The Microsoft Surface 2 is an odd device. It sits somewhere between a tablet and a notebook, sporting elements of each, and there is really nothing else like it on the market, sans its predecessor, last year's Microsoft Surface RT.
Whereas the iPad and Android tablets are scaled up smartphones at their core, the Surface 2 is a peculiar combination of tablet hardware and innards with a notebook twist, running an oddly familiar version of Windows that seems just a bit off.
As such, it's tough to properly review the Surface 2, as it's comparable to both Windows notebooks and other ARM-based devices like the iPad. At times and in certain instances, it's stronger than both, but it has noticeable weaknesses as well.
Would you take in lieu of an iPad as a travel companion on a long flight? How about as a notebook replacement for a business trip? Is it suited for checking email and Twitter on the couch, or as a second screen during primetime?
Microsoft would likely answer "yes." The Microsoft Surface 2 is all those things and more. Its maker believes it's the perfect lean-in and lean-back machine, built for both productivity and content consumption. Read on to find out if the experts at TabletPCReview agree.
Build and Design
This is an excellent piece of hardware. In fact, there are no other tablets that come close to matching it. It's not the thinnest, nor is it the lightest. But, it's certainly the best built, compared against the mainstream competition.
It measures 10.81 x 6.79 x .35 inches and weighs about 1.5 pounds, with a 10.6-inch 1920x1080 display (208 pixels per inch) with five touch inputs. Again, those aren't the most impressive specs, as the new iPad Air weighs a pound and measures just .29 inches thick, complete with a 263 pixel-per-inch resolution. But, it's likely that the Surface 2 would win in a drop test. In fact, it's one of the few devices TPCR would carry without a full case offering corner protection.
That's because of its magnesium alloy build, which trumps aluminum and plastic in feel, fingerprint resistance, and durability, no doubt. The entire Surface 2 body consists of just two pieces (three, if counting the kickstand), and is near seamless.
The Surface kickstand kicks out from about halfway out the back, revealing a microSD card slot. On top are the 5-megapixel rear camera, and another ambient light sensor and microphone.
In a new design feature, the kickstand now kicks out at two positions, prospering the screen up at about the traditional 100 degrees, and also about 120 degrees. The latter of which is purposefully designed for literal lap use, making the Surface 2 more stable when resting on a user's thighs. It sounds silly, but it actually works quite well. And in fact, this paragraph was typed from this TPCR reviewer's lap.
Other Buttons and Ports
Holding the Surface 2 in landscape mode head on, the volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack, and one speaker are on the left side. Another speaker, micro HDMI port, full-sized USB 3.0 port, and a proprietary magnetic charger, reside on the right.
There is a power button on the top, and a magnetic Touch Cover and Type Cover receptacle on the bottom.
There is a Windows softkey on the front bottom of the relatively thick black display bezel, and a 3.5-megapixel camera on the top center, next to an ambient light sensor and microphone.
As for ports and inputs, it's very tough to complain as the Surface 2 has both a full-sized USB and microSD card slot. But, the proprietary charger is a drag, even if it's very nice and suggests a premium device. It can be connected upside down or right-side up, but TPCR would much rather have the convenience and ubiquity of a microUSB charging input. The micro HDMI input is also frustrating, as many monitors don't have an HDMI input. Dual-screen works great with HDTVs, and Microsoft offers a micro HDMI-to-VGA adapter for more traditional desktop displays, but accessory is not included and runs $40 at the time of review. The Surface 2 also supports wireless displays.
Display and Speakers
Despite the fact that it was still a pretty decent display, many complained about the Surface RT and it's 1366x768 resolution. Microsoft upped to full HD for the Surface 2, and the results are particularly pleasing.
Everything looks great, and text appears especially smooth. Colors are precise, with the slightest hint of a warm tone. Touch is accurate. Viewing angles are superb, and the brightness, well, that's just OK. Glare can be a problem, as it is with most tablets, and the Surface 2 display does not get bright enough to cut through it.
Microsoft calls the glass a "durable display," so that probably means it is scratch resistant. Still, it's not indestructible, and a screen cover is always recommended.
Microsoft placed the speakers toward the top ends of the device, which is good because they less likely be covered there than if they were placed on the bottom edge. Still, front-facing speakers are always the best, and these shoot sound out of the sides.
About that sound, it's not great. There is little to no bass, resulting in tinny output. Unfortunately, this describes just about every tablet not made by Apple (iPad output is still the most robust). The volume is sufficient for Skype calls, but don't expect to fill the room with music.
The Surface 2 has two cameras, a 3.5-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear. By comparison, the iPad Air shooters are 1.2 and 5 megapixels respectively. Neither will replace your point and shoot, as picture quality is mediocre at best. However, it's obvious that Microsoft designed the Surface 2 with Skype in mind. Both cameras are angled perfectly for chatting when the Surface 2 is in kickstand mode.
The cameras also do an admirable job in low light, and dynamically adjust to changing light conditions. Of course, the image becomes grainy in low light, but the camera is able to pick up much more than the human eye when the lights begin to severely dim. This works especially well with Skype chats.
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