30 Days with Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2: It’s a Keeper

One home in which Microsoft's hybrid computer makes sense.

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Jared Newman for TIME

We’re keeping it.

That’s the verdict my wife and I had on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 just before the 30-day return window lapsed. A month after buying Microsoft’s workhorse laptop-tablet hybrid, we both felt that it fit well into our daily routines–even more than other devices that lean toward the laptop side of things.

We also found a few issues that occasionally make us want to tear our hair out. Most of them are fixable, so here’s hoping Microsoft is listening.

Let’s start with the good stuff:

It’s a Better Tablet Than I Was Expecting

It’s no iPad Air in terms of comfort, but the Surface Pro 2 is as good of a tablet as it gets for something that also tries to be a laptop. That’s entirely because of the kickstand, which keeps you from having to hold the two-pound device up with your hands. I enjoyed folding the Type or Touch Cover underneath the kickstand and propping the tablet up on my legs or stomach so I could quickly switch back to laptop mode as needed.

Windows does have a tablet app deficiency, and the Surface Pro 2’s ability to run desktop programs doesn’t really make up for it. Games are a major weak point, as you won’t get titles like Year Walk or Hundreds that are really pushing forward with touchscreen game design. Still, I’d say 90 percent of my non-gaming tablet use comes from Twitter, the browser, Reddit and reading apps. The Surface Pro 2 covers the bases for me, especially with the recent arrival of Flipboard. And my gaming needs are met in other ways, as explained below.

It’s Good Enough for PC Gaming

Video games have a way of winning me over. After my first weekend with the Surface Pro 2 was spent playing Fallout: New Vegas while watching football in the living room, I was feeling a lot better about the purchase. One time I got freaky and played Torchlight 2 using the stylus in place of a mouse. It was cool, and I’m thinking of trying it again with League of Legends. Though I haven’t tried pushing the system to its limits, I’m confident many of the games in my Steam library will run fine at 720p, and I’m hoping Steam’s in-home streaming will extend the Surface Pro 2’s gaming capabilities even further.

Battery Life Is Manageable

I was initially worried about battery life, as I could barley get to six hours with my normal work routine. But after a firmware update last month, the same usage got me to seven hours. I’ve heard some people get even longer battery life under light loads, but I don’t use my Surface Pro 2 exclusively that way. The thing to realize is heavy loads will drain battery life much faster, and in that sense the Pro 2 is definitely more of a laptop than a tablet.

In general, I’ve made the battery situation work. I keep the charger in the living room and plug it in when I’m playing a game or beaming web video to Chromecast, or overnight if the battery’s getting close to 50 percent empty. It’s not like an iPad where I can leave it off the charger for a week, but that’s largely because I’m doing more demanding things with it and using it for longer stretches.

It’s Windows in an Ideal State

The Surface Pro 2 is basically the Windows equivalent of a Nexus phone or tablet. It has no bloatware, it receives routine updates (including the battery-boosting one) and its hardware is designed to showcase the software. You will not find a better overall Windows 8.1 experience than the Surface Pro 2. Right now I’m testing another Windows 8.1 machine from a major PC vendor, and the difference is jarring in terms of bloatware; there’s something to be said for a device that’s meant to be enjoyed rather than tolerated.

There’s Definitely a Coolness Factor

This is a totally vain thing, and sort of intangible, but the Surface Pro 2 is just an interesting device to look at and talk about. Owning it feels like a statement of support for what Microsoft is doing, in trying to strike the right balance between laptop and tablet. In no position does the Surface Pro 2 look like a generic laptop, and I like that.

My Wife Is Digging It

My lovely wife tends to be skeptical of new gadgets. She was particularly nervous about the Surface Pro 2’s small screen, seeing as she spends a lot of time on a 17-inch MacBook Pro. There was definitely a learning curve, and the coolest things about Windows 8.1, such as Snap View and SkyDrive integration, are not intuitive. I did a lot of hand-holding the first week, and wasn’t sure if she’d embrace the Pro 2 in the end.

