Metro Weekly

Surface 2: Slimmed down, beefed up, desperate to be noticed

Following its Surface Pro 2 announcement, Microsoft naturally followed with an update to last year’s Surface RT. This time around, though, the RT is gone — meet the Surface 2.

The Surface RT was a curious beast. Slim and relatively light, it was beautifully made and reasonably priced, but underpowered and hampered by Windows RT, which was very much the lesser cousin of full-fat Windows 8. Its 1366×768 screen was noticeably worse than the iPad or Full HD Android tablets, its Tegra 3 processor occasionally struggled to keep up with the demands of Windows RT, and a relative dearth of Metro apps kept it relatively hampered in terms of the productivity Microsoft claimed for it.

Naturally, then, I bought one — and absolutely loved it. I forgave the low resolution and the lack of apps and the occasionally performance stutters, because it was so well-made, it felt great in my hand, its wide, 10.6-inch screen was great for watching content on and because Windows RT was just so good to use on a tablet. In terms of productivity it was unmatched in terms of traditional tablets — I wrote two chapters of a novel using the Surface’s Touch Cover, and several articles for this website. No other tablet has given me that flexibility. Can its successor, then, offer more of then same while addressing the numerous gripes I and others had with the Surface?

Microsoft certainly thinks so. Much like its big brother, not a massive amount has changed at first glance. The magnesium, high-quality construction is here — now reduced from three pieces to just two large pieces of magnesium comprising the entire device. It’s thinner, now around 0.35-inches, lighter at under 1.5 pounds, and features the same two-stage kickstand as the Pro 2, enabling users to use it at 22-degrees like a traditional laptop, and at a lower, reclined angle to better accommodate use on laps and other places. Outside, the USB 2.0 slot has upgraded to USB 3.0, the Surface RTs laughably poor stereo speakers have been improved, and there’s mini-HDMI and an SD card slot.

The first thing you’ll notice, however, is a much crisper screen. Lifted straight from the Pro 2, it’s a Full HD, 1080p screen, with 50 percent higher colour accuracy and Microsoft’s ClearType technology to improve fonts and contrast. Boot it up, and you’ll be greeted by Windows 8.1 RT, which offers several upgrades and additions to RT to make it a much more palatable OS to use, including better multitasking and app-snapping, improved keyboard, greater customization and less reliance on desktop mode. Full Office is included, for free, including Outlook — which should make professionals happy.

Powering all of this? Nvidia‘s Tegra 4 CPU, a quad-core ARM processor, which Microsoft says has improved performance dramatically, aided by doubling the BUS speed for the WiFi and memory. Graphics are improved, too, with the Tegra 4’s 72-core GPU. What does this add up to? Performance that’s three or four times better than the Surface RT — no more lag when trying to launch the weather app this time around. With all this extra power, one could expect battery life — a strong aspect of the original RT — to take a hit, but it has in fact improved by 25 percent, giving up to 10-hours of video playback.

The RT’s awful cameras have also been ditched — now, there’s a 3.5MP front camera with a third-inch sensor for better Skype calls, and 5MP camera round back for sharing presentations, birthdays and for filming yourself dancing around in your underwear using the built in kickstand. Eh, wait, ignore that last one.

As if this weren’t enough, the Surface 2 is now available in white, as well as the original’s black, and to further tempt you, Microsoft is throwing in 200GB of SkyDrive storage for two years, and free international Skype calls and free Skype WiFi for one year.

The cost of all of these improvements? $449, which seems high in comparison to other devices, but Microsoft is hoping the added freebies will be sufficient to tempt prospective buyers.

Will people buy it? Possibly. Microsoft has worked hard to iron out the kinks present in the original Surface, and the Windows Store now boasts over 100,000 apps, including most of the big names. As a purchase, the Surface 2 makes a lot more sense than the original RT, with even greater functionality in a lighter, faster package. Pre-orders start September 24 at 8 a.m. EST, and it launches October 22. If you’re tempted, I wouldn’t blame you —  my original Surface RT now seems very outdated.

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