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Microsoft’s second stab at making a tablet is a step up from the first time around. It is hard to find fault with the beautifully engineered hardware.

At least it’s hard to find fault with the tablet hardware. I mentioned problems with the keyboard which is just a little too small and the keys a little too close together for comfortable typing.

The experience reminded me why I never got on well with netbooks and find 11-inch laptops cramped.

After finishing the earlier story, I had aches in my arms and lower back. I still do. They could be from sitting cramped over the small keyboard for two or three hours.

Another possible explanation is that the discomfort is a result of controlling things by moving my hands from the keyboard to the touch screen. Or it could be to do with the low-profile no-travel keyboard.

My fault?

Now you could argue the Surface 2 wasn’t built for professional journalists to sit hunched over typing at the keyboard for hour after hour.

I hear you. On the other hand whatever the designer’s purpose, that’s exactly what some people are going to do with a device like this.

To be fair to Microsoft, I have to report I went through something similar when I first began using my iPad as a typewriter. It could just be an adjustment thing.

And I’m partly to blame. Sitting a desk doing nothing by typing for a couple of hours isn’t healthy no matter what equipment you use. Even so, this is something I’m going to need to keep a close eye on.

While we’re on the subject of the keyboard, I found I hit wrong keys more often than normal. I touch type so hitting the odd wrong key is normal.

Hitting the wrong keys can slow down writing as you go back to make corrections, so there’s a small productivity hit. When I’ve done this in the past I’ve found I quickly adjust to the new keyboard and things get back to normal.

surface-pro
Microsoft’s first Surface Pro wasn’t a hit

From the “If at first you don’t succeed” department Microsoft is readying the second generation of its Surface devices one year after the range’s initial launch. The company has invited US journalists to an event on September 23 in New York.

Leaks have, er, surfaced in recent weeks of two versions. The Microsoft Surface 2 Pro will use Intel’s power-sipping Haswell Core i5 processor while the plain vanilla Surface 2 is based on Tegra.

The Surface 2 Pro is expected to include more Ram, 8GB instead of 4GB in the current model. There’s also an uphdated kick-stand.

Some US media outlets report the launch could include a seven or eight-inch Surface mini although others suggest this device is not yet ready for the market. Reports suggest the new Surface devices will go on sale at the same time Windows 8.1 hits the streets, that’s due for October 18.

Curiously Nokia has a New York launch planned three days after the Microsoft event.

Comment: Microsoft never gets the credit it deserves for making great hardware.

While the Windows RT Surface is not much to write home about, the Surface Pro is still a fine device – one of the best new products to emerge in the last year. It manages to straddle the sliver of space between touch screen tablets and laptops.

Microsoft’s engineering is high quality, the Surface is built with the same attention to detail as Apple products. Microsoft did a better job than many of its hardware partners.

Windows 8 may look weird on a traditional PC. It makes perfect sense on the Microsoft Surface Pro. Yet I suspect the criticism surrounding Windows 8 is at least part of the reason the first generation Surface failed to fly.

It took until version 3.1 before Windows hit the spot.

Microsoft took a US$900 million write down on the Surface. But the company has never been frightened of taking two or three tries. Persistence is one of Microsoft’s virtues. Eventually it will deliver a Surface the market wants.

 

MacBook Air

One is a laptop that’s barely larger than a tablet. The other is a tablet with laptop characteristics. Both are powerful devices. Both cost roughly the same. Which is the better buy for a busy independent knowledge worker or a corporate suit with a BYOD cheque to spend?

For many users this isn’t a choice they’ll ever have to make. Some have a religious conviction that Apple is the only path to salvation. Others are addicted to Microsoft Office. People who work for large companies may have the decisions made for them by the technology department.

Put these aside, which is the smarter buy?

Both devices are nice. Microsoft has shown extraordinary attention to details – that’s a given with Apple.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft Surface Pro

Style

The two companies are selling their kit on capabilities and style instead of the usual tech industry focus on specifications and price. That said, a quick look at specifications and price is revealing.

Surface Pro prices start at NZ$1350 for the 64GB version. A decent keyboard adds NZ$200 to the price. Roughly the same money buys a 13-inch MacBook Air with 128GB of Flash Storage. Both have an intel Core i5 processor.

Macbook storage goes further than Surface storage, so Apple is at a clear advantage at this point.

Another specification point in Apple’s favour is battery life. The company says its 13 inch Macbook Air runs for 12 hours on a charge – some reviewers report better figures. On the other hand Microsoft claims five hours for the Surface Pro. In other words, for a full day’s work you’ll need to pack a charger.

Display

Microsoft’s display wins hands down – 1920 by 1080 pixels on a ten inch screen means 208 pixels per inch. That’s almost the same image quality as an Apple Retina display. The 13 inch Macbook AIr has 1440 by 900 pixels on a bigger screen for a lower density. I make it around 155 pixels per inch, but I may be using the wrong formula to calculate this.

The point where the two devices depart is the touch screen. If you think this is important, then the Surface Pro is the winner. There’s much to be said for touch. On the other hand, for someone like me who mainly uses a computer to write and otherwise create content, the MacBook Air looks a better bet.