The best all-in-one Windows device, but too many compromises left me wanting more.
I want to start by saying that even though I use many different operating systems for work and play (Ubuntu is my current development environment), I am still a little of a Microsoft fan ever since Windows 3.1. I used almost every version of Windows after that release including some of the less popular ones like Windows ME and Vista (which really weren’t that bad!). This review is from someone that was very excited for the first generation Surface Pro. On paper it sounded like the best combination of tablet and ultrabook. I eagerly reserved it ahead of time. I went to the store smitten ready to purchase but something kept nagging me. The battery life of only 4 hours was a deal breaker for me. At the last minute I changed my mind. Next generation will be better I thought, so I waited.
After what seemed like forever I read, “The Surface Pro 2 is finally here!”. The specs were fantastic, a perfect upgrade many reviews claimed and I agreed. When I finally picked up my Surface Pro 2, it was exactly as I imagined. Beautiful design, much better battery life, and fantastic built-in pen support. I tried desperately to use it to its fullest as both a tablet and an ultrabook. For weeks I was annoyed that it was neither a great tablet or a great ultrabook, but amazed that it was so great at both.
When using it as a laptop, the type keyboard cover was cramped and the trackpad was hard to click. Although some blogs wrote that they were at typing speeds close to a regular keyboard, I found that my speed was significantly worse even after practicing with both the touch and type keyboards. The Arc Touch mouse was an interesting piece of hardware, but I found the scrolling and middle-clicking much more difficult than a normal mouse. The high resolution 1080p screen was nice, but since it is only 10.6 inches the text is too small and must be magnified. To me this defeated the purpose since it felt like I actually had a smaller resolution screen. I was annoyed every time I had to go to laptop mode and deal with the tiny keyboard and screen. Using an extra monitor and keyboard was a chore that made me think I was wasting such nice hardware. Lastly, I could use it in my lap because of the new kickstand angle, but found myself in many other positions it didn’t work well in. For example, using the keyboard with my back against something and my knees bent up at a 45 degree angle was impossible.
Switching to tablet mode was ok, but I found that I always needed to carry the pen so I could use the desktop mode really quick. Everything was too small to click just using my finger. This meant I had to always carry the pen on me when using it as a tablet. Yes, I’m supposed to use the new touch enabled apps but frequently they lacked a quick feature I needed that was only available in regular desktop. Battery life still wasn’t great if I was using it as a regular reading device. Since the regular Intel Core chips do not have the same instant on feature of the Intel Atom chips, I found that I had to keep it on continuously while taking notes, which made the battery life seem even worse. Compare that to an Atom device that both gets better battery life and instantly turns off/on to extend the battery life.
Overall, the Surface Pro 2 was a device I tried very hard to love and was very excited about. I flip-flopped back and forth, one day wanting to return it then the next day wanting to keep it. It is advertised as a perfect blend without compromises, yet I found too many comprises that made me want to just reach for a regular laptop or tablet. I’m sure there are some people that fill the niche perfectly, but I guess I was not one of them.
On a side note, I ended up getting something mostly ultrabook and a small part tablet, the Yoga Pro 2. It’s cheaper, more powerful, higher resolution, bigger screen, better keyboard/trackpad, only a little heavier, and I still have some note taking ability using a Jot Pro pen. I’m very happy with my new Yoga Pro 2 purchase but hope that I can be swayed by a future Surface product.