Microsoft Surface 2 vs Surface Pro 2 review

31 Oct 2013

Powerful, long-lasting and desirable – Microsoft’s homegrown tablets get the formula right at the second attempt

With unsold stock of the Surface RT burning a billion-dollar hole in Microsoft’s finances, the company needs to make amends. Enter the new Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 models, which boost the specifications, extend battery life and give Microsoft a fighting chance of avoiding another expensive write-down.

Design differences

While the two first-generation Surface models were peas in a pod physically, they’ve now gone their separate ways. Both new models are fitted with a dual-position kickstand, addressing one of our chief complaints with the original, fixed-position models, which were too upright to use comfortably on your lap. However, this is where the similarities end.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Keyboards and docks

Touch Cover 2 (£109 inc VAT)
Similar to last year’s Touch Cover, only now backlit and boasting one or two fancy features, such as moving from word to word by swiping across its surface. The small touchpad is responsive, but it’s still too difficult to achieve full touch-typing speed without “proper” keys.

Type Cover 2 (£119 inc VAT)
This also benefits from a backlight, which comes on only when needed. The bigger improvement to Microsoft’s laptop-like keyboard is the increased strength of the base; it’s now possible to type on your lap without the entire keyboard flexing and some keys becoming inoperable.

Power Cover (TBC)
Due in early 2014, and only for the Surface Pro 2, the Power Cover is a Type Cover with an integrated second battery. This could almost double the longevity of the tablet, which means it may be worth postponing a purchase until this keyboard becomes available.

Docking Station (£165 inc VAT)
The Surface Pro Docking Station, also not due until early next year, will offer one USB 3 socket, three USB 2 ports, mini-DisplayPort and Ethernet sockets, plus charging capability. It’s likely to be a must-have for anyone contemplating using the Surface Pro 2 as their day-to-day office PC.

The Surface Pro 2 – the full-fat tablet running Windows 8.1 – has an almost identical build to its predecessor; only a new Surface logo on the rear distinguishes it from the original Surface Pro. As such, it remains a lightweight pseudo-laptop when used with a keyboard, but a hefty, 920g device to hold in the hand as a tablet.

The ARM-based Surface 2, on the other hand, has been redesigned – note that the contaminated RT brand has been sidelined – and is marginally slimmer and lighter than its predecessor. It weighs 654g – almost 200g more than Apple’s iPad Air – and sports a silver livery, distinguishing it from the gun-metal black of the Pro.

The big difference for the Surface 2 is the screen, which now matches the Pro’s 10.1in Full HD resolution. It’s a notable bump from the 1,366 x 768 display on the Surface RT, and our colorimeter reported a stark contrast ratio of 899:1, a healthy peak brightness of 414cd/m[sup]2[/sup] and a near-perfect Delta E of 3.2. This confirms what one glance at either screen will tell you: the display is top-notch, with the primary colours of the Start screen tiles almost popping off the screen. In fact, no device we’ve come across makes the Windows 8.1 Start screen look more appealing. It’s a shame that a few regular x86 desktop apps, such as Google Chrome and Adobe Photoshop, aren’t optimised for high-DPI screens, since this makes text look blurry and icons and onscreen menus annoyingly small.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

What’s inside?

Despite the Surface 2’s exterior overhaul, it’s what’s inside that makes the difference to both tablets. The Surface Pro 2 packs a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U, which Turbo Boosts to 2.6GHz when required. However, its fourth-generation Haswell architecture does nothing to boost performance over its Ivy Bridge predecessor: an overall score of 0.61 in our Real World Benchmarks is actually marginally lower than that of the original.

It does, however, extend the battery life considerably. A full day’s work was beyond the original Surface Pro, which managed only 5hrs 52mins in our light-use battery test. The Surface Pro 2 is built of sterner stuff: in the same test, it lasted for 9hrs 15mins, despite packing exactly the same 42Wh battery as its predecessor. This means it’s likely to survive a working day away from the mains, unlike the original Pro, which would barely make it past lunchtime.