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Microsoft Surface Pro 2 review

Andy Vandervell

By

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR

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Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Pros

  • Much better battery life
  • New kickstand adds flexibility
  • New touch cover is huge improvement
  • The most versatile PC you can buy
  • Cooler and quieter

Cons

  • Irritating dynamic contrast on screen
  • App store still lacking
  • High DPI in desktop mode troublesome

Key Features

  • 10.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution screen; 900g (1.085kg with cover); 13.5mm thick; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB RAM; 64GB SSD (37GB available)
  • Manufacturer: Microsoft
  • Review Price: £719.00

What is the Surface Pro 2 (2013)?

If Microsoft has its way, the Surface Pro is the PC that every busy worker owns: a tablet, laptop and desktop in one that drives sales of Windows for years to come. The original Surface Pro, which only went on sale in May in the UK (2012 in the US), hinted at this ambition but ultimately fell short in a few important ways. The Surface Pro 2 aims to correct its weaknesses but the aim is still very much the same: it wants to be your one and only PC and tablet device.

SEE ALSO: Best Windows 8 laptops and tablets

Surface Pro 2: Video Review

If you're looking for a quick overview, watch our handy video review of the Surface Pro 2.

Surface Pro 2 vs Surface Pro (2012)

Microsoft has attacked improving the Surface Pro in numerous ways. On the software side of things there's Windows 8.1, which brings several improvements that are keenly felt on the Surface Pro 2. We'll be covering some of those in relation to the Surface Pro 2 later on, but our Windows 8.1 review covers them in more detail.

Elsewhere, while the basic design remains the same, Microsoft has applied a few tweaks to the formula. The signature built-in kickstand now has two levels, the standard 'upright' position (it's actually not quite as upright as before) and a flatter, more laptop-esque angle. It's a key difference because it mostly eliminates one of the 2012 Surface Pro's biggest problems, the awkward angle of the screen when used sat a desk or on your lap. You can now look directly at the screen, rather than peering awkwardly from above.

SEE ALSO: Surface Pro 2 vs Surface Pro

Surface Pro 2

The two 'optional' keyboard covers are improved, too. Both the Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2 are slimmer and lighter than before, and both are now backlit. The Touch Cover 2, meanwhile, is much more sensitive and accurate. Sadly Microsoft only gave us a Touch Cover 2 and we'll cover it in more detail later, but suffice it to say now that it's a huge improvement.

Two more accessories have joined the roster, or rather will join it next year. The Power Cover is a keyboard with built-in battery, while the Docking Station is... well it's a docking station, but it's an overdue option given the Surface Pro 2's potential as a desktop machine. It's a shame neither are available at launch, but on paper they're good additions.

Finally, the key change is on the inside as the move to Intel Haswell processors (aka 4th generation Core i) greater efficiency in reduced power and heat. Given Microsoft hasn't increased the battery capacity in this update, Intel's new processors carry the whole burden of improving upon the Surface Pro's woeful battery life of circa four hours.

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Surface Pro 2 (2013) Design & Build Quality

You'll notice we didn't talk much about design above, which is because the Surface Pro 2 is near identical to the 2012 Surface Pro. The only physical difference is the new, two-mode kickstand. The new kickstand is huge improvement, however. The screen now sits at a far more comfortable angle when sat at a desk - the screen now points at your eyes rather than your chest. This is an improvement whether you're working or just watching a video. Indeed, the flatter angle is perfect for watching videos in bed with the Surface Pro 2 perched on your lap. Say hello to lazy weekend mornings!

This is a good change and few others were really needed. The Surface Pro 2's design is solid and classy, as is the build quality. There are only a couple of minor joins that upset its otherwise seamless frame, while the limited connectivity (a single USB 3.0 port, mini-DisplayPort and microSD) does little to clutter the edges.

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That's not to say it's perfect, however. The magnetic power port is still a little weak and fiddly, but more importantly the whole unit could do with going on a diet. The Surface Pro 2 weighs 907g on its own, but that's really 1.097kg once you add a Touch Cover 2 (190g) and there's no point in owning a Surface Pro 2 without one or its even heavier Type Cover 2 (255g) cousin. In this respect the Surface Pro 2 is in a kind of purgatory: it's lighter than Ultrabook laptops, but it's too heavy compared to pure tablets.

It's something prospective owners have to make peace with, as does Microsoft to a certain extent. Just shaving 50 or 100g wouldn't make a huge difference to this perception considering even larger iPads and Android tablets weigh 600g or so, sometimes less. That's why the Surface 2 (aka the new Surface RT) exists, something we'll be reviewing soon.

