Microsoft Surface 2 review
Updated 10 April 2014: Surface 2 with 4G now available for £539
A 4G version of the Surface 2 is now available for pre-order ahead of its release on 8 May. The Microsoft Surface 2 64GB with 4G costs £539 and comes with one year of free Skype landline calls, a year of free Skype Wi-Fi and 200GB of free OneDrive space for two years.
The Surface 2 4G is only available with 64GB of storage at present. It has the same 10.6in HD screen and comes with Office Home & Student RT and Outlook RT pre-installed. It comes with Windows RT 8.1 and runs Nvidia's Tegra 4 processor.
Aside from 4G, this is exactly the same tablet as the original Surface 2. The 64GB version of that costs £439, so you're paying an extra £100 for the 4G connection, plus monthly data fees.
The Apple iPad Air with 64GB of storage and 4G costs a whopping £659, so by comparison the Surface 2 is a pretty good deal. That said there's no question that Windows RT won't be to everyone's taste.
While Microsoft has improved massively on the original Surface, this tablet still lags behind the iPad and iOS operating system. If you are looking for something that runs Office, then a cheap tablet will save you money and access to the full version of Windows 8.1, which is much better than Windows RT 8.1.
There’s no doubt Microsoft made a few mistakes when it launched the first generation Microsoft Surface RT tablet last year. It was underpowered and had an inferior screen compared to its main rivals. More seriously, its Windows RT operating system was still in its infancy and had few killer apps. One year later, the company is trying again to take on Android and iOS with the Surface 2.
Little has changed externally, with the Surface 2 retaining the same industrial brushed metal design, sharp angles and hinged kickstand as its predecessor. It’s now slightly thinner, at 8.9mm versus 9.4mm, but at 680g it still feels hefty compared to most other Android and iOS devices.
The integrated kickstand now has an additional locking position, which makes it much easier to see the screen when typing on the optional Touch and Type covers. They now have built-in backlighting, which makes it much easier to work in the dark, but still cost £99 and £109 respectively, which bumps the price of the tablet up significantly.
The Surface 2 might be thicker than the competition, but that leaves room for a full size USB3 port. You could turn the Surface 2 into a basic Desktop computer with a USB hub for your keyboard and mouse, or go wireless if you have Bluetooth peripherals. You would also need Microsoft’s official HDMI adaptor to connect to an external monitor, as the tablet only has a proprietary video output. There’s also a Micro SDXC card reader hidden behind the kickstand, which is handy if you fill the 32GB of internal storage with multimedia files.
The 5-megapixel camera on the rear is paired with a 3.5-megapixel webcam on the front. Both are capable of recording Full HD video for Skype conversations, but neither are particularly adept at taking photos. Unsurprisingly there’s no built-in flash, but the lack of tap-to-focus makes it tricky to capture sharp images. Colours are reasonably accurate, if slightly muted, and it understandably suffers in low light, struggling with noise and a lack of detail.
The screen has received a major upgrade, swapping the low resolution 10.6in panel of the previous model for a Full HD, 1,920x1,080 resolution display. It’s gorgeous when viewing photos or video, with rich, vibrant colours, excellent viewing angles and ample brightness. We had no trouble reading text in direct sunlight, as the screen was clearly visible at only half brightness. However, switching from the Modern UI apps, which are optimised for high dpi displays, to the Desktop brought its own issues. Icons and text are far too small to be read clearly and Microsoft’s scaling settings have a long way to go until they catch up with Apple’s OS X.
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