The last word on...the Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2

Daniel Bean
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 review: Better battery and performance, same thick body
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This slate sequel has Batter battery and performance, but the thick body feels more like Surface Pro 1.5.

When Microsoft launched its Surface line of tablets in 2012, it was the company's first dip into a packaged hardware and software production since the Zune, and the first time it's designed a Windows device from top to bottom.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the Surface RT and Surface Pro haven't exactly proven hits with consumers.

Has Microsoft given better reason for shoppers to pick up Surfaces this holiday season? With new Surfaces hitting stores on Tuesday, reviews have popped up all over the web to help tablet (or laptop) users decide if these Windows devices are right for them. Since we at Yahoo are such nice guys and gals, we've gone even further and taken the most illuminating conclusions from the best of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 reviews and put them all in one place.

We call it THE LAST WORD.

Microsoft Surface 2

David Pierce, The Verge:

There’s good news and bad news with the Surface 2. The good news: Microsoft made almost everything about the device better. Gorgeous screen, fast performance, usable kickstand, useful new software. It’s a better Surface than last year’s Surface, by a long shot.

The bad news: a good Surface still isn’t a great device. Not right now, anyway. It’s not a great tablet — it’s too big, too tall in portrait mode, and missing way too many crucial apps. It’s not a great laptop, either, not unless you’re willing to tote around a mouse and keyboard. I still hope that Microsoft is right, that it will eventually figure out how to combine tablet and laptop in a way that doesn’t just come with new, frustrating compromises. (Combining the power of the Surface Pro with the design of the Surface 2 would be a good start.)

I want the device the Surface 2 promises to be. I hope someday Microsoft builds it — and there’s a lot here to work with. But there are still two devices in my backpack: my laptop and my tablet. Neither one is a Surface 2.

Dana Wollman, Engadget:

We'll admit, we like the Surface more than we did previously. That's partly because the Windows Store catalog is steadily growing, and partly because the battery life went from impressively long to ridiculously long. If it weren't for the battery life, in fact, we'd probably put up even more of a fuss about the fact that this runs RT. Ultimately, we'd rather Microsoft make an affordable, low-power tablet that runs full Windows. Performance would be solid, and battery life would still be long, though perhaps not quite as epic as it is here. Plus, users would have the option of running desktop apps. Which would make sense if Microsoft's biggest selling point for the Surface is that you can use it to be productive. It would also help compensate for the Windows Store selection, which has made strides, but is still missing some popular titles.

Microsoft has already proven that it can build better hardware than just about any other Windows OEM. Indeed, the Surface 2 is a top-notch product. It's thin and well-built, with a nice display, improved webcam and a generous amount of storage (32GB for $449). Still, recommending the Surface becomes harder when there are other Windows tablets that cost less and run full Windows.

Lance Ulanoff, Mashable:

It took me a while to realize this, but the pass I gave them last year for keeping a traditional Windows desktop environment and even a second instance of Internet Explorer, just doesn’t hold up for a second-generation product. I want Microsoft to figure this stuff out. In fact, I demand that they make the Surface 2 (not the Surface Pro that runs Intel, but the device running on an ARM Nvidia Tegra 4 processor) a consistently Windows Design (Metro) experience. I don’t care if I am running the awesome Office 2013 suite on it — make that suite a part of the Windows Design experience.

I hate the jumpy feeling I get when I shift from Metro to the old-school Windows Desktop. On a traditional laptop, I can deal with the dissonance. In fact, I spend most of my time in desktop mode on my Windows 8 Acer laptop. On a tablet, make it a tablet experience. Oh, and stop calling my tablet a PC. It’s a tablet! Embrace that fact, Microsoft.

...If you love Microsoft, Windows and, especially all things Windows 8, this is your ultimate do everything tablet. However, if you want a mobile device that is unabashedly a tablet, this is probably not the tablet you were looking for.

Eric Franklin, CNET:

The Surface 2 enters a more competitive and intimidating market than the Surface RT did last year. Tablets continue to get better, and the general public is more aware of Windows RT's inherent limitations and have seen fit to pass judgment.

