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Review: Microsoft Surface Pro 2

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March 13, 2014

Gizmag reviews the Surface Pro 2,

Gizmag reviews the Surface Pro 2,

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With the first Surface Pro, Microsoft laid out its vision of the future: one mobile device with the guts of a laptop that can replace your tablet, laptop, and maybe even desktop. Unfortunately that first model also brought along some sketchy battery life. But what happens when you improve on that by 75 percent? You have the Surface Pro 2, a much less compromised hybrid PC.

Apart from smartphones and the occasional smartwatch, I've been using the Surface Pro 2 as my only computer for the last couple of work weeks. Usually those kinds of experiments end with a sigh of relief that they're over. Record observations, comment on the journey, and go back to the devices that have already earned a place in my workflow and playflow.

But this time? Well, let's just say some of my old devices are going to be looking for new homes. I often have to switch between work and play at the drop of a dime, so the idea of hybrids like the Surface always appealed to me. But with some big improvements in a few key places, the Pro 2 finally lives up to the future that Microsoft pitched back in 2012. Simply put, this thing's a versatile beast.

This new 55 degree angle for the (dual-position) kickstand makes a big difference

The biggest improvement comes from using it in laptop mode. I thought the first Surface Pro was sorta good as a tablet, kinda good as a laptop, and pretty cool when you rolled it all up into one. But the Pro 2 is actually a damn good laptop. With very few physical changes from last year's model, how is this possible?

It starts with the new dual-position kickstand. As we mentioned in our Surface 2 review (remember, that's the model than runs a more limited version of Windows), the new kickstand now props up your Surface in either a 55 degree angle or a 22 degree angle. It might not sound like a big deal, but it makes a huge difference when you're actually using it on your lap.

I find the 22 degree angle (the only option in the first-gen model) to be a little awkward on my lap. I can't look at the screen head-on, and it's more prone to falling down if I shift my legs. But the new 55 degree position is just about perfect. I can lean back and recline, with the kickstand leaning comfortably on my legs.

Touch Cover 2 (left) and Type Cover 2

Another big improvement comes from the Type Cover 2. Just because Microsoft's Surface keyboard covers are sold separately, don't think for a second that they're optional. The covers are essential purchases if you're throwing down for any Surface. And while you could save a few bucks and use one of the first-gen covers with the Surface Pro 2, I think the new Type Cover 2 is worth the extra money. For starters, it's firmer. When typing on your lap, you don't want a flimsy keyboard that could bend back and forth and muck up whatever it is you're typing. The Type Cover 2 feels much more stable on lap.

The new Type Cover also has better keys. A shorter travel distance gives them a very snappy feel. It makes typing on the Surface just about on par with the experience of using a dedicated laptop. It also has some new backlit keys, so you'll hopefully make a few less typos in the dark.

As for the Touch Cover 2, which lacks physical keys, I think it's also better than its predecessor. But in most cases I'd still recommend the Type over the Touch. I've spent years adjusting to various touchscreen keyboards, but nothing I've found has replaced the feeling of good old-fashioned moving keys. Most of this is repeated from our Surface 2 review, so I won't drone on any more about the keyboard covers. But feel free to hit that up if you want a bit more detail on the new models.

The Pro 2 makes a great laptop replacement

The last big improvement in laptop mode comes from battery life. Microsoft says that the new Pro 2 lasts 75 percent longer than its predecessor, and I'd say that's about right on the money. On a typical day I use the Surface Pro 2 very heavily – browsing feeds in tablet mode, spending hours in Photoshop on the desktop, and lots of typing – and its battery handles that workflow better than you might expect. I usually drop it on a charger during longer breaks, just to be safe, but even when I don't it usually lasts a good portion of the day. Behold the power of Haswell.

Of course ARM-based devices like the Surface 2 and iPad are always going to have better battery life than x86 PCs like the Surface Pro 2. That's just the nature of the beast. But Intel's battery-sipping Haswell chips have things looking up on the x86 side.

If you want to stretch the Surface Pro 2's battery life out even longer, Microsoft's Power Cover finally goes on sale next week. It's basically a thicker and heavier Type Cover 2, minus the backlit keys, but – here's the killer part – plus a built-in battery. Microsoft says it can extend your Surface's battery life by up to 70 percent. US$200 is pretty pricey for a keyboard accessory, but if it lives up to those estimates, I think it's definitely worth a look. I pre-ordered one, and will be reviewing it within the next couple of weeks.

The Surface Pro 2 is thick and heavy for a tablet, but we think the pros outweigh those co...

As a tablet, the Surface Pro 2 is still a lot thicker and heavier than something like the iPad Air or Kindle Fire HDX 8.9. But just remember that those tablets don't transform into laptops and they certainly don't run full desktop operating systems. The Surface Pro 2 is a different kind of device, and this kind of device is going to have some heft.

