• Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2 kickstand
  • Microsoft Surface 2 rear logo
  • Microsoft Surface 2 better as laptop
  • Microsoft Surface 2: lag-free
  • Surface limits numbers of background apps
  • Surface 2 has USB 3.0 and HD video out ports
  • Surface 2: comes with Office suite
  • Surface 2's 1080p display
  • Rear-facing Surface 5MP camera
  • Front-facing 3.5MP front-facing camera
  • Touch Cover 2
  • Touch Cover 2
  • Surface has app essentials
  • Facebook comes to W8 Store
  • Microsoft Surface 2: good enough

You get knocked down, but you get up again. You’re Microsoft.

Did you give in when buyers decided that the Surface RT, your iPad killer, was a flop? No. Did you faint at the sight of the $900m crater in your finances dug by the RT’s underwhelming sales? No. You’re made of tougher stuff than that.

You dig deep. You go back to the drawing board. And you emerge brandishing a new, improved Surface. The Surface 2. It’s better in every way, you announce. It has a 1080p display. It’ll last a working day without rejuicing. It’s faster. And it has a two-stage kickstand. 

The world listens. You’re the underdog now. And there was always something about the Surface and Windows 8 that was charmingly brave. And people like brave. 

You’ve priced your new Surface 2 at US$449 (RM1,415) for the 32GB model, with an extra US$120 (RM380) for the Touch Cover 2 (so RM1,795 all in). That prices the tablet head on with a cluster of talented laptops and tablets. 

Admit it: Microsoft has your curiosity again.

Design and Build: The Business End of Beautiful

Microsoft Surface 2
Microsoft Surface 2 kickstand
Microsoft Surface 2 rear logo
Microsoft Surface 2 better as laptop

The Surface 2 is lovely. There, we said it. ‘Solidly built’ really doesn’t do it justice - the magnesium casing’s fit and finish is as near to flawless as you have any right to expect from a product wearing a US$449 (RM1,415) price tag.

In tablet form, the 8.9mm-thick Surface is a pleasure to hold in landscape mode, even single handed. However, twist that 10.6in screen  to portrait mode, and the 16:9 frame suddenly looks slightly gawky (an issue if you’re a heavy ebook reader - the iPad still offers a more natural experience).

The tablet Surface 2 is only half of the story. We can't imagine why you'd buy one without the keyboard (it's the point of the product in many ways),  and it’s as an ad hoc laptop that Microsoft has given the Surface the smartest upgrades. But more on that later. 

Giving the kickstand two settings (one at 20 degrees, and another at 40) doesn't sound radical, but it transforms the Surface. The original's single setting was a pain: if you were over five foot two (or sat on the floor with the RT on your desk), you were forced to stare down at the screen from a really odd viewing angle.  Now, it works: click the stand out to the 40-degree setting, and you can work for hours without neck or eye strain.

The Surface 2 has enough ports and connections to work for most of us most of the time. You can boost storage by up to 64GB with a microSD card, and hitch up an external drive via a single USB 3.0 port (with transfer speeds up to 4x faster than the original). There’s Bluetooth 4.0 to beam tunes to compatible headphones or external speakers. And if you want to make your Surface a TV source, just plumb it from the HD video-out port. 

The only other interruptions to the Surface’s edges are the volume rocker, power button, and pins on the base for the famous snap-on keyboard and right-hand edge for the power supply. The ‘thunk’ of the keyboard attaching itself to the Surface is one of the wonders of the engineering world, not least because it manages to latch on regardless of how thoughtless you are. 


Surface 2: comes with Office suite

It’s called a Surface 2. But really, this is a Surface RT 2 - it runs Windows 8.1 RT, so you can't install third party desktop applications (for that, you’ll need to pay a hefty premium - starting at a whole US$450 (RM1,415) more for the base 64GB Pro).

For many, this will be a deal breaker. And for the life of us, we can’t understand why Microsoft continues to reject its own strengths. For years, developers have made impressive Windows applications for a worldwide audience. So why make something that still has a desktop mode that can’t enjoy the fruits of that legacy? Maybe the aim is to coax those developers into building apps for the new Modern UI - but more on apps later.

On the upside, your new Surface 2 comes with the full desktop Office suite ready installed, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and, now, Outlook. If you’re locked into Microsoft’s ecosystem at work, this is excuse enough to take a Surface seriously. 

In contrast, Google fans will struggle. Gmail and Google Contacts sync with the native Mail and People apps well enough, but there’s no way to sync Google Calendar with the W8 Calendar app. 

The Surface 2 comes with the freshly released (but RT version of) Windows 8.1. This is no paltry point release: many of Windows 8's flaws are fixed, with transformational changes to search and multi-tasking. Even the Start button’s back (albeit with a brand new job), and you can now boot into desktop mode (a little gift for those driven insane by continually having to bypass the Start screen).

