My Surface Pro 2

A while back, the Surface Pro 2 finally went on clearance with an included Type Cover, so I finally jumped on the opportunity to own one of these amazing devices. It definitely feels like it’s a modern (post-iPad) version of the Microsoft Tablet PCs which I remember selling way back when I was working at a computer store.

My device came with Windows 8.1 pre-installed, which I’m very familiar with as I use it daily at work as well as on my gaming desktop. A lot of choices made in Windows 8 make a lot more sense on the Surface than they do anywhere else – being able to do gestures and having much larger touch targets in the Start menu.

I’m just going to mention a few niggling problems I had. One of them was that there wasn’t a default Explorer for tablet mode – this is a pretty big deal as that meant managing files involved going into desktop mode and dealing with the small fiddly touch targets with your fingers.

The Windows Store offerings are lacking and you will notice the difference coming from iOS. The good news is that you can supplement these by using desktop versions of a lot of apps. It being a fully fledged laptop also helps tons – it can run games and it runs them well. I was able to play Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls comfortably and load quite a number of Steam games without worrying too much about stuttering. (It does get hot though – whether it's apps or games, and if you’ve never had a metal case laptop before, you may be in for a rather toasty surprise.)

The Surface Pro 2 has a 1080p screen, which is set to 150% scaling by default (if I’m not mistaken.) This is usually not an issue with apps; Windows 8.1 automatic scaling is pretty decent if you don’t mind the blur on the apps that don’t support scaling as well. However, I ran into a few issues running some games where they would behave oddly if you tried to run it at a lower resolution than native like Prison Architect and Civilization V.

The Surface Pro 2 comes with a pen, which behaves much like a graphics tablet stylus or the old Tablet PC stylus if you’ve ever had one. Hovering over the screen moves the cursor, touching it clicks it, or you can press the buttons on the stylus. You can use handwriting recognition on it and while I’m sure some people might have trouble, someone like me who has used Windows Mobile devices for years and demoing Tablet PCs will run into few headaches here.

I have the usual grips about the Type Cover. It is backlighted which is nice, but it doesn’t seem to be the case that the sleep and wake is particularly reliable. The sleep is more reliable than the wake. You don’t get the Apple level of speed from wake here – I’m not sure about the ARM models, but my Surface Pro 2 behaved much closer to a Windows laptop with an SSD than my iPad does. The trackpad buttons are terrible – it’s difficult to tell when they will register (if at all) which leads you to resorting to some rather awkward touch screen interactions sometimes.

As I knew I was going to want more RAM, I bought the 256GB capacity version of it which comes with 8GB of RAM. The internal storage can be boosted with a microSD card. I bought a 64GB microSD card which worked perfectly with Windows Store apps, so I have yet to run into storage issues – but I’m sure people with only 128GB of storage will find themselves running out of storage much quicker.

Battery life is probably not amazing for a tablet, but pretty decent for a laptop. My own use which usually includes some comic reading, video watching and a little bit of a text processing generally has the Surface Pro 2 last a bit over 6 hours. I’m looking into getting a Power Cover which should give me “all-day” battery life. They seem to be very difficult to get a hold of outside of the USA – but I’m sure I’ll figure something out. The charger is some sort of magnetic connector which works both ways. My only real complaint about is that it seems to be rather abrasive on the finish of the Surface Pro 2, so I’m seeing scratches and removal of some of the finish around the charging port.

Of course, now the Surface Pro 3 is out and it’s better in pretty much every respect – bigger screen, better battery life, improved kickstand. The Surface Pro 2 is still amazing in its own right – I hope that the Surface Pro 3 does well enough that Microsoft continues to make these great devices.