But about a week ago, she told me that she really enjoys the Pro 2, and I’ve noticed she isn’t using the MacBook very much. She has fun switching between stylus, touch and trackpad depending on what she’s doing, and she likes having a compact device that runs Microsoft Publisher. So basically she’s one of the people in Microsoft’s new ad campaign that I assumed to be fictional.

surfacepro2back

Jared Newman for TIME

There are, however, a few things that need improvement. None of them are dealbreakers, but if they don’t get better with time I’ll be pretty disappointed:

One Awful Trackpad Decision Drags It Down

I’ve adapted to the small size of the Type Cover 2 that I bought with the Surface Pro 2. I’ve learned to ignore the way two-finger scrolling only kicks in when your fingers are about a quarter of the way down the trackpad.

But the one thing that drives me crazy is how you can’t double-tap and hold from anywhere on the trackpad to initiate a selection. To select text or other things with the Type Cover 2, you must either press and hold on the tiny left mouse button, or double tap and hold the button. The first method doesn’t work half the time because that button is so hard to press. The second method doesn’t work if your cursor is positioned over a button or link. Both methods require two fingers, where a tap-and-drag from anywhere on the trackpad would require just one.

The strange thing is that double-tap and hold is supported on the original Type Cover, but not on the Type Cover 2. There’s a whole thread of angry Surface users complaining about the problem on Microsoft’s support site, so I know I’m not crazy. This is by far the biggest problem I’ve had with the Surface Pro 2. “Just use the touchscreen or a mouse” is not an adequate fix.

Sometimes It’s Buggy and Weird

Every so often, the Type Cover 2 trackpad stops responding, or inverts the direction of two-finger scrolling, and one time the “A” key on the keyboard stopped working entirely. The only fix in these cases is to disconnect and reconnect the cover. An even weirder bug is the one where trackpad clicks stop responding, and keyboard presses bring up all sorts of weird menu options if you’re on the desktop, and the only way out is to press the “Alt” key.

Also, while I like using modern apps in Windows 8.1, sometimes they don’t work properly. Twitter routinely crashes or fails to load new tweets. Internet Explorer occasionally stops responding and requires a force-close. The Mail app’s Live Tile is currently stuck on the same message it’s been showing me since this weekend. I can’t figure out why pop-up notifications don’t work half the time. I’m hoping for a Windows 8.1.1.

Google Chrome Seems Allergic to It

We all know Google isn’t interested in throwing much support behind Windows 8, but if I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d swear the company was actively trying to make Chrome terrible on the Surface Pro 2. Chrome doesn’t support the Pro 2’s high pixel density by default, and if you turn on high-DPI support, it makes the text look strangely jumbled. There’s no smooth pinch-to-zoom support like you get in Internet Explorer.

Most concerning of all, the Chromebook-like modern app that’s in beta now is completely unusable on the Surface Pro 2. Unless Google fixes it in time for the next stable version, any Surface user who sets Chrome as their default browser will be in for an unpleasant shock. This is more of an embarrassment for Google than for Microsoft, but it’s the users who lose either way.

I still can’t see myself recommending the Surface Pro 2 to large numbers of people. At $900 for the basic 64 GB model, and $1300 for the 256 GB version I’ve been using, plus $130 for a Type Cover 2, it’s an expensive machine. On some level it competes with Apple’s MacBook Air, but even that’s becoming more computer than most people need for everyday use. The Pro 2 is a specialized device for people who want a tablet-sized computer that can also handle specific, heavier loads. That happens to describe our situation pretty well.

27 comments
raakanin
raakanin

For me the Surface Pro 2 is one of the most frustrating devices Ive ever used. It's not a good laptop, it's not a good tablet, it's a nice digital frame left on my shelf though

natasephia
natasephia

WOW. How can you be comparing this machine to a phone? Ridiculous. This is a pc first and foremost. Compare it to PCs. 

BigDady
BigDady

It's nice to see a positive piece on the sp2 most are overly negative and written by obvious haters that being said I love my sp2 256/8gig it's a beast and from the beginning of the article I would say the iPad air is no sp2 it is pricey but quality products cost more then budget or junk products I've essentially replaced my hp desktop and laptop both running Vista and while their is definitely a learning curve to Windows 8 I'm really liking it so if you need a beast of a machine the sp2 is definitely something that should be considered. 

