After an only semi-thrilling first Surface Pro—Microsoft's first tablet ever—the firm is back to try its hand again with the Surface Pro 2. Have they managed to correct the issues that plagued the first model and make this the ultimate Windows 8 hybrid tablet/laptop? Keep reading...
The Surface Pro 2 has the exact same body as the Surface Pro 1. They have the same beautiful, sleek, confidence-inspiring magnesium body, the same display surface and the same black borders surrounding the screen. But hark, something has changed: the fold-out stand on the back can now sit the screen upright at two different angles. Amazing. It's a system that's just as practical on a table as it is impractical on your lap.
It has the same annoyingly minimal number of ports: one lonely USB 3.0 port and an audio in/out on the left side, and a mini-DisplayPort on the right. There's also the same non-existent Ethernet port, for which a USB-to-RJ45 adapter will cost you around £35.
The magnetised connection for the power cable is the same place where you stow the stylus. So every time you charge the tablet, you have to remove the stylus and, I guess, just leave it sitting somewhere or put it in your pocket. Kind of defeats the purpose.
The keyboard connector is still located along the bottom edge, and the keyboard is just as easy to attach as before. It just clips right in.
The Type Cover keyboard is sold separately, so you have to shell out an extra £110 to get it (or £100 for the Touch Cover). The new Type Cover 2 has backlighting with four brightness levels that are adjustable using the brightness up and down shortcuts above the number keys. Unfortunately, the volume + and - are gone; there's just the mute key. They should have gotten rid of the search and sharing shortcuts instead. Who even uses those? Now you can only control the volume using the buttons on the edge of the tablet, which isn't as intuitive when you're using the Surface Pro in laptop mode.
There's a also teeny tiny touchpad (7.1 x 3.6 cm) that's practically unusable. The cursor moves okay, but everything else is a nightmare. It supposedly recognises two-finger scrolling and zooming and the Windows 8 touch gestures, but the only one we could get to work correctly was scrolling. For the others you have to try several times before it recognises them, if it even does. We just gave up and used a mouse.
When you close the laptop the keyboard automatically turns off so as to avoid hitting keys accidentally. That's practical.
Microsoft has somehow actually managed to make it hotter than the first Surface Pro. With all these components tucked into such a tight space, the temperature can get as high as 43°C (109°F). On the upside, this scorching hot air is expelled out the top of the screen, so at least you don't get your palms or knees sweaty.
Fortunately, this section is much better... The touchscreen is ultra-precise. You can select folders and links with no problem, either using your finger or the stylus.
The first Surface Pro had a very good screen, but this one is just excellent. The Full HD IPS display goes up to 450 cd/m² in brightness, which is impressive, to say the least. This makes screen easily visible in any setting, indoors or out. It has a 1,000:1 contrast ratio, which is fantastic, widening the viewing angles even further.
Grey colour temperature
The screen has a Delta E of 3.7, which means the colours are almost perfectly accurate, a rare feat on laptops and tablets; if you buy a t-shirt online on the Surface Pro, it should have pretty much the exact same colour in the box that it had onscreen. The colour temperature (6,700 K) and gamma (2.2) are equally close to perfect. The Surface Pro 2's display is quite an exploit!
The audio is basically the same as last year. The speakers are located on the edge of the tablet, far away from where your hands sit when you hold the slate. The speakers' sound quality is satisfactory, and the audio enhancement features help.
The headphone output has average sound quality. Nothing truly hi-fi, nothing cringe-worthy.
Configuration:The model we were sent to review is the 64 GB version with 4 GB of RAM. Like all the models (see inset below), it features an Intel Core i5-4200U Haswell processor, an Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset and a Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) touchscreen.
The Intel Core i5-4200U is a very good processor that can be found in the likes of the Sony Vaio Pro 13 and Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus. But all the tests we ran showed that it performs better in the Surface Pro 2—on average, 15% faster than the Vaio Pro 13 and 7% faster than the Ativ Book 9 Plus.
It exports photos and encodes music files at the same speed as the Ativ Book, but is faster at encoding HD video. The only thing the Ativ Book did quicker was file compression.
The 64 GB SSD gives the Surface Pro 2 nice responsiveness and allows it start up in 10 seconds and shut down in 6. Out of the total 64 GB, 32 GB are available for the user, the rest being taken up by the operating system. Microsoft appears to have optimised the space taken up by Windows 8.1 to provide more storage.
The Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset (3DMark06: 6100) is faster here than on both the Vaio Pro and the Ativ Book. It can't run big games like Crysis 3 or BioShock Infinite, but it does just fine with smaller, more basic games like Solitaire or Angry Birds in the screen's native resolution.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
The battery was one of our biggest beefs with the first Surface Pro, which lasted only 3½ hours. But Microsoft one-upped itself this time, bringing it to 7 hours of straight video playback (in airplane mode with the brightness set to 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in and the keyboard's backlighting turned off). This makes it one of the longest-lasting tablet/laptop hybrids on the market!
At 930 grams, the tablet weighs 20 g more than the first edition. The keyboard is also slightly heavier at 265 g. This brings the total, with both the tablet and keyboard, to a very comfortable 1.2 kg, making it a perfect device for carrying around.