Microsoft Surface Pro 2 review: Better battery and performance, same thick body

The Surface Pro and Tap 11 keyboard covers. Sarah Tew/CNET

By way of comparison, the keyboard cover included with the Sony Vaio Tap 11 doesn't attach via a magnetic hinge; instead its wireless connection allows you to move it anywhere nearby. It's certainly more flexible, but also lacks the more laptoplike feel of the Surface Pro's kickstand-plus-keyboard setup. The Vaio version has keys that are slightly smaller, set up island-style, with empty space between each key. The latter much more closely resembles current laptop keyboards, and feels marginally better to type on. However, it's thin, and in the lap it flexes a good deal even under moderate typing.

The Surface Pro 2 has a 10.6-inch display with a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is what we'd expect from a laptop or tablet in this price range. That's a major point of differentiation from lower-cost Intel Atom tablets, which usually have lower 1,366x768-pixel-resolution screens. Microsoft says the Surface Pro 2 has an "optically bonded ClearType Full HD display," and an ambient light sensor can adjust the screen brightness automatically. Compared with the very similar Sony Vaio Tap 11, the Surface Pro 2's screen was brighter and crisper, with excellent off-axis viewing angles.

Audio is decent for such a small system, but the small physical size of the chassis restricts how much air a speaker can actually move. For Skype or other camera usage, both the front and rear cameras are 720p, and take advantage of the improvements to the default Windows camera app in the recent Windows 8.1.

Connections, performance, and battery
With a body as thick as an ultrabook, one might reasonably expect more ports and connections from the Surface Pro 2. The single USB 3.0 port feels skimpy, and it's accompanied by Mini DisplayPort and a microSD card slot, which means you'll likely need adapters to use those.

However, there is a silver lining. A dedicated Surface Pro dock was sorely missing from the original Surface launch. Now, making the Surface 2 more viable for business use, Microsoft is adding a docking station. This $199.99 add-on sits under the Surface Pro 2 and includes USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, a Mini DisplayPort connection, and audio in/out jacks.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2
Video Mini DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 1 USB 3.0, microSD card reader
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

The Surface Pro 2 starts (as the original Pro did) at $899, but the RAM can be upgraded from 4GB to 8GB, and the internal storage can be upgraded up to a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD), with a full 8GB/512GB configuration costing $1,799. Our review system was the base $899 model.

The Surface Pro 2 slightly outperformed the previous version in most of our benchmark tests, and was faster than the Sony Vaio Tap 11, which uses an even lower-power Core i5 Y-series chip, as opposed to the U-series in the Surface Pro. With its almost-laptop feel, thanks to the kickstand and keyboard cover, the robust Surface Pro 2 feels like you can throw any mainstream workload at it, from Photoshop to HD video playback to office tasks, and have it feel just as zippy as the bigger laptop probably sitting on your desk right now. The main barrier to all-day productivity is probably going to be the smaller screen size.

The biggest difference between the original Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 2 is the latter's upgrade to Intel's fourth-generation Core i-series CPUs, sometimes known by the code name Haswell . These new chips offer only modest boosts to system performance, but are important because they offer serious battery life improvement.

Microsoft has further said that its own internal optimizations also contribute to better battery life. However credit should be assigned, the results were pleasing, with the Surface Pro 2 running for 6 hours and 55 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. The original Surface Pro ran for only about 4 hours and 30 minutes in the same test, and its middling battery life was one of the main knocks against it.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

HandBrake MMT (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
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.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Color Dark gray
  • Weight 2 lbs
  • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • CPU Intel Core i5 (4th Gen) 4200U / 1.6 GHz
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