The New Touch/Type Covers

When I was first introduced to the folks who built Surface I was told about the three non-negotiable parts of its design: the tablet, the kickstand and the cover. While most tablet covers end up being protective accessories, the first party covers for Surface are an integral part of the overall experience.

Microsoft offers two cover options: the touch cover and the type cover. Both integrate full qwerty keyboards into a display cover that attached magnetically, but they differ in keyboard type. As its name implies, the touch cover integrates a pressure sensitive keyboard with no moving parts. By comparison, the type cover uses keys that physically move. Neither accessory is included with any Surface device and will set you back $119 for the touch cover and $129 for the type cover. They are expensive, but absolutely worth it if you’re going to do any sort of typing on your Surface.

Old (left) and new (right) touch covers

With the second generation of Surfaces, Microsoft improved both covers. They both get marginally thinner and backlit keys. The backlight effect is great, although there are only three keyboard backlight brightness levels.

The touch cover sees the biggest improvement as Microsoft moved from having only 80 pressure sensors in the previous design to 1092 sensors. The result is an incredible increase in accuracy. I find that I can type a lot lighter on the new touch cover and still have my keystrokes recognized. I also make far fewer mistakes on the new touch cover. While I felt that the initial touch cover was usable, this one is almost good enough to be a physical keyboard replacement.

2nd Generation Touch/Type Cover Thickness
  Touch Cover Type Cover
1st gen 3.35 mm 5.7 mm
2nd gen 2.91 mm 5.22 mm
iPad 4 Smart Cover 2.2 mm  

Despite the tremendous improvement in accuracy on the new touch cover, I still prefer the type cover. I wrote long segments of this review on the new touch cover, but I had a much better time doing so on the type cover. Microsoft has reduced thickness on the new type cover, in part by reducing key travel. I’m happy to say that the reduction in key travel isn’t noticeable, and I’m able to type just as quickly and as comfortably as I could with the first gen type cover. The difference in thickness between the two is very small (~2.3mm) and you get a much more usable keyboard out of the type cover.

Old (left) and new (right) type covers

The new type cover ditches the clickpad in favor of a pressure sensitive trackpad. I’m a bit happier with the new trackpad but it’s still largely a pain to use for anything other than basic mousing. Two finger scrolling works ok, but any click and drag use is seriously frustrating thanks to the small size of the unit and no physical buttons. Thankfully there’s a 10.6-inch touchscreen a few inches away from you that works a lot better.

The new type cover ditches the felt backing of the previous model in favor of a soft touch plastic. Type covers are also now available in four colors (purple, pink, blue and black).

Remember that both of these covers make a physical connection to Surface, both to stay attached to the device as well as to transmit data. There’s no chance of running into spectrum crowding issues like you would with a 2.4GHz wireless keyboard, these keyboards are as good as any other wired device. The covers make a very strong magnetic connection to the device. The connection is strong enough to withstand picking up even a Surface Pro 2 by the attached cover and lightly swing it back and forth without the two separating. This is of course predicated on you properly attaching the cover to the tablet, but the strong magnets do a fairly good job of lining up and doing that as well.

The only issue I had with the new covers is that sometimes the trackpad would stop working after coming out of sleep. The keyboard worked fine, but the trackpad would just disappear. The only solution is to disconnect/reconnect the cover, which fixed it every time. I informed Microsoft about the issue, it’s something they’re aware of internally and plan to issue an update to fix.


Introduction & Hardware The New Display
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  • Daniel Egger - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    That's actually a big sucker. While some managed to compile desktop applications that can be used after a jailbreak I'd absolutely second the notion that this is something that needs proper Microsoft support, even if just in the form of proper compilation support with a hard signing requirement to prevent abuse.
  • kyuu - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    What exactly are you unable to do versus an Android or iOS tab? Keep in mind WinRT has a fully featured web browser that can actually run flash, and any missing app probably has a fully functional website alternative.
  • IUU - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    "Why we should even care?" We shouldn't actually, if current solutions were better than full windows, but they are not.
    It may be hard for a lot to swallow, but full windows is in reality orders of magnitude more useful and sophisticated than the pathetic and overestimated apps of these "ecosystems". Even an ugly x86 virus is much more of a program than the overhyped android or peaches and oranges apps, that you may have to pay for as well, while in x86 you are freely and painlessly infected.
    Mobile is useful but not the most important in home computing. Trying to give it false significance, you get carried away by vain analyses about the mechanics of the kickstand, the premium feeling and the aesthetics of the user interface; this is a regress because you get excited by things that were difficult to do 10 years ago. Instead of getting excited for the next REALLY BIG APP, that would require 10s of gigabytes and several teraflops to run, you get excited by things so basic they ve been inforporated in oses long ago. So, sorry that I can't share your fascination. Surface is a good tablet, as the ipad and the droids are, very good for basic functions, nothing more nothing less.
    I would suggest Microsoft come out of the hypnosis about the post pc era and concentrate on really interesting things, like how we could use more powerful devices than today's desktops.
  • Gambit2K - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I missed parts like if miracast is available for surface 2, if it is how does it work, how much battery does it drain etc.

    And didn't I read that twitter has launched an official app for RT about 1-2 months ago.
  • Steinegal - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Surface 2 does support Miracast, but I haven't seen any tests of it yet.
    And twitter is available in the store :)
  • UsernameAlreadyExists - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    "Google’s Octane test is obviously best optimized for Chrome, and here we see solid performance although clearly behind the latest from Apple and Intel." Something wrong with the graph / this sentence, or am I reading the graph incorrectly?
  • UsernameAlreadyExists - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Ah, the new stuff is missing from the graph.
  • kyuu - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    There's something wrong with the conclusion, since the Surface 2 clearly beats the iPad 4 in the Google Octane benchmark.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    er fixed, thanks!
  • JB_Gator - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I agree that the app situation is lacking but this isn't a huge issue for me anymore. Maybe I'm an atypical user, but I prefer light gaming in the phone context, along with to-do lists and other light/quick tasks. Also, most of the apps I'd be looking for are usually necessary due to lack of flash support in the browser.

    For example: Would a Spotify app look a little cleaner? Sure. But I can listen to playlists through the website but not the app anyway (mobile apps require premium). I can't do this on my Nexus or iPad. A lot of video sites would require apps to if it weren't for this (ESPN, HBO, etc.), but not only can I watch them on the Surface, but if I wanted to, I can stream them to my TV (through xbox) out of the box with a few clicks.

    I was with you until you suggested it should be $399 with a type cover. That would be ludicrously cheap. The iPad, which is it's closest competitor (for better or for worse) is $499 with no cover. Also, Apple doesn't offer keyboards on its smart covers (yet?).

    At its current price of $50 cheaper than the iPad, with additional benefits (MS Office, USB, microSD, microHDMI-out for extended desktop, split-screen multitasking) and some tradeoffs (apps) it is a great deal already.

    I feel like even matching the iPad at $499 with a touch cover would be shockingly cheap, especially for new hardware of this quality. (Also, way more reasonable/likely).

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