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The MS Surface Pro 2 Review: Loved the idea, hated the...

 

Screenshot

This past week, I decided against getting an iPad Air and went for a more functional device in the MS Surface Pro 2.  The MS Surface Pro 2 is essentially a tablet computer, not just a tablet.  The lure of being able to install ANY Windows 8 compatible software within a touchpad tablet device was too strong for me to resist.

Unfortunately, Windows 8 defeated me.

The Hardware

MS Surface Pro is essentially a tablet computer. It runs Windows 8, has a lovely responsive touch screen, and is super fast. So long as you aren’t doing hardcore gaming (although you can do gaming), it’s speedy.  It lacks the retina quality screen of the iPads and the Google Nexus device but it allows for USB 3.0 connections for expanding storage, mini DisplayPort to connect to a larger monitor, and microSD card reader.

The techical specs are as follows:

  • Dimensions:

    10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 in

  • Storage*:

    64GB, 128GB,
    256GB, 512GB

  • Aspect Ratio:

    16:9 (widescreen)

  • Resolution:

    1920 x 1080

  • System memory:

    4GB, 8GB

The screen isn’t as good as the Kindle Fire or iPad Air and because it is just a laptop, you should be prepared for the size. It’s about two inches longer than the iPad and other comparable devices.  It’s heavy.  The device is big and heavy but still very portable.

Air v. Surface Pro

Air v. Surface Pro

The biggest design flaw is that the pen and charger share the same port so while you are charging your device, your pen just lies on the table where it can be knocked to the floor, roll under the sofa and be lost for an entire day.  Not that I would know anything about that.

power pen port

Click to Embiggen

And you’re going to need that pen.

The Software

The biggest drawback of this device is the software.  Windows 8 is incredibly unintiutive.  The Surface Pro 2 ships with Metro, an operating system that has a consistent look from the Windows 8 phones to the XBOX.  The launch screen is very customizable, allowing you to assign one of three different sizes to each icon, allowing the launch screen to function in a way that works best for you.

windows metro

Windows 8 and more specifically Metro has a large learning curve. It seems like Microsoft wants you to learn the way that it believes the interface should be rather than improving a familiar user experience.  I spent nearly every day of the last five days googling how to do something from figuring out where the address bar for the browser was (the bottom) or the brightness setting (a rectangle not a sun).

Underneath Metro is a fully functioning verson of Windows 8 and here is the key to this device. You can install any Windows 8 compaptible software on the device.  One of the programs I use a lot in my real life is Scrivener. Legal writing is very standardized. You start with a statement of the case, a rundown of the issues to be decided, a recitation of facts, and the application of the facts to the law.  Scrivener is a great application for breaking down a larger document into smaller pieces.

Scrivener has been promising an OS version for a couple of years now but it is not forthcoming.  Why  not just use a laptop you may ask  (as Ned did)? Because a tablet is more mobile and has a longer battery life. After much cursing and with the help of author, Shari Mikels of the upcoming Christmas Novella “Christmas Curveball”, I got Scrivener to work great. (no this isn’t a paid placement but my way of thanking Shari because I was so frustrated at this point, I was near tears and she saved me. Everyone buy her book.)

When I was using Microsoft Windows (an extra cost either by purchasing a full suite or using Office 365), saving a document was a two step process. First I was confronted with a screen that prompted me to choose a location to save the document and it wasn’t until after I choose a location that I was allowed to name the document. In all previous applications of Microsoft Word, you are presented with one dialogue box where you can name and choose your save location.

Microsoft seemed to decide that the way that normal people interact with their computer must be changed. While every browser in the world has its address bar on top, MS decides theirs will be on the bottom. While every save dialogue box I’ve encountered in the years I’ve used Word allows me to name a document and choose the location to save in one step, MS decides that their 2 step process is more intuitive.

One of the amazing things about Windows 8 is that you can split the screen and have two or more programs running at the same time.  The problem is that not all the programs allow you to take advantage of this smoothly. If I resized a program to 1/3 of the screen, I could never get it back to 1/2 screen aspect.

MS Surface split screens

Click to enlarge

If I just used the desktop of Windows 8, I was better off but resizing the screens didn’t always make the content reflow which meant that in the desktop mode of Windows 8, I constantly had to scroll back and forth.  And, one of the biggest problems is that even if the content did resize with a smaller window, everything became tiny. The menus were almost inaccessible to me using my finger and I had to use the pen instead. Each application had to be enlarged to about 200% in order for me to read anything.

