In Defense of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2

The first round of reviews for the Surface Pro 2 are now in circulation.  Not surprisingly, most reviewers seem to have taken the rinse-and-repeat approach when performing their evaluations.  After all, the 2nd iteration is an incremental one which, of course, leaves the device open to many of the same criticisms it received during the first go-round.  But which of these criticisms REALLY hold water against normal use?

I’M SO CONFUSED ABOUT WHAT THIS DEVICE IS SUPPOSED TO BE”

“Is it a Tablet?  Is it a laptop?  WHAT IS THIS THING?!?!”  There seems to be a lot of confusion about the design of this device — or perhaps, if not the design, then around its intended use.  It’s understandable, seeing as it’s a new concept.  But quite often, reviewers cite things like difficulty using the Surface in their lap with one of the attached keyboard covers.  Since when has “lap-typability” become the primary litmus test for gauging tablets?  And if they are comparing the Surface to a laptop, aren’t these reviewers taking the “laptop” concept a bit too literally?  And why am I the only one who finds this critique ridiculous?

My primary computing device is a Dell Laptop which I was issued for work.  I would estimate that I use this laptop on my actual lap about 5% of the time.  Maybe less.  Why?  Because when I reach for a laptop, I am aiming to get some work done; and when I want to get some work done, I use a desk or table.  Period.  I anticipate that my use of a Surface device would echo this rule.  Where are these reviewers using their devices that they have to use their laps all the time?  A bus?

That said, I also possess an HP Touchpad (WebOS/Android dual boot) which I can use for casual computing.  This includes times when I’m on the couch, a passenger in the car, or in bed.  And that’s fine.  It works.  But what about when you want to use your tablet — iPad, Touchpad, whatever — when seated at a desk or a table?  The tablets I’ve used in this scenario did not come with a stand and I’m left with no other option than leaving it flat on the desk.  This resulted in a very awkward experience trying to navigate and “type” while avoiding the glare from overhead lighting.  The Surface is ideal for this scenario due to its integrated kickstand.  And, by the way, it’s also perfectly fine for casual computing on the couch.

Lastly, there are certain other scenarios where the smaller Surface device would be superior to my Dell laptop.  I fly quite a bit and it’s difficult to accurately describe the bodily contortions required in order to use a full sized laptop in such a cramped space.  And it only gets worse if my fellow passenger in front decides to recline their seat.  The portability of the Surface Pro 2 excels in this situation.

So, that’s the strength of the Surface:  Along with it’s accessories, this is a tablet that is ready to get some work done when needed, but also ready to kick its keyboard cover to the side for casual usage.  It’s true portable productivity.  Why is this lost on people?

“SURFACE IS TOO EXPENSIVE”

Now, this is a critique that anyone can understand.  In recent years, we’ve all become accustomed to inexpensive windows systems of all shapes and sizes.  Plus we’re amidst a recession, financial uncertainty, yada-yada-yada…  I get it.

Surface Pro 2 is not a budget device.  It’s not trying to be.  Just about every review you read will mention its superior build quality.  And you won’t find any which cite performance issues.  It’s a well-built, capable machine.  But how does it really fare compared to other similar devices?  This is the problem.  There are no similar devices.  To be fair, you can’t ONLY compare Surface Pro to tablets like the iPad and Android devices.  Spec-wise, this device falls closest to the Laptop/Ultrabook category.  So how does it compare?

I wanted to do a quick experiment to find some devices with similar specs.  The Surface Pro 2 that I have been using is the one with 8gb of RAM and a 256gb SSD.  It has enough RAM to handle anything I could throw at it and I was less concerned with storage as you can use the Micro SDXC slot to expand it.  I pulled up the Fry’s website (www.frys.com) and pulled up the ‘Notebooks & (*gag*) Netbooks’ category.  The first thing you notice is the slew of $400 to $500 devices.  I’m certain that there are some adequate devices in that list — some that I could probably recommend to family members interested in a simple, well rounded machine.  But the story changes once you being filtering the results.  I added the ‘6.1 – 8 GB’ RAM filter and the ‘Touchscreen’ filter.  In this selection, the low end of the spectrum is a $750 Acer and the high-end is a $2,000 Lenovo.  But many of these screens are 14″ and 15″.  I selected the ‘11.1 – 13.4 Inches’ display filter.  This brings the price range to $1,298 to $1,648.

