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Surface 2: One Week Later

At MVP Summit this year, many of us were lucky enough to pick up a Surface 2 32 GB.  As many of you know, I have been a die hard supporter of my Surface RT and I think it runs great with Windows 8.1.  I simply love the connected standby and long battery life.  While your buddy’s Surface Pro isn’t notifying them of E-mail because it’s asleep, my Surface 2 chimes every time I get one (except during the new quiet hours :) ).  I also don’t have any desire to run Adobe Photoshop or Visual Studio on the device so sticking to the apps that are in the Windows Store works great for me.  I’m thoroughly impressed with the device.  Let’s take a look at some of the new features and differences and then you can decide if you want one for yourself.

Physical Differences

Meet the new Surface (2).  It looks similar on the front with a visible gray border from the casing.

Surface2Front

The Surface 2 comes in it’s natural gray color with the word Surface prominently displayed on the back.  I hope this leads to fewer people having to ask what the device is since they never had a clue what my Surface RT was. :)  I don’t like the gray color as much as the black on the Surface RT but it’s not a deal break for me.  If you are used to the smooth finish of the RT, you will notice that the back of the Surface 2 isn’t quite as smooth. 

SurfaceBackAnngle1

It features a two position kick-stand which I find highly useful when you have it sitting in your lap with a keyboard.  Here is the traditional angle offered by Surface RT.

Surface2FrontAngle1

Here is the new couch friendly angle great for using Xbox SmartGlass with your new Xbox One.

Surface2FrontAngle2

Camera

The Surface 2 has upgraded cameras (3.5 megapixel front and 5.0 megapixel rear).  I don’t think the camera is a huge selling point on any tablet device, but it’s a nice upgrade.  This is mainly because all I ever did with the cameras was take pictures using OneNote and occasionally use it with Skype.  The position of the camera and the ambient light sensor has varied some so if you have skinned your Surface RT, you’ll need a new one for your Surface 2.  Luckily, these are quite cheap at the Microsoft store (around $15).

Accessories

All of your Surface gen 1 accessories will still work including keyboards and power adapters.  This makes it easy to transition to Surface 2.  The connector on the power supply is slightly different.  When connected it now has a colored ring which makes it easier to tell it is plugged in.  It’s also a bit easier to get connected now as I often struggled when trying to plug in my Surface RT when in the dark.  You can see the ring there on the side of this picture taken in the dark.

Surface2PowerSupply

You may have heard about the new colorful type keyboards.  They feature backlighting.  Here’s an example of the purple (no it’s not mine :) ) Type Keyboard 2 with the key lit in the dark.

WP_20131125_006

Speed

One of the biggest issues among bloggers and reviewers in the last year with Surface RT was the speed of the device.  The device is particularly slow at times.  This is especially noticeable when you have a number of apps open, especially Outlook RT (which we got with Windows 8.1).  I have to say the Surface 2 is noticeably faster (night and day).  The device is generally snappy and the mail app runs pretty quickly as do other apps.  I can even keep Outlook RT running and the device doesn’t start to lag like I noticed before.  For the speed alone, this device is worth the upgrade if you want an RT device.

The memory in the device is still 2 GB.  This doesn’t prove to be a huge issue, but I do feel like the device can hit this value fairly quickly still when you have a lot of apps running.  When this happens you’ll find Windows tombstoning (closing) more background apps than you care for.

Transition

Windows 8.1 makes it so easy to move from one device to another!  When I first powered up the device and logged in it prompted me if I wanted to copy my settings from a previous device.  I opted to copy the settings and through the magic of the cloud, my start screen reappeared with all of my familiar tiles.  I only had to re-arrange a couple of tiles and it ended up looking exactly like my the start screen on my Surface RT.  It recognizes which apps you had installed before and you can click on just click on the icons to get them downloading.

One thing to note.  If you happen to buy your device when you are on the road, configuration at a hotel might be a minor issue.  Typically the WiFi at hotels requires you to sign-in, enter a code, or click a button before you are online.  The initial configuration experience doesn’t play well with this.  To get around it, I fired up my MiFi and did the configuration with that device.

Screen Resolution

It doesn’t take long to get spoiled by the HD resolution (1920x1080).  You start to notice this in places like the Start screen and on the desktop.  When you go back to your Surface RT, you can really tell a difference.  Windows automatically makes adjustments to the scaling so things are easier to read on the desktop, but if you have good ideas you can tweak the device to run at normal scaling and see some very small icons.  Take a look at the screenshot of my desktop on the Surface 2.  Compared to the Surface RT, you can see that more tiles fit on the screen horizontally.

Surface2StartScreen

Here’s the same start screen on my Surface RT.  Notice how the last column of tiles gets cut off.  Even the background image is cut off in places.

