The new Surface Pro 2 follows up on its predecessor in all the expected ways, with a somewhat faster processor, much better battery life, and a wide range of smaller improvements. But the mantra with Surface Pro 2 is that Microsoft doesn't need to fix what wasn't broken. And while some would have appreciated a thinner, lighter device, Surface Pro certainly delivers.
I'll be providing a full review of Surface Pro 2 in the near future. But after using the new device regularly for a bit under a week, I can at least report that this device is an evolutionary update over its predecessor, and while it's a revision all current Surface Pro users can safely skip—a Power Cover would be a much better investment—the Pro 2 does at least solve my major issues with the first generation product.
To that end, Surface Pro 2 offers a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, compared to the third generation Core i5 in the original Surface Pro. This processor runs at 1.6 GHz, with Turbo Boost up to 2.6 GHz, and offers roughly the same thermal behavior as its predecessor. That is, the fan can kick in under duress. But it's not hugely annoying, and while I'll need more time to test this thoroughly, it may not occur as frequently.
Surface Pro 2 is now offered in versions with 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM, where the original came only with 4 GB of RAM. But your choices are somewhat limited in that you can only get 8 GB of RAM with the higher-end models that also offer larger solid state storage allotments and cost considerably more than the entry level units, which ship with 64 GB or 128 GB of storage. (My loaner review unit is the budget-friendly 64 GB version.)
The best news about Surface Pro 2, perhaps, is battery life: Microsoft reports that it delivers 75 percent better battery life than its predecessor, which should equate to about 7 to 8 hours of real world battery life. I'm still running back-to-back video playback tests to arrive at an upper limit, but so far so good: The first run hit right in the middle of expectations, at 7.5 hours of battery life.
Like the Surface 2, Surface Pro 2 offers a two-position kickstand instead of the more limited one-position version offered with the first-generation Surface RT and Surface Pro. This is a bigger deal than you may believe, and in addition to making the device more lap friendly, it's also nice for some other situations such as hands-free video playback. I haven't traveled with the device yet, but suspect this will make a difference while watching movies on a plane or train.
Much hasn't changed. Pro 2 still ships with the same Surface Pro Pen, offering 1024 levels of pressure. The cameras haven't changed, and both still offer 720p resolution. The 10.6-inch screen still offers 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080) though the version in Surface Pro 2 appears to display slightly richer colors. The micro-SD card slot works as before and is found in the same place, and Surface Pro 2 comes in the same dark titanium color as the original.
In the disappointment category, Surface Pro is exactly the same as its predecessor from a form factor and weight perspective. That means it's quite thick—over half an inch—and very heavy for a tablet. (And of course it gets bigger when you add a typing cover, though it's worth mentioning that the Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2 are both thinner than their predecessors. Point being, where Surface 2 offers a nearly perfect blend of size and weight, Surface Pro 2 is still a bit much.
And for some reason, the new Surface 2 power connector, which makes the connection light much easier to see regardless of its orientation, is not included with Surface Pro 2. Here, we get the same power connector as before, and if you connect it "upside down," you can't tell if it's connected correctly. (Note: It's possible that shipping versions of Surface Pro 2 will in fact include the new power connector; the User Guide indicates that this part should be included with the unit.)
I've made the case previously that a true "professional" portable PC would feature a 13-inch screen, like an Ultrabook, and that the screen on every Surface, including Surface Pro 2, is simply too small at 10.6 inches. But the Surface team is concerned with something that is perhaps more esoteric, or at least holistic, than my one-sided take on a productivity device. That is, the goal for Surface generally, and for Surface Pro specifically, is that it offer a "perfect" balance between portability—size, thinness and weight, and unquantifiable aspects like "hand feel"—productivity, and usability.
Put another way, Microsoft believes that Surface 2 is the device that virtually everyone really wants/needs, and that for those who are the exceptions, Surface Pro 2 is the appropriate compromise in that it is thicker and heavier and, well, still sort of a traditional PC. Need to use Visual Studio? Get Surface Pro 2. Photoshop—and not just for light photo editing, but for actual professional photo management? Surface Pro 2. And so on.
I'd still like to see a bigger Surface device, one that compromised in different areas—a weight increase that "pays for" that bigger screen, for example—but I get the basic point of Surface Pro 2, and having used its predecessor very regularly in 2013, I'm certainly willing to give it a go again with the new model.