Microsoft Surface Pro 2 review: Better, but too heavy and too expensive

Microsoft Surface Pro 2 review: Better, but too heavy and too expensive

Summary: The Haswell-based Surface Pro 2 delivers improved performance and battery life, and its dual-angle kickstand is also welcome. However, the Pro 2's unchanged chassis design feels bulkier and heavier than ever, and it becomes very expensive when fully accessorised.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.7
  • User rating:
    5.8
  • RRP:
    £703.32

Pros

  • Improved performance and battery life
  • Good 10.6-inch full-HD multitouch display
  • Backlit Touch Cover 2
  • Wide range of available accessories, including docking station

Cons

  • Bulky and heavy
  • Magnetic power connection is still awkward
  • No support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • No GPS, NFC or mobile broadband
  • Expensive

Back in February, when we reviewed Microsoft's third-generation (Ivy Bridge) Core i5-based Surface Pro running Windows 8 Pro, we concluded that it "...combines ultrabook components with a (chunky) 10.6in. tablet form factor to deliver decent performance and excellent build quality. However, a few design issues, missing features and, above all, disappointing battery life suggest you'd be wise to wait and see how this product develops". Well, the product has now developed — into the fourth-generation (Haswell) Core i5-based Surface Pro 2 running Windows 8.1 Pro. So has Microsoft addressed those design issues, missing features and, above all, that disappointing battery life?

Price comparison
The Surface Pro was a premium device, and the Surface Pro 2 is no different. It starts at £719 (inc. VAT) for the 4GB RAM/64GB SSD model reviewed here, with three other variants available: 4GB/128GB for £799; 8GB/256GB for £1,039; and 8GB/512GB for £1,439. There's a good range of accessories, including updated Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2 snap-on keyboard/covers for £109.99 and £99.99 respectively — the former now available in four colours and the latter now with backlighting.

Just how premium the Surface Pro 2 is emerges when you compare pricing for Microsoft's tablet+Type Cover 2 combo with Apple's equivalent 11.6-inch MacBook Air:

4GB/128GB Surface Pro 2 + Type Cover 2  £909
4GB/128GB MacBook Air  £849

8GB/256GB Surface Pro 2 + Type Cover 2  £1,149
8GB/256GB MacBook Air  £1,109

8GB/512GB Surface Pro 2 + Type Cover 2  £1,549
8GB/512GB MacBook Air  £1,349

At the top end of the range, the price advantage in favour of the MacBook Air is a startling £200 (inc. VAT). If you accept our judgement that the (13-inch) MacBook Air is "one of the most desirable ultraportable notebooks on the market", then we suspect the Surface Pro 2 will mainly appeal to well-heeled and committed Windows users who particularly value the device's hybrid tablet/ultrabook nature.

It's worth pointing out that Surface Pro buyers get 200GB of free SkyDrive storage for two years, compared to Apple's 5GB of free iCloud storage.

The price of our review configuration was £719 for the 4GB/64GB Surface Pro 2, £99.99 for the Touch Cover 2 and £24.99 for the Surface Pen — a total of £843.98 (inc. VAT, or £703.32 ex. VAT).

sp2-thumb
The Surface Pro 2 uses the same chassis as its Surface Pro predecessor, but upgrades key internal components, the kickstand design and several of the accessories. Shown here is the backlit Touch Cover 2. (Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet)

Design

In terms of general look and feel, the Surface Pro 2 is almost — but not quite — identical to its predecessor. The chamfered Titanium-finish VaporMg chassis is the same bulky fingerprint-prone unit, measuring 275mm wide by 173mm deep by 13.5mm thick. Despite changes to the internal components, the weight — give or take a few grams — is also the same at 900g (2lb). To put that in perspective, Apple's new one-pound iPad Air is half the weight of the Surface Pro 2.

sp2-kickstand
The Surface Pro 2's kickstand now has two settings. The new less upright angle makes it much easier to type when sitting at a desk, or use the tablet on your lap. (Image: Microsoft)

The main design change is one that was requested in many reviews of the original Surface (RT and Pro) tablets: an adjustable kickstand. Granted, there are only two positions, but the second, less upright, angle for the tablet makes all the difference when you're typing at a desk using one of the keyboard covers, or trying to use the tablet/keyboard combo on your lap. I found the upright, fixed-angle Surface Pro near-unusable in laptop mode, whereas the Pro 2's new 'laid back' orientation is fine. Why this wasn't noticed and fixed before the original models came to market is beyond me.

