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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.

The overarching promise of the entire Surface gestalt is that a Surface tablet can provide content-consumption features when you need a tablet, and content-production features when you need a PC. Well, the two Pro versions of the Surface do this so much better than the Surface 2—precisely because they run the unabridged version of Windows 8.1 and therefore support the entire universe of Windows desktop applications, from triple-A PC games to content-creation tools, and everything in between.

Yes, the Surface Pro tablets might cost a lot more than the Surface 2, but the price increase is worth the money when you consider the limitations of Windows 8.1 RT. Not only is the Surface 2's OS incapable of running desktop apps, but its selection of Windows Store apps remains somewhat heartbreaking.

On my iPad, I use the following apps almost every day: the official apps from Twitter, IMDb, and Gmail, along with Dropcam, UP by Jawbone, iHealth, HipChat, YouTube, Pinball Arcade, and Candy Crush Saga. Only one of these apps—one!—is available in the Windows Store. I won't even get into the basic problem of "low information density" in Windows Store apps, but it's an issue Twitter suffers as well. No, the bigger issue is that the Surface RT runs neither my favorite desktop apps nor nine-tenths of my favorite tablet apps. So you can see why I'm so bullish on the Surface Pro, and so thoroughly over Microsoft's Windows RT vision.

In terms of its hardware, the Surface 2 isn't a bad $450 tablet. This is why I'm giving it a three-star review verdict. And it's not inconceivable that its operating system will someday be updated with something more elegant. Hopefully, Microsoft will kill the vestigial desktop once and for all, eliminating the sheer weirdness of something that looks like traditional Windows, but doesn't do much of anything beside run Office programs.

But this is really a move Microsoft should have coordinated with the Surface 2 launch. The company needed to introduce the tablet with a killer software story, but instead all we got was a limp handshake. The company could have killed the desktop and introduced Windows Store versions of all the Office apps. Hell, it could have shown the world Windows Store versions of Halo, Fable, or even Viva Pinata to coordinate with the Xbox One launch. It could have even used its impossibly deep war chest to roll out a digital assistant feature like Siri or Google Now.

Something. Anything. Give consumers a real reason to care, and not reach straight for a Surface Pro 2. But instead? We got a Surface RT redux, plus a couple of TV commercials that try to pass off a 40-degree kickstand angle as a major innovation.


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