Before I start the review I have to say I am a fan of the original Surface RT, I have written countless blog posts on it, spent hours browsing the web and edited many photos on the tablet. So this review is from the point of view of someone using a Surface everyday but I also use an iPad and a Nexus 7 and used other tablets so it should be a balanced review.
From the outside the Surface 2 doesn’t look that different to the original Surface 2 except for the back colour which is now silver magnesium rather than the dark titanium and the Windows logo is replaced by the Surface name but it’s under the covers that sees the big changes.
The Surface 2 weighs 1.49lbs which is only slightly lighter the first generation device but it actually feels much better to use in portrait orientation than the old device, maybe it’s the way the components are packaged internally but it’s certainly better to use. The other thing I noticed is that the power port connects to the power supply much better and the magnet is stronger. This is maybe a little thing but the fiddly power connector on the old device was one of my main irritations of the Surface RT. Also the power button has a more positive action than the old version. The click stand now has two position so in addition to the standard position there is a lower position which works better when using the Surface 2 on the lap.
While the Surface 2 may look like the old version the insides and the screen have changed. The screen resolution gets upgraded from 1366×768 to 1920 x 1080 and it makes the screen a lot clearer and smoother looking and is a great improvement.
The NVIDIA Tegra 3 has been swapped for a Tegra 4 and that has made a big difference, when I tried the 3D Mark app I found the new Surface really outperformed the old one, where the test was getting around 15FPS on the Surface RT the Surface 2 was getting 60FPS. The final score was 3886 to the RT and 9102 so you can see it’s a big improvement, you can see the two side by side in my video.
The faster processor makes loading apps faster and you notice the benefit with apps like the notoriously sluggish Mail app (which has been vastly improved in Windows 8.1). Copying and pasting with Word is also faster as is switching between apps. Another benefit is the inclusion of a USB 3 port, I recently tested a USB 3 hard drive and the increased transfer speed makes a big difference especially when working with large files. Bluetooth LE has been added and the cameras have been upgraded to a 5PM rear camera and 3.5 front facing camera which has improved low light performance. I found the camera picks out much more detail on the new device, I have to say I am not a fan of people taking pictures with tablets (I have to confess that I have used the Surface camera in press conferences to post directly into Word for blogging, but please don’t tell anyone).
Battery life has also been improved in the Surface 2, Microsoft’s official figures say up to 10 hours which is a 2 hour increase over the 1st gen device. In practice I found the battery life pretty similar to the old version which itself is excellent. I have used the device all day before charging, I tend to charge mine overnight anyway.
The Surface 2 comes with Windows 8.1 pre-installed and looks very much like Windows 8.1 on the original Surface. One thing I did notice is that Microsoft are de-emphasising the desktop, with the original Surface the desktop tile was right at the front of the start page but on the Surface 2 the is no Desktop tile pinned, it is in the master list of apps so you can pin it if you want. In place of the Desktop tile are the Office 2013 apps. Windows 8.1 performs very well on the Surface 2, its smooth and responsive and the edge UI gestures work very well.
As well as new Surface devices Microsoft also launched new keyboards, the Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2. I have used the original Type Cover for the past year and the new Type cover is a nice improvement over the old device. The cover has a cloth finish rather than the plastic feel of the old device and the main benefit is that the keyboard is backlit, it lights when you are using it and fades off when you are not. The keyboard is quieter than the old one, its less “klacky”, the accuracy seems an improvement over the old one but you lose the clickable mouse pad, it’s a touch version now like the Touch Cover which isn’t’ as good as the old one which is shame. I have typed many words on the Type Cover and I see the new cover being just as productive.
I am sure that many reviews will say that the Surface 2 is what the Surface should have been but it’s a question of the technology moving forward, the Tegra 4 is more powerful than the Tegra 3 chip so you get a faster device, the ability to have a 1080p display, USB 3 etc. All this makes the Surface 2 a more productive device. The nice touches like the extra kickstand position and the slightly lighter weight add up to a better experiences on what was an already nice device for me. What hasn’t changed is that it still runs Windows 8.1 RT so if you want to be able to install programs like Photoshop and iTunes Windows RT is no good for you, you can only install apps from the app store. For my needs this isn’t a problem but for some people that is an issue. I really like the improved Surface, it’s great for consuming content, good for working on documents and the extra performance is great for games. Whether it’s the device for you depends on your usage, for me it’s the perfect fit. If you are looking a laptop equivalent then the Surface Pro 2 could be a better pick for you, its Intel powered so you can install your own programs but it’s more expensive and you don’t get the long battery life.