Thin but solid build
Two kickstand positions
Microsoft Office included
1080p screen lags behind other tablets
App selection limited
So lack of desktop apps still a problem
No LTE option
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Microsoft has launched its next-gen tablets, the Surface Pro 2 and this - the Windows RT-toting Surface 2, a direct replacement for the original Surface RT. The Surface 2 4G has also landed, bringing faster LTE connectivity and GPS functionality.
Last year Microsoft launched Surface as its almost-Windows tablet that almost succeeded in bringing Windows to the tablet form factor. It was as thin as an iPad, it came with a full-size USB port and almost full Office, it had a kickstand to hold it up and you could snap on an amazingly thin keyboard (at extra cost).
But Windows 8 and Windows RT didn't have a fraction of the iOS and Android apps, the kickstand didn't always hold it up in your lap and not everyone like Windows 8 enough to see Surface as a real iPad competitor. The impressive features didn't make for impressive sales.
For Surface 2, Microsoft has tackled a lot of the issues - in hardware and software - as well as improving the spec.
It has a new screen (though not Retina Display-class), a new two-position kickstand, USB 3, a faster processor, new keyboards and all the new features of Windows 8.1, from IE 11 to SkyDrive integration to more Snap window sizes. It's still Windows RT, so you can't add extra software to the desktop, but you still get Microsoft Office, and now it includes Outlook.
There are two versions of Surface 2; both have the 1.7GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 chip with 2GB of RAM behind the 1920 by 1080 10.6-inch screen but you can choose between the GBP £359/USD $449/AUD $529 32GB model we tested and the £439/$549/AUD $629 64GB one.
Those prices compare favorably with the equivalent memory iPad, and Microsoft is keen to point out that not only do you get the hardware featuring superior connectivity, but you get Office, too.
Remember; if you need more storage, Surface 2 still has the microSD slot - and it comes with 200GB of SkyDrive storage (free for two years, along with a year of free Skype landline calls and hotspot access).
The same look and feel
Surface 2 still looks very like a Surface, with a big black bezel sporting a capacitive Windows button, angled sides and rounded corners - plus the kickstand that folds out at the back. But now the matte blasted-magnesium alloy chassis is a pale silver-grey rather than almost black.
The new lighter colour is distinctive, stylish and probably makes the Surface 2 look slimmer - because while it's measurably thinner, the difference looks greater than it is (in perhaps the same way that the iPad appeared to be thinner than Surface RT).
But while the metal case is as sturdy, practical and finger-print resistant as ever, the grey isn't as hard wearing on the plastic bezel at the top that allows the Wi-Fi antenna to get such excellent coverage.
On our test unit, this showed some scuffing and discoloration after being shipped without the full packaging, so carrying it around without a case might produce the same effect in time.
The same marks wouldn't be noticeable on the black Surface edge. Plus, making the Surface 2 thinner meant removing the very thin lip of metal that ran along the top of the screen, between the plastic edge and the glass.