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Microsoft Surface 2 review

Andy Vandervell



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Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2
  • Microsoft Surface 2


Our Score:



  • Type Cover is outstanding
  • Good battery life
  • Very good colour, contrast and brightness
  • Slick, fast and responsive


  • Windows RT still confusing in places
  • Dreadful speakers
  • Too few quality tablet apps

Key Features

  • 10.6-inch, full HD screen; 1.7GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, 32GB storage (16GB free); Windows RT 8.1 with Office RT 2013
  • Manufacturer: Microsoft
  • Review Price: £460.00

What is the Microsoft Surface 2?

Microsoft has two styles of tablets: full Windows 8 hybrids like the Surface Pro 2 and Asus Transformer Book T100 that run desktop apps; and low-power, ARM processor-based Windows RT tablets that come with a ‘touch friendly’ version of Office running in desktop mode, but which can only install and run tablet apps from the Windows Store.

The Surface 2 falls into the latter category and usurps the Surface RT from last year, though the latter remains on sale at a knock down price. It shares the basic design of the Surface Pro 2, but it’s lighter, cheaper and has longer battery life. What’s the real difference? Well, where Windows 8 tablets want to replace your laptop or PC, the Surface 2 wants to give the iPad Air and its kin a bloody nose by making you more productive.

SEE ALSO: Tablet Buyer's Guide

This is the taller of the two kickstand levels

Surface 2: Design

To make all this work the Surface 2 is available to buy with two keyboard accessories: the Touch Cover 2 (£99) and the Type Cover 2 (£109). Neither are included in the price of a Surface 2, but buying a Surface 2 without either defeats the purpose because the keyboards are totally integral to the Surface 2’s design. That’s why the price as reviewed above doesn’t read £359 (the price for a 32GB Surface 2) but £460, i.e. the price of the Surface 2 with a Touch Cover. That said, for reasons we’ll get into later, we recommend you buy the slightly more expensive Type Cover.

The keyboards clip very securely to the bottom of the Surface 2 and combine with the built-in kickstand so you can comfortably set the Surface 2 down on a desk and start working. It’s here where the first changes to the Surface 2’s design become evident. The kickstand, which used to have one very steep angle, now has two angles: a tall one that isn’t quite as extreme as before and a flatter one that ensures the screen actually faces you when it’s set down on a desk.

SEE ALSO: 10 best tablets you can buy

The new flatter angle is much easier to use

It’s a big improvement that makes using the Surface 2 much easier and more comfortable than its predecessor, provided you use the Surface 2 on a flat, stable surface that is. While you can use the Surface 2 on your lap, it never quite feels stable. and can be very sensitive to the angle that you sit at, so it’s comfortable and stable when sat in a low chair (e.g. on a sofa) but less so when sat in a higher position like the Surface 2.

Elsewhere, the changes are pretty minor. The Surface 2 is marginally slimmer (8.9mm thick vs. 9.4mm) and marginally lighter (676g vs. 680g) than the Surface RT, but not enough that anyone will notice. This makes the Surface 2 very much a two-handed tablet as it’s too heavy and the 16:9 aspect screen feels a bit tall and awkward when held in portrait.

SEE ALSO: Best Windows 8 laptops and tablets

Note the darkened patches along the top edge

The only other noticeable visual difference is the finish, as Microsoft has ditched the dark grey painted finish to the bare silver metal below it. This helps distinguish the Surface 2 from the Surface Pro 2, but also gives the Surface 2 a slightly coarser texture that we’re not huge fans of. It’s something you’ll get used to in time, but it lacks the refinement seen on the iPad Air.

Indeed, while the Surface 2’s build quality and design is very good in most places, there are one or two places where the attention to detail isn’t quite up to it. The plastic segment at the top that contains the wireless radios leaves a couple of unsightly joins on the top edge that aren’t as seamless as we’d hope, while the slightly darker silver paint applied to it appears to have started rubbing off on our review sample. Neither are deal breakers, but they’re niggling irritations all the same.

The Surface 2 is a tad unwieldy when held in portrait

Surface 2: Specs and Connectivity

The basic connectivity on the Surface 2 remains much the same as before. There’s a single, full-size USB port, but it’s now 3.0 port rather than a 2.0 one. There’s a single Mini HDMI output and a 3.5mm headphone output, but the most important addition is the microSD card slot. That’s because, although advertised as a 32GB tablet, after the OS and recovery partition there’s only 16GB or so of space left. Investing in a card is a good idea.

