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Microsoft Surface Pro 2 review

Verdict

All-day battery life and a new kickstand help make the Surface Pro 2 one of the most compelling hybrids available

Review Date: 21 Oct 2013

Reviewed By: Barry Collins

Price when reviewed: 64GB, £599 (£719 inc VAT); 128GB, £666 (£799 inc VAT); 256GB, £866 (£1,039 inc VAT); 512GB, £1,199 (£1,439 inc VAT); Touch Cover 2, £83 (£100 inc VAT); Type Cover 2, £92 (£110 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £549
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

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Whereas Microsoft broke the tablet mould with the original Surface, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is a spot-the-difference competition when compared to its predecessor. Placed flat on a table next to the original Microsoft Surface Pro, you simply can't tell them apart; only if you flip them over do you see the telltale Surface logo of the new model. Instead, Microsoft is hoping that a revamped kickstand, internals and accessories are going to make all the difference to its tablet/laptop hybrid.

The Surface Pro 2 packs in Intel's Haswell CPU technology, a 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, which Turbo Boosts up to 2.6GHz when required. This does nothing to boost performance over its predecessor – a score of 0.61 in our Real World Benchmarks is actually marginally slower than the original – but the real benefit comes in the shape of extended battery life.

A full day's work was beyond the first Surface Pro, which managed only 5hrs 52mins in our light-use battery test. The Surface Pro 2 is built of sterner stuff, however: it lasted 9hrs 15mins, despite having exactly the same capacity battery (42Wh) as its predecessor. This means this device is likely to last a working day away from the mains plug, unlike its predecessor, which barely made it past lunchtime without requiring a top up.

On the exterior, little has changed. The Surface Pro 2 has the same Full HD display as its predecessor, and the same problems with desktop applications that aren't optimised for high-DPI displays: icons and onscreen menus are unbearably small in software such as Adobe Photoshop CC. The blame for this can hardly be laid at Microsoft's door – developers such as Adobe have had long enough to get their house in order – but it's a drawback nonetheless.

The high-DPI issue with Photoshop is even more galling now that Microsoft has decided to calibrate each screen before it leaves the factory, ensuring superb colour accuracy. Our colorimeter reported a stark contrast ratio of 899:1, a healthy peak brightness of 414cd/m2 and a near-perfect Delta E of 3.2, confirming what one glance at the Surface Pro 2's screen will tell you: this is a top-notch display, with the bright colours of the Start screen tiles popping off the screen. From sumptuous photography, to perfectly sized text in apps such as News and Sports, it all looks glorious.

It isn't without fault, however. Even without a keyboard attached, the Surface Pro 2 is still a lump, and at 920g, it's a shade heavier than the original. On the plus side, the Surface Pro 2 doesn't warm up quite as readily as its predecessor, making it a little more comfortable to hold for prolonged periods.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

It's compromised in laptop mode, too. Its revamped kickstand now has two positions, addressing one of our chief complaints with the original Surface – that it was too upright when used on a table in front of you. Yet, even with two positions to choose from, we still occasionally found ourselves yearning to reposition the screen to avoid reflections, as you would with a laptop.

Microsoft has also revamped the keyboard accessories for the Surface Pro 2. A backlight has been added to the Touch Cover 2, it's been slimmed down, made stiffer, and the number of sensors beneath its touch membrane has been boosted as well. Alas, none of this solves our prime concern with the Touch Cover: it's still difficult to get up to full typing speed on a device without any tactile feedback, and many keystrokes still go unregistered.

The new Type Cover 2 looks more promising. Microsoft has strengthened the base to help prevent the keyboard flexing when it's used on your lap, and has also added a backlight. Unfortunately, Microsoft was unable to deliver us a Type Cover 2 at the time of publication, so we'll update this review when we finally get our hands on one.

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User comments

I wish the majority the laptops/hybrids on the market were half as attractive as this, Microsoft certainly deserve credit for innovating, most PC companies slashed their R&D spending years ago, and just look at the state of the business.

Personally I am finding it difficult to justify the tablet side of the equation for just over a grand, and as a laptop I really need to see that jewel of a screen to judge how it works with desktop applications.

One thing I am glad about is that 256GB SSDs are entering the mainstream, it's only a matter of time before other manufacturers start offering the option. This is currently the thing that kills the Ultrabook concept dead-in-the-water for me, limited extra room for media on a 128GB SSD, and certainly not enough room for a large collection of software, once Windows OS is taken into account.

By c6ten on 21 Oct 2013

Pen

on the other hand, the pen on the Surface seems to be a decent size for writing with, the main point, one would assume.

I have an ATIV and the pen fits nicely in the case, like the Note, but it is very small and your hand feels cramped very quickly - one of the reasons why Samsung sells full sized pens for the Note and ATIV lines.

@c6ten just over a grand? The starting price is 599, which isn't much different to an iPad, at 559 for the 64GB version.

And you can do a lot more with the Surface than you can with an iPad.