Now, this is far from an exhaustive or scientific study.  And the devices that I found on the Fry’s website have larger screens and a variety of different features.  But, the message is clear:  At $1,200 (without a touchcover) Surface Pro 2 is priced consistently with similarly specced notebooks.  Even with a $120 Touchcover, it’s still within the ballpark.  Is this an expensive device?  Absolutely.

I realize that the It’s-not-the-MOST-expensive-device-out-there defense isn’t compelling.  And newcomers such as the new Dell tablet devices offer consumers great Surface alternatives.  But I think that reviewers need to consider the big picture when formulating expectations around pricing.  This is being marketed as a premium device and a premium price tag should not be unexpected.

One last note on price:  I have to hop on board with the other reviewers who feel that a keyboard cover should be either included or have a significantly reduced price when you purchase a Pro model.  I’ve been using my Surface Pro 2 for over a week now WITHOUT a keyboard cover.  While it works fine as a casual tablet without one, a keyboard cover is a necessity if you wish to quickly complete even semi-productive tasks.  I could see the Surface 2 or Surface RT being made available without one, but the Pro model SHOULD come with this one accessory.  How about a $90 TouchCover or TypeCover rebate with the purchase of a Surface Pro?

“WINDOWS 8 HAS A LACKLUSTRE ECOSYSTEM”

Apps do seem to take center stage these days.  And being the new kid on the block pretty much guarantees that Windows 8 (and Windows Phone 8, for that matter) will likely be the last platform to receive the latest and greatest apps.  However, there are a couple of reasons that this argument doesn’t hold as much water — especially when considering the Surface Pro.

Firstly, even with all the complaining about Windows 8 and the panning of its “Metro” user interface, Microsoft will be doubling-down on it.  As Paul Thurrot has explained (on multiple occasions), the desktop environment will soon be relegated to a compatibility feature.  Gone are the days of purchasing software at the store and DVD-based installations.  App marketplaces are now commonplace and responsible for the delivery and installation of almost all new software.  “Metro” and the Windows Store is here to stay.  The number of apps will grow over time, filling in more and more of the “gaps” identified by tech bloggers.  Accept it.

Secondly, the Surface Pro devices are less sensitive to app availability than the Surface 2 and Surface RT which rely on the app store for all installable applications.  Do you need a BitTorrent “app” when you can install the full-featured software instead?  Again, I know this isn’t an ideal solution; it’s more of a stop-gap argument.  And soon, it will be moot as Windows 8 gains market share and more available apps.

OTHER CRITIQUES

Just to quickly touch on some other criticisms I’ve read:

  • The Weight…
    The Surface Pro 2 is a hefty device.  There’s no way around it.  I would not want to hold this thing for an extended period of time.  However, what I will add is that I can’t really imagine any device that is super-comfortable to hold for at length.  Heck, my arm gets tired when talking on my Lumia 920 for a lengthy conversation.  Offsetting the weight is the handy kickstand.  If there’s a flat, level surface around, you’ll want to use it.  And while this thing isn’t particularly UNCOMFORTABLE to hold in your hands, I think that rounding off the edges a bit would make it more hand-friendly.
  • The Stylus…
    Have you ever had one of those BIC mechanical pencils?  That’s what this thing feels like.  And while this doesn’t detract from its functionality, it stands in stark contrast to the hefty, solid build quality of the Surface itself.  When you pick up the Surface and then you consider the stylus, it feels like an afterthought.  And then there’s the way it attaches to the Surface.  It secures to the magnetized power port on the right side of the device.  This means that you cannot charge the device AND have the stylus attached at the same time.  Again, an afterthought.

WRAP-UP

So, there’s my take on the Surface Pro 2.  It’s a perfectly capable productivity device when it needs to be.  It’s a great portable, casual computing experience when it doesn’t.  Based on what I’ve read from others, I fear that this device has been more than a little misunderstood.  Consumers who are considering purchasing the Surface Pro 2 should definitely read reviews that are available, but also consider how they plan on using it.  Do you find yourself lap-typing constantly?  Then the SP2 may not be for you.

In Defense of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 was last modified: April 9th, 2014 by michael

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