Despite the bulk and weight, I don't have a problem using the Surface Pro 2 as a tablet. Of course you aren't going to want to hold it in one hand or expect it to feel like a paperback book for marathon reading sessions. But the nice thing is its screen is big enough that I can usually just rest it on my lap and, more or less, forget about the weight. Would be nice to shave some millimeters and grams off of its chassis? You bet – and I imagine future models will do just that. But I still think the Surface Pro 2's versatility far outweighs its beefiness. And if you want a Surface that's lighter and thinner – and you don't mind sacrificing desktop apps – then the Surface 2 is much more comfortable to hold as a tablet.

The Surface Pen is identical to the model that shipped with the first Surface Pro

The Surface Pen stylus, a big point of differentiation from most other Windows 8 hybrids, is back with the Pro 2. And by "back," I mean it's exactly the same as it was in the first-gen model. That isn't a bad thing: the Wacom-based pen is still accurate, comfortable to hold, and snaps into the tablet's charging port for easy storage. It's excellent for navigating those desktop apps that don't work well with fat fingers, it makes selecting text a breeze, and it's a great companion for Photoshop. Just don't expect anything new or different from last year's stylus.

In my experience, overall performance is pretty damn good. Of course it zipped through every Metro (Start Screen) app I threw at it, but it's also a workhorse on the desktop. Photoshop is easily the most processor-intensive app I use, and everything there is as fast as I'd want it to be. Even demanding filters like content-aware fills on high-resolution images process in ten seconds or less.

When you add its stylus (included) and keyboard cover (sold separately) the Pro 2 is one h...

So who is the Surface Pro 2 for? Well, if your creating content and consuming content overlap and intertwine, then you're probably going to love it. I often jump from browsing feeds to surfing the web to writing emails to drafting posts to creating images in Photoshop (with a few other stops along the way), and this is pretty much the ideal device for that. Its tablet mode is better for the consumption part than laptops are, and its laptop mode is much better for the creation and work parts than iPads and Android tablets are. Hell, you can even hook it up to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to replace your old desktop PC (and Microsoft sells a US$200 Docking Station if you want to make that transition easier).

It's easy to gasp at the sight of the Surface Pro 2's $900 starting price. Add an essential keyboard cover to the mix, and you're paying a minimum of $1,020. And that's just for the base 64 GB version (though its microSD card slot can help to stretch that out). Price points only go up from there, capping out at $1,800 for the 512 GB version. Make no mistake: this is a premium, high-end device.

The new model has the exact same VaproMg (magnesium alloy) chassis as the first model

But if you do want the power of a Windows-running laptop along with the perks of a touchscreen tablet, then consider how many other devices the Surface Pro 2 could replace. The 11-in MacBook Air starts at $1,000. That just about covers a Surface and keyboard cover alone. But if you want to add a tablet to your collection, tag on another $230 for a Nexus 7, $400 for a Retina iPad mini, or $500 for an iPad Air. And none of those devices have digitizers for "real" styluses, so if that's a must for you, throw in another $90 or so for a pen and tablet bundle.

Of course not everyone needs all of that. If all you're looking for is a device that lets you surf the web, post on Facebook and Twitter, watch Netflix, and play the latest Flappy Bird clone, then grab an ARM-based tablet and call it a day. Or if your workflow rarely extends beyond Office and emails, then a Surface 2 might be what the doctor ordered.

But if the simplicity of so-called post-PC devices doesn't cut it for you, and you long for the power and versatility of a desktop OS, then the Surface Pro 2 can be an outstanding device. It still makes for a beefy tablet, but if you can live with that part? Well, you get one hell of a versatile and portable PC.

The Surface Pro 2 starts at $900 (plus $130 for the Type Cover 2 or $200 for the battery-extending Power Cover) and is available at various online and brick & mortar retailers, including the product page below.

Product page: Microsoft

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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11 Comments

got one myself for 8GB 256gb 4300u and I really can't complain how this little thing handles all my softwares (photoshop, MS office, lightroom, Portrait Pro, sns HDR) without hiccup

the only letdown is the pen accuracy towards the edge of screen...

even though Microsoft has released latest firmware, the issue was just minimised, not 100% resolved....

Steve Jo
13th March, 2014 @ 04:45 pm PDT

All you said about the docking station was that they sell one....great.

But is it any good? Isn't this something that would compliment the surface given they are going for the whole tablet desktop pc? do you recommend buying one?

and for crying out loud Microsoft, hurry up and release the dock in Australia already!!!!

Justin Brooks
13th March, 2014 @ 05:32 pm PDT

Now if they could only stuff Blutooth and a phone chip in there somewhere ...

The Skud
13th March, 2014 @ 06:44 pm PDT

If they do Bluetooth, then make it APT-X

Chevypower
14th March, 2014 @ 07:29 am PDT

This is a pricy tablet for sure, but if you think of it as a tablet, laptop and (for some users - when docked with a full keyboard, mouse and monitor) desktop replacement as well, then it makes more sense.

PPartisan
14th March, 2014 @ 08:06 am PDT

@The Skud - according to its Wiki, it has Bluetooth 4.0 in there already.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Surface_Pro_2

mados123
14th March, 2014 @ 08:46 am PDT

Skud - my first generation Surface Pro has Bluetooth. I'm pretty certain they all do.

The best part of this article (at least the part that makes me the happiest) is that MS is FINALLY going to ship that Power Cover. I can't begin to imagine what the hold up has been there, but as a first gen user, it's a necessity! I'll be preordering mine today.

