Microsoft Surface 2: Here's what's on my personal wishlist

Microsoft Surface 2: Here's what's on my personal wishlist

Summary: Customising my Surface and Surface Pro has been fun, but I'm hoping for some improvements I can't add myself


Thanks to a number of leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what's coming in the new versions of Microsoft's Surface and Surface Pro tablets: faster chips (including Intel's new Haswell Core i5 CPUs), keyboards with an extra battery and different colours and a kickstand that snaps into two positions, all in the same sleek VaporMag case.

Those improvements will certainly be welcome, but there are some other technology improvements I'm hoping for in Surface 2.

Back at TechEd this summer, Microsoft demonstrated a touch fingerprint sensor much like the one in the iPhone 5s; instead of swiping your finger, you just press it down. Suppliers such as Validity and Fingerprints are working with PC OEMs, but Microsoft is keen to replace passwords entirely. So adding a touch fingerprint sensor to either the Surface Pro or the Surface keyboards would fit well with the biometric API support in Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1.

Nokia is putting 802.11ac Wi-Fi into a Windows Phone this year, according to its application for FTC approval.

That includes beam-forming that targets specific streams of wireless data at individual devices; a device with a faster wireless chip gets a faster connection than the older device on the other side of the room instead of them both getting the slowest common denominator. And getting the data transmitted sooner saves power because the radio turns off sooner.

That would be ideal for Surface 2; the first generation of Surface and Surface Pro have the dual antennas needed for 802.11ac and the chips are available to drop into the design now.

I'd also like to see Microsoft switch to the latest low-power memory. Dell is already using the low-power memory Invensas has licenced to Hynix in XPS devices; they're smaller, with fewer layers and fewer interconnects. That means they need less power and you can remove the heat more efficiently.

Less likely (because we hear Microsoft is keeping the same case design); we'd love to see a second USB port and a full-size SD card slot instead of the micro-USB slot. Surface Pro is a full PC and great for image editing (try drawing a tricky outline for your Photoshop filter with the pen and processing RAW images in Lightroom — it's great). But that makes us want to plug in the SD card from a dSLR or a USB stick and a mouse at the same time.

DIY Surface fixes

In the meantime, we've been doing a bit of Surface hacking, starting with a port extender from Juiced Systems (Bidul in Europe) designed to fit neatly against the bevelled edge of the Surface Pro.  

Putting a battery in the Type Cover will make it more rigid; that could help stop the Surface Pro sliding off your lap when you're typing. That's a problem for those of us with shorter legs; if your knees and your hips aren't at roughly the same height when you're sitting down, the slope of your legs puts a lot of strain on the magnetic hinge. Plus your legs need to be long enough that you can fit both the keyboard and the hinge on your lap. I recently solved the problem with a bit of DIY.

When I bought a Samsung Series 7 tablet to test the Windows 8 preview on last year, it came with a case I could flip over and use as a stand, and  Bluetooth keyboard. That combination was impossible to use on my lap so I experimented with buying a second case so I could cut it in half and duct tape it onto the first case. The resulting origami gave me a flat surface to balance the tablet and keyboard on.

Since switching to Surface Pro, the severed case has languished on the shelf marked 'it seemed like a good idea at the time'. But when I found myself sketching a design I could cut out of cardboard to stabilise the Surface Pro on my lap, I pulled it off the shelf and used half of it instead.

Stabilising my Surface Pro with half of a Samsung case

The flock lining grips the fleece cover, the corners designed to snap onto the Series 7 keep the kickstand in place and the flat surface stabilises the Surface Pro far better than my knees.

The half case; flock lining and handy corners

I've also been decorating my Type Cover to personalise it (and as a tryout before tacking the Touch Cover I actually use). You can put a custom vinyl skin on your Surface or Surface Pro and if you want a Type Cover you can pick from a range of colours, but Touch Cover users only get boring, professional grey.

A paper stencil, fabric paints and the finished Touch Cover

I made a paper stencil of a favourite design (a stylised chrysanthemum flower) and broke out the fabric paints. They work well on the fleece back of the cover; I prefer the thicker coverage I get using liquid fabric paints and pens over felt-tip style fabric markers which give a subtler effect. Ignore the instructions to iron or wash the fabric when you're done — most fabric paints cure at room temperature after a few days anyway, and I haven't had any problems with the design running or smudging when the cover gets wet. (Although I prefer the feel of typing on the Type Cover, being able to wash the Touch Cover clean after a cat threw up on the keys was a definite bonus).

For the chrysanthemum design, I used four or five layers of paint to get the graduated shades and depth of colour

I'm hoping for a bright green cover this time around; if that's not on the cards, I'll pick a contrasting colour and paint it.

