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The Surface Pro 2: Big Pros and Equally Big Cons

Microsoft could easily tick up a few points and take the lead in the tablet industry with its new Surface Pro 2 tablet. I’ll admit that while I was watching the official launch event, I was hooked and ready to buy one. After thinking it over however, there were two issues to the otherwise perfect story of the Surface Pro 2 and if Microsoft had thought ahead and nailed these two down, it would have been something that would pull the money right out of my wallet and into Microsoft’s bolstering bank account.

surface 2 chart of prices

What Microsoft did wrong

I want to talk about what they did wrong first because Microsoft really didn’t mess up on much with this tablet so it will be short. Here’s the problems with the Microsoft Surface, which includes why I may not be buying one as I had originally planned.

  • The Surface 2 (RT, not Pro) is just plain confusing. Why would they introduce a new version of the RT, a tablet whose predecessor sold so poorly that it resulted in Steve Ballmer retiring early from his CEO position at Microsoft? And why did Microsoft drop the RT from the name? Is it to hide that although the tablet is cheaper it is still running the craptastic Windows RT rather than a full-fledged Windows 8.1? I guess we’ll see how many people fall for that trap. RT is a dead-end for Microsoft unless it can make it useful on mobile phones in the near future. This obviously isn’t a deal breaker for the Pro, but there is zero chance I would buy a Surface (RT) 2.
  • Screen size. A 10.6 inch screen is great for sitting back in bed or on an airplane, but to efficiently get any real work done it’s simply too small. According to the most popular laptop screen size is 15 inches. Unless Microsoft introduces a tablet with a larger screen, I don’t see it replacing laptops anytime soon. Of course this is easier said than done, a larger screen means a lot more weight for people to worry about carrying around. The dock might work for desktops though – more on that below.

The 64 GB version has approximately 28 GB free hard disk space.
The 128 GB version has approximately 85 GB free hard disk space.

  • Price. This one is the biggest clincher. Starting at $899 I was ready to buy, and then I discovered that is only for the 64GB version, it doesn’t include a keyboard or dock, and you don’t even get to use the full 64GB. The largest size will run over $2000 once you include the battery-expanding Power Keyboard and desktop dock. Few people would call that $2K a casual purchase for a tablet. Let’s not forget that the Surface has a microSDXC port that supports up to a 64GB card. Unfortunately, read/write speeds for those cards aren’t anywhere in the same league as the built-in SSD the Surface is rocking. The Surface does 525MBps read/ 203MBps write, while one of the best microSDXC only does 67MBs read/ 19MBps write. In addition, the smaller tier Pros come with only half the RAM (4GB vs 8GB in the larger models). This means that in order to get the best experience you’ll need to dish out a minimum of $1400, on a tablet/laptop with a small screen and no GPS to find it if it becomes lost.
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ssd vs microsdxc benchmarks

What the Surface 2 does right

Microsoft has certainly created a unique beast of a machine here. It’s a laptop, it’s a tablet, it’s a desktop replacement. And while it’s a pricey one, it’s still tempting when you consider everything that Microsoft got right with this portable PC.

  • The specs are impressive. It has a 4th gen Haswell i5-4200 1.6 GHz processor, a ClearType 1080p screen, Bluetooth 4.0, 72 core (up from 12) integrated Intel-HD GPU, microSDXC port, full-size USB 3.0 port, mini DisplayPort, built-in Wacom digitizer, and all of the other bells and whistles you would expect from a modern tablet. These specs make it directly comparable to the most recent Macbook Air and several Ultrabook laptops. The demo showed it running Adobe Premiere and editing raw 6K video footage. The onboard GPU can even handle gaming, but nothing cutting edge. As Microsoft said during the launch event, it’s a laptop in tablet form.
  • Battery life. Out of the box the Surface Pro 2 will get at least 5 hours of battery life, and when you attach the new Power Cover/Keyboard accessory that will jump up to 10 hours. Microsoft is advertising this as a 75% improvement over the 1st generation model.
  • Its build quality is solid. As shown in Microsoft’s demo videos the Surface Pro is a durable piece of hardware that can survive plenty of physical abuse and trauma. The screen does not withstand face-down drops on pavement, though it does hold up to corner and back drops like a champ. The addition of the larger angle on the kickstand is also a bonus for using the tablet while its on your lap or the coffee table.
  • The dock transforms the Surface Pro 2 into a desktop replacement. This is what was one of the biggest selling points I saw with the Surface Pro 2. The $200 dock add-on gives the Surface Pro a DisplayPort, USB 3.0 port, and three USB 2.0 ports. Also included are a microphone, headphone, and ethernet jack. The dock comes with a power cord that charges the tablet while connected. Essentially, this means you can use the Surface as your desktop setup at home, no big & bulky ATX tower or hardware required. Just leave your full-size monitor, keyboard, mouse, headphones, mic, and Ethernet cord plugged into the dock and slide the Surface in. Bam! Instant desktop computer since the Surface Pro is running the full 64-bit Windows 8.1 OS.

