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Windows tablets Reviews
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Microsoft Surface Pro 2 review: A compact Ultrabook laptop and tablet with compromises

£719 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Microsoft

Our Rating: We rate this 3.5 out of 5

Microsoft is back with the second version of its Windows 8 tablet. Here's our Surface Pro 2 review.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Tying in with the launch of Windows 8.1, Microsoft has launched the second version of the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro 2 is a device designed to be a laptop and tablet in one. See also the original Surface Pro review - Microsoft tablet offers true power computing on the move and Surface Pro 2 is unique and brilliant... but not for you.

Surface Pro 2: Design and build

Side-by-side you'd be lucky to tell the Surface Pro 2 apart from the original since, outwardly, they're basically the same. It's a shame Microsoft couldn't put it on a diet but internal upgrades (we'll get to these in a minute) mean we can just about forgive the bulk.

Of course, when we say bulk, this is still a very compact device considering it's both a powerful Ultrabook as well as a touchscreen tablet. It's 13.5 mm thick and nearly 1kg in weight meaning once again it's the kind of device that's far better suited to use on a desk than on a lap or freehand.

The new two-stage kick stand certainly helps with using the Surface Pro 2 on your lap (and any situation), but we can't help but describe it as clunky compared to other tablets.

Detachable keyboards are optional so it has the form factor of a tablet.

Surface Pro 2 kick stand

Although the Surface Pro 2 is a bit of a beast, we can't really knock it on build-quality. If anything, the weight makes it feel reassuringly sturdy. It's well put together and superbly finished. The magnetic power cable, kick stand and keyboard covers all click satisfyingly into place.

There's the same gap around the edge which allows for cooling and sound to come from the speakers within. While some don't seem to like this gap, I think it looks good.

The Pro 2 isn't without competition: Sony's Tap 11 is impressively compact yet still has a full-size USB port like the Surface.

Surface Pro 2: As a laptop

What's the Surface Pro 2 like to use a laptop replacement, though? After all, that's what Microsoft says it is.

It's perfectly feasible to do 'real' work on the Pro since it runs Windows 8.1. This means you can install and run all your usual Windows programs. However, it's a compromise compared to a regular laptop in several ways.

For starters the screen is quite small at 10.6in in so tasks other than word processing can be difficult, especially if you don't use a mouse. The trackpad on the Touch- and Type Cover is tiny and awkward. You can of course use the touchscreen but for desktop applications you'll need a mouse pointer or the included digital pen to avoid getting frustrated with things such as drop-down menus.

If you're going to do serious amounts of typing then you'll want to buy the Type Cover which has proper physical keys but again, this is a compromise compared to a proper laptop. The Touch Cover, by contrast, has membrane-type keys and it's more akin to typing on a touchscreen than a proper keyboard. It's possible to get used to it, mind, and the Touch Cover supports swiping and other gestures which can can't do on the Type Cover.

Surface Pro 2: As a tablet

Despite what Microsoft wants you to think, the Surface Pro 2 isn't really a tablet. Technically, yes it is a tablet: is has a touchscreen, but it's just simply too big and heavy to be that handy piece of kit you instinctively reach for when you want to check the weather forecast or tweet a photo.

If you're reading this with a plan to buy the Surface Pro 2 instead of both a laptop and a tablet, this is certainly something to bear in mind. If the tablet side of things is particualrly important, you may well be better off buying two separate devices.

You won't even need to spend more money, as a combination of a Nexus 7, reviewed, and a modest Ultrabook can give you change from £750. You will of course end up carrying around more weight with two devices so it's a case of your priorities.

If using it as a tablet is less important than as a laptop then you should also check out other convertibles such as the Lenovo Yoga.

Surface Pro 2: As a desktop PC

Another way to look at the Surface Pro 2, which you probably haven't thought of, is as a desktop PC replacement.

With the docking station, which is yet to be launched, the Surface Pro 2 is arguably a better desktop replacement than a laptop replacement. If you don't want to shell out £164 for the docking station, though, you could still use the full-size USB port and Mini DisplayPort output.

