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Surface 2 review: Cautious upgrades don't help a tablet in desperate need of relevance

Jon Phillips | Oct. 30, 2013
Microsoft needed to bring the razzle-dazzle. Instead we got a 40-degree angle and higher resolution screen.


IMAGE: MIKE HOMNICK. The 40-degree kickstand setting makes for more stable lap use, but it's the floppy keyboard covers that are really the problem.

Touted as a marquee feature, the broader kickstand angle is designed to add stability when you use the tablet and one of its keyboard covers on your lap. Yeah, the new approach does add stability—to the tablet. But during testing, I still found that the Type Cover flopped around on my lap too much. It's flimsy, and it allows too much give and flex, resulting in a typing surface that never feels reliably solid when perched on my legs.

Yep, it's faster—clap, clap, clap
Just like the Surface RT, the new Surface 2 comes with 2GB of RAM, but the processor has been upgraded from a 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 to a 1.7GHz Tegra 4. CPU upgrades are always welcome, and relative to the Surface RT, the new tablet performed more than 100 percent better in our two browser benchmarks, Peacekeeper and Sunspider. But I never noticed a palpable performance boost during real-world use.

Because the Surface 2 runs Windows RT 8.1, and because this system doesn't support any desktop applications save the RT version of Office, and because the Windows Store apps it does support aren't particularly numerous or compelling, I never found opportunity to challenge the tablet with apps I frequently use on Android and iOS devices. Much of my testing time was spent in the Windows Store version of Twitter, along with the mobile app version of Internet Explorer. All ran with zip and fluidity, as did video, both streaming and local.

The Office RT version of Word performed just fine as well, and documents seemed to load faster than they did on the original Surface RT hardware. But none of this warrants a ticker tape parade in Microsoft's honor. Generational CPU upgrades are a way of mobile hardware life, and gone are the days when adopting new state-of-the-art silicon really means anything.

And that goes for Apple's tablets too. Silicon happens. It's really not a cause for celebration.

Great battery life, great display
To this extent, the Surface 2's improved battery life is much more interesting. Microsoft says the Surface RT can last for 8 hours of "mixed activity" use, while the Surface 2 is rated to provide 10 hours of pure video playback—a longer duration for a more demanding use case. Our own tests backed up Microsoft's claims that battery life is demonstrably better. The original RT tablet lasted 9 hours, 5 minutes in our own video rundown test, while the Surface 2 endured for 12 hours, 5 minutes before giving up the ghost.

 

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