I shall start by saying this purchase was not an impulse buy. Few of my gadgetry purchases are particularly impulsive, usually they are researched, reviewed and pondered upon. So itís fair to say I jumped in with the Surface 2 with a fair idea knowing what to expect.
But why the Surface?
Well thatís the question. The Surface first came to my attention whilst I was doing some research for acquiring tablets for my sonís primary school, was it to be Apple, Android or Microsoft. At that time there was only the Surface RT, it was heavily discounted for schools, colleges and universities ($229AUD without touch cover).
In the end the school chose iPads, I donít think any one tablet was going to be better choice than the other, but it certainly got me thinking about the RT, and then the Surface 2 was announced.
So what is the Surface 2?
Price: $529AUD, + $139.99AUD for Touch Cover, + $149.99AUD for Type Cover
Screen: 10.6-inches, 10.6-inch ClearType 1920◊1080 (207PPI)
Processor: 1.3 GHz Quad Core Tegra 4
Storage: 32 GB, microSDXC expandable
RAM: 2 GB
Connectivity: 1 USB 3.0 port, HD video out, Bluetooth 4.0
Weight: 1.5 Pounds
Dimensions: 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.36 inches
In essence it is Microsoftís version of an ipad but with a greater emphasis towards being something you can compose on rather than just for consumption.
I have used ipads, android devices, symbian and of course windows platforms. The problem is most tablets seem a little Ďgimmickyí, that is unless you really have a valid reasons of why you want an iOS or android device in a tablet form they are often duplicating already what a good smartphone can do.
Smartphones I get, they are highly pocketable, versatile and powerful. Tablets are not so pocket friendly, so unless you have a good reason to needing a bigger screen then think twice about any tablet.
Reasons I chose the Surface 2;
- 10 inch screen. One of the main functions of the Surface 2 was to actually do some work on it. It order to be productive 1920x1080 (16:9) on a 10 inch screen beats a smartphone screen, or Nexus 7 sized screen, I actually prefer 16:9 aspect ratio over the ipads 4:3. Of course if itís purely for work there are better options out there, but I also wanted portability also (see below).
- Portable. Itís a device we will take to work, on holidays and of course to the sofa.
- Keyboard/Mice. I was attracted to the idea of having a vast array of options for keyboard interface (and not just the touch/type covers), as well as walking away from those peripherals (leaving them behind on the desk) transforming the device into a more sofa friendly companion. The full sized usb 3 port means lots of choices from reputable keyboard manufactures are available (Logitech, Microsoft etc), tiny discreet nano receivers allow for those peripherals to be permanently assigned to the tablet without the hassle of undocking/unclicking or reattaching, just grab the tablet and leave, simple.
- Multiple accounts. My kids would forever uninstall apps on the ipad (by accident of course), making it a PIA to reinstall/redownload apps that they had messed with or taken off. Iím aware these days Android can do multiple logins, but the fact the Surface 2 has this ability was a welcome addition. I can set a separate account for me, the wife and one for the kids (with parental control) thus avoiding this kind of accidental meddling in future. It also allows for better customisation, I get the tablet working the way I want for me, streamline it for simplicity for the kids and other users can have it orientated to how they want it.
- Networking. Since I have Windows 8 on our main PC I was looking forward to sharing files and folders easily. In the past I even jail broke our ipad in an attempt to access and share content easier, unfortunately it wasnít worth it, too much effort for little reward. Things just have to work out of the box with minimal tweaking, suffice to say I got file sharing set up very quickly.
- Full working browser. Plenty of educational (and non educational) websites still use flash; I was sick and tired of hitting a (flash) wall with apple and android devices in this regard. Itís fantastic to get this freedom again.
- Office. To have Outlook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint comes with obvious advantages. I have tried apples ĎOffice solutionsí and was pretty dissatisfied. Here we get the real thing and it works as you would expect thus making the Surface 2 a proper Ďworkingí device.
- Battery life. From reading reviews (havenít actually done a battery test myself) anywhere 8-9+ hours is realistic, something I consider pretty decent for what you can get around the $500 mark. I donít think its realistic to expect similar battery life from other Windows 8 devices around the same price. Of course other devices might have not been RT based, but my decision was based around sacrificing the full functionality of Windows 8 in favor of more battery life.
- 200gb Skydrive (free for two years). This might sound gimmicky, normally Iím not swayed by this sort of thing, but I have already bought into skydrive previously, I would normally be paying $50/yr renewal fees to continue using it, so in my mind I was saving $100 off the asking price. I guess for some itís not that relevant, but for me it added value to the overall purchase.
- Free Skype International (for a year). Again another gimmick, but I actually regularly use Skype to call international landlines, itís just another saving Iím going to benefit from.
The First Week.
Having already used Windows 8 for awhile I was familiar with some aspects of the OS, but to be honest seeing as my main machine is running a full version of Windows 8 I pretty much skip Metro/Start altogether and use the desktop mode exclusively. Here on the Surface 2 I was forced to get to know Metro a bit more (not necessarily a bad thing) but it did involve a learning curve (that is far from over).
Desktop mode is fine for browsing Network files, using IE11, using Office, but after that itís more annoying to try and use via touch. The icons/interface are too small for touch, and although you can customise things slightly (change resolution, font size etc) its still best left to a mouse/trackpad and keyboard. In fact I quite like to think of Desktop as ĎWork modeí (proper keyboard and mice) and Metro/Start as ĎPlay modeí (touch).
I read in some review that one guy felt it silly to have the two distinctions, that the features available in Desktop should just be merged into Metro. Perhaps heís right, but I havenít found it a problem to go between the two.
