Microsoft Surface 2 Windows RT 8.1 Tablet Review

Article Index

Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The Microsoft Surface 2 proved to be a strong performer in our benchmark tests, scoring solidly in web browsing, exceedingly well in our JavaScript test, and at or near the top of our test bank in the 3DMark Ice Storm test. Microsoft’s generational upgrade to the Surface 2’s hardware has paid dividends.

The hardware is only part of the story, though, as the long-awaited Windows RT 8.1 update certainly hasn’t hurt anything. If you weren’t keen on the look and feel of Windows 8 before, the 8.1 update isn’t going to sway you, but those already using the new OS (and particularly in this case, Windows RT) will be pleased by what they find. The changes aren’t earth-shattering, but they add up to a better user experience overall.

Microsoft's included applications and services, such as Skype, SkyDrive, and others, bring a huge value to the Surface 2 offering, and in addition to the Office apps present in the first generation of Surface RT tablets, Microsoft threw in Outlook for this go-around. We were also pleased to see that the app count in the Windows Store is growing, and we’re starting to be able to find more of the apps we want.

The tablet itself is a fine piece of hardware, with excellent build quality and a fetching industrial design, but Microsoft also deserves accolades for the Type Cover 2. The accessory is a superb bit of engineering, somehow balancing thinness and strength and also offering a pleasant typing experience, considering that you're on a 10-inch device. While the $129.99 price tag is sure to make some people wince, especially when you add it to the $449 you’re already paying ($549 for the 64GB variant) for the Surface 2 itself, if you’re planning to be productive on the tablet, you'll want it.

This brings us to another point about Microsoft’s strategy in the tablet space. Most manufacturers make a sharp distinction between tablets and notebooks, but Microsoft seems to view the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro as something in between. Sure, you can buy one of these with no accessories and have yourself a very nice tablet, but that’s probably really not what Microsoft wants you to do. Microsoft wants you to replace your tablet and your notebook with a Surface.

Effectively, the Surface 2 Pro can be a full-on laptop replacement, and that’s part of why they’re priced so high and why the accessories cost so much. The Surface 2 is less of a direct laptop replacement, but it can certainly function as one to an extent. The main issue you’ll have to overcome with either is the smaller size, but that’s not a criticism of the Surface 2 or Surface 2 Pro; it’s just the cost of doing business with a ultra mobile device that comes in a tablet size.

The big question here is whether or not Microsoft improved on its homegrown OS and hardware platform, and the answer is a definite yes. Microsoft has a firm grasp on how to make a great tablet, and the company is starting to understand how to build a good mobile operating system and ecosystem that still offers desktop-like capabilities.

How much was your last laptop? Because the Surface 2 (32GB) with the Type Cover 2 will run you $579, and you get a suite of Office apps and the option for a standalone tablet for your dollar. That’s by no means cheap, and anyone just looking for a cool tablet plus some attractive extras may balk at the price. The limitations of the Windows RT platform are what they are, and there’s no doubt that the Surface 2 Pro running full Windows 8.1 will offer a better flexibility, but for all that comes with it, the Surface 2 should insert itself nicely in the competitive premium tablet and hybrid market.

  • Great hardware
  • Great performance
  • Innovative design and features
  • Super keyboard accessory
  • Valuable included software
  • Still somewhat limited app ecosystem
  • Pricey but not Apple pricey

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