Surface 2: More than a Tablet
I feel many of the initial reviews didn't get what the Surface 2 was trying to be, and reflexively evaluated in use cases they'd developed with the iPad. I own both an iPad and a Surface 2. I recently flew across country and needed to bring a device with me for light use. I wanted something with an entertainment component -- watching Netflix in my hotel, streaming music, watching college football I otherwise would've missed. But I also needed some degree of productivity as well, and the ability to quickly shoot off long emails and annotate my visits using Office was simply not something that could be done on my iPad without banging my head against the wall in frustration over the device's limitations. Could this be my primary computer? Nope, because I do occasionally need to sit at my desktop and launch Photoshop, or play GPU-intensive games. But is it more useful than my iPad as a companion device to my full PC? Without question.
Some more recent reviews seem to get it, however. I find Ars' and Paul's reviews spot-on.
Where are we a year later? To start, the Surface concept makes a lot more sense to me now than it did before.
Windows 8.1 is a lot better. Windows 8.1 is substantially more complete, so much so that Windows RT 8.1 doesn't even enable the desktop live tile by default. Office 2013 still lives on the desktop, so the desktop isn't gone, but it's much less important than it was in the first version. Office 2013 is now better than it was, too—it includes Outlook.
And the apps in the Windows Store? They're still not as abundant or as high quality as one would like, but the situation is much better than it was a year ago. Apps like Twitter and Facebook are straightforward but work well, and they justify themselves as applications (as opposed to simply using their Web counterparts) through their support of Windows 8's notifications and live tiles. I would certainly like to see more high quality applications there. But I think it's liveable and getting better all the time.
The Surface 2 is now a well-rounded tablet. But it's a well-rounded tablet that can go above and beyond the conventional tablet role if you want it to. It's a tablet plus. The kickstand, the optional keyboards, USB port, and Office all make it something more than a tablet, and they do so in useful ways. Not everyone will want Office—but many people doing schoolwork or running a small business will find it useful. Not everyone will watch videos on their tablet—but the kickstand is great for those who do...
I think you could buy the Surface 2 and be happy with it. The first model required buyers to take a punt, to gamble on the Store delivering the apps they needed. The development the last year has seen largely removes that gamble. The Surface 2 works, and it works well. If none of its more-than-a-tablet features appeal, then you may be better served with an Android tablet or an iPad. But if any or all of the additional features do appeal, it's a compelling alternative to most other machines in the price range, one that you will enjoy using.
But there's another bar that Surface 2 has crossed, and it's worth exploring. Obviously, when I'm confronted by a machine as thin and light as a Surface RT/2, my mind turns towards whether it could ever make sense to use this machine as a daily driver on trips. With Surface RT, this was a pipedream, as the machine was just too slow to do anything—everything—including such basics as load Word 2013, navigate to a SkyDrive location, and then actually open and edit a Word document. It was just a non-starter.
The performance in Surface 2 is such that my mind is tingling again. Could it be? Could this machine actually satisfy this need?
Amazingly, the answer is yes. Last weekend, my family traveled to Stowe, Vermont for a bit of down time and while I brought a few PCs just in case, I spent hours each day working on the recently completed Xbox Music chapter for "Windows 8.1 Book" using only Surface 2. And it didn't just "work" or "work well," it worked in a way that was indistinguishable from a real PC. Excellent performance. (And I didn't charge it once all weekend; it ran on battery the whole time.)
Now, my normal workday involves more than Word and Paint, which is all I needed this past weekend. I'm on Twitter for the duration, I use Photoshop for image editing for this site, and I use other apps, and prefer some that aren't available on Windows RT at all. But where Surface RT was so embarrassingly terrible, Surface 2 is something altogether different. Something very positive indeed.
Surface 2 is so speedy, so spritely, that it's caused me to rethink my approach to Windows RT. Suddenly, this OS could work.
Verdict: Surface 2 performance is a game changer for Windows RT.