Surface Pro 2 review

Reviews 7 Nov, 2013

Updated: The Surface Pro 2 improves on the original, but battery life and portability is still not good enough.

3
Price: 
From £719 for 64GB without keyboard
Pros: 
Solid performance; Windows 8.1; Better kickstand
Cons: 
Bulky; Battery life could be better; Poor Touch Cover; Hard to service/upgrade parts
Verdict: 
The Surface Pro 2 is a capable machine, but not quite on par with OEM devices which offer better portability, battery life and serviceability.

Microsoft’s second generation Surface Pro tablet has launched eight months after the original began shipping.

The Surface Pro 2 ships with improved software, battery life and a more flexible kickstand. But starting at £719 without a keyboard attachment, is this hybrid good value for mass deployment or is it a niche tool for boardroom executives?

Guest editor Mark Evans, head of IT at RLB says:

I’m sorry, Microsoft lovers. My background is foursquare Microsoft. I passed my MCSE on NT4, which obviously dates me and my company is still Microsoft throughout, however, I can’t love the Surface Pro 2. It’s too bulky as a tablet, uncomfortable to use and it absolutely needs the Type Cover to be usable as a laptop tool at an additional cost of £110, leaving a sour taste in the mouth.

The hardware specification is fine, but the execution of the Surface Pro 2 isn’t compelling. Microsoft’s entire Windows/tablet strategy seems so disconnected from what the corporate buyer is likely to consider. It’s no wonder that corporates are staying with Windows 7 en masse, rather than Windows Vist… Er… Windows 8. The Surface Pro 2 in a word? Meh…

Our entry-level review unit packed an Intel Core i5 4th Gen (Haswell) processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (53GB usable). It also included a stylus pen, useful for annotating or drawing diagrams.

All Surface Pro 2 devices ship with the full edition of Windows 8.1 Pro. This upgrade irons out numerous niggles present in the original release of Microsoft's operating system.

Key features include the ability to boot to desktop mode, carry out unified search by default, and there's also more control over multitasking and app resizing. 

Twins

Place a Surface Pro 2 alongside the original and you’ll struggle to see the difference. The second generation tablet retains the 10.6in full HD (1920 x 1080) display as its predecessor. Whilst this makes the tablet a great tool for viewing the Live Tile interface and multimedia content, it’s not ideal for power users as text and icons appear tiny in the desktop mode.

Microsoft has shaved off a meagre 3g from the chassis, so the Pro 2 remains a chunky device. The 907g weight and dimensions (274.5 x 173 x 13.46mm) show Microsoft’s inexperience as a hardware manufacturer. The Surface Pro 2 looks great but by comparison, Sony’s larger 11in Vaio Pro Ultrabook weighs 870g, and Apple's smaller 9.7in iPad Air has a 469g chassis, which is almost half as thick (7.5mm).

1-2 Step

Microsoft has tweaked the kickstand on the Surface Pro 2, allowing it to snap into two positions as opposed to one. This provides a better viewing angle when your using the device on a desk. 

This adjustability is welcome, but the screen continues to lack the versatility found on Ultrabooks, especially business machines such as the Lenovo X1 Carbon which have the ability to rotate through 180 degrees.

Using the Pro 2 on your lap isn’t comfortable as the kickstand is sharp and can dig into your thighs. With the device retaining the same top-heavy design of the original, there is also the danger it could backflip over your knees at any point.

Don’t Touch This

Microsoft has trimmed 1mm off the second generation Touch Cover and added backlighting to the keys but the usability of the £100 accessory remains poor.

The original pressure sensitive keyboard wasn’t comfortable to type on and it’s been stiffened to the point where it's now akin to tapping on a piece of wood. The lack of bounce in the keys makes it difficult judge whether a press has registered on screen and even with practise you’ll struggle to touch type.

For those who want to use the Surface Pro 2 as a laptop replacement, the Type Cover 2 or Power Cover (which is includes another battery) are shaping up to be the must-have accessories.

