Windows tablet computers come in two flavors. High-powered slates and convertible laptops that have Intel processors and run the full version of Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 are covered in our reports on laptops and cheap laptops. However, Microsoft has also released a version of Windows, called Windows RT, which is designed to run on lower-powered devices that use ARM processors that are more typically found in smartphones.
The market for Windows RT tablets is not exactly overwhelming, and the original Microsoft Surface RT tablet was greeted by lackluster reviews. Issues with the tablet's hardware aside, the big downer was a deficit in available apps and a surplus in consumer confusion. Many who sprung for the tablet were not aware that unlike the step-up Surface Pro, which runs all Windows Software, the Surface RT could only run apps available in the Windows app store, and the selection there is -- and remains -- dwarfed by what's available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores.
Microsoft is not one to throw in the towel easily, so it is trying again with the Surface 2 (Est. $450 and up) . Reviews this time around are more positive, though that doesn't mean that the Surface 2 is a great choice for all, or even many, tablet buyers.
Many reviewers find the Surface 2 tough to recommend. Engadget.com points out that there are Windows tablets and tablet hybrids running the full version of Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 that cost less. Examples include the Asus Transformer Book T100TA (Est. $380) , which is powered by a netbook-grade Intel Atom processor.
Even the tablet's biggest fans lament the lack of apps. PCMag.com notes that the number of apps for the Surface 2 has risen from 3,000 at the launch of the original Surface RT to more than 100,000 today. But, as Brian Westover notes: "Compared to the 475,000 apps that Apple has for the iPad, and the fact that a great many of those apps appeared on iOS and Android devices long before coming to the Windows Store, even this sort of growth feels insufficient, and it's frustrating to go hunting for a hugely popular app, like Instagram or Seamless, only to find that there's no RT-friendly version."
But that's not to say that the Surface 2 is a terrible tablet computer. Far from it says PCMag.com, where the tablet earns an Editors' Choice award. Performance is improved, the battery has enough juice to run the whole day, the display is upgraded to 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, and the bundled software (including Office RT) has been improved, Westover reports.
Other reviewers concur. "It's a better Surface than last year's Surface, by a long shot," says David Pierce at TheVerge.com. But, like many, he also finds some significant shortfalls -- even beyond the apps issue. Ergonomics, for example: "It's too wide in landscape -- my thumbs can only comfortably reach about 60 percent of the screen -- and hilariously, comically tall in portrait mode," Pierce says, adding that there's really no practical way to use it one-handed, say on a crowded subway.