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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  • teiglin - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    1080p screen, less-cramped keyboard, kickstand, higher-quality chassis. I mean, I'm not personally going to buy either one, but there are certainly reasons. Reply
  • WaltFrench - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I definitely like all the color on the home screen and the background in the photo. Definitely not your drab gray from the Microsoft of yore. Reply
  • OneOfTheseDays - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I played with the Surface 2 at the MSFT store for quite a bit and fell in love with it.

    It's truly a beautiful amazingly engineered piece of hardware. There are no downsides to it other than the app selection, which is getting better every day. As MSFT begins to unify their store and APIs across their platforms I expect to see more developers hop onboard.

    Going back to the iPad after using the Surface 2 is a let down. You are immediately aware how much of a toy OS iOS really is.
    Reply
  • macutmore - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Lighter than a Laptop, as good as or better performance than an Ultrabook, decent battery life with power cover. Why should I compromise by having to work, use, update & maintain three devices? It's not worth it. I'm going to spend less money & upgrade my old Desktop PC, Laptop & Tablet with a new Surface Pro. It's a no brainer, even though it really seems like a brain is required to realise it! No/ not enough Apps yet? Where are the apps in Windows 7? RT has no x86? Neither does iPad. At least it has explorer & you can navigate for file transfers from USB. If we were all using these today & Microsoft designed a hinged laptop as a new type of form factor, the screen would be annoyingly fixed, cumbersome with squeaky hinges & too bulky. We have been marketed & brand conditioned into feeling we can’t have it all in one device, when it’s becoming more & more obvious now that we can, & it could happen sooner than we think. It is advanced technology that likely makes successful brands, or the vendors of the high performance pieces, such as the thin high resolution touch screens & getting things small enough & making them thinner. Thats all advanced tech that wasnt available before. Reply
  • gnr219 - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Can you explain why specifically, other than office, you feel iOS is toylike compared to RT ? Reply
  • kyuu - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    No multitasking. Gimped web browser. No file browser. No USB support (accessories, external storage). Lack of configuration options for power users. Need I go on?

    The aesthetics of the iOS7 update certainly doesn't help it feel less toy-like.
    Reply
  • Laxaa - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    I kind of want one, but I guess I/O performance leaves a lot to be desired. And the fact that it only has 2GB of RAM. Reply
  • SetiroN - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    the surface 2 REALLY needed bay trail. Reply
  • mporter - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    The problem with Surface is that it is not really good at anything. It fails as a tablet because it's too big, heavy and unwieldy. And it fails as a laptop because it's underpowered with a substandard keyboard and no trackpad..

    Anyone considering this should just go with the undisputed king of tablets, the iPad (http://versus.com/en/microsoft-surface-2-vs-apple-... It's loads better and actually has a decent ecosystem in place!
    Reply
  • mporter - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    Argh, my link didn't work because of the bracket. It's to a comparison.. Here it is again - http://versus.com/en/microsoft-surface-2-vs-apple-... Reply

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