On a different note (and I say this as a day one iOS user), I'm really disappointed to learn of the end of the Windows/Android potential. The Windows Marketplace has matured relatively slowly, and the rumors of some sort of collaboration have slowed Windows App development for months now. There are a few apps I need on my tablet that are simply not there and may never be. While it's true that Photoshop CS6 or CC can be run on the Surface Pro, it's not an ideal match in terms of sheer bulk. In my opinion, Snapseed is a much better solution for shoot-and-upload photography than PS Mobile. I have LightRoom on there, as well, and have used it since it's first early beta. It's not a great solution, either. Plus, to be realistic, if you're a serious enough photographer to be using any of Adobe's professional grade software, you're still better served with a desktop, pen input, and a large calibrated monitor or preferably two. At least there's potential that Adobe is building a tablet version of LR, I just worry that like so many other useful apps, it will directed primarily at iOS and likely Android with Windows being a distant or never opportunity.

Vince Pack
14th March, 2014 @ 09:10 am PDT

Will,

Thank you for the review. Coming from you, this review means a lot since I have always (right or wrong) considered you to show a strong preference for the Apple ecosystem. We all have our preferences and I respect the fact that you seem to have an open mind in your reviews. Similarly, I would say that I have a bias against Apple although I own several Apple products, an almost equal number of Android products (which I use more often) and a similar number of Windows products (used most frequently).

I almost pulled the trigger on the original Surface Pro but held off because of the battery life issue. I said at the time that if SP1 had a Haswell processor, I would have bought it. Subsequently the decision has become a little more cloudy due to many new hybrids coming on the market (I have tried the ASUS Trio and about 6 other devices but find them all lacking even though they are almost all cheaper than the SP2). Now, I have been waiting for the power cover and will ensure that it is as good as the Type cover before making my purchase (I might even wait for your review).

S.

Steve
14th March, 2014 @ 11:46 am PDT

I have been using my Surface Pro 2 (512) for just over a month. I did buy this in anticipation of replacing my development laptop.

I agree just about everything said in the review. In my situation, I write software that uses SQL server and I use Visual Studio to write apps in C#. Should I been working in a LAMP or JavaScript only shop then I would have gone for the Mac, but writing for Windows is where all of my income comes from. Thanks to the SSD, it is super fast to boot, compile and run software and when I am at work, it is connected to a full size monitor and keyboard so it transforms nicely to a desktop machine. Everything works smoothly, the physically feel high quality like Apple stuff.

When I am traveling, everything I need is on the same machine, it will fit nicely on the airplane seat tray and and can use it to play music or movies back at hotels.

So essentially for what I do and I need, this will do everything.

For those who are used to iPads or Nexus (which I have too), I have to say that mobile apps are still on a very slim side, and once you get into more game or consumer apps, the choices are really slim. If you are on a content consumer side of the equation, going to iPads or Android devices is cheaper and better battery life option.

For example I read Safari Books online a lot and there is no "touch" app for it. Fortunately HTML5 platform can be used like Chrome or Firefox (and of course IE too) so that alleviate the situation in most cases.

Another weakness is the cameras. It does not take as good of photos as my iPhone 5 and no HDR option. But then you probably have a mobile with decent camera so it is not a deterrent. I am sure this will improve in time.

One thing I am really happy using is One Note with Drawing. Without the digitizer Evernote worked well but I am going to abandon Evernote now. The digitizer and pen is amazingly accurate. It is basically same as using a professional WACOM graphics digitizer with pressure sensitivity. Without the Mac One Note, it ties me a bit into Microsoft eco system but then again, for my situation that's where I am anyway. But then iTunes will work on it so it's not a total loss either.

As for the lack of cellular connection built-in, it is best to opt for the "my-fi" device. It a far better option as you now have a choice of devices to ditch or upgrade or even add access to kids or wife's computers without dealing with the phone companies.

So like the review says, if you use Windows to do content creation or software development and looking for a serious laptop replacement, I think you will find Surface Pro 2 a very great device.

Also if you are used to Windows 7, it takes about just a few hours to get used to 8.1. Not a huge deal to work the new Start menu.

Manabu Tokunaga
16th March, 2014 @ 10:11 pm PDT

I liked the review. I now finally know what a "Surface Pro 2" actually is! I wish MS would have used different naming for their various "tablets"... Might have confused less people!?

Brian W. Allan
17th March, 2014 @ 09:00 am PDT

So a computer estimated to get 7 hours of battery life turns in 2 while watching a video. Surprising. Perhaps worth looking into?

Was it simultaneously being updated to Windows 8.1 Update?

Was it indexing the hard drive? Had it been off for weeks in a drawer and running a bunch of maintenance tasks?

Was it set to high performance mode, because, you can never push an i5 processor hard enough when watching a video.

Did you watch the video in iTunes?

I ask this because I have watched many simultaneous hours of movies at times with my SP2. Never have I managed to run it down in 2 hours, even reducing data.

Eric Pellegrini
9th May, 2014 @ 08:15 am PDT
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