TerraKnasinski
TerraKnasinski

I just wonder how well it would work for an online student. I have a few programs I have to use and I wonder if they will work.

dalecosby
dalecosby

I love my Surface pro (original model) and I have to say, Chrome on the device is Google's problem. I just switched to IE with works very well on this unit.


I have a type cover which is very useful but I also have a nice MS ergonomic Bluetooth keyboard and MS sculpt mouse. When used with an external monitor it is as good as a desktop.

theclivesinclair
theclivesinclair

I'm in the "my 15" 2010 Macbook Pro is getting on a bit" group. As much as I love it, I want to go lighter and smaller.


I've had an iPad and ditched it - not powerful enough. My current Samsung Note 2 phone has basically replaced my iPad and iPhone 4S.


I use Google apps a lot, Gmail, Google Drive, Chrome, but also Adobe Lightroom. 


I like the idea of the Surface Pro 2 for my photography needs, but I'm also hovering over a Macbook Air 11". Help!

DonaldCostello
DonaldCostello

I agree with the author. I do have far more additional points of pleasure with the device. I am in fact in awe of the future vision of MS which I had not seen in a very long time.


The whole pen to screen work on the Surface 2 seems not to have struck the author as very important and hence it doesn't  matter to him if that feature is presented  as  creative as it in fact is.


I think MS has a new position in the marketplace. Other tablet venders future depends on the vendor improving the capability of the tablet technology. Surface's extremely bright future also depends on that but it will explode as the user realizes he/she more than ever need and can build on the full Windows link.


Even more is the brilliant exploding link provided by the logic of he Blade!


More later...


hazymat
hazymat

Jared, great review of the Surface 2. The Type Cover 2 is so frustrating for mouse actions like double-click then drag or even click and drag.


Your Chrome woes needn't be woes, though:


- install Chrome

- *do not* use the chrome://flags HiDpi setting

- instead right-click on the Chrome shortcut on your desktop > properties > compatibility > Disable display scaling on high DPI settings

- go into Chrome settings, scroll down to show advanced, set page zoom to 150%


This removes the fuzzy display, and zooming to 150% means you can actually see web content at a decent size. Menus / tabs are tiny, but you might like that?


It's ridiculous users have to know to do the above just to use Chrome in non-fuzzy mode, but still.


Also the latest Chrome Metro mode (Chrome v32) which was added then immediately removed looks amazing. The menu item has disappeared for most users, but I think it will be back and will make Metro mode awesome. (Definitely better than it was...)

benjitek
benjitek

I just ordered the 512gb model, was waiting for the SP2.5 (4300 CPU instead of the 4200).  Am now wondering about a case -- and at this point it seems the device is best used without one, maybe just a basic sleeve-cover when putting it in a backpack?  I don't see a case in any of the review photos.  I've noticed the display models in stores show wear 'n tear, silver metal showing through the black where the surface has been scratched.  Any suggestions...?

michael.benzur
michael.benzur

" ...if the battery’s getting close to 50 percent empty." think of it as battery half full

guyglennon
guyglennon

Agree 100% with this article.  


I am in real estate sales. I own a small firm with a 15 man sales force and 3 staff, working to grow to 50 salesmen. 


Currently most of my team members use the Apple Trio: iPhone, iPad and MacAir/MacBook. I personally have a 15 Retina MacBook with a Thunderbolt, iPad Air and iPhone 5. 


About 8 months ago I bought the Surface Pro (Windows 8) to run a few Windows specific programs that require Internet Explorer. At first I was not a big fan. Recently I upgraded to Windows 8.1, picked up a couple accessories and took a few hours to learn how to navigate Windows 8.1... and to my surprise, I have fallen in love with my Surface Pro. Most recently, I bought a Nokia 1520 "phonlet" to pair with Surface Pro. I really love the Nokia phone with 6" screen. Since I am in sales, I always had my iPhone and iPad everywhere I went (so I could respond to a new lead as fast as possible, review a purchase contract, update my CRM or send a professional email). 