Surface Pro 2 docking station

The device is perfectly cable of driving a second screen and you could connect multiple USB or Bluetooth peripherals. This way, the Surface Pro 2 can power a full-size monitor, mouse and keyboard when you're at your desk, reverting to the much smaller 10.6in screen and Type Cover on the move.

In this scenario, a device that costs £719 which can be a laptop, tablet and a desktop computer is more attractive, even if there are compromises in all modes.

Surface Pro 2: Hardware and performance

The main upgrade inside is the fourth-generation Intel Haswell processor. It's a 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U which is supposed to offer better performance and longer battery life. In PCMark 7 the Surface Pro 2 managed a score of 4,886 which is a very decent effort for something this small. However, the original Surface Pro scored 4,751 showing that neither machine is a slouch.

The scores are both up there with the latest Haswell Ultrabooks on this front, with the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus scoring 4648 (it shares the same CPU as the Surface Pro 2).

With integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400, the Surface Pro 2 can play the odd game. In Stalker: Call of Pripyat at our lowest test settings (720p and Medium detail), the Surface Pro 2 managed a playable 33 fps. At native 1080p, the framerate drops to 18fps.

Battery life

Microsoft boldly touts that the Haswell chip provides 75 percent more battery life than the original Surface Pro (which lasted five hours and eight minutes in our video-looping test). So we were expecting close to nine hours from the Surface Pro 2. 

Unfortunately, it didn't even come close. Instead, its battery gave up streaming video just before six hours. That's a resonable result when compared with other Haswell devices we've seen, but the MacBook Air shows how it should be done, lasting roughly 12 hours in the same test.

The Power Cover is essentially the Type Cover with a built-in battery. This promises up to 50 percent more battery life but this accessory won't arrive until next year so we can't verify these claims. It will no doubt help to some extent though, if you can afford the $199 price tag (it will likely cost around £150 in the UK).

Storage

Our tests are based on the 64GB model which comes with 4GB of RAM. The 128GB model has the same amount of memory but when you jump to a 256- or 512GB Surface Pro 2 you get 8GB of RAM. The highest spec model will set you back a whopping £1,439 so it's only really the £719 base model which makes sense if you're trying to replace a laptop and tablet with one device.

However, if you do opt for the 64GB model bear in mind that our sample had only 27GB available for our files. The good news is that there's a microSDXC card slot for adding more.

Screen

The Haswell chip, higher storage capacity and 8GB of RAM are where the hardware upgrades end. The Surface Pro 2 has the same 10.6 in ClearType Full HD (1920 x 1080) screen, although this is no bad thing since the screen remains excellent.

The IPS panel looks gorgeous in terms viewing angles, colour saturation and contrast. It's also nice and responsive to touch input which supports 10-point multi-touch. The main downside is the glossy finish which makes the Surface Pro 2 difficult to use in bright lighting and outdoors.

As you would expect, there's built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, plus front and rear 720p cameras. A neat little quirk is that the power adapter has a 5W USB port for charging other devices such as a smartphone.

Follow Chris Martin and @PCAdvisor on Twitter.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Expert Verdict »
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro
Screen: 10.6 in ClearType Full HD (1920 x 1080)
Processor: Intel Core i5-4200U (Haswell)
Storage: 64/128/256/512 GB
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11, USB 3.0, micro-SD expansion (up to 64GB), Mini DisplayPort
Stylus: Digital Pro Pen.
Battery: 42Wh
  • Build Quality: We give this item 8 of 10 for build quality
  • Features: We give this item 7 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 6 of 10 for value for money
  • Performance: We give this item 7 of 10 for performance
  • Overall: We give this item 7 of 10 overall

The Surface Pro 2 crams a serious amount of power into a compact frame - enough to worry the latest Ultrabooks. Its design may be spot on for some but we can't help feel that instead of being the best of both laptop and tablet worlds, it's neither. The price quickly rises if you veer away from the base model - many people would be better off with a separate laptop and tablet, and you might even save money. Those less bothered about the tablet side of things should consider a convertible device.

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BUY NOW: The Complete Guide to Windows 8. Available on digital format through Zinio and Apple's Newsstand



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