On the subject of keyboard covers, there are upgrades to the thin, pressure-sensitive Touch Cover and the 'classic' Type Cover: the £99.99 charcoal-coloured Touch Cover 2 now has backlighting, while the £109.99 Type Cover 2 now comes in four colours (charcoal, cyan, magenta and purple). We had the new Touch Cover 2, which snaps satisfyingly onto the tablet's magnetic port and works well, save for a dodgy 'E' key on our early production sample (unless you're Ernest Vincent Wright, you'll need your 'E' sorted in order to whiz through document creation...).

We also had the £24.99 Wacom-based Surface Pen, which works well but still shares a magnetic attachment on the tablet with the 48W AC adapter. This means that when you're plugged into the mains, there's no on-tablet home for the stylus, which could easily get lost. We complained about the fiddliness of the magnetic power/stylus connector in our original Surface RT/Pro reviews, and we're still complaining on the Pro 2: it's an irritation every time it needs attaching.

sp2-docking-station
Many business users will need the new Surface Pro /Pro 2 docking station, which adds a wired Ethernet (RJ-45) port, among others. It'll cost you an extra £164.99 though. (Image: Microsoft)

There are plenty of other accessories to tempt you to spend even more money on your Surface Pro setup — most notably a £164.99 docking station with one USB 3.0 and three USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet (RJ-45) port, a Mini-DisplayPort and audio in/out jacks. There are also various adapter cables, all priced at £34.99, and a 'coming soon' Power Cover — a 'classic' keyboard cover with an extra battery.

The display is a 10.6-inch ClearType full-HD, 10-point multi-touch screen with a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, as before. However, it has been tweaked to deliver better colour accuracy and is certainly one of the Pro 2's better features — bright and crisp, with good viewing angles in both horizontal and vertical planes.

Ports, slots and controls are the same as before: one USB 3.0 on the left, along with an audio jack and the volume rocker; power button on the top right; MicroSD and Mini-DisplayPort on the right, separated by the power connector; docking/cover port on the bottom. It would be nice to see Thunderbolt connectivity enter the picture next time around.

The front and rear 1.2-megapixel 720p LifeCams are unchanged, too. These and the decent (for a tablet) audio subsystem make the Surface Pro 2 a good platform for videoconferencing. It's worth noting that Surface Pro 2 buyers get one year of unlimited Skype calls to landlines in over 60 countries, and free Wi-Fi at Skype hotspots worldwide.

Features

The key upgrade in the Surface Pro 2 is the move from Intel's third-generation (Ivy Bridge) to fourth-generation (Haswell) Core i5 platform. The Surface Pro ran on a 1.7GHz/2.6GHz dual-core Core i5-3317U CPU with integrated HD Graphics 4000 and a thermal envelope (TDP) of 17 watts. The Surface Pro 2 runs on a 1.6GHz/2.6GHz Core i5-4200U CPU with integrated HD Graphics 4400 and a thermal envelope of 15W. The result, as documented later, is improvements in both performance and battery life.

Our review unit had the entry-level configuration of 4GB of RAM and 64GB of SSD storage, but 4GB/128GB, 8GB/256GB and 8GB/512GB variants are also available. If I were buying a Surface Pro 2, I'd want 8GB of RAM, and would probably settle on the model with 256GB of storage to stop the price tag getting out of hand.

If you want wired networking, you'll have to buy either a USB-to-Ethernet cable for £34.99 or the £164.99 docking station. Otherwise, it's Wi-Fi, which is unchanged at dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n support via a Marvell Avastar 350N chipset. No next-generation 802.11ac — as seen on the latest MacBook Airs and Pros — here. As before, Bluetooth 4.0 LE is present, but there's still no GPS, NFC or mobile broadband.

As far as software is concerned, you get Windows 8.1 Pro with its pseudo-Start button and other interface tweaks (see Ed Bott's Metro hater's guide to Windows 8.1 if you're a desktop diehard). Note that unlike its ARM-based Windows RT counterpart, the Surface Pro 2 does not come with a preinstalled copy of Office 2013 — all you get is a link for buying, activating or trialing the productivity suite.

Performance

In the absence of Microsoft's now-dropped Windows Experience Index (WEI), let's start the performance evaluation with a comparison of the Surface Pro 2 and its predecessor on Maxon's Cinebench 11.5 CPU and OpenGL benchmarks:

sp2-cinebench

Although the CPU scores barely differ (a 4.4 percent advantage to the Haswell-based Surface Pro 2), the OpenGL result shows the Surface Pro 2's HD Graphics 4400 GPU delivering a 19.1 percent improvement over the Surface Pro's HD Graphics 4000. This is no gaming machine or platform for heavy graphics lifting, but it's no slouch either.