Further reading

Topics: Tablets, Microsoft, PCs, Windows, Microsoft Surface

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • These are the tablets I've been waiting for...

    I've got an ASUS Transformer TF300 and a Surface RT. They are both great devices, and oh so close to my ideal device, but... not... quite....

    However the upcoming Haswell Surface II and Bay Trail ASUS TF100 finally look like the machines that will transport me to Windows tablet nirvana. The question is: which one will I end up buying come late October/early November.

    The biggest factor in favor of the TF100 is going to be price. For $400 you're going to be able to get a 2Gb RAM, 64Gb machine that's thin, light, relatively fast and includes a full installation of Office Home and Student. It's just a krayzee value proposition.

    Surface Pro 2 is likely to start at more than twice the price and not include Office. But it will feature gobs more RAM (at least twice as much and possibly 4 times as much) and will include a 128Gb storage option. It will also put the ASUS to shame performance-wise.

    So which one to get: I haven't made up my mind yet, but I've decided that I'm not going to let price alone be the deciding factor. That's because I learned long ago that it's better to go ahead and spend twice as much on the stuff you really, really want, than buy the cheaper device then spend the next year or so wishing you'd bought the more expensive device, then wind up buying the more expensive one anyway. Chances are, if I buy the Surface Pro 2, it's a machine that will last me years (I've still got a 5 year-old Lenovo X61, though my wife mostly uses it these days). The ASUS I'm not nearly as sure of. It's more of a netbook like machine, and I haven't booted up my Dell Mini 9 in years.

    As for form factor: both have their pluses and minuses. Where the ASUS wins is computing on your lap. Yeah, it's possible to set the Surface on your lap and work, but it's not very comfortable. The machine always feels like it's about to tip over, and the type keyboard isn't really stiff enough. You feel it flexing as you type. The ASUS Transformer (which is a machine with the same form factor ad build as the TF100) is as comfortable to use in your lap as any traditional laptop. So the TF100 will likely win the on-you-lap usability contest. But on the other hand, one thing I've learned to love about the Surface RT is how quickly and easily it goes from laptop to tablet mode. Pick it up, slap the kickstand back and wrap the keyboard around back. There's no need to pull any levers or flip any switches or yank any tabs. And the device is pretty good at recognizing that you've done that and switching to soft-keyboard mode. I get up at 5:00 most mornings and head downstairs to do a little web surfing and reading before heading off to work. Typically I'll pour myself a cup of coffee and lie down on the couch to do so. This is why I think tablets are so wonderful. A tablet in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other is a joyous way to surf the web. But every now and then I get the urge to write a long comment (like this one) and so having a device that quickly opens up to a full physical keyboard is a big plus. The Surface makes that quick and simple.

    In the end, I suspect three factors are going to tip the balance between the two: 1) battery life. If the Surface pro can't squeeze out a genuine 7 hours that's a serious strike against it. 2) weight and thinness. If the surface Pro isn't any thinner than the current Surface Pro that's also a strike against it. 3) Heat: if Haswell doesn't allow the machine to run significantly cooler than the current Pro, that too is a strike.

    So those are just my two cents. It's going to be a tough decision but a tough decision I seriously can't wait to have to make!
  • That it's using the same form factor case is the biggest disappointment

    They really need to make this thing half the thickness and half the weight of the original Surface. The things a tank. And please, the 90's called, they want their fan back.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Where Were You With iPad 1?

      I get so tired of the "tank" "too heavy" "too thick" comments. For heaven's sake, it's all of two pounds, and 1/2" thick (weighs 0.6 pounds more than current iPad, and same thickness as iPad 1). Eat some more Wheaties and hit the gym every once in a while if that's too much for your arm muscles. It is NOT a wimpy iOS or Android tablet, which are barely oversized book readers. You are talking about a full force ultrabook in tablet clothing.
      • Consumer or Creator?

        dksmidtx is right, a Surface 2 Pro is an UltraTablet, not some wimpy tablet running android, iOS or RT. Those of us who want such a beast know and accept there will be tradeoffs. My biggest disappointment is the latest Gen2 UltraTablets (and most ultrabooks too) STILL do not let you upgrade your own RAM, nor the SSD in most cases. I need at least 16Gb to replace my current laptop, and no beast capable of that so far.
        • fanless

          actually Johnny Vegas is right. I have a SP and while its weight is great as a laptop, it's a wee bit thick and heavy for using as a tblet - which menans that it's a little hard to hold with one hand for an extended period.

          I'll be very disappointed if they don't shave a couple millimeters and ounces by getting rid of the fans, as HP has with one of its latest hybrids.

