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Microsoft recently released the Surface Pro 3, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still get your hands on the Surface Pro 2, now that prices will most likely drop to make room for the newer iteration.

Although the Surface Pro 2 might not be the latest and greatest, is it still a good device to get? How does it compare to the original Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 3?

We got ourselves a Surface Pro 2 with 64 GB of storage along with a Type Cover 2 keyboard (the one with actual buttons!) to check out. At the end of the review, you’ll be able to win this bundle in our giveaway!

About the Surface Pro 2

The Surface series of tablets is Microsoft’s attempt to create their own innovative product that goes hand-in-hand with Windows 8. The tablets branded as just “Surface” include ARM-based processors and a Windows 8 derivative called Windows RT. In other words, this is a tablet similar to Android in that it uses a mobile-oriented operating system, but runs Windows instead of Android.

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The tablets branded as “Surface Pro” use the same design but pack in PC-grade components, including an Intel-based processor rather than an ARM one. In other words, this is an entire PC stuffed into a tablet form, making it ultra portable. But then there’s the question of whether the Pro has good battery life, good keyboard and mouse options, and if it’s generally as usable (or better) as a laptop.

Competitors

There are a few competitors to the Surface Pro 2, including the ASUS VivoTab Smart, Samsung ATIV Tab 7, and Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2. However, a lot of these competitors, if they’re cheaper, they offer subpar components. For example, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet uses an Intel Atom processor rather than an Intel Core i5. So for the components, the Surface Pro 2 seems like a pretty good deal.

Initial Impressions

When you unpack the Surface Pro 2, you’ll find a power supply, a pen to interact with the touchscreen, and some documentation. Everything seems to be well-designed, and its apparent that Microsoft has tried to provide a good first impression, not only with the device but the packaging — similar to Apple but with a different style.

I also found the power supply to be pretty interesting because not only did it have a soft-touch coating all around, but it even had a USB port built into the brick. So you can plug the power brick into the wall and thereby charge both the Surface Pro 2 and a mobile device.

Features and Specs

The size of the Surface Pro is somewhat between a tablet and a laptop. For a tablet, it is quite large and thick, but for a PC it’s small and thin (although the MacBook Pro Retina comes pretty close) — its dimensions are 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 inches and weighs just 2 pounds. It packs a 10.6 inch screen with 1080p resolution and 10-point multi-touch support. Under the hood are an Intel Core i5 processor, 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, 64GB of storage (with options for 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB), and 4GB of RAM (with an option for 8GB). You also have front- and rear-facing cameras, both at 720p resolution.

Ports include one full-sized USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack, a microSDXC card reader, Mini DisplayPort, a Cover port (for the Type Cover), and a magnetic power port that is surprisingly similar to Apple’s MagSafe connector, with a design much like the original MagSafe. Battery life is officially described as “7-15 days idle life.” Initially I wasn’t sure what that meant — and honestly, I still don’t. I had to do my own testing to figure that out.

Build Quality and More

Build quality is exceptional. Although the Surface Pro 2 is primarily plastic, it feels extremely solid. I wouldn’t want to drop it, of course, but I can handle it without having to be too delicate with it. The fault I managed to find is the kickstand — it’s a bit thin and therefore flexible. So on occasion, I’m afraid of breaking it although I’m probably not even close to actually doing so.

Other than that, the kickstand is pretty unique. It has two different angles: one that just holds up the tablet which is good for watching media and one that increases the angle which is good for working/typing up close. I do wish that it had more than two settings, which is one of the changes implemented in the Surface Pro 3.

The Surface Pro 2 has a unique charging connector that is very similar to Apple’s original MagSafe. The actual magnetic connecting surface is on the side of the plug, and latches on securely to the tablet. Whenever you aren’t charging the tablet, the same location could be used to secure the pen to the tablet for storage. It uses the magnetism to hold it to the tablet, but there isn’t any charging or communication between the tablet and pen.

Display

The display quality is excellent, as is the touchscreen. It reliably sensed my fingers and predicted what I wanted consistently. Using the Pro 2 primarily via the touchscreen was very intuitive. The Type Cover’s trackpad is a different matter altogether — I’ll touch on that in a bit.