Microsoft has upgraded various other parts of the Surface 2. It now uses a Tegra 4 processor, a quad-core chip clocked at 1.7GHz. There’s still 2GB of RAM, but the two cameras are much improved from two 720p resolution cameras to a 5.0MP camera on the back and a 3.5MP camera on the front. Microsoft has added a second mic at the rear, too, adding active noise cancelling to improve video chatting performance.

The final upgrade is an important one: the screen. The Surface RT had a rather disappointing 1,366 x 768 resolution, but the Surface 2 has a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution screen. This doesn’t make this a ‘retina’ screen in the popular parlance, but it’s an important and necessary upgrade that sets the Surface 2 apart from potential rivals like the Windows 8-based Asus Transformer Book T100, which still has a 1,366 screen.

And it’s to the screen we move to on the next page…


December 6, 2013, 9:26 pm

Windows RT can afford to be an experiment until 64-bit is introduced. It would be interesting to see whether Microsoft can merge both x86 and ARM v8 into a single operating system distribution. Considering that software developers do not want to program for two operating systems, this would probably be the best approach. Additionally, business applications will always be legacy, and hence the need for both Microsoft and Intel to support legacy hardware and software.

Jdawg Laurence

December 6, 2013, 11:57 pm

Agree with this review pretty closely. The biggest issue I've had with my Surface 2 is the speaker volume when I'm watching music or videos. Almost have to put headphones in. It was good at first but it seems to have lost some volume after an update, maybe it is something to do with software? Hoping so.

Dre' Reavis

December 9, 2013, 5:24 am

you reference the T100 as a viable alternative that cost less....but it has a much worse display, does not come with 200gb 2 year cloud storage, has a much worse camera and has an inferior build quality.

Sure, it runs full blown Windows X86 apps on a 10" with cpu that is no more powerful that the cpu in the Surface 2.

The Surface 2 isn't for everyone (waaaaaaaaaay more games on the iOS platform...not as open as Android)...but I'd happily recommend it to anyone that didn't need a specific X86 on a tablet.

And anyone that would want an iPad tabletesque experience (sans the games ecosystem) with the tile/swipe usage of Windows 8 I'd definitely recommend the Surface 2 over any other Windows tablet (including the Surface Pro).


December 9, 2013, 9:52 am

"Surface joins this crowd with some seriously impressive sound coming from the tiny speakers"
Taken from the original Surface review on this website which I'm sure these are the same speakers as used in the Surface 2. Not sure what you were listening to when using the original Surface as if they are the same, then they are poor (as per this review). I purchased the original based on this statement (I couldn't find one to try out personally and all other tablets were crap).


December 9, 2013, 10:00 am

Sometimes the speakers in my Surface surprise me with how good they are - and the stereo field is particularly impressive. Maybe this review sample had issues, but the Surface 2 I tried recently sounded identical to my original Surface.
I'm not saying these are good speakers to hi-fi standard, but in terms of tablet I've not heard anything better.


December 9, 2013, 10:06 am

They are working on it already. By 2015 there'll be an 'interpreter' that allows applications written for any Microsoft platform to be used across them all - x86 Windows, RT, Phone, XBox. At that point RT will overcome any issues it has currently. However, I still think a lot of the arguments against RT are superficial anyway. It's as though reviews don't understand what it is. It's a cut-down ARM tablet OS that looks like Windows. Don't expect it to be Windows and it's actually quite god. The store is still lacking, but it'll get there...
Microsoft need to support all platforms so they are ready to move if one of them makes a huge step forward.


December 9, 2013, 10:11 am

The speakers are crystal clear and are impressive, but imo too quiet. I sometimes take it out to the pub for my daughter to watch Peppa pig and you cant hear the bloody thing, yet the iPhone sat across the table can be heard with no problem.I love my Surface but kick myself for jumping onboard as soon as I did (or late in the case of shelf life on the original), paid far too much (i.e. before they reduced them). I would love a Surface 2 but couldn't justify the outlay. Best tablet out there imo, yet most reviewers just don't give it credit (or dock a couple of points because of the ecosystem but ignore its full browser capabilities that means you don't require apps to view BBC iPlayer etc etc)


December 9, 2013, 10:12 am

The original Surface also has a MicroSD card slot in the same location.
What space does the OS take on other tablets? I don't know because you never mention it IN ANY OTHER REVIEW. Also, I believe this tablet includes recovery partitions and tools, and so can be setup, backed up and restored without the need of a separate PC. It can be removed (or moved onto a USB device), releasing up to 6GB, if existing space isn't sufficient. These are plus points, in my opinion. It moves this device into a more serious piece of hardware, rather than a toy.


