Microsoft took the wraps off two new tablets, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. And, oh, man, the specs on these things! State-of-the-art processors, dazzling screens, better cameras, this bell, that whistle. Woo!Yesterday,
Sorry, I’m still not buying. Although both models score points on the hardware front, I think Microsoft again missed the boat when it comes to usability, portability, and affordability. What’s more, it’s still not clear to me what these tablets are for. Work? Play? Both? Let’s take a look at the new arrivals and why I won’t be opening my wallet for either one.
Microsoft was smart to eliminate the “RT” moniker from this successor to the Surface RT, even though the Surface 2 remains a Windows RT-powered tablet. It’s a confusing designation, one that has rapidly become synonymous with “limited,” so kudos to Microsoft for removing it from center stage, if not from behind the scenes.
The Surface 2 runs the new 1.7GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 processor, a muscular chip that can power some heavy-duty games, and bumps the screen resolution to an impressive 1,920 x 1,080. Its front and rear cameras are now capable of capturing 3.5 megapixels and 5 megapixels, respectively.
The built-in kickstand, a featured element in Microsoft’s latest Surface-is-better-than-iPad marketing campaigns, now adjusts to two angles instead of one, though it still limits you to landscape use. If you want to prop up the Surface in a portrait orientation, you’re out of luck.
Like I said, some solid specs in a tablet that’s also thinner than its predecessor, though Microsoft hasn’t released exact specs—and in photos the Surface 2 looks, to me, exactly as chunky and angular as the original. In fact, Microsoft will say only that it weighs “under 1.5 pounds,” which sounds like a dodgy way of covering the fact that it’s still a pretty heavy tablet.
But there’s one key issue that hasn’t changed, and that’s Windows RT itself. The Windows 8-style operating system lacks support for actual Windows software, instead relying on whatever apps have found their way into the Microsoft Store—and the selection continues to be pretty anemic. Want to use Google Chrome as your Web browser? You can’t. Looking for a Facebook app? It’s still MIA. And what about all the great games that leverage the fancy new processor? They’re just not there.
At $449 and up, the Surface 2 is still a pricey proposition—especially if you add one of Microsoft’s Touch keyboards, which will run you an additional $120-200 (!) depending on which version you choose. I find those prices insulting.
Surface Pro 2
With a state-of-the-art Haswell processor and the promise of vastly improved battery life, the Surface Pro 2 is every bit as good as a laptop, at least in terms of performance. And unlike the Surface 2, the Pro runs Windows 8 proper, so it’s compatible with all your existing Windows software, not just apps.
At “about two pounds” (again, inexcusably vague on Microsoft’s part), the Pro is a lightweight compared with even the lightest Ultrabooks. However, its 10.6-inch screen is considerably smaller, which to my thinking limits the kind of work you can do, and do comfortably.
As a tablet, however, especially one as thick as this one, the Pro feels like a behemoth—way too heavy for one-handed use. Its form factor pretty much kills the benefits of having a tablet, at which point you’re left with a small, expensive laptop that doesn’t come with a keyboard. Yep, as with the Surface 2, Microsoft charges extra if you want one of the three available clip-on Touch options.
The problem with the whole Surface line continues to be its Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, and neither half equals a compelling whole. Microsoft has focused on hardware when it should have worked to improve usability, resulting in high prices that will discourage most consumers from buying in—consequently discouraging developers from supporting the platform, which has been a big part of the problem all along.
Make no mistake: Microsoft has made some great improvements to the Surface hardware, and Windows RT could become a viable—even attractive—alternative to Android and iOS. But there are too many obstacles in the way of that happening, which is why I won’t be buying a Surface 2 anytime soon. And the Surface Pro 2? Sorry, but no way am I paying $899 for a 10.6-inch laptop that has no keyboard.