          I however ditto your comment about memory. I've kept another computer so I ca have 16GB. 8 is good but not sure whether that'll cut it for my usage.
          • Agreed

            I agree with this sentiment. After all, if it's too heavy to hold comfortably and use as a tablet you need to ask yourself: why was it made as a tablet in the first place? Why not just go with a clamshell notebook form factor.

            I will say this, though: using a surface with the wedge bluetooth keyboard is pretty cool. You can finally place the keyboard and the screen exactly where you want them, un-restricted by the fact that, unlike normal laptops, your keyboard is not physically attached to the screen.
  • A price cut is No1

    • Re: A price cut is No1

      Trouble is, the price people are willing to pay for a Windows device means a loss for the hardware maker. Both Nokia and Microsoft have discovered this, and it has already meant the end of the business of one of them.
  • Slight correction

    You said:

    "You can put a custom vinyl skin on your Surface or Surface Pro and if you want a Type Cover you can pick from a range of colours, but Touch Cover users only get boring, professional grey."

    I think you've got that backwards.
    Sir Name
  • Mary - Great Suggestions

    Thank you so much for joining the full size SDXC crowd. I just don't understand the trend among all OEM's towards micro SDXC - did Walmart have a sale on the components or something? Also for suggesting a second USB 3 port - whether you are using a thumb drive or external HDD/DVD, a second USB port would be a godsend. Unfortunately, unless they have Paul Thurrott completely buffaloed, those are going to be 2014 upgrades at the soonest (and by then, they may make the leap to a REAL Thunderbolt port with daisy chaining - Hallelujah!).
  • Biggest need of all -- Digitizer pen slot

    Um, how about they include a secure slot for the digital pen! The current set up is terrible -- the pen magnets onto the power outlet. Need to charge the machine, and you ...have to disconnect the pen. And then put it somewhere. Or, put it down and lose it. Along with your $35 for a new pen. Or the pen just plain falls off the magnet somewhere, along with your $35 for a new pen.... I have owned a Surface Pro for several months and like it alot, but the pen thing drives me almost as crazy as W8 has.

    Oh and yeah, cut the price of the machine by $350. Then more people may actually buy them.
  • Fingerprint login would be great

    I had a fingerprint reader on my dell precision and lenovo carbon. It was great!

    Logging in 100 times a day makes you have a simpler password; plugging it in over and over again will drive you crazy if you have to type in special characters, numbers and upper case.

    Logging in was also VERY fast. Without fingerprint reader I had my auto lockout at 30 min. Leaving me exposed for 30 minutes. So when I walked away to get a cup of coffee or take a leak - I didn't have to sign in again. With fingerprint reader I set the auto lockout at couple of minutes. All I had to do was put my finger on the scanner and bam I was working.

    Here is my wish list:
    1. Better battery life. I get about 5 hours now with 30% brightness and auto logout at 3 min. I would love for it to be >8 hours.
    2. It MUST have a larger RAM - 8 GB (16GB would be great).
    3. It MUST have a larger SSD - 256 GB (512GB would be GREAT!)
    4. Fingerprint scanner - it would be great to log in quickly and be more secure.
    5. I am sure this won't happen, but I would love a i7 option.
    6. Thinner - if possible.
  • Why oh Why

    Do windows people insist that the Surface be like a little laptop? Buy a touch screen netbook/ultrabook

    The reason Microsoft tablets have always failed and will continue to is that they just can't let go of the notion that they're not little laptops. This is exactly why iPads succeeded. As Jobs pointed out. Laptop (and PCs)?are for creating info. Tablets are for consuming info.

    And don't even get started on how clueless they are about UIs
    • Why oh Why

      eric: You are on the right track. If Microsoft wants the Surface Pro 2 to be a universal success, it must appeal and be everything to all. Tablets are starting to make there way to the dash boards of automobiles. The next generation number 2 should keep this in mind. It must have some type of provision to clearly see the light of AM/FM/Navigation/Sat/GPS/AV intelligence.
      The ability to have a Truly Smart Mobile Device that is easily detachable from a vehicle, will provide the valued added experience, that we have all come to look for, in todays mountains of devices.
      By the way: The idea of adding a full size SDXC Slot is a good one, so why not add Two Slots. This will give the user more than enough on board memory.
    • Steve Jobs was a great salesman

      Steve Jobs would at presentations always say you don't need features that are not built into his products, and then launch the next versions of his products with the same features as absolutely essential must have features. For the same reason, you have to assume Steve Jobs said tablets are only for consuming info, because the technology at the time was not ready for for fully portable tablet computers creating info.
  • What about a lap desk.

    I only try to use my Surface on my lap when at home... that said I have a small lapdesk that I bought at a school supply store for $5 fits the Surface Pro 1 perfectly while also providing a small surface for a Bluetooth Mouse.