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

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.


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


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


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, Microsoft, Nokia, Tablets, ARM, Microsoft Surface


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Real competition for Surface 2

    Nokia 2520 tablet looks very attractive.

    I wish Nokia made an 8 inch version of RT tablet as well at a lower price point. This is the killer play tablet I am waiting for. But for 8 inch there is Dell Venue 8 and MiiX 2 which runs full Windows 8. Tough decision to make
    • Yes...

      ...if they had an 8" version, I would be planning to buy this. However, I have a Surface, so I do not need another 10" tablet right now. Although the 2520 looks really nice. You really can't go wrong with either a Surface or Lumia.
      • +1 for an 8" RT Tablet

        I like the Lumia look, and I've got a 10" RT tablet and an 8" full Win8.1 tablet. I think it fits better the other way around - a tiny RT tablet and a rather large full Win8.1 tablet.

        I'm most certainly going to buy a Surface 2 Pro 256GB when it becomes available in Norway, but I'm not yet sure what will be my next RT tiny tablet. An 8" version of Lumia 2520 would be close to perfect, I think.
    • My guess

      is 8" will be WP not RT for new tablets
  • For business users in the UK, 3G/4G has to be builtin

    The Nokia device looks good that there is now finally a serious Win8 tablet with 4G.
    I do wonder who would roll out a business tablet device that just has Wifi , or perhaps it is just a UK thing that we want 3G/4G in our business tablets. I wonder if Lenovo are going to step it up at their event on 29th October with Ashton Kutcher.
    • Mi-Fi/Personal hotspot

      Verizon calls them Mi-Fi's, I'm not sure if that is a brand name or not but wouldn't that be a better, more versatile solution than getting the tablet with cellular built in?

      I realize it might not be as convenient but it still seems like a better solution IMO.
      • More

        to carry around and it is a faff.

        I tether my tablet to my Galaxy S3, it works for the few times in the year I need it, but I wouldn't do it every day. A mi-fi is a little better, as it is pre-configured, but you still need to remember to pack it and you have to charge it separately... With LTE built into the tablet, you can't forget to take your connectivity with you, unless you forget the tablet completely.
  • Made my choice this morning...

    ...bought a Surface 2.

    My current phone is a Lumia 1020, my previous was a Lumia 800. Love the Lumia line, but from the moment the pictures started to leak of the 2520 I just didn't get any kind of 'must-have' feeling.

    Most of my likes/dislikes are simply visual/tactile things.

    My GF has a glossy white Lumia 800 and I hate the glossy finish. The matte finish on my Lumia 1020 is lovely and thus I was never going to like the glossy finish of the 2520.

    The Touch/Type cover for the Surface is such an elegant solution, whereas the Power Cover for the 2520 just looks bulky & flimsy. I'll not count it out completely yet until I've had a chance to see one first hand.

    Specs wise, I'm just not bothered about LTE on my tablet. I have tethering for that.

    The 2520 does pinch it for me with Processor & Camera, but they're not enough to sell me it over the Surface 2.

    Which ever way someone goes though, they'll get a fantastic tablet in either the Surface 2 or the Lumia 2520

    p.s. you might want to check the Processor speed you put in for the Surface 2 ;)
    • did the same

      because the type cover/touch cover is just too important. otherwise you downgrade yourself almost to ishit level.
      • I still think...

        Asus Vivo Tab RT is better designed than the Surface. I like the keyboard dock on the tab RT better than that of the Surface as well. My next tablet will be the Asus Tab running full Windows that they just released.
  • Hello, anybody?

    The silence sure is deafening.
  • IMO, Surface 2 just tips the scale for the win BUT...

    I can see a scenario where the Lumia 2520 outsells the Surface 2 perhaps on build-quality/design alone. As a techie I'd say the build-quality is better on the Surface 2 as well as the keyboard cover designs. However, one things us techies forget is the naked-eye of non-technical folks out there who spend the money. I see most people perhaps choosing the 2520 on looks alone having most sales people saying "they're basically the same." And customers replying "Oh, well then since this one looks better to me...."

    Only time will tell.

    • The 2520 has better specs.

      On paper Nokia seems better (More powerful CPU, lighter, better screen, 4G). But like you say the build quality of SF2 seems to be better.
  • Battery life

    You mean the great Sinofsky didn't make battery life a priority in a mobile device? Blasphemy!
    • Arrogance

      His arrogance caused huge damage to Windows.

      Well before the sales of Win8 he received huge amount of negative feedback on some aspects of Windows 8 (start menu etc.) on Building windows blog but he just ignore all of them arrogantly.

      He deserved to be fired.
  • I disagree

    I've got a Surface RT. I really like the device. I love the form factor. If Microsoft sold a Bay Trail version I would be holding one in my hands lovingly even as we speak. But Microsoft knows that doing so would completely kill RT.

    Instead I'll probably be buying an ASUS T100. Saw one at Staples yesterday. It looked a little cheap and plasticky, but everything else about looked very promising (it wasn't plugged in or charged, so alas I couldn't play with it). Still, the reviews I've read have it running at speeds comparable to previous generation Core 2 Duos and battery life in the double digits.

    If Microsoft wants me to buy another RT tablet they've got to answer the following question: why would I want a Surface RT tablet that's identical in every significant way to the ASUS T100 but unlike the latter does not run my legacy apps?
    • Full fat windows..

      has a lot of baggage. Personally, I like my RT tablet with it's always on nature, and exceptional battery life. Not sure if they've incorporated those ARM processor features in to the new Intel Atom processor systems now that they have comparable battery life.
    • Staples

      Leave it to Staples to try to sell tablets without letting you try them. They should stick to paper clips, which you really don't need to try before you buy.
  • Concluding from SurfaceRT sales figures ...

    Especially in the US, Nokias latest contraption will collect dust in the shelves. Nokias market share in the US is very low compared to international markets. That'll make it nearly impossible for Nokia to gain traction for its tablet.

    With regard to performance. I'm a bit skeptical. Snapdragon 800 drives some of Samsungs latest devices but due to Samsungs excessive GUI overlay all of them suffer from occasional lags and stutters. That said, Snapdragon 800 might run pure Android smooth but if it makes WindowsRT 8.1 shine remains to be seen.

    As opposed to Nokias tablet early preliminary tests of Surface 2 have given evidence to considerably more horsepower compared to its predecessor.
    • Main target markets

      Who said the main target market is the US?

      There are much bigger markets with less competition other than the US. Lumia is not selling in the US either.