Microsoft's real Surface 2 competitor: Nokia's Lumia tablet

Summary:Microsoft's biggest Surface 2 competitor isn't Apple with its new and next-gen iPads. It's Nokia.

Microsoft is positioning its Surface RT and Surface 2 devices as head-to-head competitors with Apple's current and future iPads. But to me, the real competitor for these Microsoft-made ARM devices is Nokia's just announced Lumia 2520 tablet.

surface2gumpel

Yes, I know Microsoft is in the midst of acquiring Nokia's devices and services business — something expected to close in early 2014 if and when the deal gets regulatory approval. But for this holiday season, it's going to be interesting to see which of the remaining two ARM-based Windows tablets gets more user love, and what that means in the longer term for Microsoft's devices portfolio.

It's dangerous comparing specs on paper rather than devices in hand. But like many consumers, I'm doing just that on October 22, the day that Nokia unveiled its Lumia 2520 tablet and Microsoft made commercially available its Surface 2. (My Surface 2 review unit is still "on the way," I hear.)

Unlike many who want and need to run Win32/legacy apps, I don't need backward compatibility on my tablet. I've used the tablets I've had as companion devices, primarily for browsing, e-mail and light writing/editing. I can get away without opening the desktop on my current Surface RT for more than a week at a time, as I've found Metro-Style/Windows Store apps, coupled with Internet Explorer, to fulfil my needs.

Since I got to see the Surface 2 at launch a couple weeks back, I've been wondering whether I should trade in my Surface RT and buy the Surface 2 . But then I saw the official spec list for the Nokia 2520, also known as the ARM-based "Sirius" tablet:

Nokia Lumia 2520

lumia2520

Operating System: Windows RT 8.1 with Office Home & Student 2013
Wi-Fi plus 4G LTE (AT&T is one partner; Verizon is another. Huzzah!)
Memory: 2GB RAM, 32 GB internal memory, micro SD card support up to 32GB
Display: 10.1-inch 1080p full HD
Processor: 2.2GHz Quad Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Primary camera: 6.7MP Auto Focus Zeiss optics
Weight: 1.36 pounds (615g)
Connectivity: NFC, GPS micro USB 3.0
Colors: White, red (glossy); black, cyan (matte)
Battery life: 11 hours (Nokia says), plus 5 more from power cover
Keyboard power cover that wraps around the device
Availability: Q4 2013
Price: $499, plus $149 more for the cover

Microsoft Surface 2

surface2keyboard

Operating System: Windows RT 8.1 with Office Home & Student 2013
Wi-Fi; no 4G LTE ( LTE version of some kind of ARM-based Surface is due in early 2014)
Memory: 2GB RAM, 32 or 64 GB internal memory, micro SD card support 
Display: 10.6-inch 1080p full HD
Processor: 1.7 GHz Quad Core NVIDIA Tegra 4
Primary camera: 5MP rear camera; 3.5MP front camera
Weight: 1.49 pounds (676g)
Connectivity: Full-size USB 3.0, microUSB card reader
Color: Silver 
Battery life: 9-11 hours (according to Microsoft/testers), plus some unknown extra amount from Power Cover (due in early 2014)
Availability: On sale as of October 22

Price: $449 (32 GB), plus $130 for the backlit Type Cover 2/ $200 for the Power Cover

Hmm. Tough choice.

Here's what will tip the scales for me if and when I get to try out these two devices. I'm curious how weighty the Lumia tablet will be. Even though it's actually somewhat lighter (again, on paper) than the Surface 2, I've found most of Nokia's phones to feel very bulky. I wonder if Nokia's succeeded in making this device easier to hold, grab and maneuver. 

I'm also curious about the Nokia power cover. Its flexibility has me worried about its "lapability." Microsoft has tried to make the Surface 2 better to use on laps by adding a second kickstand position. But what about that Nokia cover/case? It's nice it has 2 USB ports, but I want something that's great for extended typing and gesturing.

Battery life also is going to be a big factor for me. I've asked aloud and on Twitter, repeatedly, why Windows machines have such mediocre battery life. I've heard explanations and excuses ranging from third-party drivers, to badly coded apps, to size/placement of batteries in Windows devices. I'm  not the only one asking and wondering about this . Even true techies don't seem to know why this is the case.

It will be interesting to see how much battery life real-life users doing real-life things get from the Surface 2 and Lumia 2520 tablets. I'll be (very pleasantly) surprised if I get anything near 10 hours on either device.

What's your take, current and potential Windows tablet users? Anyone else mulling a choice between a Surface 2 and a Lumia 2520? Which way are you leaning?

(Surface 2 photos courtesy of TWiT's Alex Gumpel) 

Topics: Mobility, ARM, Microsoft, Microsoft Surface, Nokia, Tablets

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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