Battery Life

Performance isn’t the only benefit that comes with Tegra 4 – NVIDIA and Microsoft also enjoy a smaller/lower power process: TSMC’s 28nm HPL. Of course four high-clocked Cortex A15 cores drives max power consumption higher than on Tegra 3, but idle power consumption and power efficiency at lower clock speeds should be better. As with most present day mobile devices, the move from Surface to Surface 2 comes with an increase in dynamic range of power consumption. I put Surface 2 (as well as Surface RT) through our 2013 tablet/smartphone web browsing battery life test and came away with around 8 hours of use on a single charge. That’s definitely not the lowest power that we’ve seen, but it is an improvement over the 6.8 hours Surface RT managed in the same test.

Web Browsing Battery Life (WiFi)

As with all modern Tegra SoCs there’s one extra “companion” core designed to be used for lower power/performance operation. Unlike under Android, there’s no hot plugging of CPU cores under Windows RT – there are always four Cortex A15s presented to the OS/scheduler, regardless of whether or not the companion core is active. Microsoft tells me the companion core is used on Surface 2 (unlike its predecessor), however specifics are tough to come by. Microsoft claims the companion core is used during full screen video playback. The only thing I can think of is that the hardware migrates the companion core in under certain circumstances, taking the place of one of the four A15s, and software specifically sets processor affinity in this case. I tried confirming whether or not this was the case by playing a movie and inspecting the process under task manager, unfortunately I came up empty handed. The video playback process wasn’t set to run on any one core in particular, it was allowed to run on all four exposed cores.

Video Playback Battery Life (720p, 4Mbps HP H.264)

However it’s used, the impact seems to work relatively well. Surface 2 managed just over 10 hours of battery life in our video playback test. It’s not the best we’ve seen in this test, but it’s definitely competitive with other flagship devices.

Software

Surface 2 ships with Windows RT 8.1, and similarly absorbs all of the improvements that 8.1 brought to x86 machines as well. A number of ARM specific optimizations are under the hood, which should help improve both performance and power consumption.

The biggest issue with Surface 2 remains on the software front. Developer support for Windows Store applications is no where near where I thought it would be by now. There are some big ones (Netflix, Facebook), but there’s still no good Twitter client, no amazing IM client, and of course you don’t get good integration of Google services anywhere (outside of leveraging Mail for Gmail access).


Without opening up classic desktop APIs to developers, we won’t see alternative web browsers like Chrome or Firefox on Windows RT 8.1 either. Although IE11 does a relatively good job on the touch front, I find that heavy multitasking with IE11 on Surface 2 can result in a lot of hangs and crashes within tabs or the application itself. I can understand Microsoft’s hesitation on this front (better control over the platform if you don’t open it up), but I can’t see a future where Windows RT is successful and Microsoft doesn’t allow developers to access both sides of the platform.

SoC, CPU & Performance Final Words
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  • ancientarcher - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    This is a great improvement over the original Surface. The huge increase on the GPU front obviously made it possible for MS to offer the higher resolution screen and along with a better CPU made it a lot smoother to use.

    The king of tablets - yes. But then, no one talks about how ios is incompatible with OSX! It's only with MS that people expect 100/100 every time. Only if Windows RT had been compatible with the Windows Phone ecosystem. Then there would not be so much noise about the app ecosystem.

    I am beginning to think how good a device this will be in a year or so, particularly if MS manages to merge the Windows Phone ecosystem with this (after all both run on ARM so should be theoretically possible). And yes, slightly lighter with better battery life needed. With a few more apps, this will be the perfect device.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Hmm, let's see:

    iPad 4 - 9.51" H, 7.31" W, .37" D
    Surface 2 - 10.81" H, 6.79" W, .35" D

    Surface 2 is thinner. It's longer but less wide due to the larger screen and 16:9 aspect ratio, which is better for pretty much everything except using it as an ereader. I don't see how it's "big and unwieldly" yet the iPad is magical. And then...

    iPad 4 - 1.44 lbs.
    Surafce 2 - 1.45 lbs.

    I guess that extra .01 lbs. is all you need to make the difference between magical and heavy? Also I suppose you missed the part where Anand noted that, due to the weight distribution, the Surface 2 actually feels lighter in-hand.

    Add in the fit & finish, the kickstand, and the facts that you have an actual honest-to-god USB port (3.0 no less!), a mini-HDMI out, and a much more fully featured OS with WinRT 8.1 than iOS will ever be, and I really can't see how the Surface 2 loses a value or specs comparison unless you're married to the iOS ecosystem.
    Reply
  • cheshirster - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Another half-assed review of MS product.
    What about multitasking, storage options, external displays, browser capabilities (flash for example, on-site video playback), speakers, skyping comparison?
    Why are those google services are so special so that one must care about them?
    Reply
  • Steinegal - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Agree, you can still access Google services in your browser if you need it. You also get so many possibilities to connect any device you want through the USB port, like printers, scanners, mouse, keyboard, game controllers cameras etc. You also have a powerful multiuser environment something every android tablet that has a half assed implementation of gets a big plus for. For me it's the multitasking that seals the deal, my iPad is mostly used for Facebook, browsing and YouTube/Netflix, and the surface can do all of those at the same time. No more swapping app to reply to a message in Facebook, no more stopping the video to do a quick search for information. I might miss out on a few great apps, but mostly it's just games and I'm quite tired of all those pay2win games that seems to populate the appstores now. Reply
  • Gigaplex - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Multitasking? The software doesn't really do a good job of supporting that. Reply
  • Daniel Egger - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I have to disagree. While I don't give a rats ass about multitasking in a tablet (or phone) because the screen only allows modal operation anyway it works reasonably well even on the old RT. Almost too well because you'll only notice two Flash videos playing at the same time when the audio clashes. Reply
  • kyuu - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I have to agree. There's too much focusing on comparing it 1-to-1 to an iPad or Google tab and Anand seems to miss or gloss over a lot of the the functionality.

    1) Mentions the multitasking only in passing.
    2) No mention of connecting accessories through the USB port, including external storage.
    3) No mention of external display support, where you can actually EXTEND the display rather than simply mirroring it.
    4) No mention of how the browser handles flash or works to bring up websites for Twitter or all those Google services that he complains are missing in the app store.
    5) Not Surface 2 specific, but the quality of the speakers should be noted.
    Reply
  • cheshirster - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    What are the strong points of bringing in Bay Trail and "full" windows? Why we should even care? What exactly that "full" means in 10.6 inch tablet ? Reply
  • Qwertilot - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Its a good question actually :) Even if MS did put an atom into these, they may well backport RT rather than full 8.1.

    They rather badly need to drive the touch based eco system before these devices can make proper sense.
    Reply
  • Gigaplex - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    3rd party desktop applications, so you can actually use the device while you wait for useful Store apps to become available. Reply

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