The iPad trio is effective and expensive, especially for new team member. Apple care and the local Apple store is a plus for the iPhone and iPad, classes and my business, since I don't have an IT department. 


Apple trio: $4347.00 plus tax

- $900 for 4G iPad with a case, apple care and few business apps

- $600 for for the extra 4G device with cellular service provider ($25 per month X24 months)

- $1798 13" MacAir with 256 GB, a case and apple care

- $400 iPone with case, apple care, phone charger, screen protector and a few business apps

- $150 Additional MacAir charger, iPad charger and iPhone charger

- $200 for S2340M Dell 23" LED ISP 1920X1080 external monitor and required cables

- $140 Apple keyboard and mouse

- $60 computer bag

- $99 MS Office 365


Windows due: $2468.00 plus tax

- $1568 for 256 GB Surface Pro 2 with Windows Complete, type cover 2, screen protector and office 365. 

- $400 Nokia 1520 "phonlet" with case, Windows Complete, phone charger, BT device, screen protector and business apps.

- $150 Additional AC charger for Surface Pro, Surface Pro DC car charger, phone charger and extra stylus

- $200 for S2340M Dell 23" LED ISP 1920X1080 external monitor and requiered cables

- $90 for bluetooth keyboard wireless adapter and arc mouse

- $60 for computer bag


About $2000 more startup expense to use the 3 Apple devices versus the 2 Windows devices. With 50 salesman, that is $50,000 per year less. And the added convince of having to keep up with two devices versus 3 devices, using Office on both devices, and 200 GB sky drive. Plus we now have a local Windows kiosk in the mall with knowledgable techs/salesmen and Microsoft offers Microsoft Complete (like Apple Care)... I feel comfortable phasing out Apple platform and integrating Windows platform. 





AaronPepelis
AaronPepelis

exactly my experience. especially on the track pad. I'm hoping that the power cover is better. I keep double tapping to hold and then just use my fingers on the screen.

I also won a surface2 so I have 2 surface, an iPad, and a galaxy note 2 phone. The surface2 absolutely blows the iPad out of the water.  The problem is no apps.  If they could get the same number of apps/developers as apple going on for the Rt world, the surface would kill the iPad.

ThatHeath
ThatHeath

Spot on accounting of the Surface Pro 2 based on my experiences as well. I appreciate that you took the time to tell the story of what it is - something unique that doesn't quite line up with other product categories. 

heartlightshining
heartlightshining

I agree with all.  Many times I wish I had gone with another HP.  I, too, am pulling my hair out - not a good look for me, BTW.

FabrizioSilveri
FabrizioSilveri

I've had my Surface Pro 2 for 10 days now, and it's definitely a keeper for me too!
This is the very best Surface Pro 2 review I've read, because this is not the kind of device you can review just reading the specs and testing the battery life... you must live with it.
Anyway, I have to add another big pro to the review: the pen.
The Surface Pro 2 has the very best implementation of a Wacom pen I've seen in consumer products, and if you like OneNote - and I guess every college student loves it, even more now that the free Metro version has the same note taking capabilities of the Office version - this is the product you MUST get.
I just wish the next keyboard has a better and wider touchpad (I'd definitely buy that) and that Google will fix Chrome (they lost a user in favor of IE11), but when you look at it overall, the Surface Pro 2 is a must buy!

NerdyWoman51
NerdyWoman51

Just a few cool tips from a Word nerd... You know you can double-tap to select a word, but hold down CTRL and tap once to select a sentence. In IE, CTRL + tap will select an entire paragraph.

If you use Word desktop app, the left margin becomes a selection field: a single tap selects a line, double-tap selects the paragraph, triple-tap selects the entire doc. I wish these worked in the web apps, but it's a format thing... Word's web app works a little differently, but CTRL + taps is the secret to quick and easy selection. And, let's face it, if you're writing, your hands are on the keyboard anyway.

I quit click-dragging to select years ago...

