVR, Cisco VPN into my office, and listen to podcasts how I want to. Among many, many other things.
I only bought one official accessory. The Type Cover 2 in purple. It is highly lusted after, thanks to Microsoft making them hard to pre-order online. I scored one before Surface 2 launch day at my local Best Buy. It worked almost just as well on the Surface RT as the Surface 2. My Surface RT didn’t display as many options for the trackpad as the Surface 2. (I tried the app found on the Windows Store, and searching for new updates with it attached.) The keyboard on the Type Cover 2 is very good for being as thin as it is. The trackpad however might as well not even be there. Ok, that is a bit harsh. It is probably better to have something to use when navigating desktop based apps either locally or via RDP. But it is too small for my hands, and too unresponsive and unpredictable to be useful for more than a click or two. Now I know why the iPad, Android tablets and even some Windows 8 tablets come only with a keyboard.
Thanks to bluetooth and the full-sized USB port, you can have wired and wireless options. If tracking is important to you, definitely consider an external mouse. I have the Microsoft Wedge Mouse, but the new bluetooth enabled Arc Mouse looks compelling as well. Any bluetooth and USB RF-based pointing devices should work. The USB port is the best feature of the Surface family. Other devices lean towards micro-USB. Having the “real thing” allows one to grab an accessory and go. I use a USB powered Qi-charger for my Lumia 925. Also, my AT&T Bean LTE dongle works as well. However, driver issues still plague some Windows RT “certified” devices. Windows On Arm "connected standby" support is the root cause, and it has been a problem for other devices as well.
The USB “connected standby” issues plaguing my AT&T Beam LTE dongle are definitely a downer. AT&T and Netgear state they support Windows RT, but that support seems minimal. No one wants their displays to not turn off when they hit the sleep/wake button, let alone when the display sleep time limit is reached. If you leave the dongle attached and walk away from the Surface RT or Surface 2, the display can be left on for hours. There goes your battery life.
Speaking of battery life, my Surface 2 barely go me through a day. And one day, I had a serious problem with the battery. I left my Surface 2 with Type Cover 2 attached and on the charger overnight. Before leaving the house around 8:30am, I put them it my case and left for work. I was so busy that day, I didn't get a chance to use the Surface 2 until 1:30pm. The remaining power was down to 40%. In 5-hours, sitting unused, the device burned through 60% of its battery. Unacceptable.
On launch day, I played around with the Type Cover 2 a few times. Twice, when attaching the Type Cover 2 the Surface 2 froze. The only way to resolve that was to completely power off the device. However, I did receive a day one firmware update that resolved the freezing issue. The firmware update also squashed some software bugs I witnessed with screen refresh times and display sleep/wake performance. Some third-party apps still didn't behave as well as I would have liked. Various apps had scrolling, loading, and sat syncing issues.
My Surface 2 and Type Cover 2 went back to Best Buy shortly before completing this review. I am confident additional Windows RT OS/driver updates and Surface 2 firmware updates will resolve most, if not all of the issues I saw. I am sure developers will be updating their apps to better support Windows RT 8.1. But I don’t want to wait. I need to get work done on my mobile devices now more than ever. In my opinion, the Surface RT offers a more stable experience than the Surface 2. The Surface 2 does not offer enough new features or improvements to justify upgrading. If you have a Surface RT, keep enjoying it. Maybe give the Surface 2, and the Surface family which is likely to grow in numbers, another look in a few months. I must be clear that others aren’t reporting the issues I have found with the Surface 2. Maybe I had a lemon? Or am not used to early adopter issues like these? Don’t just take my word for it. Visit a local retailer and check out a Surface 2 for yourselves. But if you have a Surface RT today, upgrade to Windows 8.1 and know you likely have the most stable experience available on the platform today.