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.
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 Laptopmag.com 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.
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
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.