Surface Pro 2

Surface Pro 2 (2013): Screen Quality

Sticking to the theme of things 'being the same', the 10.6-inch screen on the Surface Pro 2 remains as impressive as it was last time around. Its 1,920 x 1,080 resolution is plenty sharp enough at this size, particularly as Microsoft's ClearType tech smooths the edges on text. It produces plenty of detail, has a nice level of contrast and is supremely bright.

All the above is borne out when measured using our Xrite i1 Display Pro 2, which measured a peak brightness of 442 nits that's miles higher than the next best laptop (372 nits on the Sony VAIO Pro 13) we've tested this year. Its colour temperature of 7,119 is a little on the cool side (6500K is preferable), but the 1.56 DeltaE (a measurement of colour accuracy) is very good indeed.

There are just a couple of issues that prevent us from handing out top marks in this particularly category. The first is the overly aggressive and obtrusive dynamic contrast Microsoft appears to employ. It results in really very obvious steps in perceived brightness between light and dark scenes in videos, but it's even obvious when watching non-video content. For example, you can see the perceived brightness shift quite clearly when you go predominantly dark screen to one with a bright white background. It's really irritating and an issue we hope Microsoft fixes in a future update.

The other is the viewing angle is also a little short of the very best in this category. There's a noticeable of shift from acute angles. Not enough to lose any sleep over, but enough for the Surface Pro 2 to lose a mark.

Philkempo

October 22, 2013, 2:45 pm

Aren't the cameras on the Surface Pro 2 still 720p front and back? I've read TR for years but these sort of mistakes shouldn't make it to print, it's a simple check of the spec sheet.

andyvan

October 22, 2013, 3:37 pm

Apologies, this is my mistake. I thought I was looking at the Surface Pro 2 specs page with the Surface 2 specs side-by-side, but turns out I was on the Surface 2 specs page which is the other way around.

RichGtB

October 23, 2013, 7:29 am

Interesting to read how when a device attempts to have some sort of connectivity, such as a USB 3 port, micro-sd slot etc, its considered limited. But its never an issue on an ipad :-/ Anyway, i`ve dabbled with the original surface pro and loved the fact of how versatile and slick it is.

MikkaMakkaMoo

October 23, 2013, 8:47 am

Maybe it's because the iPad doesn't run the same operating system that you would find on a desktop machine?

Or maybe it's because the reviewer sees the Surface Pro as a "a tablet, laptop and desktop in one"? As per the very first sentence of the review.

Chris

October 24, 2013, 11:52 am

If the stylus really is "an essential part of the Surface Pro experience", you could have dedicated a little more attention to it.
Edge accuracy and cursor/brush lag in particular would have been good to know about.

andyvan

October 24, 2013, 12:52 pm

Apologies, I spent less time on it principally because:

1) It hasn't changed at all from the last version
2) I'm not so well qualified to judge it from a creative perspective.

Short version, however, is that it's very accurate, very fast and a pleasure to use. I can't think of a tablet that's better to write and draw on.

Phil

December 21, 2013, 2:39 pm

It absolutely is an issue on the iPad, not being able to directly plug in a USB stick or hard drive is a bl**dy nuisance. The iPad is basically a toy, once there is something better - and that's not going to anything Windows based - ill be moving off it. One USB connector is IMHO inadequate. If that breaks you are stuffed.

Solvetech

December 22, 2013, 3:01 pm

I have been using an iPad for a couple of years but wanted a windows tablet and opted for the surface pro 2.

I am a little disappointed in the charging solution which is a bit fiddly and is far too close to the mini-dp port. I keep accidentally dislodging the power when the dp port is connected. I also have a problem with the weight when compared to an iPad. However I do not regret the purchase and will use it every day.

7/10 and improving. Shame about the bad update - Microsofts quality standards are slipping in relation to updates being released too soon

RobotX

January 2, 2014, 1:33 am

Installed the Intel HD 4400 Driver and it'll solve your dynamic contrast issue (turn off the driver power optimization from intel) and it'll also dramatically improved the gradation quality (no more banding) and finally able to calibrate the screen properly.

Kammy

January 3, 2014, 5:57 pm

I just got mine yesterday, I'm actually on it right now lol! It's perfect in my opinion. I'm just glad I got a hold of one, since they're practically sold out everywhere

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