SurfaceRTStartScreen

If you run Remote Desktop, you can run at the full 1920x1080 screen resolution.  This allows you to see everything on the device, but I find that it’s a bit hard to use with touch because the pixels are so small.   It’s fine if you use a mouse or the touchpad on one of the keyboards.

Apps

The app story keeps getting better for the Windows Store.  At launch, we finally got Facebook and Flipboard.  These were big apps that people had been waiting for (although you could always use Facebook in the browser just fine).  Since, I have no desire to run Photoshop on my tablet (although you can run Photoshop Express :) ), I am quite happy with this device as a bridge between business productivity and fun and games.  I never have understood why people used this particular application to judge the success of the Surface.  It’s not like IOS can run it.

Storage

I opted for the 32 GB this time as that was what is available.  I also had a Surface RT 32 GB for a while and never really had an issue with storage.  Movies and videos can be offloaded to the SDXC card.  Documents can be stored in SkyDrive with the included free 200 GB of storage for 2 years.  I don’t suspect storage space will be an issue at all.

SDXC Slot

The Surface 2 features the same SDXC card slot but it has been moved down slightly making it easier to reach.  One thing to note about this slot is that when you slide the card in, it will actually click twice.  If you only hear it click once, then it will not be detected.  Push it in further, and you’ll hear another click and Windows should detect it.

WP_20131125_011

Speakers

Another common complaint of the speakers of Surface RT is that they just aren’t that loud.  I never found this to be an issue since I always paired my Surface with a Jambox (or other Bluetooth speaker).  As far as speakers go, I would say Surface 2 is pretty comparable.  I did a few tests between the two devices and couldn’t tell any noticeable difference at max volume.  The Surface 2 adds an additional microphone.  This should help for conference calls using Skype when not using a headset.

Ports

The Surface 2 now features a USB 3.0 port whereas Surface RT only has a USB 2.0 port.  This is a nice improvement but I never found it to be a blocker on my Surface RT.  I haven’t found myself copying large files off of external hard drives or anything like that.  It’s still a nice upgrade.  Surface 2 still features a Micro HDMI port out.  I would like to see Surface and Surface Pro use the same port at some point.

Battery Life

The battery life with Surface RT was already ridiculously awesome.  I had no issue exceeding the quoted 8 hour battery life on a regular basis.  The story with Surface 2 is even better.  It’s quoted at 10 hours when playing video and I bet it can do even longer.  I have had no issues with battery at all yet.  The nice thing about RT devices is that they also charge rather quickly as well.  They can usually charge in just over 2 hours or so.

Issues

No device is perfect, but this one is pretty nice.  I have encountered a few minor issues but I have been able to work around them.  I noticed the first issue when I was on the airplane home.  I plugged my headphones in and couldn’t get any sound to work.  When visiting the Manage Audio Devices control panel, I would receive an error related to the drivers.  This has seemed to resolve itself though since I have gotten home.  Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again. 

The other issue I have also affected my Surface RT.  About once a week (maybe more), I find that Surface refused to turn on.  Pressing the Windows button will vibrate but pressing the Power button does not turn the screen on.  When this happens, you can hold the Power button for an extended period of time and it might turn on.  However, sometimes the only reliable way to get it to power back on is to plug it into external power and then hold the Power button for a bit.  I have only had this happen once on the Surface 2.  I was hoping this issue wouldn’t follow us to the new device but it looks like it may be there.  It’s not a huge deal, but it is a bit of an inconvenience.

Now that I have a Surface 2, I have noticed that my Surface RT is not staying charged.  If I leave it unplugged, the next day it will be completely dead.  I’m not really sure the cause (maybe power settings), but I suspect it is due to jealousy of the new kids on the block. :)

Wants

I think the one thing I want from Surface Pro (no not the x86/x64 apps) is the stylus.  Although I don’t see myself using a stylus a lot, I would love to see that functionality make it’s way to the RT line of devices.  I was hoping that would make it into this version, but who knows there is always the next revision.

Summary

There is a reason why the next generation of Surface is flying off the shelves.  They are nice devices.  If you aren’t looking for a highly productive business device that can do some great consumer tasks, this device is for you.  If you have expectations of turning it into a developer tool or running your 15 year old software then go buy a Pro.  If you have been holding off to buy a Surface, go buy a Surface 2 now.  I have even heard the most skeptics of colleagues, bloggers, and tech writers totally pull a 180 on this device.  This is a device to be had!

Follow me on twitter: @coreyroth.

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More Stories By Corey Roth

Corey Roth, a SharePoint Server MVP, is an independent consultant specializing in Cloud technologies such as Azure and Office 365. He also specializes in mobile development. Corey serves as the product manager for two cloud-first mobile app platforms: BrewZap and HappenZap.

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