Microsoft Surface 2 vs Nokia Lumia 2520: Which Windows RT tablet wins out?

Summary:The Surface 2 and Lumia 2520 need to prove there is really a Windows RT tablet market big enough for both Microsoft and Nokia to play in.

Nokia has unveiled its Lumia 2520 tablet, a Windows RT powered device set to go head-to-head with Microsoft's Surface 2 , which went on sale earlier this week.

It's not entirely clear that what the world needs is another Windows RT tablet, as the response to the operating system so far has been rather muted .

Microsoft is keen to push Windows RT because the operating system gives the company (in theory at least) a much-needed way to compete on price against the iPad and even cheaper Android tablets, without cannibalising Windows 8 sales too much.  However, the confusing branding of Windows RT, the strange desktop-plus-tiles interface and a lack of killer apps has seen Windows RT-powered devices struggling in the market.

Earlier this year Microsoft had to take a $900m inventory writedown for Surface RT as a result of sitting on millions of unsold devices. Since then is has been running a number of special offers aimed at running down this excess inventory. And while the Surface 2 (and its enterprised focused big brother Surface Pro 2) do address some of the early criticisms of the devices, the tablet will still face an uphill struggle against the tablet dominance of Android and iOS .

And while some of Microsoft's hardware partners initially offered RT devices, now only Microsoft and Nokia (soon to be part of Microsoft) are still left making them.

The smartphone-phablet-tablet environment is changing fast, and Microsoft's strategy is still evolving. So while Microsoft is sticking with Windows RT, longer term, the decisions about which operating system to put on which hardware might get more complicated as Windows Phone and Windows RT begin to converge: we could see Windows RT on phablets or even Windows Phone on tablets before too long.

Another complication is that Microsoft is the process of acquiring Nokia's devices and services business, which means that the Lumia 2520 and the Surface 2 will be stablemates.

As Forrester Analyst Thomas Husson noted, "despite a more affordable price, the respective positioning of Nokia's new tablet versus the Surface 2 is not obvious and will have to be dealt with post Nokia's acquisition."

"These new devices will help Microsoft get traction in net new Windows acquisitions, but we're still far removed from a significant installed base of consumers that it will naturally attract mainstream marketers and third parties," he said in a statement, while Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said on Twitter that looking at the Lumia 2520 she struggled to see how Microsoft will be able to keep both addressing consumers "unless the Lumia drops in price". One option may be for Lumia to become the consumer brand and Surface the business brand , she suggested.

You can see the full specs for both devices below: the Surface has a slightly bigger screen, is slighty heavier; the Lumia 2520 has better connectivity options. The Surface with its kickstand and VaporMG casing is probably the most elegant looking of the two, while the colourful Lumia is being aimed more as a companion device to Nokia's Lumia smartphones.

The big question is whether there is a Windows RT tablet market big enough for both.

Nokia Lumia 2520 specs

Dimensions: 168 mm x 267 mm x 8.9 mm

Software: Windows RT 8.1, Office

Weight: 615 g

Display: 10.1 inch Full HD (1920 x 1080), 16:9 aspect ratio, 218 ppi, capacitive multipoint-touch

Memory:  32GB, 2GB RAM (expandable to 64GB via microSD)

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, quad-core 2.2 GHz

Power: Battery capacity 8000 mAh, maximum standby time: 25 days, charges to 80 percent in one hour

Camera: rear-facing 6.7 megapixel 1080p (Full HD, 1920 x 1080) forward facing two-megapixel, 720p (HD, 1280 x 720)

Sensors: Ambient Light Sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, magnetometer

Connectivity: WLAN IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth, LTE network bands: 3, 7, 20, WCDMA network: 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz

Enterprise security features: Mobile VPN, remote wipe, device lock and passcode and user data encryption for device, wi-fi hotspot for up to eight wi-fi-enabled devices

Ports: microUSB

Offers: 7GB of free SkyDrive storage

Price: $499 (no UK pricing available)

Available: Later this quarter

Surface 2 specs

Software: Windows RT 8.1, Microsoft Office 2013 RT

Dimensions: 275 mm x 173 mm x 8.9 mm

Weight: 676 grams

Display: 10.6 inch, 1920 x 1080, 16:9 aspect ratio, five-point multi-touch

Memory: 32GB or 64GB, 2GB RAM

Processor Nvidia Tegra 4 (T40) 1.7 GHz quad-core

Power: Battery life up to 10 hours, seven to 15 days idle life, charges in two to four hours

Camera: 3.5 megapixel front-facing camera, 5.0 megapixel rear-facing camera

Sensors: Ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer

Connectivity: wi-fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth

Ports: Full-size USB 3.0, microSD card reader, headphone jack, HD video out port, cover port

Other details: VaporMg casing Integrated Kickstand, dual-position (display angled to 24 degrees or 40 degrees)

Offers: Skype4 offer with Purchase: one year of Unlimited World calling to landlines in over 60 countries, and unlimited Skype wi-fi at over two million hotspots, 200GB free SkyDrive storage for two years. Free Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote Web Apps in your browser.

Price: £359 for the 32GB model, £439 for the 64GB model

Available: Now

 Further reading

Topics: Smartphones, Microsoft, Mobility, Nokia, Tablets

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.

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