Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 trail behind OS X, iOS and Android in battery life tests

Fingers are pointing at Windows 8.1 as tests show that both the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 tablets trail behind OS X, iOS and Android devices when it comes to battery life.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer
Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft's latest entry into the crowded tablet market is out, and while the overall hardware specification is impressive, the battery life delivered by the new Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 tablets leaves a lot to be desired.

The Windows 8.1-powered Surface Pro 2 and the Windows RT 8.1-powered Surface 2 tablets were pitted against the crème de la crème of tablets, ranging from the iOS-powered iPad 4 to Android-powered tablets such as Google's Nexus 7 and Samsung's new Galaxy Note 10.1 by tech site AnandTech.

At the heart of the Surface Pro 2 tablet is Intel's new Haswell processor, silicon that the chipmaker claims will boost battery life by up to 50 percent compared to the previous generation hardware. Given this, you might expect the Surface Pro 2 to score pretty highly when it comes to battery life.

But it doesn't.

The Surface Pro 2 trails behind competition in both the web browsing and video playback battery life tests, achieving a runtime of 6.68 and 6.65 hours respectively. Compare this to the Nvidia Shield, which ran for 13.53 and 18.63 hours in the respective tests, or the iPad 4 which could manage 9.48 and 13.45 hours.

In fact, there was only one tablet in the listing that pulled in a worse time than the Surface Pro 2, and that was the original Surface Pro tablet.

Since Microsoft calls the Surface Pro 2 "the tablet so versatile, it's practically a laptop" then it might be fairer to compare it to a notebook. Software developer Jeff Atwood did some digging and pulled up the AnandTech battery test data for a notebook with a similar spec to that of the Surface Pro 2, which just happened to be Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air.

The 13-inch MacBook Air manages to squeeze 14.28 hours of life out of the battery when running the web browsing test, more than double what the Surface Pro 2 could achieve. Now the 13-inch MacBook Air has a much bigger battery than the Surface Pro 2 does (54Wh compared to 42Wh), so perhaps comparing it to the 11-inch MacBook Air, which has a 38Wh battery, is fairer. But even with the smaller batter, the 11-inch MacBook Air still runs for 11.10 hours, which is almost twice as long as the Surface Pro 2 can manage.

"That means the Air is somehow producing nearly two times the battery efficiency of the best hardware and software combination Microsoft can muster, for what I consider to be the most common usage pattern on a computer today," Atwood points out.

The problem certainly isn't down to Intel's Haswell processors, which not only perform well in the MacBook Air but also in the new Chrome OS-powered Chromebooks, offering 10 hours of battery life.

This would suggest that by opting for Windows, users are slashing hours from their tablet's battery life. It is possible that future optimizations delivered via updates could help restore some of this lost battery life, but this is very much in the hands of Microsoft.

Now, you might think that this is an unfair "apples verses oranges" comparison, given that the Surface Pro 2 is a full Intel PC featuring a dual-core Core i5-4200U processor humming along at 1.6GHz and running a full operating system, while the iPad and Nexus 7 tablets are built around more efficient ARM silicon and operating systems designed for mobile devices. Fortunately for us Microsoft also manufactures an ARM tablet that we can throw into the mix.

The ARM-powered Surface 2 pulls in a more respectable score – 8.07 hours for the web browsing test and 10.05 hours for the video playback test – but these figures still trail behind what the iPad, the Nexus, the Shield, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 can offer.

If you want a tablet that offers the flexibility of a PC, then the Surface Pro 2 is well worth taking a look at, and is a solid piece of kit, but if you want good battery life, then you will almost certainly want to look elsewhere.

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