The pen was also useful for the touchscreen when a finger was just not accurate enough. If you had to write something with the pen, it was best to just lay the tablet flat and not use the kickstand, although you’d have to set it back up once you wanted to comfortably use the Type Cover.

I wish that the screen was a bit bigger, because although it’s adequate for a tablet, it still feels too small to do PC-type work on it. Thankfully, the Surface Pro 3 includes a larger display with a higher resolution.

Type Cover 2

Now, the Type Cover 2. It’s not as enjoyable as I hoped it would be. I got the keyboard with actual pressable buttons because I’ve experienced the waterproof one at malls and found that I simply cannot cope with them. And I can say that the Type Cover 2 is only decent at best. It works, but there’s almost no space between the keys so it’s very easy to unintentionally hit neighbouring keys. However, I did enjoy the fact that the keyboard was backlit, making it easy to use in dark environments, such as a lecture hall.

The trackpad on the Type Cover 2, however, is awful. Not only is it very small, but it’s not very accurate despite its high default sensitivity setting, which just amplifies the input. It really wasn’t enjoyable to use, so I often found myself resorting to the touchscreen most of the time.

That being said, there is a way to fix this. Since the Surface Pro 2 has Bluetooth, you can connect your preferred keyboard and mouse. For the few moments where you don’t have the keyboard and mouse set up via Bluetooth, you can just use the touchscreen which will present the on-screen keyboard. Theoretically you could also use a USB keyboard and mouse, but that’ll occupy your only USB port. I doubt you’ll want to carry around a USB hub just so you can connect more than one dongle because it will defeat the purpose of owning a Surface Pro 2.

Getting Started and Software

The Surface Pro 2 arrives with a flat battery, so you’ll need to plug it in and wait at least 5 minutes before it has enough juice to feel like it’s safe to turn on. Since in all reality it’s still a PC, you’ll have to go through the same setup as any Windows 8 computer before you’re presented with the Start Screen.

There’s no point to talk about the software on the Surface Pro 2 — it’s purely Windows without any bloatware. The only additions are the drivers necessary to get all of the hardware working, but that’s about it. So from a software point of view, the Surface Pro 2 is a good computer to get if you’re looking to a lean setup out of the box.

Comparing to Other Generations

Compared to the original Surface Pro, this tablet features a more efficient processor, and an improved (but still imperfect) kickstand with two angles instead of just one. Compared to the Surface Pro 3, it’s missing the much better kickstand, larger display, and higher resolution. But it does use the same fourth generation Intel chip, so it won’t be any faster.

The Surface Pro 3 is technically cheaper at $799, but then you get a Core i3 with the same 64GB storage rather than a Core i5 on the Surface Pro 2 for $899. If you want an i5, you’ll need to get 128GB option which will cost $999. I’ve also heard that the battery life on the Surface Pro 3 is pretty average, while I’ve been perfectly happy with the battery life on the Surface Pro 2.

Conclusion

In all honesty, I like the Surface Pro 2. It’s a nice device that has some good specs and great build quality. I really don’t like the Type Covers much, so I’d recommend getting a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse instead. Once you have that, I really think that the Surface Pro 2 could be a laptop replacement for those who don’t need to do too much with it (mainly because of the lack of multiple USB ports).

Surprisingly, the Surface Pro 2 isn’t cheaper than the Surface Pro 3, but rather it’s staying in the same price range. If you’re rocking the original Surface Pro and are looking to upgrade, I can recommend either the Surface Pro 2 or Surface Pro 3. But if you’re choosing between those two, it’s very hard for me to make a recommendation. Get a bigger screen, same storage, but crappier processor for $799; get a smaller screen, same storage, but better/same processor for $899; or get a bigger screen, more storage, but better/same processor for $999. Looking at those options, it’s hard to even tell that for $899, you’ll be buying a Surface Pro 2.

Our verdict of the Microsoft Surface Pro 2:
Buy — with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, it’s a plausible laptop replacement. Give the Surface Pro 3 equal consideration because it’s priced the same.
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The Winner

Congratulations, Lisa Grassetti! You would have received an email from jackson@makeuseof.com. Please respond before August 9 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.

This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, July 18. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.

Send your products to be reviewed. Contact Jackson Chung for further details.

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