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

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, Nokia, Tablets, The Microsoft-Nokia Deal

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Quicken and Minecraft

    If we could just get Quicken and Minecraft to produce Windows RT apps, Windows RT might sell. Maybe Nokia has some Windows RT app announcements still coming in Abu Dhabi.
    • For me, it's Quicken, TurboTax, and iTunes ...

      ... that are must-haves for home use.

      The best thing about the Surface RT is that it allows me to seamlessly connect to these applications on the Windows desktop so, as long as I have a functioning Windows desktop, I can get by.

      Lots of people have that one "killer app" that keeps them in the Windows fold. Microsoft has pretty much "bet the farm" on the "Metro" interface. It is the key to their success in the tablet space.

      The presence of the Windows RT Desktop causes lots of confusion but, until a Metro version of Office is available, I think it is here to stay. Perhaps merging Windows RT and Windows Phone will bring that about sooner rather than later. I hope that we will soon see Metro Apps for all Office tools and for most Microsoft products. Also all Adobe apps.

      If these take hold in Metro, it seems to me that others (including independent developers) will follow suit but, until then the Windows store is going to be full of the same list of a hundred variations of the same 20 content-consumption apps that the App Store and Google Play already offer.
      M Wagner
  • Double check the USB ports

    I think the two full-sized USB 3.0 ports are on the cover, not on the device itself. Nokia's announcement just lists a single microUSB 3.0 port on the device.
    • Correct

      You are correct, I've amended that. Thanks for spotting it!
  • Windows RT is a play by Microsoft to force developers

    into moving from an app deployment model they're in control of, to an app deployment model Microsoft is in control of (Windows store apps.)

    I'm glad it isn't working - I value my freedom.
    • RE: Windows RT is a play by Microsoft to force developers

      What kind of freedom you're talking about?
    • Horse Hockey

      It's the same as the Apple Store.

      Taking the high road they (Apple and MS) are attempting to weed out the nefarious apps and likely poorly designed apps from reaching the consumer.

      Clearly Apple has not succeeded 100% but those that slipped through have been hammered in time.

      Poorly designed apps such as some I have seen ported from Unix/Linux which used inconsistent UI actions or worse. Some just running on a translation layer that required the user to use unix/Linux file references.

      None of this is an issue for advanced users since MS provides for side loading whereas such is not the case in the Apple universe unless you void your warranty and break the security of the device.
      • Both Apple and Microsoft permit businesses to side load, actually

        And at any rate, I don't care if it isn't different between the two - I don't like it.

        But at least in Apple's case, iOS has different branding. Windows RT I'd have a lot easier time with if it didn't brand itself as "Windows", which makes the software developers job much more painful (particularly in explaining to users why you are not planning to bring certain things to that OS.)

        And the other thing that drives me crazy is that you have this incredibly powerful OS (Windows), where they are trying to drive even desktop computing to this kind of low power, highly sandboxed programming model that can't make full use of a PC's multithreaded horsepower. Windows can run services (like UNIX daemons), can do intense graphics operations no tablet can ever do.... and yet Microsoft is encouraging us to use the poor cousin API (the WinRT framework) instead of all that firepower. Drives me crazy!
        • Microsoft is horrid at branding and marketing.

          There are so many examples of MS changing a brand name or over using a brand name that just ends up confusing people. They need a huge change there.

          However, I think the theory behind the new API is not to limit Windows, but make the desktop where all things legacy live and rebuild windows on a moving forward basis.

          That is just speculation and has all sorts of problems if it is, but that would make sense for the Microsoft that has existed under Ballmer.
        • The horsepower of full Windows ...

          ... (preemptive multitasking, for instance) is wasted on a small screen. The only reason tablets perform as well as they do, and have long battery life to show for it is because a tablet OS is MUCH SIMPLER than a desktop OS like Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux. If you need that kind of power and you want that kind of portability, you need an ultrabook. (Let's face it, the Surface Pro more closely resembles a MacBook Air than it does a tablet.

          Otherwise, you can stick with an Atom-powered Windows 8 tablet or netbook.
          M Wagner
    • It's the app model everybody wants

      Except you, I guess.