Another comparison we can make is with the widely-used Sunspider 0.9.1 JavaScript benchmark:

sp2-sunspider

Here, the Surface Pro 2 running Internet Explorer 11 is some 23 percent quicker than the Surface Pro running IE10. Note, however, that if you install Google's Chrome browser, the Surface Pro 2 won't deliver the same level of performance on this benchmark.

Battery life

The Surface Pro was most heavily criticised for its battery life, which we estimated at around 4.5 hours, depending on the screen brightness level and workload mix. Using the same test methodology (described in the graph caption below), we're pleased to note that the more power-efficient Haswell platform delivers a marked improvement in the Surface Pro 2:

sp2-battery
Battery life estimates were made by measuring the (fully charged, mains-connected) system's power draw when idling and when performing a significant workload (Microsoft's Fishbowl HTML5 test), with the screen at 25, 50 and 100 percent brightness. Dividing the average power draw into the (42Wh) battery rating gives an estimate of the expected battery life (Wh/W=h) in each scenario.

With a middling screen brightness and a realistic mix of load and idle time, you can expect between 6 and 7 hours of battery life from the Surface Pro 2 — an improvement certainly, but still short of the 8-hours-plus needed for comfortable 'all day' working on battery power.

Conclusion

The Surface Pro 2 is an improvement on the original model, especially in the much-needed area of battery life. The dual-angle kickstand is another welcome enhancement. However, the 900g/2lb chassis design was bulky and heavy at the beginning of the year, and it's looking even more so in this unchanged outing. The Surface Pro 2 is well made and a decent performer on its new Haswell platform, but if Microsoft's flagship tablet/ultrabook is supposed to push the design envelope, to show OEMs what can be done with the x86/Windows 8.1 platform, then a chassis refresh should be a high priority.

We're impressed with the range of accessories for the Surface Pro 2, but they can generate an eye-watering price tag. For example, we priced up a configuration that we'd specify if we wanted to do regular work on the Surface Pro 2 in the office, at home and in transit. Here's how it panned out: 8GB/256GB Surface Pro (£1,039); Type Cover 2 (£109.99); Surface Pen (£24.99); Mini-DisplayPort HD AV Adapter (£34.99); Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition (£59.99); Docking Station (£164.99). That's a total of £1,438.95 (inc. VAT, or £1,199 ex. VAT) for an accessorised-up 10.6-inch tablet. If we'd gone for the top-end 512GB SSD tablet, it would be £1,838.95 (inc. VAT, £1,532 ex. VAT).

The Surface Pro 2 and its accessories are nice bits of kit, but they're not that nice.

 


sp2-nelson
We said it was bulky and heavy, but this is ridiculous...a super-sized tablet in London's Trafalgar Square, promoting the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 launch. (Image: Microsoft)
sp2-nelson-dizzee
Here's rapper Dizzee Rascal and a young fan, getting to grips with the 27-foot-wide device. (Image: Microsoft)

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 27.5 x 1.35 x 17.3 cm
Case form factor slate tablet with dual-angle kickstand
Weight 0.9 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows 8.1 Pro
Chipset & memory
RAM installed 4096 MB
RAM capacity 8 GB
Video
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4400
GPU type integrated
Video connections Mini-DisplayPort
Display
Display technology TFT touch-screen (active matrix)
Display size 10.6 in
Native resolution 1920x1080 pixels
Connections
USB 1 x USB 3.0
Docking station port yes
Flash card MicroSD
Networking
Ethernet via optional Mini-DisplayPort adapter or docking station
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Input
Pointing devices 10-point multitouch touchscreen with digitiser stylus option; touchpad on keyboard covers
Keyboard optional Touch Cover 2 or Type Cover 2
Camera
2nd camera rear
Main camera front
2nd camera resolution 1.2 megapixels
Main camera resolution 1.2 megapixels
Audio
Audio connectors audio out
Speakers stereo
Audio processor Realtek HD Audio
Microphone yes
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Service & support
Standard warranty 1 year
Battery
Battery technology Li-ion
Number of batteries supplied 1
Number of batteries supported 2
Removable battery No
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.6 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Core i5-4200U
Solid-state drive
Interface SATA III
Capacity 64 GB
Expand

Prices

Price
Price GBP 703.32

Topics: Tablets, Microsoft, Mobility, Reviews, Windows 8

About

Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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Talkback

141 comments
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  • :(

    I've been looking for a new laptop/tablet for Windows, but with this premium pricing, this isn't gonna be it.
    harvey_rabbit
    • Better, Yes. too Expensive ?! Nop!