Some applications like Chrome when used in the native App of Metro and not in the desktop of Windows 8, had no pinch and zoom. You had to simply zoom in to some decent size so you could even access the menu items.  The lack of consistency across apps made it all the more confusing.  Chrome, unlike the Metro browser, had its tools available at the side and across the top.  I couldn’t ever get into Twitter, the application spitting me out repeatedly for not authenticating properly. (I use 2 step authentication which works on everything but the Metro Twitter app).

The tiny type, the confusing user interface, and the need to relearn how to walk, speak, and read Microsoft-ese led me to throwing up my hands in despair.  There aren’t any loaded videos or manual. I had to google for that. There were some great video tutorials online (and you need to watch them because otherwise you won’t be able to use the device) but having them included would have been super helpful.

But after I’d spent about 3 hours alternately googling, watching videos, and frantically tapping all over the screen, I thought that this great device was a huge fricking waste of time.

 

Price

The Surface Pro is not cheap. The lowest model is $899 at 64 GB but you need the cover with the keyboard installed ($129) and if you want to use the keyboard without the device being attached in landscape mode, then you need to spend another $69 for the wireless adapter.  The whole unit will set you back at least a grand if not more.

At the end of my five day experiment, I took it back to the store.  I love the idea and if you have more patience than I do then maybe the Surface Pro 2 is for you. It’s a powerful device and MS Surface has something there, but I wished I didn’t have to take an correspondence course to figure out how to use it.

 

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

36 Comments

  1. Carolyne
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 09:41:06

    It’s nice to get a real-world review of the normal day-to-day experience of using a device. I haven’t scoured the internet for other articles, but the ones I’ve come across have been mostly tech reviewers cooing over the bells and whistles and specs, and none of the reviewers had actually made it their daily workhorse in the way that I might use something like this. Thanks for sharing your insights (and frustration)!

  2. Mzcue
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 09:41:32

    Thank you for this article, as it gave me the reassurance that comes from discovering others having the same problems. I purchased a new laptop last spring, excited to be joining the touch screen world, and was bitterly disappointed by how difficult it was to reorient and function. Plus, just as you say above, navigating Word in this version is an ongoing frustration.

    I was especially aggravated by Kindle for Windows 8, since that’s what I prefer to use for reading. Eventually after multiple pleas and assists from Amazon’s user forum, I was able to install the previous Kindle version on the new computer and simply ditch Kindle for W8.

    I have my fingers crossed that your MS Surface Pro 2 has the un-updated version of Win 8? It’s been my hope that Microsoft’s update will make life easier.

  3. Jane
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 09:47:04

    @mzcue – I believe I had the updated version. What I’ve heard is that you should abandon the Metro and just work with the desktop. Obviously you lose the power of the split screen but you gain the benefits of a functional piece of software!

  4. CurlyQ
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 09:52:15

    I dealt with windows 8 by installing a 3rd party program to give me back the start menu and never using any of their incredibly cruddy apps for anything. Ditch the apps and install the actual programs. Especially for kindle and adobe. Just dire implementation.

  5. Milly
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 10:12:21

    Jane, I feel your pain… I remember when I switched from a Windows to OS laptop for personal use, I hardly had any growing pains. Using both platforms office vs home, I like to think I am quite tech savvy – both have their advantages and disadvantages. My son, well he’s a teenage boy and let’s face it, he doesn’t need instructions. We bought him a Windows laptop for school ‘cuz they didn’t support OS which came loaded with Win8. Wow, was that an exercise in frustration… I remember both of us walking into the MS store (which is next to our Apple store in the mall) and asking one of the reps there just where in the world did the control panel and file explorer go. He looked at me blankly like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Never had to Google so much just to figure out how an operating system worked.

  6. library addict
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 10:32:34

    I’m sorry to hear the Surface Pro didn’t work for you.

    I’m one of those people who has no icons on my desktop. I was so happy when I learned how to move the recycle bin to the taskbar so I could get rid of that one, too. So I hate the look of Windows 8 and will put off “upgrading” for as long as possible.

    And I already had the Shari Mikels book on my To Buy List, so I will follow your advice ;)

  7. Kate Sherwood
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 10:36:56

    @CurlyQ:

    Oooh, do you have the name of that 3rd party program? I HATE Windows 8 – I can never find anything, and it doesn’t make any sense to me – and would LOVE to go back to the world I know!

    PS – Our work computers are apparently being upgraded to Windows 8, and when I complained to the tech guy about how much I hate Windows 8 at home, he said the 8.1 update should make everything better. But when I tried to install the update my computer wouldn’t take it (no idea why).

    Has anyone actually done the update? If it makes things better I’ll try to figure out why I can’t make it work, but if it’s just more of the same nonsense I won’t waste my time!

