By BREE FOWLER
AP Technology Writer
Whether or not you like Microsoft’s updated Surface tablets will depend on your needs.
On one hand, the tablets can be great for working on the go, especially if you spring for a $130 keyboard cover. On the flip side, the new versions still lack the elegance and fun that iPads are known for and many Android-based tablets now offer. People used to the many apps on those devices will be disappointed.
Both new tablets went on sale last week. The Surface 2 starts at $449 and runs a lightweight version of Windows 8.1 called RT, meaning it works only with apps designed specifically for it. The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899 and runs a full version of Windows 8.1, so it also works with programs designed for traditional desktops and laptops, including Photoshop and Quicken personal-finance software.
FUNCTION OVER FASHION
Microsoft takes a lot of pride in the new devices’ redesigned kickstand. Previous models felt wobbly, while the new ones have a steady leg to stand on.
Like other RT tablets, the Surface 2 comes with a free version of Microsoft’s Office, giving you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. The Surface Pro 2 has a more powerful processor and is designed for heavy work or gaming use, but you need to pay for Office separately or have a $100-a-year subscription. But at least you can get it. Microsoft doesn’t make Office for the iPad or Android tablets.
Another feature that distinguishes the new Surfaces and other Windows tablets is their ability to run multiple programs side by side. Want to pull up a Microsoft Word document alongside a work email so you can reference it? No problem. Samsung devices do offer a similar feature, but it doesn’t work with all apps.
With the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft isn’t just aiming to replace your tablet. It wants you to dump your laptop, too. To help, it will start selling a docking station early next year. The $200 accessory offers additional USB ports, which can connect to external monitors, printers and more. It’s similar to docking stations available for many laptops and could help make the transition from the field to the office more seamless.
The use of Microsoft’s SkyDrive online storage service also helps. You can access your files from just about anywhere with an Internet connection. Both new Surfaces come with 200 gigabytes on SkyDrive for two years, on top of the usual 7 gigabytes.
WHAT ABOUT THE APPS?
While the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 may excel in productivity, they don’t have the style and fun of their competitors. The construction is rugged, which makes me less paranoid about letting my preschooler play with it. But they also seem bulkier and heavier than other tablets. Surprisingly, the Surface 2 weighs just a pound and half, the same as the year-old iPad, while the Surface Pro 2 is about a half pound heavier.
And while Microsoft Office might be great for someone who wants to write a dissertation or create a PowerPoint presentation on a train, the dueling touch screen and desktop functions of Windows 8.1 might seem maddening to people who just want to play “Angry Birds,” watch a movie or surf the Internet in bed. In addition, Microsoft’s app store doesn’t have as much to offer yet as its Apple and Android counterparts.
On the upside, the new Surface models let you play Xbox games. In addition, the Pro 2 was designed with not just business people, but also gamers, in mind. The Pro 2 features speed and battery improvements over the previous versions.
When it comes to watching TV, both Surfaces have high-definition displays, measuring 10.6 inches diagonally. That’s larger than the iPad’s 9.7 inches, but smaller than the typical laptop. The Surface screens aren’t as sharp as that on the iPad. Both Surfaces offer 208 pixels per inch compared with the iPad’s 264.
SO SHOULD I BUY IT?
Do you long for an almost laptoplike typing experience and access to Microsoft Office? Or would you rather use a simple platform that opens the door to thousands of apps all viewed on a crystal-clear screen?
While the Surface 2 is most fairly compared to an iPad or high-end Android tablet, the Surface Pro 2’s processing power makes it more like a laptop.
The optional Type Cover 2 — which comes in four colors — is essential if you want to get the most out of either new Surface.
Spend the $130 for the Type Cover 2, as the $120 Touch Cover 2 doesn’t have keys that move, making typing awkward. That brings the tablets’ prices to $579 for the Surface 2 and $1,029 for the Pro 2.