Microsoft has not made them available for testing, so we can't report back on their performance yet. But if the Touch Cover 2 is available to buy now (£110), but the Power Cover won't be released until 2014.

Battery Life (Updated 7th November 2013)

NB. This section has been updated to reflect the difference in battery life on the Surface Pro 2 after a firmware update was installed on the review unit. This provides a dramatic improvement to battery life. For the video playback test we looped a HD copy of Iron Man on the tablet. To test Wi-Fi browsing we used the resource heavy PeaceKeeper benchmark test - and this provides a worst case scenario.

Microsoft has kept the same 42Whr battery capacity as the original, relying on the efficiency improvements within Intel's Haswell architecture to boost longevity.

Performance & Ports

Like the design, the performance of the Surface Pro 2 is identical to the original as Intel’s Haswell Core i5 4200U processor provides a minor boost in performance.  

Our review sample shipped with 4GB of RAM but it is possible to get an 8GB as standard. Internal storage starts at 64GB and the maximum available is 512GB.

The Pro 2 scored a solid 0.62 in our overall benchmark test. This put the device through its paces by simulating tasks in commonly used programs such as Word/Excel, iTunes, Photoshop and Sony Vegas. It’s only a marginal improvement over its predecessor (0.6), but the Pro 2 does pack more grunt than equivalent Windows tablets which run on the low-powered Atom architecture.

Test configurations:

  • Reference platform: 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K processor, with 4GB of DDR3 RAM 
  • Surface Pro 2: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U, 4GB RAM
  • Surface Pro: 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U, 4GB RAM
  • Dell Latitude 10: 1.5GHz Intel Atom Z2760, 2GB RAM

Ports remain the same – the Pro 2 offers a solitary USB 3 connection, a micro SDXC card reader and Mini DisplayPort. There's also a proprietary port where the Touch Cover accessories are slotted in.

Too Expensive

The Surface Pro 2 isn't cheap, starting at £719 for the 64GB Wi-Fi only model. It may have more functionality than a pure tablet such as the iPad, but the equivalent 64GB Air starts at £559.

It’s also hard to imagine anyone buying the Surface Pro 2 without the keyboard attachment because benefits are non-existent without it. This pushes up the cost of a device to at least £820 and we're not convinced this is a better alternative to an Ultrabook.

Overall

The Surface Pro 2 is an improvement over the original tablet, but it’s got a way to go before it rendering Ultrabooks obsolete. Performance is solid but the Pro 2 is let down in the key areas of portability and battery life.

Microsoft has done little to address the upgradeability issues present on the original. IT admins are not going to be able to service these tablets  – which is something which should be factored into the purchasing decision.

When there are upgradable devices such as Dell Latitude 10 on the market and with Ultrabooks getting thinner and lighter with every generation it’s hard to recommend the Surface Pro 2 for mass deployment.

Specifications: 

OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit

Processor: Intel Core i5 4th Gen 1.5GHz 

RAM: 4GB DDR3 as reviewed up to 8GB

Display: 10.6in 1,920 x 1,080

Storage: 64GB SSD as reviewed up to 512GB

Connectivity:Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy technology

Ports: 1 x USB 3, micro SDXC card reader, mini-DisplayPort, Magnet charging/Touch Cover ports

Dimensions: 274 x 173 x 13.5mm (WxDxH)

Weight: 910g

Battery: 42Whr

Disqus - noscript

I really wish tech 'experts' would stop comparing surface pro to inferior products like ipad. It absolutely does more than the simple consumption device. I have read so many biased reviews, that it really makes such reviews pointless. I own a surface pro 1 and an ipad. I also own an iphone 5. There is nothing, and I mean nothing that my ipad does that my iphone can't do. The surface pro on the other hand has so much more. Sure the battery running unrealistic tests does die sooner than a dedicated tablet. But even with pro 1 I can get way more than 2 hours of regular use. I can only assume that pro 2 will be better. It is a great device for my needs, and I don't even use my ipad anymore, I let my kids play games on it. Anyone out there who really wants a good tablet with the ability to use as a laptop should consider the surface pro 2, I can't imagine not having mine it truly suits my needs better than anything else out there.