The Surface 2 has a few notable advantages in its corner, including quality design and hardware. It's still the best productivity tablet thanks to comfortable keyboard options, free Office 2013, 200GB of free SkyDrive space for two years, and unlimited worldwide Skype minutes for one year. Xbox Music and Video are also both easily comparable with similar services on the other tablet platforms. However, the software limitations of Windows RT -- the lack of legacy app support, in particular -- still loom over it like an ever-watching Visigoth.

...The Surface 2 is a lot like Nvidia's Shield: an undeniably high-quality product that's still waiting for lots of high-quality software to go along with it. If you're a fan of the Windows 8 ecosystem, the hardware improvements here serve it well. However, Amazon, Google, and Apple still do tablets better.

Anand Lal Shimpi, AnandTech:

Surface 2 is a big step forward compared to Surface RT. The chassis looks awesome, the device is significantly quicker and battery life is appreciably better. The new display is much better than its predecessor (and so much better than what you get from most $449 PCs). The new touch/type covers see similarly major improvements. Surface 2 also benefits from the update to Windows RT 8.1, giving it a far more polished OS than what launched a year ago. The overall package is just a lot better than it was last year.

Unfortunately, Surface 2 faces the same struggles as its predecessor – primarily around the limited use of Windows RT. You’ll still get a better third party app experience on Android or iOS. The good news is that Microsoft’s first party apps are much better with 8.1...

It’s definitely a tough sell for the majority of the ARM based tablet market. I feel like at a lower price (and/or with a cover thrown in as part of the bundle) Surface 2 would have a much easier time attracting more than a niche...

Eric Limer, Gizmodo:

[Should you buy the Surface 2?] Probably not. The better screen, better camera, and better processor help make the Surface 2 a much more compelling tablet than the Surface RT, but it's not quite as compelling as the competition, and what unique value it does bring to the table is not for everyone. Not for many.

The Surface 2 is still remarkable for its accessories, specifically the Type and Touch Cover 2, which are much much better than the covers the Surface RT had to contend with. If you really do find that you need a tablet that simply must have a physical keyboard, but also that physical keyboard must be attached and svelte and not just some bluetooth one, then yes, the Surface 2 is your tablet. But you belong to a very small niche.

Ben Woods, The Next Web:

If you’re a fan of the mid-nineties neo-noir film The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey, you’ll be familiar with the line “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” – well, that’s sort of feels like the reverse problem that Microsoft has for the Surface 2. It really needs to convince the world it deserves to.

...With the updated hardware, higher resolution screen, improved cameras and update to Windows 8.1 making the whole experience slicker and more functional, most of those original complaints have now been rectified and from a value for money perspective, the lower capacity variant is certainly within the realms of being a contender for other similar tablets.

However, there’s still one thing you’ll have to overlook and that’s being limited to whatever you can carry out between the browser and the app store’s selection. There’s no getting around it, there will be times you want to use an app that you can’t, but would be able to on an Android tablet or an iPad.

...Ultimately, for me, there’s a fine line here – all it would take is the launch of a slim, moderately specced convertible that runs a full version of Windows 8.1 and I’d be left wondering if I hadn’t made the wrong decision in buying a Surface 2. Still, that would be an achievement to deliver at $449, so maybe there is a place for the Surface 2 yet.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Tom Warren, The Verge:

The Surface Pro 2’s unique mix of touch, keyboard, mouse, and pen really does work. It does everything you would expect a regular desktop PC to do. But it's far from the perfect device for all four inputs, as it makes you compromise everywhere, but if you really want it all then there are few other devices with as much versatility. Microsoft is insistent that its Surface Pro can be both, and this second-generation is proof of how hard it's trying to achieve that.

There are plenty of tablet and laptop alternatives, or even a myriad of hybrid devices out there. Windows 8 has really helped push the idea of a tablet and laptop combination, but nobody has perfected this yet, not even Microsoft. A PC maker needs to produce the answer in a package that doesn't compromise on battery life, weight, or lap use. That may be achievable, but it feels a long way off. Until then, the Surface Pro 2 is a great machine if you can deal with some of the compromises. If you can't, there are plenty of great tablets, and plenty of great laptops. Microsoft still needs to convince the world that we only need one device, and that it can make the only one we need.