8.1 vanquishes Windows 8's most illogical excesses, but it isn’t a complete cure. With no obvious rhyme or reason, there are still two Internet Explorers (desktop and app), and settings that you may never find. Ever. Somewhere in Windows 8, there’s brilliance: it bundles mobile and desktop in a way that Apple may never match, and the new Bing-powered search is stunning. But for all of 8.1’s good work, Microsoft still has a way to go in forcing out all of the compromises.


Surface 2's 1080p display

The Surface 2’s display is a beauty. You can banish any memories of the original RT’s slightly fuzzy 1366x768 view on the world - there’s now a sharp, 1920x1080, 207ppi screen that makes photos, movies and app icons zing. It may not quite match a Retina, but it’s bright, sharp and has great viewing angles. 

Microsoft claims almost double the pixel count of the Surface RT, with 46% greater colour accuracy – claims that we’re happy to believe. If we wanted to pick a fight, it would be with the screen’s love of fingerprints, a shame when the tablet package as a whole oozes such class. And it’s an annoyance we couldn’t shake during our entire time with the device - the tablet / keyboard combo looks great, but for the grease-caked glass.


Rear-facing Surface 5MP camera
Front-facing 3.5MP front-facing camera

There are few, if any, Tablet Photography Associations in Malaysia. It should stay that way. It’s a perverse pastime, as evidenced the fact that 100% of tablet owners pack smartphones with 10MP+ cameras. Be honest, people - there’s no excuse for waving a 10.6in slab in the air while yelling ‘cheese’.

On that basis, we’ll politely mention that there’s a 5MP camera on the rear of the Surface 2 that takes photographs and videos. They’re decent photographs and videos, too, even if they degrade quite noticeably in low light. Let’s leave it at that.

The front 3.5MP camera is a different story, however. 

Microsoft has built Skype right into Windows 8 on the Surface (it would do: it owns the company), and claims that much effort has gone into tweaking the camera to make video calls as good as possible, even in low light conditions (where, by a twist of fate, most calls are made). The Skype calls we made during the week suggest that it was time well spent: you’ll look glorious to callers, even by candlelight. 


Touch Cover 2
Touch Cover 2

The Surface 2 is half a product without its keyboard - working the desktop with your fingers is awkward, and the kickstand loses all logic without the keyboard attached. Oh, and of course it doubles as a screen protector. So you can buy a Surface 2 for just US$449 (RM1,415), but we can only ever imagine it as a US$569 (RM1,790) product, keyboard included.

You have a choice between the US$120 (RM380) Touch Cover and US$130 (RM410) Type Cover, then. The clues as to the differences between the two are in the names: the super-skinny Touch has keys that are flat to their base, while those on the Type are raised.

Our Surface came with a Touch Cover 2, which manages to be 2mm thinner than its predecessor while also adding backlighting.  Once we’d got over the initial strangeness of tapping on a flat board, the Touch cover actually proves a brilliant companion to the Surface, though the drumming noise can be distractingly loud and the swipe to delete gestures are hit and miss. 

After a day or two, the error count dropped, and we found ourselves typing accurately and fluidly. And aside from being useful, the backlighting is beautifully done (you’ll get what we mean when you see it). There’s also a Bluetooth adaptor coming in the New Year that will let you use the Touch Cover without snapping it to the Surface.


Microsoft Surface 2: good enough

The Surface 2 is impressive. It’s fast enough for most jobs. The screen’s great, and so is the case that surrounds it. It’s now a very usable ad hoc laptop, thanks to the two-step kickstand and the fixes in Windows 8.1. There are even enough apps in the Windows Store to make life liveable, albeit on an app diet. 

We could understand you splashing US$569 (RM1,790) for the Surface 2 plus Touch Cover 2, and being a happy bunny. Us? We’d be happy. Well, happy-ish. But the odd doubt may creep in. 

We’d know that for roughly the same money, you can get a fully fledged Windows laptop with a 1TB drive that would let us install any damn Windows applications we wanted to, without a warning screen. And we’d know that the Sony Xperia Tablet Z or Apple iPad would have meant more happy hours trawling through better apps.

The doubts about the original Surface RT were damning and entirely justified. But the Surface 2 is good enough to make it a respectable choice that will suit some of you more than a tablet alone ever could.

Stuff says... 

Microsoft Surface 2 review

Impressive as an ad-hoc laptop but restricted as it is to Windows RT apps, doubts quickly creep in 
Microsoft Surface 2
Good Stuff 
Gorgeous 1080p screen
Improved kickstand, excellent range of keyboards
Tegra 4 + Windows 8.1 = usable as an ad-hoc laptop
Bad Stuff 
Restricted to Windows RT apps
Gets expensive with a Touch/Type Cover