Microsoft Surface 2 Windows RT 8.1 Tablet Review

Camera Performance, Battery Life

The two cameras on the first Surface were serviceable though not particularly impressive; both offered no more than 720p HD resolution. Howver, Microsoft has significantly upgraded the Surface 2 with a rear 5MP camera and a front 3.5MP camera, both of which offer 1080p HD resolution. The front camera is very impressive, offering surprising clarity and relatively strong low-light performance.


Left: Webcam, Right: Rear 5MP camera

The rear camera is another story; the sharpness leaves something to be desired (almost every image looks slightly pixelated), and it seems to offer similar results to the lower-end front camera, which is to say that if it was a front-facing webcam it would be an excellent camera, but just about any smartphone camera these days can shoot better pics. Saturation and contrast are decent but not great.

For both cameras, shutter lag doesn’t appear to be much of an issue; there’s a slight delay, but unless you’re shooting in low light and have a shaky hand, you should end up with clean shots.

There aren’t extensive editing features in the Camera app. You can crop by choosing a preset aspect ratio or freely crop to any right-angled shape; rotate images; adjust the brightness, contrast, shadows, and highlights; tweak the color temperature, tint, and saturation; add selective focus; or use an autofix setting for various presets such as black-and-white.

I like that the Camera app has a modest amount of features; if I really want to sit down and seriously edit my photos and video, I’ll use dedicated software, but if I just want to polish them up a bit before uploading or emailing them, this app does the trick nicely.

In-camera, there are a few settings you can adjust, too. You get a slider to adjust the exposure, and you can also spot adjust. There’s also a timer that offers a 3- or 10-second delay.

Panoramic shot

One nifty tool lets you shoot a panorama, and the app does a good job of helping you know where you are in the shot and how to align the next frame. You can essentially capture a 360-degree spread, and when you’re done the app will stitch everything together for you. Then you can scroll around the image or use the gyroscope to manipulate it, although the results can be kind of funky.

The camera can also actually snap a series of photos when you click the shutter (i.e., tap the screen), and for a few minutes, you can pull up the photo you just took and use a dial to scroll through the 15 images taken of the shot and pick your favorite. It’s a boon to anyone who’s trying to, for example, capture someone’s facial expression but isn’t necessarily quick enough on the draw.

Battery Life Tests
Untethered Up-Time Measurements
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Microsoft Surface 2 with Windows RT 8.1's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics, Flash media and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes. This is a simple baseline test that measures up time while web browsing. For this test, we set the Surface tablet's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes, and connected to the web via an 802.11n wireless network.

The Surface 2 hung on for a best-in-field 756 minutes, which is over 12 hours. Microsoft advertises the Surface 2 as having 10 hours of juice, although at the launch event, the word was 12 hours. Regardless of what the PR says, though, we found that this tablet has seriously all-day battery life.

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