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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Microsoft spent a lot of money on marketing comparing the original Surface to the iPad, and Surface 2 does better on all the things that make it a Surface: a full USB 3.0 port, expandable storage, better SkyDrive integration, and an almost full version of Office that now includes Outlook, an improved version of Internet Explorer and far better options for working in two apps at once.

The thinner chassis, lighter weight and the two-position kickstand help Surface 2 get closer to the iPad 4, but the iPad Air has upped the ante somewhat. Although giving away iWork makes it look like Apple thinks Office on the Surface is a threat, many users like iPad for the range of apps in the App Store and that's something Surface 2 can't yet match. The Windows Store loses in every way compared to the Apple App Store and Google Play on Android.

As we know, Surface 2 doesn't run full Windows 8, instead opting for the hobbled Windows RT without support for legacy desktop - unlike Atom-based 8-inch tablets that you'll see on sale for similar prices.

That means it's a simpler, more secure system, but it doesn't help to remove the feeling that there's still something half-baked about Windows RT. If Microsoft had the same level of Windows app ecosystem as Apple or Google then things would be different, but they don't, so the feeling remains.

It's also worth remembering that Intel Atom Windows 8 tablets won't give you good performance for more demanding desktop software; having a full version of Windows isn't necessarily an advantage there.

We liked

The innovative design of Surface is even better with Surface 2; the kickstand works better in a wider range of positions, performance is visible improved; in many cases the battery will last all day - and the screen is vivid and accurate.

Plus, you get familiar features from the PC world; a full USB 3 port as well as expandable memory, Office and a powerful new version of Internet Explorer that's one of the most capable touch-friendly browsers (and don't forget Flash), as well as added extras in the shape of free Skype and SkyDrive benefits. This is the only tablet we know of with a backlit keyboard.

We disliked

Surface 2 is priced as a premium tablet, especially when you have to buy Type and Touch Covers separately. That's fair, but there are far cheaper options (if you don't count the value of Office and 200GB of SkyDrive storage).

Windows RT 8.1 is a definite improvement in many ways, but the Windows Store does still lag behind Google Play and the Apple App Store by some distance and it's the productivity gap between the lack of desktop software and the apps on the Windows Store that harms the overall score we're giving it here.

As an aside, it would have put the price up even more, but we'd have liked to see Microsoft add the superb digital pen from Surface Pro to Surface 2.

Final Verdict

Microsoft is making some of the best PC hardware around and Surface 2 is an even better example of the combination tablet-you-can-use-like-a-notebook than the first Surface.

The new screen, the improved kickstand, the much-better battery life and software with far fewer rough edges add up to an impressive product.

But Windows RT is still a problem. Things just aren't quite joined up yet because of the limited app support. However much you think you won't need desktop apps, you will undoubtedly find something that compromises your experience. And that's a real shame, as the hardware is superb.