  8. DS
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 10:38:37

    Got a new laptop this year and was forced to accept one with Windows 8– ok, I admit it, I’ve been clinging to XP with both hands– even upgraded to 8.1 it seems to have a lot of bugs. Every so often it just flips from whatever page I am working on to the Netflix ap. Maybe it’s right, maybe I should just use that gorgeous screen to watch tv on and compute on my old Samsung.

  9. leslie
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 10:40:39

    I love the Acer netbook I bought with Windows 7. It is functional and light enough at three pounds to fit nicely in a small backpack……I was lugging an over sized purse and a computer bag back and forth on public transit…..boy did that get old!
    The Surface and Windows 8 was beyond me…..I felt like an idiot!
    So……thanks for your review……now I don’t feel so alone in my incomprehension of Microsoft’s latest technology.

  10. Lori
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 10:49:51

    I was very interested in the Surface as a portable computer. I’m always around town or on the road and I don’t like to leave my laptop in the car when I’m working so I needed something functional but light for trips.

    The keyboard seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help when I tried it. It’s not very good for lap use. You have to use it on a hard, flat surface, right?

  11. Jane
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 11:01:41

    @Lori: I was actually quite surprised at the rigidity of the keyboard. I was able to use it okay by balancing it on my lap. It’s not as good as a laptop but not as bad as I thought it would be.

  12. Shannon Stacey
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 11:04:01

    I got to read Christmas Curveball early and I think everybody should buy it, too.

    Bummer about the Surface. I’ve thought about it. Every time I go into Staples, I’m tempted by it and its ability to handle Word. The only thing that’s stopped me is the fact every computer and device I have is Apple. (Except the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 I bought just to have the S-Pen.) But being able to have Word on the go, especially with the changes in Pages recently, is was very tempting.

    I’ve heard rumors Microsoft deliberately released Office Mobile only for the iPhone and not for the iPad because it wants to force business users to the Surface, which sucks. Considering how low sales have reportedly been for the Surface and how many iPad users would gladly play to have a “real” Office suite on their iPads, they’re probably losing money this way. I’ve had bad luck (glitches) with QuickOffice and Docs to Go (and I’ll never discuss the Google Docs incident again), so I’ve gone back to Pages for drafting I can move from laptop to desktop to iPad to iPhone with iCloud, and then I export it to Word for the final stages.

    One of the reasons I keep resisting Scrivener, even though it’s perfect for my writing method, is that I spend a lot of time working on my iPad. I see a lot of talk about how it syncs with this app if you do X and make sure you don’t do Y and so on. I don’t have the time or spare brain cells to work that hard on syncing files.

    We just need for Microsoft to release Office for the iPad.

  13. Mzcue
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 11:12:08

    @CurlyQ: Hubs went to look at Win 8.1 and inadvertently started it loading…and loading…and loading. He finally left it to finish overnight, only to discover it failed. He let it make a second attempt, and when that failed he threw in the towel. His suggestion to me was to wait until more people have had experience with it.

    That said, I’m very interested to hear if anyone else has managed to install Win 8.1 successfully, and what seems different, better or worse.

  14. Andrea D
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 11:31:26

    @DS and @Mzcue
    I installed Windows 8.1 and don’t notice much difference. Granted, I’m somewhat a luddite and wouldn’t necessarily notice nuances. It did take a fair amount of time to download and then install. I installed it because I had heard that I would get my start button back, but all it does is give you a button in the corner that takes you back to the start menu… which I never use. Honestly, I feel like all Windows 8 does is add extra steps to everything that I used to do so much more easily.

  15. Mzcue
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 11:43:07

    @Andrea D: Thanks for that. It sounds from your experience as if there’s no need to rush.

    I have to wonder: Will Windows 8 going to turn out to have been Microsoft’s version of reformulated Coke?

  16. Shannon Stacey
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 11:48:19

    @Milly: After years of being a Mac household, we had to buy our son a Dell for college because the engineering program would have required workarounds to do all of his work on a Mac. We fired it up and trying to lose the tiles and find a regular desktop/file explorer/etc made me want to set it on fire. Thankfully his roommate is a PC techie and I haven’t gotten any tech support SOS texts.

  17. Microsoft Pioneers Disintuitiveness | Mike Cane’s xBlog
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 11:49:57

    […] The MS Surface Pro 2 Review: Loved the idea, hated the execution […]

  18. Mzcue
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 13:06:22

    @Mzcue: @Mzcue:

    Yikes! Should read: I have to wonder: Will Windows 8 turn out to have been Microsoft’s version of reformulated Coke? (First read, ditz around, re-read, THEN post. Argh.)

  19. Jean Kaplansky
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 13:06:28

    I bought the first edition Surface for my company to assess whether or not the Surface would be of any concern to our publishing production services.

    I was fascinated with the machine, but couldn’t figure out any practical application for the metro/modern interface. So I gave up, and it sat on a shelf. Eventually, one of our VPs was looking for a lightweight travel rig for email and calendaring, so I sent it her way.

    In the meantime, my Macbook Pro went to the genius bar 3 times in the last 6 months. The last time, I stopped by Best Buy on my way out of the mall and picked up an Asus X202e 11 inch laptop that runs Windows 8 and has a touch screen. Thing weighs less than 3 lbs. Perfect.

    But just like other users, I’ve found myself dumping all of the metro/modern UI apps for the desktop tried and trues. Half the apps I wanted to run aren’t metro/modern anyway.

    So now I travel with the Asus, leave the Macbook at home (because it weighs a TON), and use Go to my PC mac version to get back to my Mac, as needed.

    The concept of the surface still fascinates me. It just didn’t work in practice. The one thing I did like was the touch keyboard… Wish I could get one of those for my ipad Air.

  20. CurlyQ
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 13:21:46

    The program that I use to bring back the start menu is called Classic Shell. I spent a good week fiddling with my new laptop in May and I can’t remember everything I did, but I boot up to a Start menu and a normal desktop with the tray along the bottom. It looks and acts very similar to the old Windows. It can be done!

  21. farmwifetwo
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 15:11:23

    Disappointed. I want one. Dh’s iPad is a toy and so is my Kobo arc. I really liked that it was a computer. But i’m not interested in spending days learning how to use it,

  22. Kate Sherwood
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 16:26:47

    @CurlyQ:
    I just installed it and I love it already! THANK YOU!!!

  23. Nate
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 17:43:37

    “Metro, an operating system that has a consistent look from the Windows 8 phones to the XBOX”

    So does that mean the Surface is effectively the world’s largest phablet?

  24. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 19:51:36

    I bought one of last year’s Surface RT models in a fire sale. People are selling these things incredibly cheap. But I bought it for a reason.
    I love Windows 8, but I’ve been using it since day one, and now using it is intuitive. I had to use a Windows 7 machine last week, and I had to relearn lots of things, and got frustrated with how many layers you had to drill down to get what you wanted. And all those damn menus!
    Under the hood, Windows 8 is incredibly fast and powerful and takes up a lot less space than any previous version of Windows. The new system is great, and the learning curve really isn’t that bad. Just treat the Metro/Start screen as your new Start menu. Except it’s more configurable. With 8.1, that connection is even more obvious, since you can use the same desktop background. Go to the bottom left and right-click, and you have the power menus, like your Device Manager, etc. And if you can’t be doing with Start, you can boot straight to the desktop.
    Like most people, I’ve dumped most of the apps on my computer and laptop, and replaced them with the things I use a lot.
    But for the price I paid, the Surface RT was a no-brainer, because it came with a full version of Office 2013. I use Office every day and it’s one thing I miss in my Nexus 7, the ability to work in an environment I know. That and the damn bluetooth keyboard won’t work with the Nexus. You can’t install your legacy programs, only the ones in the Windows Store, but since it has Office, I’m fine with that. I can get all the other apps I need in the Store.
    The Surface RT/Surface2 is to Windows what the iPad is to Apple.

  25. Variel
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 07:12:16

    As a Windows 8 phone owner I’ve tried some W8 laptops lately and I still cant make head nor tail of it. Win7 was pretty easy to get used to and was a vast improvement over XP but this just feels like a huge step back. Unfortunately the iPad (1st gen) is starting to show its age as is the laptop. By the sound of this the Surface 2 wont be on the shortlist of replacement devices.

  26. Gwen Hayes
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 08:36:44

    I have a Lenovo tablet w/ Windows 8 and use a 3rd party program called Start8 to give me back the Windows 7 interface. I never realized how much I relied on the start button…until it was gone.

    My biggest complaint about Windows 8 after that was no solitaire. (I have priorities.) You can get a new version from the xBox apps, but it didn’t work when I didn’t have wi-fi…I don’t want to sign in to play solitaire! I’m hoping as Windows app store gets more robust, I’ll enjoy using apps more, but for now I just use it from desktop.

    Sorry the surface was such a bummer.

  27. Andrea D
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 12:15:51

    @CurlyQ: Echoing Kate Sherwood, thank you! I downloaded Classic Shell, and now I have my old start button menu back. Yay!

  28. Lori
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 10:16:16

    @Jane:

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll have to try this then.