      The sandboxed application model is the only real way to avoid malware. It also makes it trivially easy to upgrade to a new computer and have everything installed that you did before. Enterprises and grandmothers love this application model.

      If there is a complaint to be made, it's that Microsoft has not yet provided a model whereby desktop applications can be distributed using this model. You can supposedly put them in the store so they are searchable, but they are still just links to the publisher's install web site. There are too many desktop applications that will be too expensive or too unwieldy to port to Metro.
    • It's funny, few seem to mind Apple's "walled garden" ...

      ... and consumers that object quickly embrace Google's "walled garden".

      Meanwhile, Microsoft has promised that users will be able to "side load" Metro applications not available in the Windows Store - but people still complain.

      You may "value" your freedom but so do OEMs who load up every new computer with CRAPWARE which cripples those new computers - forcing power users to strip that code away the day they bring there new computers home.

      Consumers are left stuck with under-performing computers downloaded with useless programs. The "walled garden" approach gives consumers some peace of mind they their vendor is protecting their interested by having those applications certified by the OS vendor.

      Of course, as long as your investment includes a full version of Windows, you will have access to all of your legacy applications and well as that CRAPWARE and you will still have the option of using those Metro apps which meet your needs.
      M Wagner
    • Force developers to release reliable consistent apps... bad???

      Sounds like a good idea to me - forcing apps that have a consistent interface that users find easy to navigate, and the apps are quality tested to ensure stability so users don't get a bad impression of the Microsoft OS.
      How is it a bad thing to ensure less crashing and better intuitive experiences?
      Typically users blame Windows for crashes - but most of the time its not Windows but the badly written apps that they install that cause problems and crashing.
      Apple has already nailed it - Microsoft are seeing the logic of the quality control of the App Store ecosystem and following suit.
      I say keep the cowboys out and expect better experiences.
  • If it can't run x86 programs...

    ...which it can will sell just about as well as the Surface RT has. And that is badly.

    No wonder Nokia is in the toilet, with marketing decisions like this. Just about as brain-dead as "The Company Formerly Known as RIM".

    Way to go kids.
    • Tablets don't need windows legacy software

      Except for some users with very particular needs, that's not a selling point. Both android and iPad are selling millions and they don't run windows software or office.
      I believe the Nokia design will me more appealing to the masses, the cheapest will probably the best bet as they are very similar.
      • You've made a great argument

        for Windows Phone 8 on tablets.
        • I've been saying that since day one

          Tablets are more like smartphones than traditional PCs - MS thinks otherwise though.
        • 100% correct

          Which is why I never understood the desktop AT ALL with RT. Get rid of it. There is no point to it.

          If you can't run legacy x86/x64 apps then there is zero need for it. Office RT can run in the ModernUI.

          With The next release of WP8 going to 1080p, its blurring those lines between Phone OS and Tablet OS. In reality, Windows RT and WP should pretty much be the same thing. As much as it pains me to say this, Apple was right there.

          I don't have a problem with the ModernUI looking the same for the start menu between windows 8.1, Windows RT and WP, it probably should to allow some continuity, but only Windows 8.1 x32/x64 should have the desktop still. That would eliminate all the confusion in the market place.

          I mean, are there even any apps for RT that aren't core OS items that run in desktop? You can move explorer, control panel, all those things into a ModernUI format to work on both the phone and tablet.
          • But, until Microsoft has completed its port of Office to Metro, ...

            ... they are stuck with the Desktop. Also, until all of the administrative tools found in Windows have been ported to a Metro app, we are stuck with the desktop. It IS just a matter of time.
            M Wagner
  • hmm, how is it that this Nokia device goes head to head with Surface Pro???

    Talk about confused... the author does his best to confuse the issues but this IMO is really just the kind of clumsy argumentation typical of someone reaching for points that aren't there.

    Its not freaking rocket science. ARM processors don't now and never will ever run native x86 code. You know it and anyone with half a brain knows it. STHU with this tired MEME. Frankly if I was your boss and you wrote a technical article with this in it I would fire you on the spot.