Review: Surface Pro 2 from an IT pro's perspective

The Surface Pro 2 is quite serviceable as an all-in-one device, but it's not particularly great as a desktop replacement, notebook or tablet. For those still considering a purchase, the Surface Pro 3 addresses many of its predecessor's major flaws.

When Microsoft released the Surface Pro 2, it seemed to fit my need for a singular device that can do triple duty -- as a highly mobile Windows notebook, desktop PC replacement and tablet to run Windows 8's modern touch-based applications. I had used Windows 8 for over a year, and despite its quirks I was comfortable with it on my laptop. So, earlier this year I committed to the Surface Pro 2 with 512 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM as...

my sole work and personal device. I purchased the Surface Docking Station to provide a no-compromise desktop experience while in the office, and my need to run many desktop applications out of the office necessitated the purchase of a Surface Type Cover 2.

Here's a look at the Surface Pro 2 features that impressed me -- and those that still have some ground to make up:

Hardware

The Surface Pro 2 boasts a Haswell chipset-based Intel Core i5. I use Client Hyper-V to host local test virtual machines, and performance is still more than adequate for my needs. Buyers of the Surface Pro 3 will have the option to upgrade to a Core i7 CPU.

The chipset yields impressive battery life; in my unscientific tests, I could routinely get between six and seven hours of usage. Additionally, Microsoft offers a Power Cover, a keyboard-and-battery combo that can add three to four hours of battery life -- and 1.2 pounds. The Surface Pro 2 itself weighs nearly two pounds, and Microsoft reduced that to 1.76 pounds for the Surface Pro 3, which boasts even longer battery life.

Display

The Surface Pro 2's resolution of 1920-by-1080 is on par with higher-end laptop displays, but with a 10.6-inch screen, it can be challenging to view without zooming text or enlarging icons. The 16:9 aspect ratio also makes the portrait mode display too narrow for practical use. Microsoft addressed these problems in the Surface Pro 3, giving it a 12-inch display with 2160-by-1440 resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio.

Usability

Windows desktop applications mandate a keyboard and mouse, but the Type Cover 2's integrated trackpad is awful to use. It is covered with a felt-like material that has poor tactile response, making for tedious drag-and-drop operations. It is such a bad experience, I simply resigned to using a Bluetooth mouse on the road. The Type Cover 3 will use a glass-like trackpad that will presumably be more responsive.

The inclusion of a Wacom stylus is an interesting differentiator. In combination with OneNote, it is the killer use case for Surface. For anyone who takes a lot of notes, this makes for a great digital "cocktail napkin" to capture your thoughts. The Surface Pro 3 improves upon the stylus with a heavier aluminum pen.

Ports

Docking the Surface at my desk gives it much the same configuration as a desktop PC. The docking station includes a single USB 3.0 port, three USB 2.0 ports, a 100 MB Ethernet port and a Mini-DisplayPort. A 100 MB Ethernet port is passable but laughably low; the Surface Pro 3 adds a gigabit Ethernet port (plus two additional USB 3.0 ports).

The dock has only one display output, so while the video card is more than capable of driving multiple displays, the dock makes this difficult. The DisplayPort (DP) standard allows for the daisy-chaining of monitors together, but displays with a DP input and a DP output port are scarcer than hen's teeth, and the models that are available can cost thousands.

Next Steps

Microsoft Surface Pro 2: A notebook in a tablet's body

Surface Pro 3 vs. Surface Pro 2

This was first published in August 2014

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