Microsoft Surface 2 review

Windows RT remains a half-baked OS, but the Surface 2 is a decent tablet

Surface 2 4G
The Surface 2 4G has joined the fray

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3D Mark for Windows RT: Ice Storm Extreme - 9,192, Ice Storm Unlimited: 13,151
Battery life: 5-6 hours for intensive use
Sunspider in IE 11:
PirateMark HTML5 test: 12.4

At any angle, the new full HD screen is beautiful, though not obviously in the same category as Apple's retina display. It's brighter, crisper and more vivid than the original Surface screen - or the original Surface Pro. Reds and greens are more intense but yellows and whites stay bright and clean and the colours you see are more accurate.

The 1,920 by 1080 resolution is great for movies (and means you'll keep the DPI and zoom settings up, because while text is crisp, clear and smooth it can also be a little small on the 10.6-inch screen). There's far less glare than on most screens; the way Microsoft bonds together the different layers of the screen also makes blacks far blacker than usual, giving it a good contrast ratio.

The twin stereo speakers crank out impressive sound given how thin the Surface 2 is; volume is good, treble is clear and details are crisp. It doesn't kick out as much bass as some larger laptops but Surface 2 audio is great for listening to music or enjoying movies. If you use your tablet for entertainment, Surface 2 fits the bill.

Type cover

The softer sounding Type Cover

The original Surface rarely felt slow until you fired up a demanding game but the combination of Windows 8, the hardware acceleration in IE 11, the 1.7GHz quad-core Tegra 4 chipset and 2GB of RAM make even the 32GB Surface 2 feel much speedier.

Even with multiple apps and many IE tabs open, we didn't see much slowdown as we opened more apps and web pages; apps launch quickly and you can swipe quickly to another app.

Although browser benchmarks don't always reflect the performance you see when browsing real websites, JavaScript performance in IE 11 on Surface 2 (as measured by the SunSpider benchmark) beats every other tablet significantly (and even the iPhone 5s with its new 64-bit processor), thanks to the GPU acceleration Microsoft has perfected.

On Microsoft's own PirateMark HTML5 test the Surface 2 scored 12.4, compared to nine seconds on an original Surface Pro and 24 seconds on an original Surface (all running Windows 8.1). The new processor and graphics are definitely faster, in software and on sites that can take advantage of them.


PirateMarrk in action

Measuring battery life is always dependent on what you're doing; are you using Wi-Fi, running a lot of web pages and transferring gigabytes of data or playing Solitaire? Microsoft claims up to ten hours of playing videos; we actually saw 12 hours of video playback in some of our tests.


Not a bad profile...

You can get nine or ten hours of web browsing, although that depends on the sites you visit; videos, Flash and WebGL take more power than simple text pages.

But when we first set up the Surface 2, installing apps and syncing all our email and files from SkyDrive (which means the Wi-Fi was in almost constant use) and running multiple Office applications and browser windows on the desktop, using the Balanced power profile and with the screen brightness on half, we measured five hours of solid use before the battery went from fully charged to just 6%. With less network traffic on other days, we saw much closer to a full day of working.

When the battery does run down, recharging is fast; you get about 1% charge a minute so in an hour you have well over half your battery life back.