Goondu review: Microsoft Surface 2

April 12th, 2014 | by Alfred Siew

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If you were tempted to buy the original Microsoft Surface RT, but held back, the updated Surface 2 is now even more tempting with a lighter frame, sharper screen and a number of other enhancements to match the impressive design.

It’s a few grams lighter now and has a nice Full HD screen and a zippier Nvidia Tegra 4 processor compared to the Tegra 3 a year ago.

The modest 2GB RAM keeps things running rather smoothly, while either 32GB or 64GB of storage is fine, because you can easily plug in a USB drive to supplement the storage capacity.

One of the main attractions for me is still the Microsoft Office 2013 that is bundled with the Surface 2. Sure, Office is now also available for the iPad and Android as well, but it is still nice to have full-fledged “desktop” version that will look and feel exactly the same as a regular PC version.

However, what you need to know about the Surface 2, as with all such Surface RT devices, is that the operating system will not run regular Windows 8 programs. That means you can’t run a Windows 8 version of, say, Adobe Lightroom, on a Windows RT tablet.

To be fair, though, the Surface 2 has what you use most of the time. Office 2013, as I mentioned, is great to have for folks who just want a light device to do their everyday work, like reports, presentations and e-mail, on the go.

There are also more apps today for Windows RT than a year ago. The Surface 2 won’t have all the apps you can download on an iPad or Android tablet, but it has some popular ones, such as Facebook and Zinio.

Magazine apps can show off the sharper screen on the new Surface 2. The higher resolution also counts when you are viewing photos on the go or simply reading a boring PDF for work.

The other “PC-like” feature I like about the Surface 2 is the full-sized USB 3.0 ports. This lets me plug in a zippy external drive and transfer files over seamlessly. Or, if I’m on a plane, just connect a USB drive full of movies. No messy USB cables or add-on cards to worry about, unlike with other tablets.

Still, these are geeky features. They are practical features that make a difference if you really use the device, like an executive on the go or student would.

For these groups of people, however, there are a lot of choices these days. Android devices come in all shapes and sizes now, while the Apple iPad has its own loyal followers. I’m not even mentioning Microsoft’s own plans to give Windows 8 away for free for devices with screens smaller than 9 inches.

If you look at some of the smaller 8-inchers running Windows 8.1, which also come with a free version of Office 2013, such as Asus’ VivoTab Note 8, you’ll know how tough the competition is for the Surface 2.

After all, why buy a “slimmed down” version of Windows, when you can get the full version at very reasonable prices, like the S$499 that Asus is asking for the VivoTab Note 8?

Obviously, the more expensive Surface 2 – priced at S$618 for the 32GB and S$748 for the 64GB – has a larger, sharper screen. But its main differentiator is in its great design.

The matt grey finish at the back is really beautiful and the angled, slate-like design makes it look neat as before with the Surface RT. For those who complained about the kickstand before, it now lets you select one of two viewing angles via a “two-stage” kickstand.

It helps too that the easily attached keyboard covers now come with backlit keys as well. The original slim keyboards were excellent. Now they are really a joy to use, especially the Type keyboard.

When I showed the Surface 2 to my wife, she instantly loved the design. Given a familiar Windows interface, she didn’t think for a moment this was a slightly different Windows RT version. As long as she could surf the Web, watch her videos and get e-mail sent, the Surface 2 was more than what she’d be doing with a small 7-inch Android tablet.

Perhaps that’s how Microsoft should market the Surface 2 – to those who are not so “stuck” with an Android or iOS device through their familiar apps. It may also want to sell the tablet like a lifestyle device, by focusing on the Surface 2’s great design.

Because with all the competition in the market, including from low-cost Windows 8 tablets, Windows RT devices such as the Surface 2 now have a fast diminishing unique selling point.

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