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.
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.