This is such a terrible biased review...jumping on the upgradability bandwagon. It's not a frigging laptop guys, it's a tablet...what tablet really claims upgradability...does the clearly beloved ipad you reference here allow you to just pop it open and use a 256g drive?

Unreal...

This review is terrible and just outright false in some parts, which makes me question the writers authenticity and whether they have some conflict of interest 'elsewhere'.

For example, I have the surface pro 2 and using on my lap with kickstand I have no problems. You actually forget it's even there, I use it my bed, on the couch and sitting down at the airport with great comfort. The best thing about is that it's 'portable and powerful', It has replaced my laptop.

The battery test, I get approx. 7 hrs at 50% brightness (anything above I find it's too bright) for browsing, emails and using MS office. Yes I would like to see more hours and maybe with the powercover I'll get 10 hrs.

PS the review compares this to a Latitude 10 Tablet, which has only 2GB ram, intel atom processor and 64Gb hard drive. It's a different class of table altogether, starters the Pro 2 uses a Intel Haswell which incredibly fast.

Also a side note at the start of the year I had the Asus Vivotab that had the same intel atom chip, it was slow, got stuck on screens, construction poor, pre-loaded with crapware and two months ago I was only left with 7mb on my harddrive. Battery life superb though (>12HRS) but simple tasks like surfing the web was a bad experience. Do not make the same mistake I made, you get what you pay for.

Thanks for taking the time to offer you thoughts. First off I just want to kick off and say I do not have any "conflicting interests". I have multiple products which use all the major operating systems and my main machine is a Windows device.

I'm glad the Surface Pro 2 caters to your needs, but lets look at the facts. This is Microsoft's 2nd attempt at a hybrid product and it needs improvement. Although you can disconnect the keyboard from the device, I've found that I've rarely disconnected it. This makes it a direct competitor to an Ultrabook. As I pointed out, the Sony has created an a larger 11in Ultrabook that is lighter and starts at £789. There are also many other OEM vendors which offer devices with better battery life and keyboard.

Reviews are subjective and I don't believe that in its current form the Surface Pro 2 is going to suit the needs of most employees. It's too big to be used as a tablet, too small to be an Ultrabook and the battery life isn't good enough for heavy-duty use. I'm sorry but having to use a device at 50 per cent brightness to get 7 hours is not good enough - not when devices like the MacBook Air 11in offer 9 hours.

Thanks
Khidr
Tech Ed IT Pro

Hi Steve,

Microsoft is pitching this a hybrid device - and to be honest it will be extremely hard to use for any productivity purposes without the keyboard attachment. This makes it much closer to a laptop than a tablet. You're right the iPad is not user upgradeable, but it's still easier to repair than the Surface. http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown...

As an owner of the surface pro 2, I can safely say that many of the reviewers concerns are non-issues in real world use. I don't normally comment, but I find this review a bit misleading.

Battery life is excellent - a good 5 hours during moderate use is typical. If it is running low - plug it in or turn down the brightness as you would do with a laptop. The ipad of course lasts longer, but it's not a high performance PC.

Kickstand - is great. Works beautifully on a desk. Comfortable on my lap, and unlikely to flip over using new kickstand position.

Size/weight - too big/heavy to use easily as tablet single handed. I tend to use both hands. Easily forgivable given what's packed inside.

Price - yes it is expensive but if you compare with alternative solutions there isn't a lot in it

Touch cover - haven't tried this but type cover 2 is as good as any laptop keyboard I have used. Touchpad is not great though

Repairability - I agree this is a concern once warranty has run out. It had better not stop working!

