On the outside, the Surface 2 may look like its predecessor, the Surface RT. It's ever-so-slightly thinner and lighter than the original, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two. That doesn't mean, however, that they're identical. Far from it.
The Surface 2 has a new two-position kickstand, the microSD card slot has been moved down slightly, and there are no longer screws on the back of the case.
These subtle, external differences, however, pale when compared with the massive internal hardware and design changes Microsoft made on the new tablet.
For more information on the Surface 2, including real-world tests and pricing, check out Eric Franklin's full CNET review.
Unfortunately, when making all these hardware upgrades, Microsoft also completely reworked the tablet's internal design, and in doing so made the Surface 2 much more difficult to crack open and repair than its predecessor.
Cracking Open Observations
Glued-on front panel, plastic body make opening difficult: Opening last year's Surface RT began with removing the tablet's back cover. Not so for the Surface 2. As with the Apple iPad, cracking open this tablet requires heating the edges of the front panel to loosen the adhesive that holds it to the tablet's body. While heating the panel, you'll need to gently pry it away from the body with thin tools. Unlike the iPad, however, the Surface has some internal components and external trim pieces that are made from plastic, which can warp if overheated.
Redesigned interior: The internal hardware is mounted to the Surface 2's body, with the front panel and display being a single, removable unit. The Surface RT's hardware on the other hand was actually mounted to the front panel and display assembly, which also served as the tablet's body. There's also a new plastic bezel that runs around the tablet's outer edge and serves as the mounting surface for the front panel/display assembly. The Surface 2 is built more like the Surface Pro than the Surface RT, which makes the tablet more difficult to open and repair.
Filled with hardware upgrades: Along with the radically changing the tablet's internal design, Microsoft also gave the Surface 2 lots of hardware upgrades. The Surface 2 has two microphones (compared with the Surface RT's one), stereo speakers, a USB 3.0 port, better front-facing (3.5-megapixel) and rear-facing (5.0-megapixel) cameras, a new 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution display, and a faster 1.7GHz Tegra 4 processor.
Difficult, time-consuming to open repair
The Surface 2 is definitely an improvement over last year's model when it comes to hardware specifications and performance. Kudos to Microsoft for that.
But it has also officially become the most difficult-to-crack-open tablet I've ever worked on. The front-panel adhesive is incredibly hard to work around, there are more than 60 screws inside the case (of all different sizes), and most of the motherboard connectors are extremely fragile and easily broken. I can only hope Microsoft will make some design changes for next year's model. Unfortunately, I doubt it will.
(A more detailed version of this story was published on TechRepublic's Cracking Open blog.)