By Jim Shimabukuro
Steven Brown, in a 15 July 2014 comment, asked, “Curious to hear how it went after 8 months –- any updates?” His question refers to my October 2013 article, Why the Surface Pro 2 Will Be a Game Changer in the Tablet World Series, and the follow-up in November, The Surface Pro 2 Will Be the Death of Notebooks.
Steven, thanks for the question. Microsoft’s recent offering of SP3 means that the SP2 is no longer a viable purchase option — except for those interested in picking up a bargain. Used, they’re currently going on eBay for about half the original price. However, the differences between the 2 and the 3 are small enough to justify this article update.
For me, the critical variable is weight. The quarter pound difference is negligible. To put this in perspective, it’s the difference between my first-gen iPad and the SP2. They’re both equally heavy — or light, depending on your perspective. The SP3 screen size is touted as a breakthrough, but the 1.4″ difference isn’t that impressive considering the bulk that it adds to the overall size. By desktop and notebook standards, it’s still far too small for serious work for prolonged periods.
The 2160 x 1440 resolution seems enormous compared to the SP2′s 1080 x 1920, but it’s negligible considering the pixels per inch, which is 216 vs. 208. The SP2′s resolution is excellent. I’m using it right now, with the power cover, to write this article. I have it connected to a 32″ 1080P monitor via the SP2′s proprietary HDMI adaptor, and the clarity is equal to my desktop’s.
My SP2 came with 8GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and the 1.9GHz Intel Core i5 with Intel HD Graphics 4400, so, in terms of power, it rivals my desktop. It’s actually quicker from power up to app use or web browsing.
Battery life is also considered a deal breaker, but the SP3′s approximately 2 hour improvement over the SP2′s roughly 6 hours is less dramatic when the power cover is factored in.
There are other differences, but not enough for me to abandon the SP2.
In purchasing technology, I factor rapid obsolescence into my decision. I pull the trigger when features reach a level that I value at a price that is reasonable. I assume that upgrades will follow so I use my own needs as a gauge for value and try not to be swayed by new or improved features that aren’t important for me. This way, I guard against upgrade-itis.
For me, the SP2′s primary value is as a tablet. As I said in my earlier article, its birth meant the death knell of the notebook. Adding a keyboard gives you a notebook, but a notebook can’t become a tablet. It’s as simple as that.
Up until recently, a tablet was distinct from a Windows PC. It could do a lot of things that a PC could, but it could not match the PC’s productivity. I loved the tablet’s portability, which allowed me to do single function tasks such as email and web browsing away from my desktop while lounging or lying down. However, I couldn’t do serious course management, composing, layout, photo editing, video production, or web research. These I did on my desktop.
But the SP2 changed all that. I could finally do all of it on a tablet for brief periods or in a pinch — or for hours when attached to a large external monitor.
After eight months, I’m still amazed that the Microsoft engineers are able to squeeze nearly all the power of a desktop PC into a tablet not much heavier than the original iPad.
When I first started working with the SP2, I automatically tried to set it up like a PC by plugging an extender into the single USB port to add a mouse and an external hard drive. These proved messy and cumbersome, especially when I also had an HDMI cable going to an external monitor and the charging unit plugged in. Quickly, I realized that the SP2 is best at its simplest. Forget the mouse and the external hard drive. The touchscreen, especially with the pen, is intuitive.
The 512GB storage is plenty. There’s also cloud storage, but I don’t use it much. For file transfers, the built-in microSDXC card reader is very efficient. Memory cards with 32GB capacity are available.
There’s still a lot of room for improvement in future iterations of the SP. Weight, definitely, needs to approach or surpass the gold standard of one pound; battery life, 10 hours. Dual HDMI external monitor capability is a must for serious productivity. A glaring obstacle in the evolution of tablets is input. The external keyboard is a funky holdover from the 19th century. Onscreen keyboards are unimaginative and inefficient. The pen is cool, but still quite primitive. The next major step is voice input, but the technology is in its infancy.
As users discover the power and flexibility of Windows tablets, the demand should create competition, drive the supply up, and drive prices down. In the process, notebooks and desktops will go the way of CRT monitors.