Performance Benchmarks, Camera, Battery Life & Conclusion
The Surface 2 has been upgraded to NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 4 processor, which is powered by four Cortex-A15 CPU cores. Graphics performance is vastly improved with a 72-core GPU, which is six times faster than the Tegra 3 processor found in the Surface RT. For our performance benchmarks we will be pitting the Surface 2 up against its main tablet competitors, Apple's iPad Air and Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014), as well as the Tegra 4-powered ASUS Transformer Pad TF701T. We'll also take a look at how it compares to its predecessor, the Surface RT.
The Surface 2 performed very well in this test, matching Apple's iPad Air. Microsoft has put a lot of work into optimizing IE for Windows RT and it shows, delivering a fast and snappy experience. On the other, this test could be a victim of 'targeted optimization'. Given the discrepancy in performance between a similarly powered ASUS Transformer Pad TF701T and the Surface 2 running the same hardware, it might be a valid question. However, the difference in OS and browser used also affects results; as such, it's difficult to pin the outcome as 'targeted optimization'.
Whatever the case is, just know that the actual tablet's performance and responsiveness has been notably improved from the original Surface and the results tend to support our real world use.
Originally developed as a PC benchmarking tool, 3DMark is now expanded to support multiple platforms including Windows RT. The Ice Storm benchmark is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture computers.
For an in-depth understanding of 3DMark for mobile devices, head over to our article, "3DMark - Android Device GPU Performance Review." While it was written with Android devices in mind, the benchmarks remain the same for Windows RT. In a nutshell, 3DMark consists of two test sections:
- 3DMark Ice Storm is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering at 720p then scales the output to fit the native display resolution of your device. Ice Storm includes two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance.
- 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme raises the off-screen rendering resolution to 1080p and uses higher quality textures and post-processing effects to create a more demanding load for the latest smartphones and tablets.
- 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited is used to make chip-to-chip comparisons of different chipsets, CPUs and GPUs without vertical sync, display resolution scaling and other operating system factors affecting the result.
Most of the devices in our lineup maxed out Ice Storm and Ice Storm Extreme, and as such, we'll just be reporting the Unlimited scores.
The Surface 2 again performed well, and was able to match the performance of our other tablets. It also showed a huge 4.37x performance increase compared to the Surface RT.
The cameras on the original Surface RT weren't that impressive, and honestly the Surface 2's cameras are only slightly improved. The front-facing camera is good enough for a Skype video call but you probably won't be uploading many selfies with it. Likewise, the rear 5MP camera is better than it was on the Surface RT, and while picture quality was passable, it's still more of an entry-level phone camera than any sort of competition for the Nokia Lumia 1020.
Our standard battery test for tablets involves looping a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution video on the device. The test is performed under specific parameters:
- Screen brightness and volume at 100%
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
- Constant data streaming through email and Twitter
The Surface 2 utilizes the same 31.5Wh battery as the Surface RT. Impressively, despite its higher resolution display and more powerful speakers, the Surface 2 was able to last nine hours and ten minutes, a full 99 minutes longer than the Surface RT. The Surface 2's long battery life can probably be attributed to its very power efficient Tegra 4 processor. In fact, compared to the rest of our fielded comparisons, the Surface 2 was one of the best, losing only by nine minutes to the other Tegra 4-powered device, ASUS' Transformer Pad TF701T.
Our Portability score factors in battery life, weight and volume to give you an idea of how easy it is to carry each device around. Unfortunately, even with its fantastic battery life, the Surface 2 didn't fare as well as the other tablets here due to its fairly heavy weight.
The original Surface RT tablet was a wonderful productivity device, and the Surface 2 is better in almost every area related to that: a full USB 3.0 port, better keyboard peripherals, better battery life, an almost full version of Office that now includes Outlook, and better multiwindow options for multitasking.
The higher resolution display, two position kickstand, thinner chassis and lighter weight also make the tablet more user friendly, but in this aspect, it still falls behind the competition - it's more suited to go head-to-head with the older iPad 4 than the new iPad Air.
Windows RT remains problematic. As an OS it's fine, but the lack of support from the Windows Store is definitely a concern. If Microsoft had the same level of Windows app ecosystem as Apple or Google then things would be different, but right now, compared to the App Store and Google Play, the Windows Store just loses in every way. Windows RT and Windows Store have had more than enough time to grow, but it's worrying that Microsoft doesn't seem all that confident in it, especially when you also consider that all of Microsoft's hardware partners have discontinued their Windows RT products. As a consumer, investing in an ecosystem that may or may not be around for much longer is a risky proposition. Don't forget that Intel Atom-based tablets, which are capable of running full versions of Windows 8.1, are also available at a similar price range to the Surface 2.
All things considered, it's clear that Microsoft is capable of making some of the best PC hardware around. The Surface 2 is one of the best examples of a tablet that can also be used as a notebook we've seen - unfortunately, dealing with Windows RT might not be worth it. However much you think you won't need desktop programs, the amount of compromise and workarounds you have to go through will eventually spoil your experience. Now, hypothetically speaking, if Microsoft released a Surface 2 running on an Intel Atom processor with a full version of Windows 8.1, at roughly the same price, would it have our money? Yes. Yes it would.