Product Review: Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Product Review: Microsoft Surface Pro 2
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This is a review of the new Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablet / laptop replacement.

• Technology: Computer • Technology: Hardware • Technology: Review • Technology: Tablet

From time to time we find products that might make your life in Hawaii easier and / or travel to and from Hawaii easier and when that happens we'll review them and share our experiences for you.

What is Surface?
Surface is Microsoft's answer to the iPad, Google Android tablets, and the future of laptops and notebooks running Windows operating system.

Surface comes in two very different versions. One is called "Surface 2" and that product runs Windows 8.1 RT and is just a Microsoft version of an iPad. Just like on an iPad you download apps from an app store so it has a Facebook app, Netflix, email, and so on. This version also comes with a version of Microsoft Office. Even though it runs Windows, it's not "real" Windows like you are used to on your laptop and cannot run traditional desktop applications / software.

The second Surface product is called "Surface Pro 2". It looks like the regular non-pro model but is a bit thicker (about 1/2 inch thick), has as speedy Intel i5 CPU, comes with either 4Gb or 8Gb of RAM and has SSD hard drives from 64Gb to 512Gb in size. This Pro model runs full blown Windows 8.1. Meaning, it will run all of your traditional Windows desktop applications / software (as well as all of the app store apps). This version is the best of a tablet AND a laptop and is a true laptop replacement product.

Surface Pro 2
I'm only review the Surface Pro 2 device here, the non-pro model isn't worth talking about and if you only want a tablet stick with an iPad or Google Android Tablet of some sort. Why they're wasting time and money with the regular model is beyond me and only creates confusion between the pro and non-pro model.

For those who want a device to replace their laptop and offer tablet portability, convenience, etc then this is the device you've been waiting for. I won't get into detailed benchmarks but just want to cover what it is and give you some first hand experience now that I have one.

Picture a computer about the size of a normal iPad, about twice as thick, twice as heavy, with a full 1920x1080 HD display, but that can also run Windows just like your laptop. Now, picture a removable keyboard so you can actually type as well as a docking station so you can plop it in and instantly be using a full size keyboard, mouse, and monitor. That's Surface Pro 2, and it's excellent!

It has a new Intel i5 CPU so it's as fast as any small ultra book laptop out there. I talked about RAM and hard drive options but anyone buying this will want the 8Gb model with either 256Gb or 512Gb SSD drive. I chose the 8/256 option for $1300 (512Gb is $500 more!). In general use, it feels faster than my 2 year old Intel i7 laptop and loads Photoshop, Visual Studio, Word, Excel, you name it.

There is 1 full size USB port on the device, a mini display port (for a monitor connection), headphone jack, a camera on the front and another on the rear, and a slot for a micro SD card up to 64Gb in size.

It also comes with a pen stylus that you can use instead of your finger. It's more novelty than anything unless you plan to draw with it in which case it's pretty neat and works very well. Artist types will love it.

Windows 8.1 comes standard on it and Windows 8.x takes some getting used to (if coming from Windows 7 or earlier) but once you use it you start to "get it" and understand why it works like it does. It's not as bad as most people make it out to be and I'm already liking many features of it.

You'll also get some basic apps for email, calendar, and so on but also 2 years of free Skype use (for calls and free wifi hot spots) and 200Gb of SkyDrive cloud storage for 2 years. Nothing I need but a decent throw in. I'd rather have had a free copy of Office like you get on the non-pro model!

Battery Life
The original Surface Pro is notoriously bad when it comes to battery life with users reporting 2-4 hours in most cases I've read. The Pro 2 is way better with some reports showing video play back lasting 6.5 hours and more normal use hitting the 7-8 hour and over range. Impressive for sure.

The Dock
Anyone buying this as a laptop replacement will want the dock so you can easily use it with a full keyboard, mouse, and large monitor setup. The Type 2 keyboard (will cover that in a bit) is great but not something you'll want to type on all day, every day. Same goes for the small LCD.

The dock is super easy to use, just plop it in, close the sides, and it all just works. Use the Surface Pro 2 LCD as a second screen or not at all, whatever you like. When you want to be on the move just pop it out and go.

The dock includes a traditional plugin Ethernet jack and the device switches seamlessly and quickly between plug in NIC and wifi. Very well thought out.

The dock also comes with its own AC power adaptor which has a different connector than the one that plugs directly into the Surface Pro 2. While docked it will charge the Surface Pro 2 and has 4 USB ports (1 is a USB v3), mini display port for video (and audio), headphone and microphone jacks, and Ethernet.

Type 2 Keyboard
The detachable Type 2 keyboard is really nice, backlit, and connects magnetically to the Surface device. Just bring it near the device and it latches on. Yank and it pulls off. It's sturdy, weighs very little, and works well with normal laptop style keys. The mouse pad isn't great on it but gets the job done. The mouse pad is fully "touch" with no clicking left/right keys. It costs about $130.

They also sell a Touch 2 keyboard which is the same as the Type 2 keyboard except that the keys are touch sensitive rather than physical keys. Why on earth anyone would want to subject themselves to that mess to save $10 is beyond me.

Accidents Happen
Are you the clumsy type? Have kids? Love extended warranties? Generally paranoid you'll break it? For about $150 you can get Microsoft's 2 year accidental protection. If you drop it, spill water on it, break it in any way they'll either repair or replace it once you pay a $50 deductible. You can use it twice within 2 years for that price. Fair enough.

If you are a power user and need to run business software, development tools, photo or video editing software, or just general want something more portable than a laptop without losing all of the laptop features then this is your device. The only thing it lacks compared to a full laptop is a DVD drive, but compared to an ultra book it's really the same...only smaller and more portable.

I've read some reviews that criticize the thickness of the device and weight, usually because they compare it to an iPad. It's really much more than that, it's a full laptop replacement and so those seems like non-issues to me since many laptops and ultra-books are larger, thicker, and heavier and not as powerful.

With this one device I no longer need my laptop or tablet and I can't imagine ever switching back.