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Microsoft Surface 2 deep-dive review: Better hardware, but still with Windows RT

Preston Gralla | Oct. 25, 2013
Microsoft's upgraded tablet offers some nifty new hardware features, but is any Windows RT device worth $449?

Apps and software
The Surface 2 runs Windows RT 8.1, not Windows 8.1, so you won't get the full-blown Windows experience. That means no Desktop apps (the Desktop is the interface for more traditional Windows apps), which can be a serious problem because the Modern apps (or Metro apps or whatever Microsoft is calling its touch-friendly interface these days) that you get from the Windows Store are limited. As a general rule, Modern apps are less useful than their Desktop counterparts.

The app gap between Windows 8.1 and its iOS and Android competitors is still a serious one. Buy a Surface 2 and you simply don't have access to the same vast library of apps that you do when you buy a tablet with a competing operating system. When I reviewed Windows 8 when it first came out, I likened the Windows Store to having the barren shelves of a grocery store in Romania under the Ceauescu regime. Things have certainly improved since then, but there is still plenty missing.

There's still no official YouTube app in the Windows Store and no Chrome, Instagram, Vine, WatchESPN, Pandora, Spotify, Angry Birds Star Wars II or many others. Windows 8 had only 54% of the most popular mainstream iOS apps as of August, according to Nick Landry, product manager at Infragistics, which makes user interface development tools. (However, fans of the game Halo: Spartan Assault will be interested to know that it is available only for Windows 8 devices and won't run on iOS or Android.)

As with the Surface RT, the Surface 2 comes with Microsoft Office RT 2013, which now includes not just Word, PowerPoint and Excel, but Outlook and OneNote as well. That's a considerable bonus and a big savings, given that a subscription to Office Home and Business, which is comparable to the version you get on the Surface 2, runs $220 a year. I found no difference between the RT version of Office and the normal Windows version of Office. If you want to use your tablet for work, getting Office for free is a very big deal indeed, especially if you've shelled out an extra hundred-odd dollars for a Touch Cover 2 or Type Cover 2 combination cover/keyboard.

At a Glance
Surface 2
MicrosoftPrice: $449Pros: Excellent screen, well designedCons: Cannot run Desktop apps other than Office, expensive, runs Windows RT

When you buy a Surface 2, you also get 200GB of free storage on Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud service, one free year of unlimited Skype calling and free use of Skype Wi-Fi hotspots for a year. (Microsoft says there are one million Skype Wi-Fi hotspots available around the globe.)

 

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