Normal screen covers are designed to protect your tablet and look nice and maybe fold back to let you use it at the right angle for typing or watch movies. Microsoft’s Surface tablet, however — along with its sibling the Surface Pro, and its successors, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 — was designed to use special covers by Microsoft, which turn it from a tablet into a laptop. If you don’t have one of these covers, you really only have half of a Surface, which is why it’s surprising that Microsoft didn’t bundle them together to start with.
Microsoft now includes a black Touch Cover with the purchase of certain Surface tablet models. But is that the kind (and color) you want? What kinds are there, anyway?
The original Touch Cover ($79)
This is the one you may have seen in commercials, with people swapping Surface tablets and covers back and forth while dancing. (It is not recommended that you try to do this.) It’s a mostly-flat, rigid piece of textured plastic that feels like fabric, and on one side there’s the outline of a keyboard. When your Surface has its kickstand out, this lets you type on it. The rest of the time it either covers the screen or folds around back, and it doesn’t recognize keystrokes as long as it’s there. It also has a mini touchpad, although it doesn’t work with most Windows 8 multitouch gestures.
Another downside to the original Touch Cover? With only one touch sensor in each key, it can be a bit fiddly to type on, especially if you don’t have a hard, flat surface (not the tablet itself) underneath it.
The Touch Cover 2 ($119)
This one justifies its higher price tag with more sensors (which improve precision), plus backlit keys and improved multitouch gestures. When using a Touch Cover 2 on a Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2, you can use the touchpad to switch between apps or bring up the charms bar, instead of having to reach up and use the screen for that.
The Type Cover 2 ($129)
The downside, relative to a Touch Cover 2? It’s a little bit thicker and heavier, and costs $10 more. The upside is that it has actual, mechanical keys, sort of like a netbook keyboard.
(The original Type Cover is no longer available on Microsoft’s store.)
The Power Cover ($199)
This one doesn’t work with the original Surface (although it does work with the Surface 2 and both versions of Surface Pro). It’s like a Type Cover, but even heavier. The upside is that it “extends your Surface’s battery up to 70%,” which makes it most valuable to Surface Pro owners. Their tablets are already thicker and heavier, and have much worse battery life since they use laptop-class Intel processors.