After a week I have not completely got my head around the UI of Win 8. Itís not so much Windows 8 desktop mode - anyone who has used windows can feel more at home here - it's the Metro side of things (I had to google how to exit an app properly for example).
Iím not joking when I say I have conquered Cowon UI quicker than Win 8. I suspect its more complex way of doing things might be down to it being more versatile, I donít know yet, it could just be plain bad UI. For now the jury is out. But be warned, if youíre someone who has never used windows 8, and has come from iOS/android world you might find yourself getting frustrated quite easily, you will need to have patience to learn something that doesn't feel intuitive at all.
I love the charging port. For those unaware its magnetic in nature, needs no forcing or pushing in, its unlikely to suffer dust issues, or just abuse from a bad contact/insertion or accidental bend/twist. I wish all ports were like this, it shows good craftsmanship (or at least trying to minimise problems through wear and tear).
The three angles the tablet can be used in (flat is also an angle) seems to suffice for any occasion of use. At no point did I wish I could place it in a 3rd or 4th angle, the extra angle (that the RT did not have) does seem to have gained a lot of positive feedback from other users.
Being able to share the screen with side by side apps was also nice. Whatís even nicer is being able to change the ratio of which app gets more screen space, so it doesnít have to be a strict 50:50, it can be 70:30 etc.
Video Streaming. I wasnít at all counting on this, but Iíve had some decent success in finding a metro app that can stream 1080p mkv files from my desktop win 8 machine to the Surface 2. Some files have stutter whilst others donít. The stutter is due (I think) to 1080p being too large for wifi streaming (at least thatís the problem I have encountered in the past on other HD Media players I have tried, they prefer an Ethernet connection generally). Perhaps a better modem on my part will solves this (if anyone knows about this please feel free to comment).
On files that stuttered via streaming, once transferred to usb stick (NTFS formatted) and connected directly to the Surface the stutter was absent. 720p files seem to stream better, so if not for movies then certainly TV shows streaming seems to be a real possibility. And of course that 16:9 1080p screen is glorious to view HD content on.
1080p front facing camera. This now trumps my 720p webcam on the desktop pc, oddly I donít think the Surface Pro has the same 1080p camera but rather a lesser 720pÖ
Rear camera is also decent, but not that I will be using it muchÖ Iíve never understood the necessity of a rear camera on a tablet myself, the couple of times I've had this feature (on other tablets I've used) it was to show someone something via camera switching on Skype. But as for taking actual pictures I'm not sure I'd ever bother with it.
Weight of the device. Some users reported that using the tablet in portrait mode is poor experience. I donít feel the same, when on the sofa it is my preferred way to hold and interact with the tablet. It might look really long, but for websites and forums it saves you constantly having to swipe down to scroll.
Landscape mode feels awkward in my hands, hard to balance and type on, at least in portrait mode I can thumb type. But what I am left with is a feeling of it just being too heavy to be really comfortable. Using my Nexus 7 for reading is way more comfortable (and will continue to be my main ereader/comic reader of choice). What might make me give up on 7 inch tablets completely would be if 10 inch varieties weighed a lot less. So this isnít a fair criticism of the Surface exactly but rather all 10 inch devices I have held/used.
Metro Store. At this point in time there is a lot less choice in apps than on other popular platforms. I would like to see more apps in the market place so it has to be mentioned as a disappointment.
However, when I purchased the Surface 2 I was unaware there was even an official Metro app for Facebook, my intention was to just use IE11 and Ďpiní the website to the Start section (as a quick launch/speed dial type of thing). Same for IMDB, in fact the app version of IMDB for android and apple I find less than satisfactory (the forum side of things is left out completely). And it is here we forget the power of a full proper working browser. I think we need to get away from the app mentality and also consider what we can make do with from using the better working internet browser.
It goes without saying then that it is a bit of a tease to see the desktop mode of Windows 8 but be restricted to what you can install. But of course consequently the price is much reduced compared to its full working counterpart the Surface Pro.
My issue with Surface Pro tablets (which are twice-four times the price and run full working Windows 8) is that they are perhaps overkill for most. I canít imagine really wanting to do high end gaming on a surface style interface, nor use graphically intensive or system hungry programs. Core i5, 8gb ram is probably overkill for most.
It might have been nice to see a full working win 8 Surface with lower specs that allows for the installation of lighter resource programs thus gaining a certain workaround of the metro store. Of course it would receive criticism for being too weak and underpowered... you just can't win sometimes.
Price of Accessories. After I had tinkered with the tablet for a week I went googling to see what accessories I might have the joy of adding. Certainly it would be nice to have an additional charger (one for work, one for home), a display cable (more room to work/enjoy video on larger screen), Ethernet adapter (would this solve the 1080p lag/stutter), even just a nice protective case. I was horrified to discover the prices of the aforementioned productsÖ
Entry level protective case - $39AUD
Charger $50-$100 (depending upon wattage)
Display Adapter (HDMI not included) $50
Ethernet Adapter (connects via usb3 port) $50
Suffice to say its not just the touch/type covers that are seriously over priced, looks like MS have taken a leaf out of Apples tree!
Perhaps cheaper alternatives will pop up elsewhere in future, or specials/price drops will follow, but for now Iíll pass thanks.
All in all I got what I expected, this is the tablet I have been wanting and waiting for for quite sometime. I can see businesses taking advantage of this device more so than itís competitors iPads and Androids. Sadly all the reviews I have read seem to have been overly focused on the consumption side of things, failing to hype up (or not even mentioning) the proper advantages of IE11 and Office. If youíre like me and want a bit of both I think you will satisfied by the Surface 2 experience.