Surface Pro 2 review: Microsoft's tablet hybrid is worth your time, but perhaps not your money

Microsoft's updated Surface range is stunningly designed, but Windows 8.1 will still confuse some customers

When Microsoft had to write down $900 million of unwanted inventory in July this year, there was only one device that could be responsible.


The Surface tablet – or, tablets rather; the RT and the more expensive Pro – weren't best loved by customers, with the original pair essentially laughed out of town when Microsoft claimed they offered the functionality of both a tablet and a laptop.

Microsoft are still making the same claims and it's still as difficult a challenge. However, with this update to the Surface line, they're closer than they've ever been before. Whilst broad swathes of the market attempt to be the 7-inch king of entertainment and with Apple positioning the iPad air as a productivity machine of their own, it's worth seeing exactly how far Microsoft have come with the Surface.

Note: There are two tiers of Surface devices – the more expensive and more powerful Intel-powered Surface Pro 2 and the ARM-powered Surface 2 (previously the Surface RT). The latter uses Windows RT 8.1 (which doesn’t support software designed for Windows 7 and earlier) whilst the former uses Windows 8.1 (the 'full fat'version). We do have something to say about the Surface 2 as well though, so read on.

Design and build

Firstly, the Surface Pro 2 is visually identical to its predecessor. It’s made from the same Microsoft-patented VaporMG material and still offers a distinctly ‘premium’ feel (although it also attracts both smudges and nicks).  It also has the same port allocation, meaning there’s a USB 3.0 connection for your various sticks and drives - something the iPad still doesn't offer.

Unfortunately, the Pro 2 also has the Pro’s same weight problem: it’s 900g and more than half an inch thick. This may not sound like much but it’s just less than double the size and weight of the new iPad air and it means the Pro 2 never feels like a tablet. You wouldn’t take it out on the bus to read ebooks with, though you might if you could grab a table on the train.

The kickstand in the new Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 can now be set at two different angles - meaning it's possible, but not easy, to use it on your lap.

Kickstand and keyboard

On a flat surface is where Microsoft’s 'hybrid' really comes into its own (though hopefully not where it got its name): attach a keyboard and plonk it on a desk or table and the Surface Pro 2 is a wonderful device. Microsoft have finally upgraded the kickstand so it works in two positions - one of which appropriate for an actual computer - and the keyboard accessories are beautifully designed.

Microsoft offers two of them, both of which do duty as a cover and are held into place by a pair of satisfyingly clunky magnets (never underestimate the psychological pleasure of a good clunk).

The Surface Pro 2 with the Type Cover 2 attached. Purple may not be everybody's cover, but Microsoft have done a fantastic job in packing a good keyboard into the Type Cover 2's slim form.

There's the £99.99 Touch Cover 2 and the £109.99 Type Cover 2. The Touch Cover is made out of a sort of felt material with a tiny touchpad on the bottom - it's backlit and beuatifully responsive  but still feels awkward for long periods of typing. Happily the Type Cover is a perfect complement for th Surface Pro. It's a little thicker than the Touch Cover, sure, but for only £10 more it allows you type happily all day.

Battery and screen

The battery life is one of the most significant areas of improvement for the Surface Pro.  The first generation barely lasted for longer than four hours at a time but the  new version (with help from a firmware update out earlier this month) easily pushes past the eight hour mark.

This means you'll get a full day’s work out of it and considering how you might use the device (eg, a couple of hours a day during travel) then you might not even need a charger for days at a time.

The screen on the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 is 10.6-inches diagonally, with a 1920x1080 resolution.

However, you'll have to dial down that battery life if you plan to take full advantage of the Pro 2's gorgeous screen. The 10.6-inch display is full HD with a 1920 x 1080 resolution that offers fantastic viewing angles. And although the screen can feel somewhat letter boxy when  browing the web, the slightly flattened ratio is perfect for films.

'Productivity'

This is how Microsoft is really trying to sell the Surface Pro - as a machine that can replace your laptop and offer the same functionality. In terms of specs there's no doubt that the Surface Pro 2 is impressive: there's a fourth generation Intel Haswell i5 powering the thing and you can choose 4GB or 8GB of RAM. Hard drives go from 64GB to 512GB, though there's also 200GB free cloud storage for 2 years.

 In pure numbers, the Pro 2 is easily the equal of more equivalent laptops - though at its highest specs (with the keyboard on top) it does end up as pricier than an equivalent laptop from Apple. That will certainly be a sticking point for all but the most partisan users.

The desktop mode oof Windows 8.1 will still be a haven for many newcomers to the OS.

However, the problem with being productive on the Surface is with the software, not the hardware. Now is not the time for an exhaustive examination of the faults and virtues of Windows 8.1, so to put it simply there's a bit of a learning curve. x

When you're just working in a single window it's all good, but as soon as you try any serious multitasking everything just seems that everything takes a couple more steps than you'd like. Microsoft have tried to solve this with more options to switch between windows and split the screen in two, but it's just not enough. This doesn't put it behind its competitors, but it doesn't push it out in front either.

Conclusion

I must confess, I have a bit of a soft spot for the Surface. The look and feel of the device are fantastic and Microsoft throws all the perks it can at you: free cloud storage, free Skype calls, even a very under-publicised but very good ad-supported music streaming service, Xbox Music. The hardware is all there too; in terms of design and power, battery life and screen quality.

Unfortunately, the price is still a major sticking point. Yes, the Pro 2 'starts' at £719 but once you take into account what actually need it becomes a pricey device. There's the keyboard (£829); because the operating system takes up nearly half of a 64GB drive so you'll probably want to bump that up to 128GB storage (£909); and you'll need Office if you're going to get any work done (currently discounted from £80 to £60 - so it's now £969).

At this point the Surface Pro 2 costs £100 more than an 11-inch MacBook Air with nearly identical specs, and if you're only buying this device for light use then, well, you'll want to look elsewhere.

The Surface 2 is thinner and lighter than the Pro 2, offering many of the same features for less money.

One more thing...

However, if you are only looking to get a new tablet for light work - some point and click web browsing, a bit of iPlayer and tapping out some emails - then the Pro 2's little brother, the Surface 2, might actually be a good fit. It gets all the kudos the Pro 2 gets for the quality screen and design build, but is also lighter and thinner.

The main problem for the Surface 2 is the lack of a full operating system. Windows RT has no desktop mode and no legacy software. As a compensation it comes with Office (saving you the £60) but you'll still need to get a keyboard to make any use of this.

Prices start from £359 for a 32GB device and £439 for 64GB - so this still isn't a cheap device, but it's worth considering rather than instantly discarding as an option. If using Windows RT holds no fear for you (and definitely try before you buy) then the Surface 2 can be as fluid and responsive as you'd want

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

    Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Analyst (SSRS) - Essex - up to £60,000

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Report Analyst - Essex - up to £60,0...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Network Technician

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run IT service busi...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen