40 Comments

Summary:

My Chrome OS tablet experiment has morphed into a surprising purchase: One that offers some of the best of my Chromebook Pixel and my iPad Air. It’s not perfect, but this 2-in-1 shows promise for the way I work.

Microsoft Surface Pro

Yes, it’s true. I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. I did this last week after sharing some thoughts on using one of the latest hybrid devices: An Asus Transformer T100.

chrome tablet

That device really hasn’t panned out for me and is going to back to where I bought it. The keyboard wasn’t good enough — important since I write for a living — and overall browsing experience in Chrome was a bit slow for my tastes. I’m spoiled by the speed of the Chromebook Pixel and while Windows 8.1 on the T100 runs smoother than expected for a $349 computer, it’s not for me. Many others are understandably happy with it so it might meet your need better than mine.

I ended up going online to the Microsoft Store, ordered a 64 GB Surface Pro 2 and have been using it nearly full time since it arrived this past Monday. It hasn’t been a completely joyful experience for me but the pros have outnumbered the cons, so I’m settling in for another week of use. I have until January 31 to return the device, so there’s plenty of time to consider.

Peppy, portable and power efficient

What’s to like? This is a fast computer; faster even than my Chromebook Pixel. Since I generally live in a browser, speed is of the essence and a SunSpider 1.0.2 JavaScript test in Chrome on the Surface Pro 2 returns a result range of 59 to 65 milliseconds. The device earns a 17,096 in Google’s Octane test. For comparison, the Pixel’s SunSpider result is 287 milliseconds (a lower number is better) and it earns a 15,480 in Octane (where a higher number is better).

Chromebook PixelAlthough the Pixel is a good performer, the key difference affecting scores is like the silicon inside. A 1.8 GHz Intel third-generation Core i5 with Intel HD 4000 graphics and 4 GB of memory powers the Pixel. Microsoft had the benefit of time to use a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 running at 1.6 GHz and Intel HD 4400 HD graphics paired with 4 GB of RAM. This chip simply wasn’t available when Google designed and released the Pixel, but I’d like to see the device refreshed with a similar chipset.

There’s another benefit by using the fourth-generation Core processor built on Intel’s Haswell architecture: Battery life. The Pixel poops out around after 4.5 to 5 hours of run time. I’ve used the Surface Pro 2 for as long as 10 hours and have still had a little juice left.

More reasons to reach out and touch the screen

Here’s another interesting learning experience: I use the touchscreen on Surface Pro 2 exponentially more than I do on the Pixel’s touchscreen. We’ve discussed this aspect on the Chrome Show podcast for months: There isn’t much reason to tap the Pixel’s display. I almost wish it didn’t have a touchscreen and was a few hundred dollars cheaper so that more people could afford it; the Pixel starts at $1,299 and I paid $1,449 for my LTE model.

Why the difference in touch usage? It has to do with the form factor and software. You don’t need to touch the screen on a Windows 8.1 device, but it certainly helps. And it’s designed far more like a tablet than a laptop. The Metro apps are indeed touch-friendly; the desktop a little less so.

Speaking of screens, me and my bifocals do better with high DPI displays. The Pixel shines here with 239 pixels per inch (PPI), but I’m fine with the 1920 x 1080 resolution on the 10.6-inch Surface Pro 2: It works out to 208 PPI. I also like the 16:9 aspect ratio for all of my video consumption habits.

Breaking the app addiction when needed and still being happy

Speaking of apps and tablets, I learned much about how I use my current tablet, an iPad Air, and how much — or how little — the Surface Pro 2 can meet those needs.

First and foremost, the Surface Pro 2 is literally the weight and thickness of two iPad Airs. It weighs two pounds, so it’s not ideal to hold for any length of time. The integrated kickstand definitely helps here. Second, most of the tablet apps I rely on — mainly content consumption items — are available in the Windows Store or can be replaced via the web.

Apps I’m using include Flipboard, Facebook, Twitter, FOX Now, Netflix, Watch NFL Network, ESPN, Kindle and the like.

nfl network on surface

On the web, I’m consuming content through Amazon Instant Video, Google Music (I did find an unofficial Metro app for this) and NHL Gamecenter since those apps don’t exist in Metro form. There is an Amazon Unbox app for video on Windows to download and watch movies, but I simply stream them online. I’m not a major “app addict,” so in theory, this device can work nicely as a tablet for my needs.

A perfect experience this isn’t

surface updateIt’s not all bliss though. Microsoft’s express settings, as well as the recommended option for updates is to automatically install. I was watching a live hockey game earlier this week when without any notice, the updates were installed, which took nearly the entire second period. I’ve since changed the option, but it should never be recommended to disrupt the user experience without any warning or at least without the option to “snooze” an update.

Microsoft’s Type Cover is great for typing, however the trackpad is too small for me to use all day. I have a Microsoft Wedge Mouse on the way from Amazon and Microsoft has offered to loan me an Arc Mouse review unit. It’s still a bit jarring to me to go from Metro mode to desktop mode; Microsoft has made this a little better with Windows 8.1 and because I launch Chrome in Windows 8 mode — making it look like the Chrome OS interface — I’m getting by.

I also struggle to use the Surface Pro 2 in varying locations. And by locations in my home office, I mean the various chairs, sofas and barstools we have in the house. The device is best on a flat surface for any length of time for me. Perhaps if I didn’t need to use a mouse, I’d feel differently because with the kickstand, the Surface Pro 2 can be used on a lap. I’m just finding I can’t do that as long as I could with a traditional laptop.

Why bother with this experiment?

Given that I’ve been a full-time Chrome OS user for more than 1.5 years, what’s the point of all this? It’s twofold. I try to keep an open mind and be as platform or device agnostic as possible. That’s why I have a phone running every major platform here in the house; for perspective. Second, the Surface Pro 2 appeared to be more what I was looking for in my 2-in-1 device experiment; surprisingly more so than the Asus Transformer T100, anyway.

surface-camera-app

My goal here isn’t to convince anyone that one device or platform is better for everyone; I can’t do that because everyone has different computing needs. Mine could be met with this device, however. At least in many ways it could, I’ve learned over the past few days, provided I’m willing to make some compromises. Windows is still more of a platform than I need to get my work done, but for the moment, it’s not really getting in the way either.

  1. This is the most genuine review I have seen to date. I bought mine a week ago and as much as I researched it, I cannot honestly say I love it after purchase. I have tried to love it and stay the “pc” gal, I so did not want to go towards the Apple dark side. There are just too many negatives for me to justify the large price tag. I expected great things from it and got marginal results at best. Perhaps if I were using it for work and not strictly home use, it would have given me a better wow factor, but it has one more week to convince me and then that is it. Thanks for your non-Apple sponsored report. I know Apple is good, I just don’t want it thrown in my face on every review I read.

    Share
    1. HerrinSchadenfreude Saturday, March 1, 2014

      Agreed that this was a good review. I got the Surface Pro 2 with 256GB and then purchased a 64GB USB stick on top of that. I also have a Nokia 1520. Between these two mobile devices I have all of my needs covered and can always use the most effective device for a given purpose while giving up almost nothing because of location.

      I had to get the Pro because I run a lot of full desktop apps such as Visual Studio and Adobe Creative Suite, plus I do serious gaming like Elder Scrolls which requires that kind of CPU performance and is a desktop app after all. I also do remote administration, and can now have a middle ground between doing it on a 6″ phablet and doing it on either my work laptop or my dual screen touch enabled Windows 8.1 home desktop. I particularly love it for Kindle – perfect size for it.

      It is heavy – like too heavy for me to constantly hold up in portrait with just fingers of one hand for long periods, but the stand is a good tradeoff and so’s the rest of the performance. It was pricey, especially with the Type cover, case, and additional true artist’s pen, but I am willing to pay more for true functionality rather than paying way too much for a pretty toy like an iPad that still forces me to tote a laptop or ultrabook to get anything done.

      Share
  2. Kevin, have you been able to get the ChromeOS-style experience Chrome offers in metro mode to work? The screenshot above suggests you have, but I’ve been having issues so I wanted to get your take.

    Do you have any tricks you’ve used to get the Chrome experience working better in general on the Surface?

    Share
    1. Rich, interestingly, the Chrome OS mode on the T100 got hosed up after a few days; the interface doesn’t take up the whole display and I haven’t been able to figure out why or fix. I may have to uninstall Chrome and reinstall it to start anew.

      No such problems on the Surface Pro 2 as of yet though. What issues have you seen?

      Share
      1. I’m using the Chrome stable channel. In Metro mode, I get interface freezes (mostly when doing a tap and hold right click) that are cleared by task switching in and out.

        When using the beta or Canary channels, the ChromeOS experience is just too buggy to use. Lots of bugs to name.

        My best experience so far has been to use Chrome in desktop mode, and then download this touchscreen trackpad overlay:

        http://www.lovesummertrue.com/touchmousepointer/en-us/index.html

        It works well when using the Surface as a tablet, to the point where I’m not missing pinch to zoom as much.

        IE still has a much better implementation for the device, but I just can’t bring myself to use it.

        Share
      2. Does chrome exist or work on Surface 2 (the updated RT) ? This one is more in my price range and if can get Chrome on this it would definitely make it more worthwhile.

        Share
        1. Unfortunately no. There isn’t a version of Chrome available for Windows RT. Google chose not to make one as it would be limited; Microsoft essentially lets IE have full support but limits what 3rd party browsers can do.

          Share
  3. Kevin — I am curious to know how much you use Word (or any of the Office applications). I, too, have looked at the Surface Pro 2 as a 2-for-1 device. I teach in college and make my living grading papers in Word and projecting documents and slides in the classroom.

    Currently, I use both a MacBook Air and an iPad. I would love to fine the one device that allows me to do both, even if I have to forgo some of the iPad apps and Mac applications I have grown to love.

    Thanks.

    Share
    1. Tim, I actually don’t use Office at all. I didn’t even buy it for the Surface Pro 2. When I need to create a doc or spreadsheet – very rare for me — Google Docs is what I use because 99% of my written words are online.

      Obviously, you have more need for Office than I. And while I don’t have Office on the Surface, I suspect it would easily meet your needs on this device. I say that because I fiddled with Office on the Asus Transformer T100, which had it pre-installed.

      Share
      1. Kevin,

        Thanks for the update. Currently, I am testing a Dell venue Pro 8, which is wonderful for grading with the stylus. However since it’s an 8-inch tablet it’s not the best to type on and make substantial comments on papers. In addition, the Dell tablet has no output except Miracast. Does the Surface Pro allow you to hook into VGA, DVI, and HDMI projectors?

        Share
        1. Yup, I’d expect a larger device to provide the better typing experience for sure. I haven’t used the Surface Pen yet; haven’t had a need. As far as external output, Surface Pro 2 has a mini DisplayPort on the side. I’ve already used it to connect to my 27-inch iMac which can double as a monitor. No problems – works great!

          Share
          1. Hi Kevin, do you know if the Surface Pro 2 can use a Mac 27 inch Thunderbolt Display?

            Share
            1. William Miranda, CPA Friday, December 13, 2013

              @Fernando I have the older version of the Mac 27 income display with mini display port. My Surface Pro will will drive the monitor but only after I purchased a Kanex Snap X adaptor from Amazon. It wouldn’t work by just plugging the display port into the mini-display port cable attached to the monitor. I don’t know if the mini-display port on the Surface Pro 2 will work with the Thunderbolt Display with the Kanex adaptor.

              Share
        2. Have a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPPY4m8iY0k

          It demonstrates a venue 8 pro driving four external monitors, with adapters you can hook anything up to the venue 8 pro.

          Share
      2. HI Kevin, Can you use Google Docs easily on this device? My son is 8 years and they are using Google Docs as their main use for creating documents. I am thinking of buying him the Surface 2, as feel I am overspending on the Surface Pro. What are your thoughts and do you still think this is a good machine?

        Share
        1. Google Docs should be fine on a Surface 2; it’s optimized for running Chrome, but still works in IE. You’ll see a message about some features may not be available in IE as a result, but the core functionality works just fine.

          Share
  4. I’ve had absolutely no joy getting Chrome to run in “Metro” mode, replacing IE. Although it works perfectly in desktop mode, when run as a full screen app it just takes up about a third of the screen and doesn’t work with touch. I think it just doesn’t like the high-DPI screen, but I’ve no idea how to fix it.

    Share
    1. That describes what I saw happen to the T100. I’m starting to wonder if it began after I rotated the screen from landscape to portrait mode. I may have to remove/re-install Chrome on the T100 to test it out. I don’t want to mess with it on the Surface Pro 2 since it’s still working. ;)

      Share
  5. I had the device for about the same time – one week – and had to take it back. I bought it on a Thursday knowing I had a business trip on Sunday. I thought I had a day to have it set up and make sure it’s stable enough to take with me. When it refused to wake from sleep Friday afternoon, I should have known to leave it at home. I ended up on my business trip, 2h away from presenting for sr. executives with a device that wouldn’t boot up. None of the button combinations that the lovely gal from Surface help walked me through would work. Thank goodness I keep all my slide decks in the cloud. When I got back to my hotel room that night, it fired up as soon as I plugged it into the wall charger. The battery was still at 90%. Support told me – “Well, it’s just like any other laptop and sometimes it will freeze up.” I took it back the next day. It’s likely that I had a defective unit, but clearly MS isn’t that interested in making the surface experience any better than any other Windows experience.

    Share
    1. I don’t blame you for taking it back; that’s a terrible experience and what’s worse is that occurred when you needed the machine to function the most. :(

      Share
      1. It was kind of a bummer I was infatuated with the type cover and lived the stylus.

        Share
        1. Hey Chris,
          I had a similar issue where my Surface 2 (RT) froze on me and wouldn’t start back up. They were very surprised by the issue and hadn’t seen anything like it happen to any device. They were great and easily gave me a full exchange for a new Surface 2.