Essentially, this means you can use the Surface as your desktop setup at home

surface dock detail photo

The Surface Pro 2 is a very impressive piece of hardware with many upsides. Unfortunately, it once again priced itself out of the market. When you consider what little market adoption the Surface has seen so far, there is good reason to doubt the current price range will work out. Perhaps if Microsoft was willing to take a slight loss on its devices, such as Amazon does with the Kindle, it would see a huge influx in Surface adoption. After all, if enough devices were in the hands of users then developers might have more incentive to fill up the app store where Microsoft could regain lost revenue. However, there is one big-elephant reason why Microsoft may never take that route. Unlike the Kindle, the Surface Pro isn’t locked into a closed Microsoft-only ecosystem. Once you have a Surface Pro you can install anything you want from wherever you want, even replace Windows with Linux. Hopefully Microsoft can find a way to bring the price down before shelving yet another great product such as the Zune.

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10 Responses to The Surface Pro 2: Big Pros and Equally Big Cons

  1. Red Frank September 27, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    I would buy one of these today… if I could afford to throw out $1,800 on a tablet. Came here via Google+, you should add that summary to the article.

    Because of the 4GB vs 8GB of ram the only two good choices are the two larger Surface Pro. The 256GB starts at $1,400 and then the Power Cover is another $200 and the dock is another $200. That comes out to $1,800 if you want to use the Surface Pro as intended by the dev team. Yikes that is expensive.

    • Steve Krause September 28, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

      My guess is they are targeting the Corporate warrior vs. the home user with these. $2k is a little much but then again…. if it’s a PC replacement that is both portable and powerful with a few monitors connected to the docking station, perhaps that is a solid swap to the home PC over the holiday season….?

  2. Michael September 28, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    I am an owner of the original surface rt. I couldn’t be happier. Free Microsoft Office. Stellar web browsing. Most impressive for me is the surface rt’s ability to connect to USB devices and external monitors. I agree that price factors look like they could become a barrier to wider acceptance.

  3. yoyoma September 28, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    I just preordered mine this morning. 256HDD, 8GB RAM, Haswell + docking station and Type battery keyboard. That means battery life that will last through a business day.

    So yes, I will be investing $2K or so for this. Yikes is right.

    However, I can afford it and this is truly a beast. I am not a gamer, mostly a business road warrior type. I suspect my laptop will gather dust once I get going on the Surface.

    Well done, Microsoft. Can’t wait!

    • Steve Krause September 28, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

      Heya – once you get it, please respond back with feedback on the keyboard and track/touchpad. That’s probably the only thing that’s keeping me from dropping coin on it today. Need to make sure they are solid.

      • yoyoma October 1, 2013 at 6:54 am #

        will do

  4. Steve Krause September 28, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    For three years, I worked on a 12.5 inch laptop from DELL (Latitude E4310). The screen was an issue at first however after a few weeks, I really didn’t notice and to this day, it’s been my favorite laptop. Just the perfect size.

    What really made up for the smaller screen was the light weight and… the ability to plug it into a full docking station where I had two 24 inch monitors.

    I only recently swapped it out for a new Lenovo X1 Carbon but I have to admit, I miss the smaller Dell and its perfect keyboard.

    So — Even though I have a brand new X1 Carbon, the fact that this Surface Pro is ultra portable (small and lightweight) AND has the option of a docking station, I think I just might give it a try.

    The only thing I’ll need to test out first however is the trackpad and the keyboard. That’s the must have for me. It needs to be perfect and I’m hoping…. the trackpad is as good as my MacBook Air. To date, I have yet to find any trackpad/touchpad as good as the MAC’s…. but I’m hopeful.

  5. Brian Burgess September 29, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    I’m also a proud owner of a Surface RT. It comes with Office which is the most important thing when I am on the go.

    The thing is, when I am using Windows 8.1 on my Desktop Tower PC, the modern UI is a complete afterthought. But on the Surface, I use the touch interface all the time.

    A lot of people complain about the desktop being included on the Surface RT, but I look at it as a great “back end” so to speak because I can manage documents to show up on the Modern UI the way I like.

    Plus, you need it for Office in its current state. Microsoft isn’t ready for a complete modern version of Office yet. It’s getting there though, with modern Office apps like OneNote. And RT 8.1 now includes Office 2013. Things are getting closer.

    There is annoying lag time on the Surface RT though, when there’s too much going on..

  6. Charles October 30, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are not meant to sell in volume.

    They are proof of concept products and selling them at a loss would destroy OEM vendors of Windows 8.1 tablets which would certainly be detrimental.

    When the Surface 2 changes processors and support LTE/GPS, it will be a great iPad alternative. The Surface Pro 2 is a laptop/desktop replacement in tablet format meant to compete against the MacBook Air and premium PC Ultrabooks — it is not in the same class as the iPad or new iPad Air.

  7. vanz January 23, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    •”And why did Microsoft drop the RT from the name? Is it to hide that although the tablet is cheaper it is still running the craptastic Windows RT rather than a full-fledged Windows 8.1? I guess we’ll see how many people fall for that trap.”

    Isn’t it ironic that your title says it will give cons for the surface pro 2 but here you talk about the surface rt. The exact criticism you dish out to Microsoft in the article. The trap being I came here for cons of the surface pro two and the first thing I read is about the surface rt?!

    Weak review and misleading information. The surface rt original is amazing btw. I do work on it all the time and the screen even at low resolution is great

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