      8.0

      The Surface pro 2 is a lot for the money considering what it is. It's a tablet that can do all the stuff that your destkop computer can. You cannot say it is too expensive because there is nothing on the market to compare it too. Not an iPad, not an Android. Nothing. It's in a class of its own.

      Bulky for a tablet Yes, but for a portable full powered PC No it is not.

      I will replace my laptop for a Surface pro 2 before the end of the year.
      gbouchard99@...
      • I have a Surface Pro

        8.0

        I got it soon after they came out. I like it and it has done a great job of replacing my laptop. Better than great. I also like Windows 8 / 8.1.

        I agree that the price is too high, way to high. For my needs I want a bigger screen. I have pre-ordered the high end Sony Flip. Yes it costs even more but you get so much more for just a little more weight.
        MichaelInMA
        • Eye watering pricetag? Yet the ipad with accessories is $500 more??. huh?

          Isn't it funny how reporters think a tablet is meant to be slow and light. I guess the so called journos at this once reputable brand (not in the last 3 years anyway) only read Dolly magazine for their oppinons anyway.

          This tablet has much better specs than the ipad, and how did you rate that... with your POCKET where apple was pouring in cash for comment.

          What you call 'reporting' should be illegal, cash for comments. Enjoy your apple money, your customers are going elsewhere.

          This tablet is perfect for business travellers, and the proof is in the Virgin and Qantas lounges where you don't see many ipads anymore. The surface kills it dead, even the Air is nothing on these machines, yet Apple's money runs through your veins so thick your blood is apple flavoured.

          How do I delete my account? This high school magazine derserves to be in the wayback machine, rather than paying monkeys to type this rubbish.
          dawesi
          • Be careful

            Speaking of "illegal," you should be careful or this high school magazine will sue you for libel. Accusing a journalist of accepting bribes to write favorable stories is a libelous accusation.
            Twinsfan111
          • Why would they? People like this bring in more readers ...

            8.0

            ... with whom to argue?
            M Wagner
          • Ok Stupid

            Sow me an iPad that cost $2,428. The Surface "Pro 2" starts at $899, and goes up to $1,799, plus $129 for the keyboard. I have Never seen an iPad that cost over $1,000. But since you made the stupid claim "Yet the ipad with accessories is $500 more". Either back it up, or retract your false statement.
            I hate trolls also
          • Maybe not but the Surface Pro 2 is ...

            8.0

            ... more correctly compared to the MacBook Air, and it compares very favorably on price. (Notice that Apple is scrambling to keep the MacBook Air just a hair lower in price than the Surface Pro 2?)

            A more realistic comparison is to put the 64GB Surface 2 up against the 64GB iPad. Surface 2 (64GB) costs $549 - the iPad (64GB) costs $699. Even with the more expensive type cover, the Surface 2 comes out to be $679. With Apple's new keyboard/cover, the iPad (64GB) comes to $799!

            Further, the Surface 2 comes with 200GB of cloud storage and it has a USB 3 port, and a MicroSD-XC slot. And, of course, an adjustable stand.

            In the end though, this article is about the Surface Pro 2 and it needs to be compared to the MacBook Air.

            If you are dependent upon Mac OS X, the MacBook Air is the right answer for you.

            If you are dependent upon Windows, the Surface Pro 2 is a great performer for the money.

            If your needs are more modest, a number of Windows OEMs offer Windows 8.1 tablets at more typical consumer price-points.
            M Wagner
          • Ipad comparison????

            8.0

            Why all the comparisons of the top end machines to iPads? Can my iPad do everything that my MacBook or iMac can? Can the surface Pro 2 do everything that my work PC can do? Pretty close......to things I actually do on my work PC.

            I bought a Surface Pro 2 as my portable work machine and so far it functions great for what I use it for!!

            PS. I am an Apple user at home just so nobody assumes I am an Apple hater :)
            Reason404z
          • Can you show me ...

            8.0

            ... an iPad which can run legacy Windows software?

            The 128GB WiFi iPad costs $799. The 128GB Surface Pro costs $999. So what do you get for that $200?

            1) The Surface Pro offers 4GB of RAM. Apple won't tell you how much RAM comes with the iPad - but it is the same no matter which iPad you choose.

            2) The Surface Pro runs Windows Pro. It can do everything that the MacBook Air can do at the same starting price. The iPad cannot come close to doing what Windows Pro can do.
            M Wagner
          • WTF?