December 9, 2013, 1:12 pm

On the MicroSD, on reflection that's poorly worded. I didn't intend imply it's new to this version, but you're correct of course.

On the space issue, it's not something we mention often in other tablet reviews because (as a general rule) it's not a problem on those tablets. I suspect some of the Android ones use more (especially the Samsung ones), but a 32GB iPad has in the region of 29GB free after the OS and formatting.

You're right to point out that the backup/recovery partition takes some of that space, too, but then you can backup/reset/restore an iPad without a PC as well. All you need is an internet connection to download the apps, the app data is stored as part of the backup.

The method of backup has nothing to do with how serious either is or not, but the path Microsoft and Apple have chosen. For Microsoft this makes sense given this is basically Windows 8 underneath, but it does come with this trade-off.


December 9, 2013, 1:17 pm

They are the same so far as I'm aware.

All I can say about the difference is:

1) Different reviewers -- I can say quite comfortably there's no way I would have given the original RT an 8/10 had I reviewed it, but then I wasn't at TrustedReviews at the time and the context (quality of rival products etc.) was different back then.

2) And on the topic of context, expectations changed. Since the Surface RT tablets and phones have begun shipping with much better, and much louder, speakers. It's not really the quality that's as issue but, as point out in your comment below, the volume. They're just way too quiet.


December 9, 2013, 1:24 pm

They are, to my knowledge, the same and they aren't that good compared to numerous recent products. The iPad Air and the new Kindles have noticeably better speakers, the iPhone 5s has a louder mono speaker than the stereo speakers on the Surface 2. Given the speaker on the iPhone 5s isn't that special, I'd wager they're quite a few phones that have better speakers than the Surface 2.


December 9, 2013, 1:28 pm

It's a viable alternative, not a perfect one. As you point out it has some weaknesses, but it's fundamentally a more functional, flexible and useful product for running Windows 8 and it's a comfortable £100 less all in.

I'd wager we'll see a few more high-end tablets like the T100 (i.e. Atom-based but with better screens) early next year. That's what I'd do if I was a product manager at Asus or similar.


December 9, 2013, 2:01 pm

I see. I guess I never really turn mine up over ~30 because I usually use it in a quiet room, so I've not compared max output levels, and compared to various other Android tablets I've used, and even the iPad mini, the speakers are better. Admittedly I've not really tested the speakers in anything within the last year to any level beyond "yes, they work".


December 12, 2013, 12:36 am

stupid question. I am considering the surface 2 for my daughter, does it have Microsoft word installed or is it something we need to purchase?


December 12, 2013, 10:19 am

It's included.


December 30, 2013, 4:40 am

I have the surface 2. in some point it Sucks period........... any documents I want to download I need to download a app. and the app store is worth nothing...... I might soon decide to sell for metal scrap. im still looking what it is good for.


January 11, 2014, 11:25 pm

I've always said - lose the bundled Office and instead make it option available in the App Store, make the TouchCover cheaper i.e. around $60 because without it the product is incomplete, and release a 128GB model for $549 and only then we can talk business.


January 15, 2014, 6:50 am

A good point was made in that Office is it's one and only big selling point and that all the others are just a few minor perks.
However, consider this question: why buy any other tablet? Every tablet on the market, including the Surface 2, can do the exact same things such as watching media, social networking, playing games, e-reading, etc. In this context, Office gives the Surface 2 an edge over all the rest.
From my personal perspective, I don't need a tablet. But if I were to buy a tablet, this would be my first choice because it can do anything an iOS or Android tablet can do, and a tad more. The big message I'm trying to put out there is that every tablet can do the exact same things, and the Surface is no exception, except that it also has Office.


March 14, 2014, 10:04 pm

My surface 2 now fails to start after less than 6 months of light use. Luckily it is still under warranty and will be replaced, and mine could be an anomaly, but this is terrible product reliability for a tablet especially compared to its competitors.

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