Surface 2 vs Surface 3: Should you upgrade?

There are a few key points worth considering before making any final decisions. Let's break it down.

Surface 2

The operating system - bye, bye Windows RT

Windows RT is dead. Long live Windows RT. The new Surface 3 is the first that doesn't carry the 'Pro' title to come with the full version of Windows 8.1. And that's a big deal, because it gives it a longer lifespan than the Surface 2, regardless of how long you may have owned one.

We're talking about Windows 10. The Surface 3 will get the free upgrade to Windows 10 later this year. The Surface 2 will not. Or at least, not the full version. Right now the future of RT based devices is unknown, with Microsoft hinting they'll get some kind of update but not the full Windows 10 treatment.

Besides future software upgrades, there's another huge benefit to the Surface 3 over the Surface 2. Like its bigger brother, the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 can be a full Windows workstation at home and on the go. It can be a laptop, it can equally be a desktop PC in conjunction with the optional Docking Station. It can run Windows desktop apps not just modern apps, and for many, that's a huge deal.

However, if you bought a Surface 2, presumably you're fine with running just Modern apps. If that hasn't changed, then getting a Surface 3 may not be necessary. But if you want to future-proof yourself a little better, it's worth considering.

Surface 2

No more ARM chips

While we wouldn't say the general performance of the Surface 2 was bad, there have been critics of Windows running on ARM chips like the Tegra 4 inside it. Microsoft, at least for now, appears to have given up on ARM powered Windows devices. They were exclusive to Windows RT and with that exiting stage left, there's no longer a need.

Instead, the new Surface 3 packs Intel's latest quad-core Atom CPU. It's an unknown quantity still, but performance in the Modern apps you're used to as a Surface 2 owner isn't likely to be any worse. These apps run well on even low power Windows tablets so you're going to be in for a good ride.

In tandem Microsoft is promising "all day battery life." Whether that's true or not in part will depend on how long your day is and how much you're doing with it.

Surface 3

A change in form

The Surface 2 was very much to be used in landscape mode. The Surface 3 follows the 3:2 aspect ratio of the Surface Pro 3 and that makes a difference to how you use it. In landscape it's taller, in portrait it's wider. It makes for a more comfortable experience as a tablet. As a laptop-esque device, the Surface 2 was just fine. Propped up with the kickstand with its keyboard docked. But 16:9 tablets like this aren't as fun to use as a tablet.

The Surface Pro 3 is actually pretty great to use in portrait orientation for reading, despite having a large 12.2-inch display. The Surface 3 is a little smaller and should be even better to use this way.

Surface 2

A few other points to note

  • The Surface 3 has the same support for a digital pen that the Pro tablet has. Albeit the pen is an optional purchase at $50.
  • The kickstand on the Surface 3 has an extra position when compared to the Surface 2. 3 vs 2.
  • The Surface 3 charges using microUSB. Something no other Surface tablet has to date. If you own any phone but an iPhone you'll likely have plenty of microUSB cables lying around.
  • Like the Surface 2, the Surface 3 will eventually be available in cellular form with LTE data support.
  • If you're into taking photos with your Surface for whatever reason, the rear camera in the Surface 3 should be much better. It could even better that in the Surface Pro 3.
  • The Surface 3 has a larger display but is still lighter than the Surface 2.
  • The Surface 3 comes with one free year of Office 365.

Surface 2

The bottom line

No-one can decide whether you should upgrade but you. We can help you with that, but ultimately it's your money and your decision. If you're perfectly happy with the Surface 2 and how it works right now, then you might be fine hanging on to it for a while longer. If you use primarily Modern apps and have no desire to venture into the desktop, the Surface 2 will continue being the device you've enjoyed thus far. Unless you're looking, longingly, at Windows 10.

Ultimately that could be the deal breaker. The Surface 2 will not get Windows 10 in the same way that the Surface 3 will. So if you want to start using your Surface for more, getting into the desktop and even using it as a laptop, it's absolutely worth moving up. There's so much added value with the Surface 3 such as the digital pen, the updated hardware, the change in form factor and even the year of Office 365 Microsoft will give you for free.

Sadly the future is a little bleak for the Surface 2. The future is brighter for the Surface 3. If it's a future you want to be part of, definitely think about upgrading.

Are you making the upgrade or sticking with what you already have? Let us know in the comments below!

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at