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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  • zepi - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I don't really see desktop as "being a side" in Windows 8.x. I see it actually existing solely because MS has not have enough time to create an adequate Office replacement for Modern UI. I wouldn't be surprised if it was removed completely once they have that sorted out.

    MS tried for more than a decade to bring touch to desktop. It has failed miserably, because it actually seems to be impossible while maintaining backwards compatibility with WIN32 GUI-components. They've come to a conclusion (that I share), that the only way to really bring touch to Windows is to bring it in separate to the desktop and start from a clean slate.

    None of the successful modern touch-centric operating systems builds on top of WIMP paradigm or on top of legacy software developed for it. Mostly because WIMP just fundamentally seems to be incompatible with touchscreen (no pointer, no pixel-perfect clicks etc.) and I don't see MS being able to circumvent that. And they've seen it by themselves, so they created something new from scratch to actually make touch feasible. I see WinRT being out there because MS wants to enforce developers to create new versions of their UI's for Windows.

    If developers won't create ModernUI version of Windows apps, Windows will die a slow death in consumer space within a decade or so. Only way to keep private people using Windows in this touch-screen (post-pc) era is to make using it as convenient and fun as with competing platforms. And for most people Windows desktop with desktop-apps is almost the exact opposite of fun and easy. It's all work and tedious managing of files, updates & anti-virus applications.

    People seem to really enjoy using their touchscreen devices compared to regular computers. I guess it's mostly because interface to applications and data just seems so much more intuitive. In private life most of us just don't want to use computing devices. We just want to buy concert tickets, communicate with our friends, share our experiences of the every-day life and consume some entertainment. Some of us also enjoy creating stuff, but even then we just want the device to melt away between our vision and the end result. And allow for easy sharing of the end results.
    Reply
  • G Davidson - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Very good post. The whole trouble with x86 windows is all the hassle of maintaining it. Half the time when I'm shutting down my laptop it takes 30 minutes to install various 'updates' that bring no benefit to me as a user other than protection from security flaws or hidden functionality for things I'll never be doing with it. That and the endless fiddling has no place on a tablet.

    The stark choice Windows faces in the consumer space is innovate to a usable paradigm or slowly die. Being the second or even third choice is equivalent to such a death for a company like Microsoft that produces little hardware.

    Really a 'better' windows x86 tablet with new Atom processors is an attempt to resurrect the Netbook. Sure, many would love one to supplement their main PC, but it won't be much fun and will require lots of user maintenance, while still being too slow for heavy software designed for a 'real PC'. Hearing the graphics are low-powered makes it poor for gaming, too. Certainly, it would make for a great productivity device, except for photo and video editing that would be much slower on it.

    Microsoft really need to make something like Windows RT that has specialized apps that work well on the low-powered base, stripping away the cobwebs of background processes and backwards compatibility with things their users don't need. If these same apps can work on mainstream Windows 8.1 etc, then all the better.
    Reply
  • ESC2000 - Saturday, October 26, 2013 - link

    So I assume you foresee such a bleak future for OSX as well?

    Really though all you're saying is that dealing with the interface and upkeep of a more powerful and capable OS is more complicated and effortful, which is not surprising....windows 8 and OSX are not as simple to handle as ios or Android but they also do a whole lot more. For some people the limited functionality of ARM tablet OSes may be sufficient, but for most I'd wager it's not if only because currently you can't even view more than one window at a time on ios/android devices (other than notes and surface RT). Even people who are not power users need to be able to view two things simultaneously.

    Anyway I think it is way too early to predict the demise of microsoft. They see that the future is in one or maybe two devices that combine the functions of desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, gaming consoles, and possibly wearables. Windows 8 is their first stab at an OS that could work on such devices, and it will get better. Also tens of millions (hundreds of millions?) of consumers own devices with windows 8 and are growing accustomed to it despite its shortcomings. Most of them will continue to choose Windows machines bc of familiarity and cost. That's not to mention the MS's enterprise stronghold that is definitely not going anywhere (W8 is not so great on that front but the complete lack of alternatives makes Windows the only choice). They are also increasingly making hardware. What I'm saying is they are innovating by shifting away from the purely desktop paradigm and for a first attempt I think they've done a good job and exposed a lot of the market.

    I am bullish about the future of MS and about the future of Google and Apple as well. I don't have some inscrutable hatred toward any of them the way many people on tech sites do against MS.
    Reply
  • Braumin - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    This looks like a great improvement over the Surface RT.

    I thought it was a good review, but Anand, you need to drop it with the Google stuff. You're comment "but in the case of a Chromebook you arguably have better integration of Google services" is of course true, but the Surface obviously has perfect integration with the Microsoft services, which, other than maps, are at least as good if not better.

    And Google is the one to blame here they simply refuse to support any MS platforms anymore, which is too bad because I used to like and use Google services a lot. Now I just avoid them. Luckily I don't miss them.

    And the Chromebook is WAY more limited in the applications it can run. Windows RT 8.1 is still a real OS unlike Chrome.

    Anyway this looks great I'm happy to see the better display and better performance, plus the kickstand. I'd say MS fixed everything that they really needed to with regards to what they can achieve - obviously the substandard apps are something that hopefully will be fixed over time. It's a whole lot better than what it was a year ago that's for sure, but certainly not where I expected it to be. The Bing apps are amazing though which is a good start.
    Reply
  • OoklaTheMok - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Yeah, I'm growing quite tired of the Chromebook talk. It's more restrictive than iOS, fewer apps than WebOS and most apps are just glorified web browser shortcuts. It doesn't even support multitasking... seriously? And some people want to talk it up like it's the bee's knees. Reply
  • AnandTechUser99 - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    "There is an alternative solution to this entire problem however. I can’t help but feel like if Microsoft threw Intel’s Bay Trail in the Surface 2 chassis that a number of users might come to a completely different conclusion about the device. When we first posted about ASUS’ T100, common feedback was that users would be willing to pay more for an even better device. A Bay Trail Surface 2 could’ve been that device. "

    I couldn't agree more!
    Reply
  • snajk138 - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    They could do a Surface RT 2 with ARM, a Surface 2 with Atom and a Surface Pro 2 with Haswell. Reply
  • teiglin - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I'd love to see MSM8974 in the tablet performance charts--its absence is quite notable, and while the selection of 8974-toting Android tablets is pretty small now, it will only grow. If you think it'd be too weird to include Note 3/G2 results (I wouldn't mind), didn't you test Qualcomm's MDT? Not to mention, Bench doesn't even seem capable of doing the sort of comparisons I'd really like to see there. Reply
  • AmdInside - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I am going to buy this when I find a coupon that gets the Surface2 closer to $399. I think its a great iPad replacement for productivity. I actually wish it had Amazon services, not Google. Only Google service I would want is Google Chrome. I just am not a fan of IE11 as a desktop or tablet browser. Reply
  • flyingpants1 - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    My single question for Anand: is there a single reason to get this over the Asus T100 for $349? Reply

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