The New Touch/Type Covers

When I was first introduced to the folks who built Surface I was told about the three non-negotiable parts of its design: the tablet, the kickstand and the cover. While most tablet covers end up being protective accessories, the first party covers for Surface are an integral part of the overall experience.

Microsoft offers two cover options: the touch cover and the type cover. Both integrate full qwerty keyboards into a display cover that attached magnetically, but they differ in keyboard type. As its name implies, the touch cover integrates a pressure sensitive keyboard with no moving parts. By comparison, the type cover uses keys that physically move. Neither accessory is included with any Surface device and will set you back $119 for the touch cover and $129 for the type cover. They are expensive, but absolutely worth it if you’re going to do any sort of typing on your Surface.

Old (left) and new (right) touch covers

With the second generation of Surfaces, Microsoft improved both covers. They both get marginally thinner and backlit keys. The backlight effect is great, although there are only three keyboard backlight brightness levels.

The touch cover sees the biggest improvement as Microsoft moved from having only 80 pressure sensors in the previous design to 1092 sensors. The result is an incredible increase in accuracy. I find that I can type a lot lighter on the new touch cover and still have my keystrokes recognized. I also make far fewer mistakes on the new touch cover. While I felt that the initial touch cover was usable, this one is almost good enough to be a physical keyboard replacement.

2nd Generation Touch/Type Cover Thickness
  Touch Cover Type Cover
1st gen 3.35 mm 5.7 mm
2nd gen 2.91 mm 5.22 mm
iPad 4 Smart Cover 2.2 mm  

Despite the tremendous improvement in accuracy on the new touch cover, I still prefer the type cover. I wrote long segments of this review on the new touch cover, but I had a much better time doing so on the type cover. Microsoft has reduced thickness on the new type cover, in part by reducing key travel. I’m happy to say that the reduction in key travel isn’t noticeable, and I’m able to type just as quickly and as comfortably as I could with the first gen type cover. The difference in thickness between the two is very small (~2.3mm) and you get a much more usable keyboard out of the type cover.

Old (left) and new (right) type covers

The new type cover ditches the clickpad in favor of a pressure sensitive trackpad. I’m a bit happier with the new trackpad but it’s still largely a pain to use for anything other than basic mousing. Two finger scrolling works ok, but any click and drag use is seriously frustrating thanks to the small size of the unit and no physical buttons. Thankfully there’s a 10.6-inch touchscreen a few inches away from you that works a lot better.

The new type cover ditches the felt backing of the previous model in favor of a soft touch plastic. Type covers are also now available in four colors (purple, pink, blue and black).

Remember that both of these covers make a physical connection to Surface, both to stay attached to the device as well as to transmit data. There’s no chance of running into spectrum crowding issues like you would with a 2.4GHz wireless keyboard, these keyboards are as good as any other wired device. The covers make a very strong magnetic connection to the device. The connection is strong enough to withstand picking up even a Surface Pro 2 by the attached cover and lightly swing it back and forth without the two separating. This is of course predicated on you properly attaching the cover to the tablet, but the strong magnets do a fairly good job of lining up and doing that as well.

The only issue I had with the new covers is that sometimes the trackpad would stop working after coming out of sleep. The keyboard worked fine, but the trackpad would just disappear. The only solution is to disconnect/reconnect the cover, which fixed it every time. I informed Microsoft about the issue, it’s something they’re aware of internally and plan to issue an update to fix.


Introduction & Hardware The New Display
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  • Braumin - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I'd say this is almost the perfect device then. The app situation is not as good as iOS obviously, but most people want email, facebook, twitter, and a browser. Maybe a couple others. This will do all of that well without any of the virus worries, and it'll do other stuff really well too.
  • paulbram - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    EXACTLY! It seems like everyone who reviews these types of devices assumes it was built for the techiest of techies. In reality, this is the "PC" that could probably serve 99% of the people out there. You can't mess it up, and really offers you exactly what you are already doing on your old PC. This is an argument that no other ecosystem can offer, including full Win8/IOS or Android. RT is not a weakness people! It's exactly what I want to give to every one of my relatives!
  • savagemike - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Actually I'm pretty sure you could do those things with an iPad quite easily and also have not much to worry about in the way of virus issues or maintenance.
    You could also do all of it with a Chromebook if you aren't actually looking for a tablet interface and just want to do e-mail, facebook, twitter, and browser. And again - have few worries about virus issues or maintenance.
  • eanazag - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    You can't do real Office on Chromebook or iOS. I am not a fan of google docs. iOS still sucks when it comes to Office.
  • Wolfpup - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Yep, can't do real office, no file system on iOS, and iOS doesn't support external monitors and mice (and only kinda-sorta supports key boards).
  • Daniel Egger - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    No, not being able to install any regular software is a huge problem for 99% of mankind. In essence Windows RT reduces the capabilities of the device to Office and Web and media consumption. Android and IOS do not suffer from the same problem because they both have a decent store where good applications can be found for a decent price while the Windows store really is a buzzkill.
  • ESC2000 - Saturday, October 26, 2013 - link

    For one thing the app selection is drastically improved now compared to a year ago but also web and media consumption are the primary uses of tablets so I'm not so sure being limited to that is so terrible, especially considering the advantages that surface 2 brings: it can actually replace the laptop and tablet of a casual user since it offers the desktop and office (fir free no less). The apps, 99.99% of which are probably downloaded by less than 10 people, will come. If you're a specialty user or a power user, surface 2 is not for you but the vast majority of people are not, and this is a cheap (rather than buying a laptop) aesthetically-pleasing device that can serve all their needs.

    Now that I'm thinking about it the price on this thing is pretty good. .. you can get it for less than an ipad which has very limited functionality in comparison (basically = large ipod touch). Granted you probably want the 64 GB - although it accommodates external storage - and the keyboard, which makes it less reasonable.
  • Wolfpup - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    iOS and Android are still terrible compared with real Windows, and no amount of "apps" replaces Office and a real file system and the ability to use an external mouse, keyboard, and monitor.
  • Daniel Egger - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I feel you. My grandpa grandpa manages to install that crap faster than you can say "don't do that!" over and over again... Not even the usual anti-crapware software helps. However Win RT is not a cure since it doesn't allow him to install his MUST HAVE 1000+ best card games... and since the store is *really* slim on cardgames.
  • kyuu - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    What the heck kind of esoteric card games is he playing that you can't find an app on the Windows Store?

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