Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 3
Evolution is good, but is it too little too late?

While Microsoft's Surface Pro portable gets the best reviews, the Surface RT is often ignored in favor of Apple iPads and quad-core Android tablets. It's hardly a surprise, the Surface RT looked good but didn't have enough technological ambition. Its fun and colorful snap-on keyboard wasn't a compelling reason to buy. So can the Surface 2 convince people that Windows 8.1 can deliver a great tablet experience? Or is Microsoft throwing another billion dollars down the drain? Find out here ...

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: Design

Microsoft hasn't made any dramatic changes to the smart-looking VaporMg design of the Surface. The Surface 2 looks the same as the original RT model and accommodates a similar 10.6-inch widescreen display. On paper, the revamped Surface 2 is thinner and lighter, measuring 274.6 x 172.5 x 8.9mm and weighing 676g. But compare this to the Surface RT's dimensions - 274.6 x 171.9 x 9.4mm, 680g - and you'll see that the difference is marginal.

surface rt vs surface 2

The new Surface 2 is imperceptibly thinner and lighter than the old Surface RT

More of a selling point is the new silver/white color (the Surface RT is black) and the redesigned, two-stage kickstand, giving you two different viewing angles. The internal speakers have also been improved and the Surface 2 can be plugged into the new Touch Cover 2, which features a backlight and 1,092 sensors for greater responsiveness - 1,012 more than the original Touch Cover. The new Touch Cover 2 also supports gesture controls should you want to wave at your Surface 2 tablet rather than touch it.

The new kickstand offers two standing positions, giving you different viewing angles

The new kickstand offers two standing positions, giving you different viewing angles

It's not the only accessory. The new Type Cover 2 improves the thin mechanical keyboard, offering snap-in magenta, cyan, purple and black options. Like the Touch Cover 2, the keyboard is backlit enabling you to work with the lights off. Finally, the Power Cover gives you a keyboard with a built-in battery that extends the battery life by up to 50%.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: Display

While the 10.6-inch size of the ClearType display hasn't changed, Microsoft has boosted the original model's 1366 x 768 pixel screen resolution up to Full 1080p HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) on the Surface 2. Microsoft also claims that the color accuracy of the new display (which also appears on the new Surface Pro 2) is 50% better.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: Processor

Where the Surface RT launched with a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3, the Surface 2 gets a jump in processing power with a new 1.7GHz quad-core Tegra 4 chip that incorporates 72 GPU cores (compared to the Tegra 3's 12).

Crucially, this processor upgrade should eliminate the annoying lag that often plagued the Surface RT. Microsoft demonstrated its number-crunching prowess at launch by simultaneously running Office RT apps in the background while playing Halo: Spartan Assault.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: OS and software

As expected, Surface 2 comes with the RT version of Windows 8.1, which features new snap views, different sized tiles, and a host of other improvements.

Surface 2 also includes Microsoft Office (as did the original RT model) with Outlook, plus the "best of Skype" for a year, which gives Surface 2 owners free international calling and free WiFi. New owners will also get 200GB of SkyDrive storage for two years.

On top of all this, Surface 2 will naturally benefit from the availability of more apps - there are now more than 100,000 in the Windows Store, compared to only 10,000 when the Surface RT launched.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: memory and storage

Not much change here. Both the Surface RT and its look-alike successor come with 2MB of RAM and are available with 32GB or 64GB of onboard storage. The two models feature the same SDXC card slot.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: Connectivity

In terms of wireless connectivity, the Surface RT shipped with 802.11/a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 - no 3G or LTE connectivity. The Surface 2 doesn't do any better, even though the Tegra 4 can support an LTE chipset.

There is a small difference in the physical connections - where the Surface RT featured a full-size USB 2.0 port, the Surface 2 incorporates a faster USB 3.0 slot. The rest of the specifications - headset jack, HD video out, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, digital compass and the Cover port - remain the same.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: Camera

The original Surface RT came equipped with a 5MP rear camera and a disappointing VGA front cam for grainy video calling. The Surface 2 doesn't change the raw megapixel count of its main camera, but does upgrade the front-facing lens with a superior one-third-inch image sensor (for better results in low lighting conditions) and a 3.5MP count.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: Battery life

Microsoft promises a battery life that's capable of up to 10 hours of video playback - a 25% improvement over the Surface RT. It's not the most impressive of improvements, but it's worth remembering that the Tegra 4 CPU has given the Surface 2 a considerable speed boost. Besides, 10 hours+ of battery life keeps Microsoft's tablet on a par with Apple's iPad and leading Android tablets.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: Price

How much? The Surface RT sells for $349 and the Surface 2 is $100 more expensive at $449. U.K. pricing has yet to be announced. The new Surface 2 launches on October 22.

Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface 2: Early verdict

Microsoft has been keen to point out that the Surface 2 isn't a complete revamp of the first RT model and the changes might seem minor. But it does address some of the criticisms that we had of the original Surface, namely: a poor selection of apps, an unimpressive display, a heavy build and sluggish graphical performance.

The new model has superior processing power, a higher resolution display and the Surface 2 benefits from running Windows 8.1. It also ships with the full complement of Office apps and the 32GB model is also $50 cheaper than a 16GB iPad.

So what's not to like? Windows RT still has the potential to confuse buyers who will expect the Surface 2 to act like a full-blown Windows computer and the price difference isn't enough to tempt tablet buyers away from the obvious alternatives.