            1.0

            This comment seems so silly I know it's pointless to reply, but what the heck.
            Really, comparable iPad with keyboard and cover is $500 more?
            Ridiculous assumption aside, once you need to dock it then you can only use it as a "desktop" when you got all your docking stuff so when you leave for the morning, and are on a train, without all your bulky doodads, it's functionally a tablet. The surface pro (with accessories) compares more to the macbook air (without accessories). RT is more like the iPad. With a macbook air you can run Windows 8 on the side, or even real Windows 7, if that's your thing. Also you'll notice for real work you need a desktop anyway, as of current. Neither macbook air or surface are going to replace power desktops currently.
            ossoup
          • Abolutely!

            8.0

            Your wonderful comment "The surface kills it dead, even the Air is nothing on these machines, yet Apple's money runs through your veins so thick your blood is apple flavoured" is highly apt and absolutely true.
            Well done.
            feduchin
      • Me too

        8.0

        .. as soon as I can afford it, probably March 2014 (might even score another update by then..)
        feduchin
    • Windows Surface Pro 2

      It all depends what you plan on doing with it ... for a general purpose laptop, probably too expensive, but then again you see folks buying Apple laptops that are pretty comparable in terms capabilities but cost as much or more.
      thevorlonspeaks
      • I wouldn't mind comparing

        I use a macbook air for almost everything these days, as I can load Linux, Windows or even Android on it via Parallels and it runs good. It's a couple years old and I know it's gotten faster, but my current macbook air isn't the best a a lot of things open at once, multi tabbed Flash sites, etc, but's a fantastic all-in-one if I use a little reason.
        Although I still prefer the Macbook air's fit and finish, and size, and compatibility with Linux, UNIX and Windows A-Z, I do wonder how the latest high end surface compares in terms of performance to the latest high end macbook air.
        ossoup
        • Spec-for-spec, the MacBook Air and the Surface Pro 2 ...

          8.0

          ... are virtually identical. Apple has responded aggressively to keep competitive with the Surface Pro 2 by dropping the MacBook Air (64GB) at the same $999 price-point as the 128GB Surface Pro 2.
          M Wagner
          • wrong - there is no more 64GB MBA

            minimum configuration is 128GB.

            "Apple has responded aggressively to keep competitive with the Surface Pro 2 by" . . . laughing hysterically at it?
            vaporland
        • you have to read this

          5.0

          I am in the market of getting an apple MacBook air and a surface pro 2. Here are the specs and my opinions on the matter: MacBook air 11inch/surface pro 2 11inch respectively. the MacBook air now gets 9hrs compared to the surface pro 2's 8hrs 51mins(after firmware update that greatly fixed battery life). remember this is a touch screen! the MacBook air is like the old flip phone that usually got us 3 days of use without a charge back 5 years ago. with the surface pro being a touchscreen which most smart/touch screen phones only last a day now. consider that please!!! MacBook air as 1366x768 while surface pro 2 has 1920x1080 screen... wow! how does the surface still pull almost 9 hours when its powering a ton of pixels more than the air?!?!?! HOW!!!>!>!!?!?!?. now the i5 processors on both are haswell and similar in speeds (MacBook air is just a fraction faster: passmark score of 3590 vs surface pro 2's 3376; a difference you won't notice and if you say you do... then you are an idiot). the thickness of the MacBook air is 0.68inches while the surface pro 2 is only 0.53inches... that's actually pretty noticeable... only thing is peoples perspective on tablet vs laptop thickness is unfair. we will actually think the air is thinner than the surface pro 2 just because we view tablets should be slimmer than that. sad stupid people. Now the air does come with an intel HD 5000 while the pro 2 comes with an intel HD 4400. The pro 2 will also have a digitzer pen for people who like to sign contracts on their tablet and draw which is either productive AND fun. As for the GPS and NFC, yes you are right, it doesn't have those... what did you expect it? the MacBook air doesn't either so why bully the surface pro 2 over this? and then wifi ac??? seriously?! no one has the capabilities of that speed!!! NO one in this current world! regular wireless n can go as high as 1500mb/s... the ac is capable of going up to 7000mb/s... see where im getting at? is there even a possible internet plan that's available to the public at that speeds? hell I don't even think it exists yet!!!! Its like putting wings on a car even tho we haven't developed turbine engines yet. What are these little wings going to do??? gawd... stop reviewing technology when you know nothing about it. you ignorant fool
          bluenumber6
    • Check out the Surface Pro

      Cost has gone down to $699. Accessories like the new power cover/keyboard (for more battery life) and the docking station will work with it too.
      TonyRAnderson
      • All true.

        8.0

        This is a very good deal (while supplies last). It will be interesting to see what happens to prices as the original Surface Pro devices sell out. (The Surface Pro 2 - 128GB was already sold out when I went to the Microsoft Store last Friday.)
        M Wagner