Windows RT hardware, and the Surface RT tablet in particular, isn't just selling poorly. Microsoft's often ignored slate was the reason behind a $900 million loss posted by the company last quarter, while some manufacturers abandoned their plans for future RT devices altogether. Yet here we are, a day after Microsoft's official event, and we have a new Surface tablet on our hands – the Microsoft Surface 2, powered by Windows 8.1 RT. It is in many ways better than last year's model, bringing the mandatory upgrades in the hardware department, such as a faster processor and a better screen. Will this be enough to make the Microsoft Surface 2 competitive, however?
Built quality was one of the assets associated with the first Surface RT tablets, and from the looks of it, the new model hasn't taken a step back in that respect. In fact, it sports the same magnesium "VaporMg" casing, treated with a fresh new silvery paint job. The kickstand is present as well on the Microsoft Surface 2 and can now snap at two angles – one optimized for placing the device on a table, and the other meant for those times when it is placed on the user's lap.
The Microsoft Surface 2 tablet is thinner and lighter than the model released in 2012, but the difference is likely to go unnoticed. It weighs 675 grams and has a thickness of 8.9 millimeters, so it is only 5 grams lighter and 0.1mm thinner than the previous Surface RT. These figures rank it among the heavier 10-inch tablets out there.
Most ports and buttons on the Surface 2 are placed on its sides, save for the power key, which is located on top. On the tablet's right side we find a USB 3.0 port, supporting much higher data transfer rates than the USB 2.0 standard still widely used today.
Microsoft's new Surface tablets come with an updated version of the company's operating system. In the case with the Surface 2, we have Windows RT 8.1 pre-installed, bringing along a number of improvements, both visual and under the hood. Personalization, multitasking, and cloud connectivity are among the key aspects that have been polished further. There is now a broader selection of built-in apps, and among them is the Microsoft Office 2013 RT pack, which includes Word, Excel, and Outlook 2013. Simply put, you get a potpourri of productivity essentials bundled with the Microsoft Surface 2.
A neat perk for all who choose to get a Microsoft Surface 2 comes courtesy of Skype. Each Surface 2 user will get a full year of free international calls to over 60 countries worldwide (landlines only). In addition, access to public Wi-Fi hotspots by Skype is provided free of charge.
All of that is great to hear, but we can't omit mentioning that the Microsoft Surface 2 can't run legacy Windows software like the Surface Pro tablets can. All in all, the Surface 2 is limited to the 100,000 or so Windows RT apps available from the Windows Marketplace. The figure isn't small, but the selection isn't as broad when compared to what Android and iOS have to offer.
Under the hood of the Microsoft Surface 2 we find an NVIDIA Tegra 4 (T40) SoC with a 1.7GHz quad-core CPU. 2 GB of RAM are thrown in as well for good measure. This should be enough processing power to deliver a smooth user experience, especially knowing that Microsoft makes sure its software is optimized for the hardware it is meant to run on. The Surface 2, however, might be outpaced by future Windows RT tablets by other companies, should the competition choose to go with a beefier silicon by Qualcomm.
The base Microsoft Surface 2 model comes with 32GB of storage, out of which some will be reserved for system files. Those who need extra space may pick the 64GB model, but will have to pay $100 extra. Thankfully, there's a microSD card slot on the Surface 2, allowing cards of up to 32GB to be added. And if that's not enough, 200GB of cloud space is provided courtesy of Microsoft's SkyDrive.
Now that's a nice surprise. Gone are the 0.9MP cams found on the previous Surface RT; instead, we have a 5MP cam on the back and a 3.5MP front-facing camera. Chances are these will take pictures of acceptable quality and will provide clearer video during online calls. Sound is delivered by a pair of built-in stereo speakers that have been "digitally enhanced for fuller sound".
We're expecting battery life to be above average with the Microsoft Surface 2. It should be able to last through 10 hours of video playback, according to Microsoft. Stand-by time is quoted as 7 to 15 days. When the provided charger is used, the device's battery should go back to 100% in 2 to 4 hours.
So that's the new Microsoft Surface 2 tablet in a nutshell. It builds up on what people liked about its predecessor and brings improvements in areas that needed to or could be developed further. The mandatory hardware specs bump is also there, as the new model has a faster processor, better cameras, and of course, a better display. Software availability, however, is still a drawback for the Surface 2 and Windows RT tablets as a whole, even though the library of RT-made apps now hosts 100,000 titles. Still, with Microsoft Office RT 2013 pre-installed, the Surface 2 tablet could be a decent choice for those in need of a productivity device that can also play movies, music, and games every once in a while. With a base price of $449, the Microsoft Surface 2 is positioned as an alternative to the iPad and the premium Android tablets. We'll see how it fares against the tough competition once it is on the market next month.