Chief Inc. Gadget Tester John Brandon checks out the newest version of the Windows tablet.
In business, the sequel to any gadget is usually an improvement. With the new Microsoft Surface tablets (Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2), you might be tempted to take a second look if you passed on them the first time. They are both faster, have better cameras, last longer, and have cover keyboards that actually work.
But I still find them lacking.
I tested the Surface 2--which does not run standard Windows 8 desktop apps like Adobe Photoshop--because there is already a glut of full Windows 8 tablets. Lenovo, Acer, and many others already make them. Plus, the Surface Pro 2 is almost the size of a laptop anyway and measures over a half-inch thick. (It's also way too expensive at $899.)
The Surface 2 is thin (.35 inches), relatively light (about 1.5 pounds), and lasts about 10 hours on a charge. Those are the selling points you'll hear in the Microsoft store. What you won't hear about is that there are precious few Metro touch apps. Metro is the colorful tiled interface that runs on top of the desktop.
Like the last time I tested the original Surface RT, there really hasn't been any amazing new Windows 8 metro apps. There's a new one for Facebook and one for Twitter and Skype. If innovative apps like Osito for the iPhone (which helps you stay on schedule) were available, the Surface 2 would take on a new significance for business.
That's really the main problem here with the Surface 2, which pretends to be a portable tablet. Let's say you are heading out on a business trip. You want to bring one device. If you decide to go with the iPad or an Android tablet, there's no question that you'll have all the apps you need to connect with colleagues and get all of your usual work done.
With the Surface 2, you quickly realize that's not the case. The Twitter client is somewhat helpful, but there's no app for HootSuite or Sprout Social. There isn't an app for Google+, GroupMe, or even Yelp. There's Shazam and Evernote, but that's about it. When innovative apps come out on the iPad and iPhone, like life-logging app Rove or 3D photo app Seene, there is no Metro version.
You can always run a browser, but then again, you can do that with a light Windows 8 laptop. A tablet (whether it is the Surface 2 that doesn't run real desktop apps or the Surface Pro 2 that does) has the distinct advantage of providing fast-access to apps.
Curiously, the Surface 2 has a few major improvements over the original. It runs faster on a 1.7GHz quad core processor. There's a USB 3.0 port for connecting a portable drive, a mouse, or any other device and it's faster than the original's USB 2.0 port. The new model includes Outlook RT now in addition to the Office RT 2013 suite, but they're the non-commercial Home & Student versions. The cover doubles as a keyboard, which is now more comfortable for long typing sessions. (The cover keyboard on the original Surface RT was all but unusable in such situations.)
At $449 for the 32GB version, the Surface 2 is priced competitively enough. The upcoming iPad Air costs $499 for the 16GB version. It also lasts 10 hours, is way thinner and lighter, has a boatload of business apps, has a much sharper screen, and has a faster processor.
Can the Surface attract some developers? That's the question for business users who might be interested in using the Office Suite. But then again, I'd argue that right now it's just not a smart buy. I'd pick a laptop, any Android tablet, or the iPad over the Surface any day.