Dana Wollman, Engadget:

When it came time to hand down a verdict on the first Surface Pro, we ultimately decided that, nice as it was, it felt compromised as both a laptop and a tablet. We wouldn't go so far as to say the Surface Pro 2 addresses all of the original's shortcomings, but it's definitely made progress. In particular, this new model brings a series of changes that make the Pro more viable as a laptop replacement. The dual-stage kickstand makes it comfortable to rest on your legs. The two keyboard offerings are each less bendy this time around -- again, making them more suitable to use in your lap. With the help of Haswell (and some extra tweaking from Microsoft), it's actually faster than a notebook in many respects. Also thanks to Haswell, the battery life is vastly improved, to the point where it's on par with a similarly specced 11-inch Ultrabook.

As a tablet, the Surface Pro has made fewer strides. And that's a shame, since the Pro is, at its heart, a tablet. (If it's not, then why are the keyboard covers sold separately, and why is there no full-sized SD slot?) The improved battery life helps, sure, but the Surface Pro 2 isn't any thinner or lighter than its predecessor, and can be cumbersome to use as a standalone slate. If there's a bright side, it's that the Surface Pro is still easier to use in tablet mode than a convertible PC, like the Yoga 2 Pro. You'll also enjoy a wider selection of apps than when we reviewed the original, and certain Windows 8.1 features, like those on-screen keyboard shortcuts, are super convenient in tablet mode. Even so, we hope that as Microsoft sits down to plan the Surface Pro 3, it focuses on building a better tablet, the same way it made the Surface Pro 2 a better laptop. In the meantime, the new Pro is much improved, but it's still at its best in notebook mode. Indeed, whoever buys this needs to want a tablet and laptop in more or less equal measure. Because if what you really want is a laptop you can occasionally use as a tablet, you're still better off with a convertible Ultrabook.

Pete Pachal, Mashable:

I’ve been writing this review of the Surface Pro 2 on the Surface Pro 2 in Word, while running Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, Xbox Music, Outlook, Excel, Google Chrome, both versions of Internet Explorer (all with multiple tabs) and a bunch of modern UI apps for good measure. I’m also saving this Word file directly to SkyDrive — something that would often give me serious lag in Windows 8, but it's working like a dream in Windows 8.1 on the Surface Pro 2.

That’s one of the more exciting things about this machine and its Windows 8.1 software — it’s a powerful PC that’s fully cloud-connected in a cloud-powered world. Since Windows 8 debuted, other services (such as Adobe Creative Cloud) have followed Microsoft into cloud services, and the Surface Pro 2 is a machine that isn’t just fully equipped to handle this world — it’s designed for it.

So although I’m still skeptical whether Microsoft’s tablet experience has any value over competitors (and it's worthless in the Desktop), the Surface Pro 2 succeeds because that part is just gravy anyway. This is a tablet with the heart of a PC and its brain in the cloud. For a serious workhorse machine that you can really take anywhere, it's hard to beat.

Eric Limer, Gizmodo:

If you found nothing compelling about the Surface Pro, there's little here to change your mind. The appeal is still pretty niche. This device is largely for professionals who have some sort of specific need for ultra-portability mixed with a full-featured OS. That or a pressure-sensitive screen with a good stylus. In those fields the Surface Pro succeeds, and the Pro 2 is a better Surface.

For most folks though, it's probably not worth it. The Surface Pro starts at $900, which doesn't include the addition of the $120 and $130 Touch or Type Cover. Consider too that if you already own a tablet, the Surface Pro 2's tabletness almost definitely not better than what you've already got. It's got more power, sure. But there are precious few opportunities to use it.

The Surface Pro 2, like the Surface Pro before it, aspires to be All Things to All People. But you are not All People. You are A Person, and there are a wealth of options out there that can and probably do fit your exact needs more specifically. Surface may still very well be the future. That just doesn't do you much good today.

