The Microsoft Surface has been, by just about any measure, a commercial flop. When your company writes off US$900 million in unsold stock, well, that writing is on the wall. But that doesn't mean the first-generation Surface and Surface Pro haven't made some customers very happy. If you're part of that, ahem, "elite" group, or think you might be sometime soon, do you spring for the Surface 2 or the Surface Pro 2? Join Gizmag, as we compare Microsoft's second round of hybrid tablets.
First things first: just to avoid confusion, the Surface 2 (left) relies exclusively on the Windows Store for its software. Desktop apps are a no-go on Windows RT-running devices like the Surface 2.
Microsoft markets both tablets as productivity-oriented devices, but only the Surface Pro 2 opens the door to the treasure trove of legacy Windows apps.
Sizes are very similar, but the Surface 2 is 34 percent thinner than the Surface Pro 2.
The Surface 2 is also 25 percent lighter than its Windows Pro-running sibling.
If you've ever handled a first-generation Surface, then you're looking at the same "VaporMg" build in both of the new models. We're fans of the Surface construction and build, so we aren't complaining about the lack of change in this category.
The biggest external change is a redesigned (dual position) kickstand, that makes it easier to use the Surface on your lap. As a device that can supposedly replace a laptop, we'd say that's a pretty important addition. Both new Surfaces have the dual kickstand.
The Surface Pro 2 retains the same pixel count as its predecessor, while the RT model makes the leap into 1080p land for the first time.
Just like last year, the new Surface Pro comes with a stylus ("Surface Pen"), which can come in handy while navigating those traditional desktop apps.
The Surface 2 runs an ARM-based mobile processor (similar to what you'd find in an iPad), while the Surface Pro 2 runs an Intel Core CPU (like you'd find in something like a MacBook).
The big news here is the Pro model's jump to a 4th-generation Intel Core Haswell processor, which should give its battery life a big boost over the first-gen Pro (more on battery life in a minute).
Appropriately, the Surface 2 has a smartphone-like 2 GB of RAM, while the Surface Pro 2 has a laptop-like 4 GB or 8 GB. As you'll see in a minute, though, you'll have to pay a pretty penny for the 8 GB models.
The Surface 2 retains the same 32 GB and 64 GB storage points that the original Surface RT had. With this year's Pro edition, though, Microsoft added some higher storage caps. At least in theory, these should help to make the new Pro more of a legit laptop replacement.
It isn't available at launch, but in the first half of 2014 Microsoft will start selling the RT version in an LTE-capable model. The Surface Pro 2 is going to be Wi-Fi only for the foreseeable future.
We haven't yet gotten our mitts on the new Surfaces, but the above show Microsoft's estimates. Actually, we don't recall Redmond promising seven-ish hours for the Pro 2, but the company did boast of a 75 percent increase over the Pro 1. We found it to get around four hours with typical use, so we're going with seven. We'll update after we put an actual unit through the paces.
The new Surface RT got some updated cameras, which should put its shooters in the same league as rivals like the iPad. The Pro 2 still has the same lackluster 720p cameras from the original Surface.
In case we haven't flogged this horse to death yet, remember that you get the limited Windows RT (Windows Store only) on the Surface 2, and the full Windows experience (including desktop apps) on the Surface Pro 2. Both devices ship with the brand spankin' new Windows 8.1.
Bundled Microsoft Office
Microsoft is hoping to sell a few customers on the Surface 2 by bundling a special Windows RT version of Office with the tablet. You can run full Office on the Surface Pro, but you'll have to open your purse strings once again to get in on that action.
Speaking of pricing, these are the minimum admission fees for each model. Unsurprisingly, the mobile processor-toting Surface 2 is priced more like an iPad, while the laptop-processor-toting Surface Pro 2 is priced more like a MacBook.
Once you add storage and RAM, though, that Pro model climbs in price very quickly. We're looking at $1,300 for a Pro 2 with a 256 GB SSD, and $1,800 for 512 GB.
Since the Surface's keyboard covers are such a big part of the experience, we want to make it crystal clear that neither version ships with any of the covers. You'll have to pony up an extra $120 (Touch Cover 2, no physical keys) or $130 (Type Cover 2, physical keys) for that.
Both devices, however, are still compatible with the first-generation Surface covers. You'll probably be able to find those used or discounted, if you want to save a few bucks.
Wrap-upMicrosoft hasn't given up on its convergent PC approach. Despite its poor sales, we were pretty happy with the first Surface Pro, and we can't blame the company for sticking to its vision. What is somewhat questionable is the decision to stick with an ARM-based Surface, in addition to the Intel-based Surface Pro. From a marketing perspective, it can confuse customers and distract from the more productive and versatile (via desktop apps) Surface Pro.
If you are considering the RT-based Surface 2, then we'd recommend that you take a long look at the Windows Store first. Because every single app you run on this puppy is going to come from there. Its selection has improved, but to say it's a far cry from the iPad's App Store is quite the understatement.
For a refresher on the first batch of Surfaces, you can check out our review of the original Surface Pro.