Compared separately against the iPad and Android tablets, and well as other Windows 8.1 machines, the Microsoft Surface 2 has plenty of strengths, and one glaring weakness.
It’s probably the best piece of mainstream hardware, tablet or otherwise, available at the time of this review. This is the type of device you want to use simply because it’s so well put together, and that includes the Type and Touch Cover accessories. Having a full-sized USB input, with nearly full peripheral support, is also a revelation, and serves as a constant reminder of the compromises iPad and some Android tablet users have to make. Finally, the Surface 2 battery life, performance, and display are all top-notch.
Even Windows RT 8.1 is a well-designed operating environment. While the Desktop makes things a bit more cumbersome and confusing than they should be, it’s a small price to pay for robust versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. While having Word, PowerPoint and Excel probably benefit most, Outlook really shines, especially compared to the iOS, Android, and even Windows 8 Start Screen mail clients.
But even with all that, it’s impossible to look past the Surface 2’s limitations, which are predominately related to the lack of Windows 8 Start Screen apps. Yes, there are workarounds for HBO Go, and TPCR was even able to get Slingbox working in IE with a simple hack despite the fact that the Surface 2 browser doesn’t support the Slingbox plugin. But users of a premium device shouldn’t have to resort to hacks and workarounds. And there is no workaround for the lack of Chromecast support at the time of review, and Chrome or Firefox browser users looking to sync histories and bookmarks are completely out of luck, as the Surface 2 only runs IE.
It was much the same story with Android in 2011. And while Apple still has the app advantage, it shouldn’t be enough to sway a buying decision between Android and iOS. The smart money says Microsoft also catches up and closes the app gap to the point where it’s easy to recommend the Surface 2 over the competition.
But that’s not now. Right now, the Surface 2 is an excellent piece of hardware suited to a specific type of user that values the productivity it offers more than the apps it doesn’t.