Surface 2 Hands-On: Better Looks, More Power

Despite poor sales of the original Surface with Windows RT, Microsoft isn’t giving up on ARM-based tablets. Today in a New York launch event, the company unveiled the Surface 2, the successor to the original Surface, which features improvements such as a speedy Nvidia Tegra 4 processor, a colorful 1080p display, a two-position kickstand and low-light webcam.

We had a chance to handle the Surface 2 for a few moments and came away intrigued by its potential and impressed with its colorful display and attractive new white chassis. At around 1.5 pounds, the Surface 2 isn’t significantly lighter nor did it seem thinner than its predecessor, but the white vapor magnesium chassis looks a bit slicker than the original Surface with RT’s black casing and differentiates it nicely from the still-black Surface Pro 2.

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The rear kickstand, one of the most important features of the original Surface, has been reworked so that it now supports two angles: the old 24 degree tilt and a new 40 degree angle that promises a more stable typing experience on the lap. When we tried placing the Surface 2 on our lap, we found it was indeed less rickety at the 40 degree angle, but still not as firm and solid as typing on a laptop.

The 3-MP front-facing camera is supposed to provide superior low-light performance and, in our brief tests, it lived up to its billing. In a shadowy corner of the demo space, we found that our face remained bright even when we moved further into the shadows. Microsoft is so proud of this feature that it’s offering a year of free international Skype calling with the purchase of Surface 2. Unfortunately, Surface Pro 2 users don’t get the low-light improvements.

One of our biggest complaints about the Surface with RT was its underwhelming 1366 x 768 display and it looks like Microsoft has taken this criticism to heart. Though we didn’ get to do any real gaming or movie watching on the Surface 2’s 1080p display, everything we looked at, from the desktop to the live tiles, appeared sharp and colorful.

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The original Surface with RT was fast enough for tasks like office and for some gaming, but the new Surface 2’s Nvidia Tegra 4 processor promises a lot more oomph. In an on-stage demo, Microsoft’s Panos Panay showed the new tablet playing the demanding Halo: Spartan Assault game. He said the new device’s 72 graphics cores make it great for gaming, but we didn’t get the chance to test this out during our brief time with the device.

Like the original Surface, the Surface 2 has a USB port, but now that port is USB 3.0 , allowing for faster file transfers and the ability to work with a wider range of periperhals. Also like the original Surface, the Surface 2 supports both Touch and Type Covers, which will retail for $119 and $129 respectively.

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The Type cover has been improved, now offering a full 1.5 mm of travel. In our tests, it did seem to offer my tacticle feedback than its predecessor. The Touch Cover now supports multitouch gestures, including the ability to highlight and erase text by swiping on the backspace row, but we were unable to use that feature on the demo models we saw.

Overall, we’re intrigued by the new Surface 2, but still concerned by its Windows RT ecosystem. Will users want an OS that comes with Office, but can’t run all their other classic Windows applications, even if it is high-quality hardware. We’ll have to see.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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