I certainly wouldn't swap my Atom powered ATIV for an iPad, although I might upgrade it to a Surface or Baytrail based tablet...

By big_D on 22 Oct 2013

@big_d

c6ten is right if you're looking at the 256GB version, which from his comments I assume he is. It's a seriously lovely piece of kit, but given what you can get for half that money I couldn't justify it myself.

By jgwilliams on 22 Oct 2013

Thanks, yes I was looking at the 256GB version, and I'm afraid I can't deduct VAT for tax reasons so the base price is more in line with a mid-range Ultrabook (£719).

As for its utility as a tablet I keep hearing scare stories about the Microsoft app store, and I doubt it has the range of apps available on iOS. However, if it is considered a laptop replacement the equation changes. A 10.6in display strikes me as quite tiny, and as I say I would have to inspect one for myself. I am in the market for a 13" screen at the moment, but if they've got the DPI scaling sorted out 10.6" might work.

By c6ten on 22 Oct 2013

@c6ten

My notebook (remember those?) has a 10" screen which is a bit small if I'm using as if it was a normal laptop but if I'm using it on the go when it's most likely to be on my lap, it's reasonably usable

By johnfair4 on 23 Oct 2013

Just bought one

As long as you keep the reasons for having one in the right context it's fine.

If I just wanted a tablet I wouldn't buy one. If I just wanted a PC I wouldn't buy one.

But next week when I go to a conference for 3 days I can do a bit of tablety stuff and catch up on work. In this respect I'll be grateful to carry the Surface rather than my ThinkPad.

By SparkyHD on 23 Oct 2013

Display and Store

I have an 11.6" ATIV with HD display, not FUll HD. It is good enough for working on day to day, but I dock it and plug in a 24" monitor for serious desktop work.

As to the App Store, what scare stories? I have been using Windows 8 since release and have never had any problems.

What I do like is that app developers can provide a demo version of the app, so you can try before you buy - as opposed to having to download a free, lite versions, then uninstalling that and installing the purchased version, if you like the app. Better than with iOS and Android, with free versions cluttering up the "your apps" section or having to go through and delete the dead wood.

I don't know what apps you need, so I can't really comment there, but for me, it has everything I've needed so far.

I use OneNote, not Evernote. I've heard the EN App is dreadful and you are better off with the desktop version, but the OneNote app is very nice and compliments the desktop version.

Facebook has arrived and Flipboard and Instagram are due soon, although there are good free alternatives for using Instagram and Vines, for example.

By big_D on 24 Oct 2013

Bridging the gap

I have had a Wacom Companion for a couple of weeks. They had a wide advertising campaign prior to its launch and it would have been a perfect comparison tablet computer to compare against the surface pro. Any chance you can do some benchmarking on a proper desktop replacement.

By kfaskin1 on 25 Oct 2013

@big_d

Re: "Scare stories", How about this from TA: "The paucity of decent Windows Store apps is still a problem". I don't know that this is "scary" as such, but it's guaranteed to deter customers.

By c6ten on 25 Oct 2013

Excellent Speakers!

The speakers blew me away! Must be the best sound I've ever heard from a mobile device. And there seems to be a lot of them too. Beaming beautiful crisp and clear sound in every direction. And I think it does surprisingly well on graphics too. Since the screen is kind of small it doesn't matter that you have to compromise on graphics. They still look good.

By kreaturen on 26 Oct 2013

Who needs a laptop

I've been using a Samsung series 7 for a year now and have only taken my laptop on a business trip twice in that time ,both because I knew I needed a VGA connection.

So a Windows 8 slate has proved to be a brilliant tool. One device that is a full power tablet in meetings and a full power laptop (using a wedge mouse and keyboard) on the intercity. In the office a 22" monitor makes it a viable desktop replacement.

So it's a single device that does three jobs; my rucksack has never been so light (I don't need a separate overnight bag as a consequence).

The Samsung, however, is flawed: poor battery life, low res screen, Surface Pro 2 nails these and in a better physical package.

For intercity business types it's just what we need. Unless the Nokia is better...

By gt6man on 26 Oct 2013

Listed for £110

The summary listing on your home page brings up the price of the typecover, not the product.

By r0bert0 on 28 Oct 2013

Battery life expectancy

Given that this device joins the growing number of devices that make it impossible for the user to replace a battery, how long is the battery performance going to be maintained? This is an issue that never seems to be addressed.

By bamboozle on 16 Nov 2013

Battery life expectancy

Given that this device joins the growing number of devices that make it impossible for the user to replace a battery, how long is the battery performance going to be maintained? This is an issue that never seems to be addressed.

By bamboozle on 16 Nov 2013

Battery life expectancy

Given that this device joins the growing number of devices that make it impossible for the user to replace a battery, how long is the battery performance going to be maintained? This is an issue that never seems to be addressed.

By bamboozle on 16 Nov 2013

Funny

http://www.examiner.com/article/if-the-surface-pro
-had-been-built-by-apple

By rhythm on 16 Jan 2014

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