Microsoft Aims for Better Battery Life With Surface 2 Updates

Showing no signs of giving up on the Windows RT version of its tablet hardware, Microsoft releases updates for an improved Surface 2 experience.

Surface 2

Following a battery-boosting firmware fix for its Surface 2 Pro tablet, Microsoft has issued a round of updates for its Windows RT 8.1-powered Surface 2 that may help owners eke out more time between charges.

While a critical zero-day flaw in Internet Explorer took the spotlight during Microsoft's Patch Tuesday for this month, the company used the occasion to quietly address some of the issues affecting the tablet. Surface 2 is a follow-up to the company's ill-fated stab at ARM-powered slates, the Surface RT.

Surface 2, like its non-Pro predecessor, runs new Windows 8.x apps (formerly Metro) and does not support x86 software, which constitutes the bulk of Windows' massive software library. Despite competitive specs, premium construction and innovative touches, buyers steered clear of the original Surface RT, leading Microsoft to take a massive $900 million charge due to the device.

"We reduced the price of Surface RT by $150 to $349 per device. As a result of this price change, as well as inventory adjustments for related parts and accessories, we recorded a $900 million charge to our income statement," said Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood during a July 18 earnings call.

Regardless, Microsoft is signaling that it isn't giving up on the Windows RT flavor of its Surface hardware just yet.

The November 2013 updates include "battery life improvements," according to the company. As per Microsoft's own specifications, the Surface 2's battery can provide up to 10 hours of video playback and last a week to 15 days in an idle state—unsurprising, given the tablet's low power, ARM-based microarchitecture.

Yet the company's recent patch for the Surface Pro 2 helped the device, which houses a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor (Haswell) running at 1.6GHz, best the Surface 2 in some tests.

The tweaks to Surface 2's battery may help swing the pendulum back in the Surface 2's favor. In tests, AnandTech's Anand Shimpi discovered that "Surface Pro 2 now manages better battery life than Surface 2. Microsoft told me that their internal target was over 8 hours, and this firmware update brings it up to snuff via a nearly 25 percent increase in battery life."

Microsoft also delivered an update that improves the performance of the company's Type and Touch Covers. Users have reported that the keyboards, which double as protective covers for the Surface's touch-screen, will suddenly stop working, fail to register key presses or not respond to touch-pad input. Occasionally, Surface will not recognize the keyboard covers when they are attached.

New WiFi and Bluetooth drivers improve wireless display performance, according to Microsoft. Surface 2 now does a better job of switching to speakers after disconnecting earphones. Finally, the company also released updates for the Surface's cameras and improvements that affect that system's overall performance and stability.

The Surface Pro 2 saw no updates this time around. The original Surface Pro, however, gained support for the Japanese versions of the Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...