  29. Howard Abraham
    Nov 13, 2013 @ 10:49:12

    It is up to each application to decide if (and how) to support various screen resolutions during a split-screen scenario. Also noteworthy is that devices with higher resolutions can have up to four applications displayed simultaneously.

  30. Kiery H
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 12:32:08

    I love this review have to do a review of ipad air and surface 2!!!!!!Thanks for the advice

  31. Iain Jackson
    Nov 21, 2013 @ 14:44:24

    As a bit of a techie (and most certainly nothing to do with Lawyering) I found the review most enlightening – the comment that most reviews by techies refer to the nitty-gritty of the hardware is so true. I had been using every version of windows since 3.1 and when Microsoft offered the upgrade from 7 to 8 at the giveaway price 24.99 GBP including the Media Centre (Center for Americans) for free (no doubt cheaper in the US), I couldn’t resist. However, the “Metro” interface (or shouldn’t that be the “Modern” interface as Microsoft now calls it due to Copyright problems) was completely beyond me so rather than give it a go I tried all the programs that purported to bring back the start button before settling with Start8 – $5 from Stardock but you can check it out for free. That with 8gadgetpack (which brings back the gadgets) gave me a Windows 7 experience. Use netplwiz.exe (enter that in “search” “files” (modern) or in the “search programs and files” box on the start menu and enter your computer logon name and password and you boot directly onto the desktop without having to enter a password (obviously don’t do this if security is paramount). If you really like some of the “Apps” then “ModernMix” $5 from Stardock will run them in a normal window on the desktop and for those who hanker after the original Windows “Solitaire” then try “Microsoft Games for Windows 8″ which will bring them all back. You will find most of these programs just by searching in Google! I never have to suffer the “modern” interface and it’s just like running an upgraded Windows 7 – maybe Microsoft will see the error of their ways and Windows 9 will give you the pure desktop option. They do say that the odd variants of Windows are the good ones!

  32. chuck
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 06:59:55

    I am a blind guy who bought a Mac Pro (monster destop) back in 2009. It originally had OSX 10.5 now it has OSX 10.8 or something, Windows 8 64 pro and Windows 7 64 pro. To tell you the truth, I can’t figure out why everyone crys about the Win8 interface, it makes me laugh. I installed win8 last Jan or Feb and have only went back to win7 maybe 3 times since. Win8 is the simplest interface ever, looking for anything just start typing and there it is control panel, device manager, even your documents, etc….. My 12 year old daughter wanted me to put win8 on her Asus laptop, I did and I ran into a few driver issues and told her I was going to reinstall win7, she wouldn’t let me, btw, I did resolve the driver issues, turned off the quick start feature and haven’t had a problem since.
    I don’t know where some of you can’t find a real review of the Surface Pro 2, there are lots of them and yes I am getting a surface pro 2 for my daughter this Christmas, she is an expert windows user.

  33. Perry
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 06:33:20

    Sorry but I really do not understand why people hate the Metro interface so much. I love it! I find it looks great and prefer the Metro versions of software where they are available. I have a surface pro and find it the best piece of tech equipment I have ever bought. That is not to say it doesn’t have some quirks, particularly when using the old style desktop apps. I suspect that most users that do not like the Metro interface just haven’t invested much time in the change over. Yes it is different from what we have all been using since Win 3.1, but I suggest people search the many articles on the web for the Metro tips and then read them, once you know how to drive Metro you will not want to go back to the desktop unless you really have to. I run Win 8.1 on a standard laptop and a desktop without touch screens and on the Surface pro. In every case it is better than Win7 but with the touch on the Surface Pro you really appreciate the effort that microsoft have put in for its development.

  34. Bob
    Nov 30, 2013 @ 11:32:54

    Biased review is biased. Just admit that you’re a big fan of Apple. :) The screen is amazing, and the productivity that you get from this device can not be compared to any other tablet. You probably don’t have windows programs, but a lot of us PC users do. We want to play World of Warcraft, program in Visual Studio, and play any video type out there. It’s an amazing device. It’s a shame this was a fake review.

  35. At $169, is the Surface RT a Viable Budget Tablet? - The Digital Reader
    Jan 24, 2014 @ 22:06:17

    […] I don’t know anyone who likes the Metro interface on Windows RT/8, and after reading Jane Litte’s review of the Surface Pro 2 I’m pretty sure I’ll hate it as […]

  36. Dhruv
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 08:51:59

    I actually have a Surface Pro 2 and for me it’s just fine. It’s updated to max, and I have had no problems at all. I absolutely love it. It’s also much more powerful that the ipad, and the mac book air.

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