Posted by Matt Egan 30 October 2013
Why Surface Pro 2 is unique and brilliant, and why you probably don't need it (but *you* might)
Writing about something you yourself wrote is the last refuge of a scoundrel, I appreciate. But a few weeks ago I caused what counts for a stir around these parts when I opined that Microsoft's Surface 2 tablet was bound to fail. Okay, I said it would suck and is pointless. And I've seen nothing to change my mind on that score.
Nor have I changed my mind on the fifth reason I gave for Surface 2's suckery: 'it's not Surface Pro 2'. Having spent a little time with the Surface Pro 2 I'm now more than ever convinced that this is the case. The Surface RT is a dog - half a product with half an OS. A pale imitation of the iPads it apes.
On the other hand Surface Pro tablets are the products Microsoft wanted to make for all those years when it alone was pushing the idea of tablet computing. Indeed, if you take as fact the (possibly apocryphal) story that Apple's iPad development was spurred on by Microsoft engineers boasting about their own tablet designs, you could argue that the Surface Pro 2 is the tablet that inspired the iPad. Sort of. And four years too late.
Why Surface Pro 2 is unique and brilliant
Enough with the preamble. Why do I have such regard for Surface Pro 2? After all, it's a tablet with a starting price of £719 inc VAT. It's heavier and much more expensive than Apple's iPad Air. Its battery life can't compete. And it's running Windows 8. WINDOWS. 8.
But to compare Surface Pro tablets to Apple's iOS devices is a fool's game. iPads are - forgive me Apple fans - consumption devices. They are amazing entertainment- and educational tools. Desirable objects that allow you to surf, read, watch, play and communicate. And they do so for a long time away from the mains. But with all due respect to the oddballs who record albums via iPad using GarageBand, consumption and comunication is really all that iPads do well. If you are faced with a serious computational task you are unlikely to choose your iPad if there is a desktop PC to hand. The problem for the Surface RT devices is that they offer only similar functionality to iPads, and iPads are better and have better app support.
The Surface Pro 2, however, is a serious PC in a tablet's body. It is tablet, laptop and desktop all thrown into one. As such it is unlikely to excel in any of those formats. But it doesn't have to: Surface Pro 2 excels at compromise. It is the king of versatility. A power PC in your pocket. And although the combination of price and unique functionality makes it a niche product, that doesn't make it a bad product.
Consider the performance stats.
Surface Pro 2 comes with a fourth-generation Intel Core Haswell processor, a 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U. In PCMark 7 the Surface Pro 2 managed a score of 4,886 which puts it up there with the latest Ultrabooks and faster than - say - the 2012 iMac. In terms of power it is a fast laptop and a more than acceptable desktop PC. With a Type cover keyboard it makes a very acceptable laptop, by the way, and with any keybord and display it would do great service on your desktop. It does run full Windows, after all.
Indeed, with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400, the Surface Pro 2 is even a passable Windows gaming rig. In Stalker: Call of Pripyat at our lowest test settings (720p and Medium detail), the Surface Pro 2 managed a playable 33 fps. At native 1080p, the framerate drops to 18fps. No-one is saying this is a games console, but it will play most PC games at playable framerates. And it's a tablet, remember.
And although it can't compete with ARM-based devices such as iPads or Android tablets when it comes to battery life, we could get around six hours of life in our tests. Our tests that involve continually looping a video. So you could watch three films on your Surface Pro 2 if you want to use it as an iPad.
In each case - tablet, laptop, desktop - a dedicated device is marginally better, but the Surface Pro 2 is decent. And if you can buy only one device to do the job of three you will save money in the end. Can you think of another device out there that can do everything Surface Pro 2 does?
Who Surface Pro 2 is for (not you, probably)
But who exactly needs this? The short answer is: not everyone. Even with the 'saving' of buying one product in place of three, Surface Pro 2 is a high-end product for high-end needs. For most people a £350 laptop at home and an iPad mini on the move offers the best of all worlds, for less than the price of the cheapest Surface Pro 2, and before you have to buy accessories. The iPad is supported by better entertainment apps and is more portable. And a cheap laptop will cover of all the Windows-related needs of the majority of home PC users. Heck, for the price of a high-end Surface Pro 2 you could buy a decent Ultrabook and a mid-range iPad.
No. For most people the Surface Pro 2 is overkill. And that makes it a compromise too far. But if you require a truly powerful, truly portable device, the Surface Pro 2 is the best game in town. Commentors on PC Advisor's Surface Pro 2 review who said that the device is ideal for them include creative professionals, CAD operators. People who need to use complex and high-powered software, on the move, all the time. If that's you, this is the product for you. It certainly doesn't suck.