As promised, Surface Pro 2 is an evolutionary update to Microsoft's excellent first-generation hybrid PC. It looks identical to, and weighs the same as, its Surface Pro predecessor, but comes with an updated Intel "Haswell" processor and the expected improved battery life. And thanks to some software improvements in Windows 8.1 Pro, it also fixes a few usability problems as well.
I've only been using the Surface Pro 2 for a bit more than a week, and I'll be using and evaluating this device further in the coming days, weeks, and months. But with several months of Surface Pro experience under my belt, I feel comfortable in stating that Surface Pro 2 isn't a huge leap over its predecessor, though it does improve some of the issues I had with that initial device.
Here's what's happening with Surface Pro 2.
Four models. For Surface Pro 2, Microsoft has upped the number of product models up from 2 to 4. So in addition to the versions with 64 GB and 128 GB of solid state storage, as with the Surface Pro, Microsoft now offers versions with 256 GB and 512 GB of storage too. And those two upper-level versions come with more RAM. (See below).
Same form factor. Disappointingly, Surface Pro 2 comes in an identical form factor as the original, and it's as thick (.53 inches) and heavy (2 pounds) as before. No changes here, which means that Surface Pro 2 is a productivity laptop first and a tablet second. It also features the same VaporMg casing, in the same dark gray (almost black) color. It does, however, feature a Surface logo on the back instead of the Windows logo.
Surface Pro 2 (top), Surface Pro (bottom)
Better processor. Where the original Surface Pro sported a run-of-the-mill 3rd generation Intel Core i5 ("Ivy Bridge") processor running at 1.7 GHz with an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset, Surface Pro 2 offers a significant improvement: This bad boy comes with a 4th generation Intel Core i5-4200U processor running at 1.6 GHz (with Turbo Boost up to 2.6 GHz), with Intel HD Graphics 4400. This new chipset is considerably more efficient and provides better performance, though most users won't notice a big difference in day to day use. (The big deal here is battery life, as noted below.)
No processor options. With Surface Pro 2, Microsoft is offering upper-level versions of the product with more RAM and storage capacity—this is noted below as well—but it is not, curiously, offering a faster Core i7-4500U chipset in those products, which I find a bit disappointing. Every version of Surface Pro 2 comes with the same processor.
RAM. As with the original Surface Pro, the 64 GB and 128 GB versions of Surface Pro 2 ship with 4 GB of RAM. But the two higher-end versions, with 256 GB and 512 GB of storage, come with 8 GB of RAM, a big improvement. As you'll see below, however, those two high-end Surface Pro 2 models are considerably more expensive.
Storage. As noted previously, the different Surface Pro 2 models offer 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB and 512 GB of storage, respectively. The 512 GB version is apparently very limited from an availability perspective.
Battery life. I don't run formal battery life tests, but I was of course interested to see how well Surface Pro 2 surpassed the miserable 4.5 to 5.5 hour real world battery life of its predecessor. And I've got mostly good news, though I need to measure this further going forward: In various situations, Surface Pro 2 delivered anywhere from 5 hours to 7.5 hours of real world battery life. This is a bit less than expected—using Microsoft's numbers, I was expecting just under 8 hours. But it's still a big improvement over the first Surface Pro.
Dual-position kickstand. Surface Pro 2 now features a two-position kickstand, compared to the single position provided by the original unit. This is a surprisingly useful change, and I've found that I use the new position (which tilts the screen to 40 degrees) more than the original (24 degrees). The only weird thing about the new kickstand is that I often hold the device with the kickstand open while walking around—it's just easy to secure your hand under the open kickstand—and it feels a bit more wobbly, like it's broken. It's as solid as ever, in fact, but something to be aware of since the second position gives the open kickstand a bit more give.
Surface Pro 2 (left), Surface Pro (right)
Screen. The Surface Pro 2 features the same 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD screen as its predecessor, running at the same 1920 x 1080 resolution. Used side-by-side, I find these screens to be identical. But thanks to software improvements in Windows 8.1, I find the combination of very high resolution and a very small physical screen to be less onerous than it was with Surface Pro and Windows 8. The desktop scales to 150 percent automatically and even the smallest on-screen items are just barely tappable with a finger. It's not perfect—and I still haven't figured out how to scale two displays differently—but it's better than before.
