Consider the Surface 2, it’s worth the money
December 9, 2013
I remember seeing commercials on TV for Microsoft's Surface tablet, and now I hear that the Surface 2 has been released. What's up? I assume the Surface 2 is bigger/better/shinier, but what's the scoop? Is this model worth the money? Should I consider this as a Windows 8 upgrade computer?
You could say it's definitely bigger, better and faster than the original Surface. OK, maybe not bigger — it's exactly the same size — but it is significantly faster and better. First of all, what is the Surface? Think back to Apple's introduction of the iPad in 2010. This enormously successful tablet computer changed the way people interact with computers, and since 2010, Microsoft has been struggling to keep up. With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft added significant support for touch computing, and the Surface tablet was Microsoft's entry into the huge array of Windows 8 tablet computers.
Microsoft created two versions of the Surface tablet: The Surface tablet runs Windows 8 RT, which runs only Microsoft's "Modern UI" applications (the full-screen touch-centric applications that you see in their commercials). The Surface Pro runs these applications plus any application written for the Windows desktop (including most, if not all, applications that ran under Windows 7). In other words, it's a full-featured, portable computer that also works as a tablet in touch mode.
The Surface 2 is a faster, more powerful version of the Surface. Again, it's available in two versions (RT and Pro), and if you're considering using it as your only computer, you should only investigate the Surface 2 Pro (because the Surface 2 won't run legacy Windows applications).
Doug purchased a Surface 2 Pro and is quite happy with it as his only day-to-day computer. He admits that the screen real estate can be somewhat cramped, but if he needs more room, it's easy to add an external monitor and expand the size of the screen. That doesn't work when traveling, of course, and the screen is just fine for most casual users as is. (Note that using the Surface 2 Pro as a tablet, touching the screen, really only works well when running Modern UI applications. Standard Windows desktop applications, like Microsoft Word, really require a keyboard. Luckily, Microsoft will be happy to sell you an excellently engineered keyboard that attaches to the Surface 2—Doug likes his a lot.)
The bottom line? If you're considering getting a Windows 8 tablet-based computer, the Surface 2 Pro is an excellent choice. We strongly recommend against purchasing a previous version at this point, as the newer one is so much more powerful (and faster)!
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Extra battery or case to extend phone life
I have a friend whose phone battery never lasts past 2 p.m. She's done all the standard things to help extend battery life (turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when they're not needed, turning off location services for most apps, turning down the screen brightness and so on) but she still can't get a full day's use from the device. What are her options now?
We certainly know the feeling — we have all these settings configured appropriately, yet our batteries run dry midday sometimes, as well! If you're travelling in an area with poor cell coverage, for example, your phone spends far too much effort trying to connect to the cell network, and this effort can run your battery down.
To extend your battery life, assuming you've made all the appropriate software settings, your next best bet is to invest in some sort of external battery. The simplest option is to examine the various battery cases that are available for your device. A battery case is a combination of a standard phone case with an external battery, and clearly, this sort of case must be designed specifically for your phone. For popular phones, you'll find a plethora of different manufacturers providing these cases. For the iPhone 5/5s, the WireCutter web site recommends the Lenmar Meridian, so far (the options grow daily): http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/the-best-iphone-5-battery-case-is-the-lenmar-meridian-so-far/. Popular manufacturers include Belkin and Mophie (http://www.belkin.com and http://www.mophie.com).
If you'd prefer a more generalized solution, you can pick up one of the many different external battery packs. These small devices are available in various sizes; the power of the battery is measured in milliamp hours (mAH) and in general, the larger the number of mAH that the battery provides, the better. Most of these battery packs work the same way: You charge the battery at home, and then carry it with you to charge your device while away from a power source. The larger the battery, of course, the less convenient you'll find it to carry the battery with you. The iPhone 5, for example, includes a 1445 mAH battery. An external battery pack that supplies 5000 mAH can charge this phone at least three times when it's fully charged. The new iPad Air has an 8820 mAH battery, so the same battery pack wouldn't be able to completely charge the iPad Air. There are so many of these batteries available, it's hard to recommend the right one for you. You can check out the review on The Wirecutter (http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/the-best-usb-battery-pack/), although the field of options changes daily. The nice part about using an external battery pack is that it can work with any device and isn't tied to any specific form factor. Ken has this highly recommended model: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0089DZNS4/ ?tag=thewire06-20. Your best bet is to search online for "external battery pack review" and see what turns up.
Doug Behl and Ken Getz spent years answering technical questions in private, and are minimizing the questions by pre-emptively publishing the answers. Hear Doug and Ken's tech tips on KNCO radio weekdays at around 8:21a.m. and 5:38 p.m.; find full write-ups including links to the products they mention at http://blog.techtipguys.com. Submit your own technical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.