BarackHolder
BarackHolder

This review is spot on. I absolutely love the Pro 2. It is great for the working professional. But, it does have quirks you listed that need to be fixed: terrible trackpad, IE hangs, inconsistent live tiles/notifications, plus a lot of people are having issues with sleep, including me (i've disabled it until there is a fix in favor of quick screen off+hibernation after 90 mins). I'm glad you used it for a month for a more complete review. It takes time to get used to and its quirks need to be addressed with software and /or firmware fixes, but overall it's a great device.

ShinNoNoir
ShinNoNoir

There's pinch-to-zoom support in Chrome Canary (the bleeding edge version), but it's far from optimal.

butters454
butters454

Thanks for sharing, Jared! I'm considering picking one up myself this Christmas, and reviews like these are much more helpful than those written after only a few hours/days of use. 

The only thing I'm really worried about is lap usage. Maybe it's just a matter of adjusting to the new form factor and learning how best to use it. Old ways don't last forever!

toraji40
toraji40

Jared,


A decent review about the pro 2 and I am happy you keep it. I own the rt from day one, I own the pro from day one, I own the pro 2 from day one, I own the Lumia 925 from day one and Monday I will receive the Lumia 1520. I still own the older devices because I have a hard time parting from them and the RT is helpful for trips but I might exchange it for the surface 2 or the Lumia 2520. That said I think it is clear that I really love the windows 8 devices from Microsoft and Nokia.


About the pro2 I think you should recommend it to the mass because you forget 1 thing, the pro 2 256/8gb with a docking station makes a new desktop complete un necessary  because the pro 2 can do EVERYTHING. It might be around $1600 with all gadget's included but it's definitely worth the money, also the battery life will improve a lot beginning next year when the power cover will be available. I do get about 7 hours  with constant usage (some video and gaming included) but with the power cover we get an extra 2-3 hours.


The surface line for sure has some "coolness" factor, people who see my surface ask me about it ALL the time and when I let them play with it they like the smoothness and the switching between the desktop (work environment) and the tile (play environment) side of the Surface/windows 8.


I do agree with you that the trackpad issues, I also do NOT like it and I avoid using it by using a mouse or just the touch screen but as you also mention that is a minor issue that probably will be resolved in future updates.


Thanks for this article and I am happy to see more and more reviewers start to be positive about the devices Microsoft brings to the market and with that pushing their OEMS to do better for less money


-ps

Really nice to read your lovely wife is digging it and was not using her Mac-book as often anymore, I think that says a lot


Regards

t

BigDady
BigDady

@TerraKnasinski  I think this is particularly well suited for students and the programs you need to run are for Windows they should definitely run on the sp2 good luck on finding the right machine )

BigDady
BigDady

@theclivesinclair  I have no experience with Mac's but I do with the sp2 and as I said in my comments it's a beast I don't think you can go wrong with it good luck with your hunt for the right machine for yourself. 

EricPellegrini
EricPellegrini

@theclivesinclair If you are talking about photography you should really weight the resolution, brightness and quality of the screen of the Surface Pro 2 (1920x1080) versus the 11" Mac Air (1366x768). In addition to a much faster processor (now sporting the 4300U), that alone should give you a reason to consider heavily the SP2.


And even though the screen is a bit smaller, side by side comparisons I've done with 11" Air owners have resulted in unanimous declarations that it is easier to work with the SP2. 

AaronPepelis
AaronPepelis

oh and I can't wait for the docking station so I can ditch my old desktop that was sucking $50 in power a month... then get a 32" 4K monitor....

LukeMI
LukeMI

@butters454 I've had my Pro 2 for a couple of weeks now and the only thing I've been really, really disappointed with so far is lap usage. The keyboard covers are just too flimsy feeling to be in your lap for extended use. I find myself mostly unhooking the keyboard and using the onscreen keyboard in that case. I have one of those leather covers ordered from Amazon and hoping that helps reinforce the keyboard a bit. They have another case on Amazon with a built in Bluetooth keyboard that looks sort of neat too. I don't regret my decision to get my Surface Pro 2, but it does have its quirks. Also, the situation with Chrome is 100% spot on as it's completely horrible for touch usage.