- Excellent design and build
- Superb display
- Active pen proves very useful
- Performance matches best in class
- Needs a keyboard cover to be complete
- Desktop experience a bit awkward
The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is a powerful tablet with an amazing design. Users that need a powerful and portable machine should definitely take a look, but everyone else should gander elsewhere owing to its high price.
Let’s call the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 a notebook in a tablet’s body. After all, it has mainly notebook specs, including a notebook Intel Core processor (fourth generation, or Haswell), and it runs the full version of Windows 8.1 (Windows 8.1 Pro to be exact), not the watered-down Windows RT 8.1. It’s also expensive, starting at $900, or almost as much as four base-model Google Nexus 7 tablets.
But it also has a 10.6-inch display, and an extremely thin and light build, considering its powerful specs. While it pairs nicely with an official accessory keyboard, it ships as a standalone tablet, and even comes with a pressure-sensitive pen for note taking and light art work.
Granted tablets of yesteryear also featured notebook innards, active pens, and full versions of Windows, and most manufactures still offer odd and innovative hybrid notebooks. But today’s strict tablet market is dominated by ARM devices with mobile operating systems, making the Surface Pro 2 a bit of a standout.
In the Surface 2 review, TabletPCReview remarked, “it’s tough to properly review the Surface 2, as it’s comparable to both Windows notebooks and other ARM-based devices like the iPad. At times and in certain instances, it’s stronger than both, but it has noticeable weaknesses as well.”
Something similar is true of the Surface Pro 2. It blows away other tablets in terms of processing power and what it can actually do, but compares most closely to premium Ultrabooks, where the pricetag is partially reflective of design, and not utility, keeping the value quotient low.
Build and Design
Without a doubt, the Surface Pro 2 is an impeccably designed tablet with an equally impressive build quality. TPCR said the same for the Surface 2, and since they are nearly indistinguishable at a glance, the praise rightly applies to both.
The Surface Pro 2 measures 10.81 x 6.81 x .53 inches, and weighs 2 pounds, making it slightly bulkier and heavier than the Surface 2. It also has venting all along its upper half, from the kickstand latch to the top, which, for a Core-powered device, is impressively low key.
Display and Speakers
The Surface Pro 2 sports what is essentially the same display as its predecessor, with a 1920 x 1080 display resolution and 208 pixel-per-inch density. While there are more pixel-dense displays out there, few match the output of the Surface Pro 2. Viewing angles are superb, and the colors are bright and vibrant. Glare is only a minor issue thanks to optical bonding, and applications look superb… on the tiled interface.
The desktop side exposes the limits of the display, as everything seems to be awkwardly sized, or simply too small for touch. The pen or a mouse is necessary for navigation, and even then, it takes some tweaking and zooming to achieve reasonably adequate proportions.
The speakers are hidden behind the vent opening, and are predictably mediocre, with limited bass, and extremely limited volume. They’ll do the trick in a quiet office, for sure, but even a moderate amount of background noise will drown out the output.
The Surface devices both feature a kickstand, which is almost a defining feature because TPCR is hard pressed to think of another tablet that sports one besides the Sony Vaio Tap 11. That it’s rare is a shame, seeing how well it proves its value on the Surfaces.
Like the Surface 2, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 kickstand kicks out at two angles: one of desk use, and the other for lap placement. While it seems laughable to have a kickstand dedicated for when the device is a literal laptop, it’s hard to deny its utility. In both settings, the kickstand creates a very stable prop for the Surface Pro 2, and even kicks out and tucks in with a satisfying click. It’s also very solid, and likely to last the life of the device.
The Surface Pro 2 ships with an active pen, which is a Wacom stick. It supports 1,024 points of pressure sensitivity and works very well overall. Windows 8.1 can be a bit tricky to navigate with the pen (see NotebookReview‘s Sony VAIO Duo 13 review for notes on that), but TPCR had no complaints when using for note taking or drawing, which most users will likely do anyhow.
The pen has a magnetic strip similar to the Surface Pro 2 charger, making it able to attach and essentially dock in the charging receptacle. It’s an imperfect solution because it means you have to find another home for the pen when the tablet is charging, but it’s better than no attachment or docking options.
Buttons and Ports
Ports and inputs include a full-sized USB 3.0, microSD card reader, 3.5mm audio jack, magnetic charging input, and a Mini DisplayPort. Compared with any other tablet, this is an excellent selection. The full-sized USB 3.0 input is especially welcome, as it supports thumb drives, external storage devices, keyboards, mice, gamepads, and just about any other peripheral.
Compared with most other notebooks, however, including thin Ultrabooks, the Surface Pro 2 is lacking. Specifically, TPCR finds the single Mini DisplayPort option very limiting when it comes to external monitor support (though to be fair, the Surface Pro 2 does support wireless displays as well).
TPCR complained about the proprietary charging input in the Surface 2 review because most ARM tablets not made by Apple rely on microUSB, but we’ll table the complaints here. Unless they are made by the same manufacturer, few Core-powered devices share the same charger.