An iPad Guy Takes the Surface 2 For a Spin — And No One Gets Hurt

Surface 2  with Kickstand
Surface 2 by Microsoft (image copyright Microsoft)

Microsoft didn’t exactly enjoy the warmest reception for its Surface RT tablet. Released just in time for the 2012 holiday season, the consumer-level Windows 8 tablet that ran the ARM-based Windows RT 8 confused buyers (what do you mean it runs only apps and not my Windows software?) and ended up costing Microsoft a $900 million write down. I thought the original was innovative — especially its Touch Type covers — but really had no interest in picking one up, even when they were steeply discounted. I’m an iPad guy (I do have a few Android tablets but I still find that OS a little “meh”) so I’m kind of a tough sell that way. When Microsoft sent me a Surface 2 — the followup to the ill-fated Surface RT — to play with, frankly, I wasn’t expecting to get a whole lot out of the experience. However, I came to appreciate the Surface 2 as a tablet I can actually get real work done on and that’s something I can’t say about the iPad.

Before I go any further, I should clarify. Yes, technically I can get work done on an iPad. If I have to. But I don’t enjoy the experience. I either have to pack it in a bulky case with a built-in keyboard, or pack a standalone Bluetooth keyboard. And then there’s no mouse option. I hate typing away and then having to reach over and physically touch the iPad to insert a cursor. I do a lot of cutting, pasting and switching up of text and graphics and that makes working on the device a pain. So I don’t. I carry around an 11-inch MacBook Air for mobile productivity instead.

The Surface 2 is bigger than the iPad Air in every way. Instead of Apple’s 9.7-inch display with a 4:3 aspect ratio, Microsoft chose a 10-inch display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. That means a tablet that’s 1.49 pounds (50% heavier than the iPad Air), as well as being taller wider and thicker. That “taller” part bothered me the most. When using the Surface 2 as a tablet in portrait mode — that’s the way that feels most natural, like a book or magazine — while sitting on the couch and surfing the web, it feels out of balance. Its extra weight compared to the iPad is even more noticeable at this point. Throw in the advantage the iPad enjoys in app availability and it’s not really a contest. I remain convinced the iPad — Air or Mini — makes for a better casual use tablet.

Surface 2 with Touch Cover
Surface 2 decked out in laptop mode with Touch Cover 2 and wireless adapter. Photo by Brad Moon

But, when it comes to using a tablet as an ultra-portable replacement for a laptop, I was pretty happy with the Surface 2. Microsoft sent along the Touch Cover 2 and Wireless Adapter and that combination — along with the preinstalled Office 2013 RT and the built-in kickstand — made working on a tablet actually practical. Mind you, the keyboard on the Touch Cover 2 is a membrane style (the Type Cover 2 with its shallow chiclet keys would likely be better), but it was perfectly serviceable. I banged out a 1,000 word assignment with little more effort than would be required on a laptop.

The two key advantages the Surface 2 has over a keyboard-equipped iPad are the seamless integration of the cover/keyboard combo and the ability to use a touchpad (or mouse) instead of having to physically touch the tablet for cursor movement and selection. I know the Windows camp has been up in arms about Windows RT being a hobbled version of the operating system and reception to Windows 8 in general hasn’t been great, but I kind of like the tiled UI. Perhaps as primarily a Mac/iOS user, I have a fresh set of eyes so the changes Microsoft made don’t bother me. This may be my old school bias coming through, but I also like having an actual file hierarchy so I can track down an individual file, move it around and edit it in different software. That’s possible using the Surface 2 with Windows RT, but not possible with the iPad.

Wrapping up, if you’re a Windows 8 fan looking for a tablet but not willing to spend the big bucks on a Surface Pro 2, you might be interested in the new Microsoft Surface 2. Casual tablet users — the web surfers, game players, Facebook checkers and occasional streaming movie watchers — will probably be happier with an iPad (even if it does mean letterboxing HD videos). And if you want a tablet that makes it easy to get work done (at least the kind of work that involves documents and spreadsheet), the Surface 2 is worth checking out, even if you’re firmly in the Android or iOS camps.

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Brad has been a GeekDad core contributor since 2007 and writes about technology for a wide range of outlets. He's also a WFH dad, resident Canuck, outdoor enthusiast, camper extraordinaire and frequent reviewer of gadgets, devices and gizmos.