          Irritating to go through it, but wanted to share how easy it was to get rectified.

          Share
  6. Craig Campbell Friday, December 13, 2013

    Kevin, How do you find the battery life on the Surface Pro 2, and how about the heat? I have an original Surface Pro 1, but to be honest I don’t use it as much as I’d like because I am so paranoid about the battery life on it (which is weak, and it also seems to really drain in sleep mode too, which is not good). Also, the Pro 1 can get a little uncomfortably hot when holding it, I’m wondering whether the Haswell chipset in the Pro 2 improves on the heat any.

    Battery life, and wanting a bit more graphical oomph for light to medium gaming (eg some light Steam games, and WoW on low-medium settings), are my main reasons for considering an upgrade to the Pro 2.

    Share
    1. Craig, the Haswell-based Core i5 should address both concerns. Battery life is excellent and the device isn’t running hot for me at all. Totally different device compared to Surface Pro 1 because of the silicon inside.

      Share
      1. Craig Campbell Friday, December 13, 2013

        Thanks for the update! I will now blame you, should my credit card somehow jump out of my wallet and surreptitiously purchase a Surface Pro 2…..

        Share
        1. Somehow, I always get the blame. ;)

          Share
  7. Where is any discussion about the Windows 8 – 8.1 touch interfaces with the ability to keep multiple Apps open at a time on the same screen?

    This is one of the best features as you can keep RSS feeds open (like gigaom which has a very good one I might ad with Windows 8 compatibility) while you are working with another Windows Metro App or working in desktop mode. Keeping your calendar open is also very productive.

    Also you need to review the MS Office 2013 application which is designed with touch in mind for many of the commands.

    What about the Microsoft docking solution for the Surface tablets that allow you to get Ethernet, more USB, and connect to much larger monitors with the video output port? Seems like a great solution to allow people have a desktop replacement or run Citrix clients with full functionality.

    Lastly how much better is the 16:9 screen format verses Apples decision to only use 4:3 on its iPads.

    Share
    1. I certainly appreciate the questions but the post is sharing my experiences with the device. I don’t use multiple apps at one time and I’m pretty sure everyone knows that Windows 8.1 can do that. ;)

      I didn’t buy Office, nor the docking station, so I can’t review them. I have used a mini DisplayPort cable to a my 27-inch iMac; Surface Pro 2 handles it very well, just as my Chromebook Pixel did in the past. Thanks!

      Share
  8. Kevin – ditch the mouse and get a stylus. I have a Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2 with its built in stylus and a 10 year old full sized Wacom Penabled stylus. While there are times I wanted a keyboard, I never missed my mouse.

    In response to Tim regarding Office, my TPT2 is significantly less powerful than the Surface and I have no problems with Office 2010, assuming you have a mouse or stylus (the menus are not finger friendly). One nice thing for projecting documents (or grading papers) is that Office allows you to turn on stylus support so that you can draw on the slide you are projecting for emphasis instead of using a laser pointer. You can also markup documents to recreate the dreaded red ink, circled “see me!” of my youth.

    For those thinking of a Windows tablet, in addition to getting a stylus, I would think seriously about weight versus use. My TPT2 is about half the weight of the Surface. To gain that advantage, I had to give up the larger screen and faster processor. For me it was worth it, for others it might not be.

    Share
    1. Actually, the Surface Pro 2 comes with a stylus. I don’t use it because while it’s good for navigation and interaction, I spend most of my time writing and don’t want to be constantly picking up and putting down the pen. A mouse is more efficient for the way I work. The trackpad would actually be ideal, but too small for me to use 10-12 hours a day. Thanks!

      Share
  9. I’ve had my Pro2 for about a month and love it. I’m a heavy excell user and find that it runs smooth.
    I also find that of all the touch tablet PC I’ve tested this encourages me to be the most active and it does wonders for my neck.
    Don’t use a mouse, just the new touch keyboard.

    Share
    1. Cris – Being a heavy excel, the size of the screen doesn’t bother you? I am thinking about taking the plunge, but what is holding me back is the screen size. I am a business consultant and I work mainly with excell and powerpoint, on the client site. I really would like to have your thoughts on that.

      Share
  10. I’ve been trying to get my hands on a Surface Pro 2 as well but they’re out of stock on Staples.com and the Microsoft store. It’s sad when a product getting such a decent review is shot down when the manufacturer cannot maintain availability, especially through the holiday shopping period :-(

    Share
    1. Staples mount holly has stock. Microsoft and Staples site was out, maybe you can have it shipped from store to your locally store.

      Share

Comments have been disabled for this post