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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.

It's an impressive feat, and it underscores both the Surface 2's improved power efficiency and its value as an all-day productivity tool (assuming you're fine working in Office and don't need to venture into serious applications like Photoshop—which, of course, it cannot run).


IMAGE: MIKE HOMNICK. The upgraded 1920-by-1080-pixel display is a beautiful sight.

Microsoft also scores a major win by upgrading the tablet's screen resolution from a chintzy 1366 by 768 pixels to a robust, modern 1920 by 1080. Now this is something Microsoft can be proud about. And, yes, the new display looks fantastic. Pixel density is a not-quite-Retina-level 208 pixels per inch, but don't get bogged down in the specs. Text looks incredible, and high-res images render in super-sharp detail.

Bouncy, bouncy, backlit keys
Beyond the CPU, battery life, and display, there's not much new in the way of specs and features. The single USB port has been upgraded from 2.0 to 3.0, and the front and rear cameras have been upgraded from a rather comical 1.2 megapixels on each side to 3.5 megapixels on the front and 5 megapixels on the rear. I firmly believe that only psychopaths and grandparents use tablets to shoot photos and video, but the upgrade to the front camera does make sense for Skype video calls, especially because Microsoft owns the service and is offering a special deal for Surface owners.


IMAGE: MIKE HOMNICK. Both the Touch Cover and the Type Cover (shown here) have a backlit keyboard layout

Moving beyond the tablet itself, Microsoft has also upgraded its two keyboard covers. Both receive backlit key layouts, which are wonderful additions. The remarkably thin (and keyless) Touch Cover 2 gets a monumental upgrade in sensitivity as well, thanks to a total touch-sensor allotment of 1092 (the original version has only 80 sensors). I have always preferred the Type Cover to the Touch Cover, but I can attest that the new Touch Cover 2 does yield more-accurate typing than the original Touch Cover.

As for the new Type Cover 2, it's thinner than its mechanical-key predecessor, but it loses a bit of key travel, which I count as a negative. That said, at least it offers an illuminated space bar, which isn't the case with Touch Cover 2—a problem I found significantly annoying during testing.

The bottom line
The sum total of all these spec and feature changes is that the Surface 2 feels remarkably similar to the Surface RT—and that's unacceptable when the world is swimming in better Windows hardware, including the original Surface Pro and just-released Surface Pro 2.

 

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