The new Windows tablet is still rocking the Windows RT operating system (though now Windows RT 8.1), despite the lukewarm reception it's had over the last several months, but that's not to say that nothing has changed. The revamped tablet has a new look, new hardware, and a price low enough to tempt away a few Apple faithful. So how do the two stack up?
I'm hardware reviewer, so my thoughts go first to hardware and storage. The Surface 2 is outfitted with Nvidia's Tegra 4 (T40) processor, a 1.7GHz ARM mobile quad-core CPU boasting 72 graphics cores. It's paired with 2GB of RAM. The Apple iPad, on the other hand, is equipped with Apple's custom designed A6X processor, which is also an ARM processor, but this dual-core processor is supplemented with only four graphics cores. While it's tempting to read something into the raw specs of the processors, it's worth noting that both tablets have tailored the hardware and software to work together, and Windows RT is a different beast than Apple's iOS. How the actual performance and user experience will compare isn't really known.
The storage capacities, however, do compare pretty directly. The new Surface 2 is available configured with either 32GB or 64GB of solid-state memory (more on pricing in a moment). The 4th-generation Apple iPad, on the other hand, is available with storage of 16, 32, and 64GB. Because these specs are for all intents and purposes identical, there's no differentiating on storage space. If you want to expand the storage capacity of the tablet, however, the Surface 2 does offer a microSD card slot, supporting up to 64GB of additional, swappable storage. Despite consumers vocally requesting similar expandable memory on Apple products, the iPad has no card slot.
Microsoft Surface 2
Apple iPad (Fourth generation, Wi-Fi)
10.81 x 6.79 x 0.35 inches
9.5 x 7.31 x 0.37 inches
Microsoft Windows RT 8.1
Nvidia Tegra 4
1920 x 1080 pixels
2048 x 1536 pixels
Storage Capacity (as Tested)
micro HDMI, USB, Proprietary
Wi-Fi (802.11x) Compatibility
The Surface 2 is billed as being "less than 1.49 lbs," which, if we take the 1.49 pounds at face value puts it about a half ounce heavier than the Apple iPad, which weighs only 1.43 pounds. But while the Surface 2 is heavier, it is also thinner, measuring only 0.35-inch thick compared with the iPad's 0.37-inch thickness. For all the minor differences in size and weight, however, the Microsoft Surface 2 does offer a larger display, with a 10.6-inch screen and 16:9 aspect ratio.
Microsoft has ramped up the resolution on the Surface 2 from the previous model's ho-hum 1,366-by-768 display to a much nicer 1,920-by-1,080 resolution. But even with full 1080p HD, it doesn't hold a candle to the iPad's Retina display, with its 2,048-by-1,536 resolution. In terms of pure picture quality, the iPad wins.
The Surface 2 offers 1080p cameras both front and back, with a front-facing, 3.5-megapixel camera for Skype and other webcam applications, and a 5-megapixel camera on the back for snapping photos and shooting video. Apple also boasts a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera, so there's not much difference there. On the front, however, the iPad has a 1.2-megapixel front camera that only records 720p video. If image quality is essential when video chatting with friends and family, the Surface 2 is the better choice.
One feature built into the Surface 2, which the iPad doesn't offer, is the addition of a built-in kickstand. Made of the same magnesium as the tablet chassis, the kickstand lets you prop up the Surface for a laptop-like experience, and the Surface 2 improves upon the previous model with a dual-position stand that offers more adjustability. Apple doesn't have any sort of built-in stand, though the included iPad SmartCover does fold up to prop up one side of the tablet.
Microsoft also offers some fancy covers for the Surface, like the TouchCover 2 and TypeCover 2, which update the previous TouchCover and TypeCover keyboards with better typing accuracy and greater sensitivity. However, these are some of the few accessories available for the Surface. Where the iPad enjoys a veritable ocean of accessories - from cases and keyboards to mini-arcade cabinets and musical instruments - the Microsoft Surface hasn't yet gained the sort of traction to spur similar products.
The same is somewhat true of apps, though Windows boasts that the Windows Store offers some 100,000 apps, but there's the pesky fact that Windows RT won't support traditional desktop software. Apple's iOS may not support desktop software either, but it has a much broader app selection, with over 200,000 tablet-specific apps and a robust ecosystem of games and media.
With 32GB of storage, the Surface 2 sells for $449, taking a $50 price cut from the previous iteration. The Wi-Fi only iPad (32GB) sells for $599, with the 4G LTE variant raising the price to $729 (through AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon). It's a smart move by Microsoft, and perhaps the most important of any mentioned here. Undercutting the competition by $150 may move the Surface 2 into a range where people are willing to try something different, and with all of Microsoft's improvements over the last version, a lot of buyers may be surprised at how much they like what they find.