Mini-DisplayPort. As with its predecessor, Surface Pro 2 uses a Mini-DisplayPort port for video-out, but this time it's Mini-DisplayPort 1.2, which should give users the ability to chain two external displays. I've only tested it with one external display, however. The original HDMI and VGA adapters work as before and have not been updated.
Cameras. The front- and rear-facing cameras on Surface Pro 2 are identical to those in the original, with 720p video resolution and a built-in microphone.
Windows 8.1 Pro. Not a big deal, but it's worth mentioning that Surface Pro 2 comes with Windows 8.1 Pro preinstalled, not Windows 8 as with the original Surface. (Though you can of course upgrade for free.) Please read my exhaustive Windows 8.1 Review for more information about this new OS version.
Other things that haven't changed. The Surface Pro 2 also comes with a Surface Pro Pen, offering 1024 levels of pressure but still with no good place to store it. It features the same micro-SD slot for expansion of up to 64 GB. It has built-in Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth (this time BT 4.0), a full-sized USB 3.0 port, and a standard (and single) audio port.
Surface Pro 2 (top), Surface Pro (bottom)
Power connector. As I noted in my Surface 2 First Impressions and Photos, that device ships with a new version of the power connector in which the "connected" light is no longer a pin-prick at the tip of the connector but is rather a ring of light that is much easier to see. My Surface Pro 2 review unit did not include this new connector, but instead used the old version. But some tell me that their own Surface Pro 2 devices do include the new connector. This tells me that Microsoft is getting rid of the old inventory, so if you get the old style connector, see if you can complain your way to a replacement: The new version is much better. From a connection standpoint, one of the weird issues with Surface RT and Surface Pro (to a lesser extent) was that it was often hard to accurately connect this power connector. But Surface Pro 2 seems to connect more reliably.
Heat and fan noise. One of the issues I had with the original Surface Pro was that the device would heat up and the fan would kick on in very noticeable fashion. So far, this has been less of an issue with Surface Pro 2, though you can of course feel some heat—and, when listening closely, hear the fan—during and after playing games. Look, it's a PC. But thanks to the more efficient "Haswell" chipset, the constant whirring does seem to be a thing of the past. This, too, is something I'll be keeping my eye—well, my ear—on in the coming weeks.
Pricing. The first two Surface Pro 2 models—4 GB/64 GB and 4 GB/128 GB—are priced as were the original versions, at $899 and $999, respectively. These prices are at least $100 more expensive than I'd like, and since you still need to get a typing cover—the recommend Type Cover 2 is $130—the real-world starting prices are $1030 and $1130. That's big bucks, and MacBook Air pricing territory. But it gets even worse as you move up the food chain. The 8 GB/256 GB version of Surface Pro 2 costs a whopping $1299, a $300 premium over the next one down. But the 8 GB/512 GB version is positively stratospheric: That costs $1799. You should get an i7 for that price. Period.
Useful extras. OK, I've complained about the price. But your Surface Pro 2 does come with a few extras that can help mitigate those costs. Each machines ships with codes to provide 200 GB of free SkyDrive storage for two years—a $200 value—and one year of free voice calling over Skype in over 60 countries, a value of $30 or so. If you need such niceties, that's a nice savings.
Surface Pro 2 (top), Surface Pro (bottom)
In use, Surface Pro 2 holds no real surprises. It looks, feels, works, and performs just like its predecessor, though it does so while offering a noticeable and welcome improvement in battery life. This is by design: As Surface lead Panos Panay noted at the launch event last month, Surface Pro was already the best-selling device in its class, and Surface Pro customers really loved the product so there was no need to reinvent the wheel.
I feel compelled to add, not for the first time, that some may find the small screen on this device to be a bit off-putting, and I'd really like to see a bigger-screen Surface Pro device, even if it has to be a touch-screen Ultrabook instead of a real hybrid. But Surface Pro 2 offers the same very high quality as its predecessor, and if you're looking for a highly-portable device that can handle both work and play but with an emphasis on work, Surface Pro 2 is the right tool for the job. Highly recommended.