C'mon really? Surface scored a 1, but ipad only scored a 2, and that isn't even the ipad air. It hasn't been rated yet. Saying that it's harder to repair is like saying it's easier to do a liver transplant than a heart transplant. They are both hard!!
I also hope I don't have problems with my surface pro, but if my ipad broke I wouldn't be able to fix it myself either. And I have had to pay apple for a cracked screen on my iphone, it was 200 dollars. I can't imagine ipad repairs would be any cheaper than surface repairs because it has a few less screws.

I agree that reviews are subjective, and everyone is entitled to their own preferences. But I looked up the Sony 11 inch ultra book you mentioned. It is exactly 0.1pounds lighter than the surface. So I guess it is lighter but insignificantly so. It also seems to start at 128g models. That model compared to the surface pro2 128g model with type cover. The sony 11 was 40 dollars more expensive. And it didn't include the Wacom pen. So although reviewers like to say the surface pro is too expensive, it is actually very fairly priced. If you don't like it, then just say you don't like it. Try to find something wrong with any product and you will find it.

I think the only fair thing to do going forward is to include the upgradeability score of each product - whether it be iPad, Android or Windows tablet. You're right for most consumers it's not an issue - but I'm sure there would be IT admins out there who would be grateful for the info and may factor this into purchasing devices.

You make valid points. I think the point I was making is that Sony made a lighter device which is bigger, so Microsoft still has a way to go before it can outdo OEMs on the design front.

The Vaio also includes a keyboard as standard - something the Surface Pro 2 does not. I think many uses would prefer the keyboard to be included in the price instead of the stylus. Don't you agree?

At the end of the day, reviews are just there to provide information - it's always best to try and see the product such as this in the flesh before buying. But I'm glad we can

I personally like the pen, but I can see your point, most people would probably prefer the keyboard. A Wacom pen alone costs close to 100 dollars though, so it is worth mentioning that it is included. I appreciate your response, and I guess my biggest complaint is not with your article in particular, it's with the majority of tech articles who dismiss surface pro 2 as too expensive or too much compromise. The price is fair for what you get, and you do have compromises, but it is a solid device that will fit lots of peoples uses. Like you said I would hope people try it in the flesh before dismissing it because of something you read. Thanks again for responding.

Agreed. I believe that's a fair assessment.

I am also an owner of SPro 2 and would agree that the review seems too subjective.
The kickstand: very convenient, and in my view is not the one that "is sharp and can dig into your thighs" unless they are made of paper.
Before I bought it, I was afraid that it would be too heavy to use as a tablet. It is indeed quite heavy, but I personally have so far had no problems because there was always something where I can place it when I use it as a tablet.

Reviewers seems to get vastly different battery lives. For browsing, The Verge is getting close to 9 hours, AnAndtech over 8 hours. Windows Supersite about 7.5 hrs. ITPro gets 2 hours. An update on the 23rd also seems have improved battery life by 20-25%, although it's hard to tell whether the author applied it. Reviewers can't seem to agree on a single method for battery test. Even for the same web site, methods differs, I didn't see peacemaker and maximum brightness being used for things like Macbook Air.

It's one thing to be subjective, it's another to put out a chart showing 2hr wifi browser battery life. Then again, maybe people in the UK browse differently.

Hi Paper,

You are absolutely right. We have been testing out devices using full-brightness to-date. The 2hr battery life came from the Peackeeper Futuremark wi-fi browsing test which is available to everyone online - and works on all devices. It is quite a heavy duty test because it not only simulates images but plays videos. This was aimed at providing a worst case scenario - and it you ever do use a Surface Pro 2 at full brightness you will see the battery life drain quickly.

However, based on feedback we have received some amendments to our battery testing have been made going forward. The biggest change is that we have now switched to 75 per cent brightness. This new testing takes effect from the MacBook Air 15in review - http://www.itpro.co.uk/laptops...

I will update the Surface Pro 2 later this week to fact in the new testing method. I'm expecting an improvement - but no-where near the 9 hour mark.

As always thanks for taking the time to comment.

Khidr
Tech Ed, IT Pro