Dan Ackerman, CNET:

The Surface Pro 2 feels like a modestly improved sequel to what we had seen before, rather than a true 2.0 version of Microsoft's flagship tablet. Anyone shopping for a new Windows 8 system right now should rightly demand Intel's fourth-gen CPUs, available since June, if only for the increased battery life and power efficiency. The Pro 2 gives you that, and the new second angle on the kickstand does make it more convenient to use in your lap. The biggest disappointment is that it's still got that first-gen hardware look, while Sony has managed to shave its competing Tap 11 system down to a thinner, lighter package.

With no major new features or design changes, the Surface Pro 2 still relies heavily on its accessories to stand out as the market leader. But, with only a few new slate-style Core i5 tablets coming out (most competing models are hybrids that spend much of their time in clamshell-laptop mode), Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 manages to maintain a strong position in its small corner of the market.

Anand Lal Shimpi, AnandTech:

Surface Pro 2 is a good improvement over its predecessor. The platform is quicker, quieter and boasts longer battery life as well. The new kickstand is awesome, as are the new touch/type covers, and the new display is a big step in the right direction. If you were tempted by the original Surface Pro, its successor is a solid evolution and that much more tempting.

...Surface Pro 2 isn’t the perfect notebook and it isn’t the perfect tablet. It’s a compromise in between. Each generation, that compromise becomes smaller.

What I was hoping for this round was an even thinner/lighter chassis, but it looks like we’ll have to wait another year for that. Battery life is still not up to snuff with traditional ARM based tablets, and Surface Pro 2 seems to pay more of a penalty there than other Haswell ULT based designs – I’m not entirely sure why...It’s not enough to just put out a good product, you have to take advantage of all technologies available, when they are available. Just like last year, my recommendation comes with a caution – Surface Pro 2 is good, I’m happier using it than I was with last year’s model, but the Broadwell version will be even better. What’s likely coming down the pipe are improvements in the chassis and in battery life. You’ll have to wait around a year for those things, if you can’t, then this year’s model is still pretty good.

Mike Lowe, Pocket-lint:

Surface Pro 2 is a subtle push forward for the device, and a necessary one. It's no giant leap, though, and just like before we're toing and froing between its highs and lows and balance to price point.

Overall there's no denying that it's a solid, well-built device with a glorious screen. Think of it as a standalone tablet, however, and it feels a little bit too thick and heavy. Think of it as a boundary-blurrer that straddles the tablet-meets-laptop category and you'll be a far happier customer.

If anything the second-generation Pro shows us that Microsoft is listening. From the physical adjustments of the flip-stand, through to better battery life from Haswell, and the steps forward in software with the introduction of Windows 8.1.

Whether that amasses to enough to get you on board and give the Pro 2 a new home, well, that's going to depend on your point of view. We find the Surface Pro 2 genuinely decent to use, better built than plenty of Ultrabooks, but also that it doesn't entirely connect with us as a tablet-like device. If only it came with the keyboard included for a touch less cash.

Ben Woods, The Next Web:

The Surface Pro 2 wants to be everything to you. It wants to be your tablet, and it wants to be your every day laptop too. But it’s far more convincing at one of those things than the other.

I want my tablet to be light, to be convenient and easy to use for maybe just a few minutes at a time, or maybe a few hours. The problem with the Surface Pro 2 is that it doesn’t do very well in real life at these things. For example, it rarely, if ever occurred to me to use the Pro 2 in portrait mode – something I’d regularly do with other tablets. What if you’re just browsing the internet, who wants to do that with a 1KG weight in their hands? Or hand, depending on which keyboard configuration you’re using.

...In attempting to straddle both device categories, the Pro 2 makes compromises on weight and additional hardware (notably, ports – one USB 3.0 is a little lacking if considering it as a laptop replacement) support, though . While I can overlook the latter, or at least work around it, the Surface Pro 2 does less well at convincing me it should be my go-to tablet. It’s just too damn chunky for that.

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