Review: New Surface tablets make typing easy

September 24, 2013 by Bree Fowler
A new Surface 2 tablet computer and docking station are introduced, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 in New York. The optional docking station allows the Pro 2 to be used like a laptop. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Is Microsoft's Surface a tablet or a laptop? I'm not quite sure, but it is a lot easier to type on than an iPad.

The unveiled updates to its Surface tablet computers Monday at an event in New York, where I had a short amount of time to try them out.

It almost seems unfair to categorize the new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 as tablets. Although they have touch-screen keyboards like regular tablets, they work best when attached to an optional cover with a keyboard on the inside.

The better one I tried was the Type Cover 2. In addition to coming in four fun colors—pink, purple, blue and black—that cover has backlighting, silent keys and a typing feel similar to that of a laptop keyboard. At $130, it is just $10 more than a Touch Cover 2, which doesn't have movable keys like real keyboards.

The slick designed for the tablets is helpful, too, as is the docking station created to go with the Pro version of Surface.

The result is something that looks more like a laptop than an iPad or Android tablet. And that's what Microsoft wants, calling its tablets the most productive on the market. The Surface 2 model even comes with a version of Microsoft Office, including the Outlook email and calendar program for the first time.

Vincent Nguyen, Editor in Chief of SlashGear, wears Google Glass while covering the introduction of the Microsoft Surface 2, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 in New York. Microsoft is trying hard to succeed in tablets because personal computer sales are falling. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The Surface 2 starts at $449 and runs a lightweight version of Windows called RT, meaning it works only with apps designed specifically for it. The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899 and runs a full version of Windows, so it works with programs designed for traditional desktops and laptops. Both come with 200 gigabytes of online storage through Microsoft's SkyDrive for two years.

With the Surface, Microsoft is trying to create a seamless transition between home, work and the field. Microsoft doesn't want this device to just replace your tablet and laptop, but your office PC as well. It's a great idea, and I'll be interested to see if it can actually work in practicality.

Like a laptop, both the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 balanced well and didn't slide around on my lap when attached to keyboards. I felt very comfortable typing and had a clear view of the screen.

A setup like this would be very helpful for all those events I've had to cover, including Monday's, where I wasn't able to sit at a table and had to balance my tablet or laptop on my lap while I typed. For the new versions, Microsoft improved the built-in kickstand used to hold the tablet up like a laptop screen. It is sturdier and works in two positions, one for sitting on your lap and another for placing on a table. The kickstand on older Surfaces had just one position, for the table.

My only complaint is that the keyboard was just a little bit too big for my lap and didn't have quite enough space to lay flat. But at 5 foot, 2 inches (1.57 meters), I'm small. If you're taller, you shouldn't have a problem.

Although the tablets are focused on productivity, they also have some fun elements, too. Besides the usual games and apps available in Microsoft's app store, the Surface Pro 2 can be used to play PC and Xbox games such as "World of Warcraft" and "Halo." Although you don't quite get the same visual experience as you do with a big screen, gamers will like portability. It's a big step up from playing "Angry Birds" or "Fruit Ninja." (Yes, those games are available in Microsoft's app store, too.)

A new Surface tablet computer, with a pink Type Cover 2, are introduced, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 in New York. The redesigned Surface tablets come at a time of transition for Microsoft. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Both Surface models felt a little bulky and heavy to me. That said, the Surface 2 weighs about the same as the latest version of the full-size iPad at about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kilograms), while the Surface Pro 2 weighs in at 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms).

At the same time, the Surface tablets feel a little more rugged than an iPad. Microsoft touts them as nearly indestructible, pointing to their heavy-duty glass and magnesium-alloy casing. It claims you could hit it with a sledge hammer or run it over with a car. I can't wait to hand one to my less-than-gentle 3-year-old daughter and see what damage she's able to inflict on it.

According to Microsoft, both tablets feature significant improvements in speed, cameras and battery life. I didn't have enough time with the devices to test those out, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with it. And it'll be interesting to see how well the Pro version works as a desktop when attached to a , which will sell for about $200 when it comes out early next year.

Based on an early look, though, Microsoft seems to have learned from its mistakes and refreshed the Surface lineup with devices that feel better on the lap.

Explore further: Microsoft unveils new Surface, fixes shortcomings (Update 4)

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2.8 / 5 (4) Sep 24, 2013
Microsoft once again misses the point. The tablet is supposed to be purely designed around media consumption, not productivity. Microsoft and others made very powerful tablet computers before, with real Intel chips that ran full Windows that could run every software your desktop could. Where they failed, the iPad (which didn't even have an exposed file system) succeeded - because people wanted nothing more than a media consumption device. Watching Netflix, Hulu, clicking endlessly on Farmville and Candy Crush is what the tablet consumers want. If you want a productive computer, everyone knows nothing beats the power of a desktop, or a laptop.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2013
The tablet is supposed to be purely designed around media consumption, not productivity.

Says who?

The biggest flaw of the tablet/pad is that it's a pointless toy. You need a laptop with you anyways to do the other things, and then your pad becomes as superfluous as it's expensive. Anyone who only needs one as a toy has already bought the iPad, so there's no point for Microsoft to go there. They should go the other way. There's loads of people who would rather have a device that's more portable than a laptop but runs all the same software.

The reason why the previous tablets failed was because the technology wasn't there yet and they were too expensive. Take an entry level laptop from 10 years ago, with Windows XP, and lop off the keyboard and add a pointing stylus. Would you use one? Probably not.

not rated yet Sep 24, 2013
the iPad (which didn't even have an exposed file system) succeeded

One can also question whether the iPad succeeded when you have Android that sells a lot more, and offers a lot more at the OS level. Apple now commands less than 40% of the tablet market because they treat their users as lazy idiots.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2013
Not to stop your hate on Apple -- cause i personally don;t like them... but

This article is a shameless advertisement, that MS should pay for and not recieve for free. While agree that the author who demoed the product should give his/her opinion but this is outright gushing of enthusiam is ... embarassing to read. It's like looking through a keyhole watching two people kiss.
not rated yet Sep 24, 2013
Most people feel that Microsoft is trying to play catch up to the market. This is true, but you have to ask yourself, what is the device that will work for the college student, the business professional, and the media-consumer? Microsoft is trying to answer that question with their tablets. I already have an ipad, but if I did not, I would get a surface tablet. Microsoft is taking the tablet more seriously, while Apple gives you a device that is more an appliance than a computer, IMO. Where they could really nail it is with Cheap upgrade devices, perhaps a dock with a larger screen for a lower cost, that way you would have a tablet, laptop and a desktop all in one device.
not rated yet Sep 24, 2013
Microsoft once again misses the point. The tablet is supposed to be purely designed around media consumption, not productivity.

You should see how much I produce on my little Nexus 7. I make a good living writing and do a lot of it on my N7 paired with a Logitec BT keyboard. I regularly bang out 2500-3000 word articles on the pair. And it's nearly effortless. The pair fit in my purse, too; no more separate laptop bag! I've been authoring content on computers for over 40 years, so I have a bit of experience with this question of productivity. I own a few laptops and a couple DT machines, too. So it's not like I don't have a choice. It really comes down to convenience and to date, nothing for me has been more convenient than the N7+BT keyboard pair.
not rated yet Sep 24, 2013
You can put an optional keyboard on an iPad too, so that cancels out the entire premise of this article.

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