As with its Type Cover—see my Surface Type Cover 2 Review—Microsoft has issued a significantly upgraded Touch Cover 2 in tandem with the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets that began shipping to customers this week. It's a big improvement over the original, but given the excellence of Type Cover 2, I'm not quite clear on the audience for this accessory.
Introduced at Microsoft's mid-2012 Surface announcement event, the original Surface Touch Cover was correctly hailed as an important innovation: Here was a protective screen cover that doubled as a pressure-sensitive keyboard. It would never meet the needs of serious touch typists, of course, but that wasn't the point. For the mainstream user who will only occasionally need more than the virtual keyboard in Windows RT in particular, Touch Cover was a pretty impressive and very necessary accessory.
But now we have the new Touch Cover 2. Here's what's happening.
Works with all Surface models. As with Type Cover 2, the new Touch Cover 2 works with all Surface models: Surface RT, Surface Pro, Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. That said, it's probably better used with the Windows RT-based Surface RT and Surface 2, since the Pro devices are actual PCs where a real keyboard would be more necessary.
New covering. If you're familiar with the original Touch Cover, you will notice that Touch Cover 2 is a bit coarser feeling than the original and that the backing is identical to that of the Type Cover 2, a sort of felt-like material that is also less soft. So the two typing covers are more consistent with each other, which probably isn't hugely important, but I do like the feel of this new material better. And it's spill-resistant, Microsoft says. (I've not tested that.)
Touch Cover 2 (top) and Touch Cover (bottom), front
Touch Cover 2 (top) and Touch Cover (bottom), back
Better keyboard. The Touch Cover 2 keyboard features some nice improvements over its predecessor though the basic experience is similar. It's backlit, which is huge, and as with Type Cover 2, the backlighting is pleasant and well-engineered. Microsoft has added the function key (F1, F2, etc.) secondary labels to those keys, which is nice. And it's more accurate thanks to a completely revamped sensor system: With the first Touch Cover, there were just 80 sensors, with one for each key. Now, there are almost 1100 sensors, so the cover does a better job of understanding which key you mean to press while typing, leading to fewer mistypes. This change also provides other benefits, including the new gestures described next.
Cover-wide gestures. In addition to the surprisingly rich set of trackpad gestures that Type Cover 2 supports, the additional sensors also enable new cover-wide gestures. They work much like those trackpad gestures: You can use two fingers to scroll in any of four directions (in Metro apps that support scrolling) and so on. But if you're going to use this feature, you'll need to push down pretty hard and will want to disable the faux keyboard sounds as it starts to sound like you're making popcorn. Overall, this feature didn't impress me that much and it seems a bit error-prone (not to mention undiscoverable).
No color choice. Touch Cover 2 ships only in black for some reason, where the original was offered in multiple colors (as is Type Cover 2). I expect this to change, but ... I'm also not sure it really matters.
Wider trackpad. As with Type Cover 2, the Touch Cover 2 track pad is a bit wider than that on the original. It works fine for what it is.
Thinner. It's hard to believe, given how thin the original Touch Cover is, but Touch Cover 2 is even thinner than the original. It comes in at a scant 2.75mm, compared to 3.25mm for the original. But it's also more rigid, which is a positive in a typing surface.
That said ... While Type Cover 2 is a big improvement over its predecessor, I find myself reaching for the superior Type Cover 2. That accessory isn't that much heavier or thicker than Touch Cover 2 and the typing experience is night and day, and much more reliable and accurate than what's offered by Touch Cover 2. It's also only $10 more expensive. I don't really recommend Touch Cover 2 given these facts, and since no Surface products ship with typing covers any more, you do have a choice. Make that choice Type Cover 2.
Note: I did write this review on Touch Cover 2. It was not a pleasant experience.