Wot I Think: Microsoft Warface Surface Pro 2

I did an exceptionally silly thing. I bought one of Microsoft’s terribly expensive laptop/tablet hybrids, the Surface Pro 2. Upon realising how silly this was, because it’s hardly got much gameability and I can’t ever upgrade it, I returned it. That wasn’t the exceptionally silly thing, though. That happened when I realised how much I missed the Surface, so two days later I went out and bought another one. From a different shop, of course – I couldn’t have faced the look on the salesperson’s face otherwise.

I am pleased, if slightly guilt-wracked, to report that I am now sticking with my purchasing decision. Which also means I’m in a situation to tell you whether this attempt to crossbreed faithful old Mr PC with flighty young Ms Tablet has been successful, from the point of view of someone who primarily uses their computer for the pursuit of entertainment.

There are several elephants in the room when it comes to discussing the Surface on this of all sites. I don’t know quite where I’m going to sit in fact, as there’s wrinkly grey skin and dangerously protruding tusks everywhere I look. Let’s start with whether I feel like I’ve sold out or not – the answer to that is ‘a bit, I guess.’ It’s a product from the company that abandoned PC gaming, that has recently tried to turn Windows into a discordant nightmare of self-contradiction, and that is headed up by a guy who could have had an alternate career as Embarrassing And Slightly Sinister Step-Dad in a dreary 90s sitcom. And, of course, a company that has had a decades-long and increasingly undeserved stranglehold on the Only Free Platform. I really should be turning to Linux by now.

On the other hand, I’m a technology polygamist – I’ve got an iThing, I’ve got an Androidthing, I’ve got a Kindlething, I’ve got a PlayStationThing and thus there’s no reason at all why this ruinous hunger for gizmos should fall silent in response to the Surface. All of those firms have a long and chequered history of bastardly behaviour and/or massive screw-ups. As it happens, the device itself is uncommonly attractive and desirable – not something I expected from the same firm behind the heinously ugly Xboxes or the chaotic colour-clash of Windows 8. Then again, I doubt anyone involved with the creation of the physical Surface even works in the same building as the software guys: Microsoft is basically a small nation by this point. It’s a solid, luxurious feeling device with a lovely 1080p screen (though I wish it was a little less reflective) and that runs silently so long as it’s not doing anything really processor intensive. Most importantly, it can transform from laptop to tablet and back again with the effectively instant removal or connection of the optional keyboard cover accessory. In theory, it’s two types of personal computer in one, and that’s a theory I like (not to mention need: mine is a very small flat).

The second elephant is that this isn’t billed as gaming device. It’s basically an Ultrabook in a tablet shell. I can only treat it as a gaming device because it can run any Windows application, and that includes games. Whether 3D ones run well is a question likely to increasingly haunt me for the duration of my ownership of this Surface Pro, but less demanding 2D and/or indie fare is another matter – no grumbles at all there. I’ll come back to the issue of 3D gaming shortly, but again I just want to make it entirely clear upfront that you shouldn’t consider the Surface Pro as primarily a gaming item. It’s just that some game capability is a bonus feature, of sorts.

The third elephant – it really does smell rather… musky in this room now – is that the Surface is terrible and should be avoided like the plague. The more expensive Surface Pro is another matter, because underneath its garish Metro squares is a full version of Windows 8.1. The Surface Non-Pro is limited to applications and games in the Windows Store, which are few, often rubbish and unlikely to significantly improve any time soon. Do not buy a Surface: it’s just a shit iPad.

The Surface Pro 2, however, I have grown exceedingly fond of, even though it is without question far too expensive for a lowish-end system (especially as the 64GB entry level model isn’t worth bothering with, unless you plan to never install anything ever) and irritates me in dozens of tiny ways every time I use it. Those irritations are primarily down to Windows 8/8.1 – and by that I don’t mean the usual ‘Windows 8 is rubbish for desktop PCs!’ but the opposite. Usual bugbear the Metro stuff, made for touchscreens, works well in this context, speedily and relatively intuitively when using the Surface Pro in tablet mode. Unfortunately, touch is half-baked, inconsistent and fiddly when trying to use non-Metro programs – i.e. almost everything you’d actually want to run on the thing. I do make do, and am increasingly adapting, but that’s because I’m shrugging off taps and buttons failing to do what I requested rather than because it’s matter of learning a new UI.

I managed to get pinch-zoom and similar stuff working in Chrome by installing the deeply unstable ‘Canary’ version and changing minute settings on the arcane Chrome://flags secret settings page, but it’s crashing all the damn time, leaving me with a choice between that, standard Chrome without half the touch stuff working, or clunky, needy old Internet Explorer. Still, hopefully Canary’s features will trickle down to stable Chrome before too long, and other browsers will see similar. Unfortunately similar issues abound in everything else – Photoshop, Tweetdeck, games, all sorts. This is due to Adobe and the like not updating their applications for touch support, but I’m amazed that Microsoft didn’t make convincing them to do so an absolute priority. Maybe they did, but no-one listened. Either way, the result is an unreliable desktop experience. Everything does just about work in some form, but I need to compromise my expectations and be prepared to attempt simple actions multiple times. It’s becoming second nature now, and the stylus is certainly more accurate, but it’s a world away from the just-works slickness of iOS or post-ICS Android.

Sometimes touch things work unexpectedly – I was fine playing a whole bunch of XCOM without a keyboard and mouse attached – but don’t ever count on it. Tiny madnesses also abound, such as the layout on the virtual keyboard changing depending on whether it’s a Metro app or a standard program, or said keyboard only automatically popping up in some text fields – the overriding sense is that the OS was made by a thousand people who never once talked to each other, let alone to software developers at other firms.

Speaking of typing issues, Nelly #4 is that the Surface Pro is a very expensive desk ornament and/or email reader if you don’t also pick up one of the clip-on keyboards. But don’t get the Touch one, because you won’t be able to type at high speed on it. Get the preposterously expensive (£109! I can only justify this because being self-employed means buying work-related hardware brings down my tax bill) Type 2, which has more-or-less proper keys built into an impressively thin cover, and even a tiny but just about serviceable two-button trackpad. Really you’ll want a wireless mouse too though, as the trackpad is too fiddly and flaky for high-precision work/play. Gets me through toilet breaks though – more on which later, I’m, afraid.

There’s a stylus included, which is a not entirely reliable halfway house between finger and mouse, but it has been a help for mouse-and-keyboard-free use, and there is something quite pleasant and satisfying about using it too. I think it makes a tablet seem more like a Future-Device than a touchscreen does, oddly. Again, it worked pretty well in XCOM, which reflects the fact that Firaxis’ game can be played entirely with a mouse if you so choose; in anything where a keyboard is necessary you’re going to need the Type Cover or a USB keyboard. It is simply preposterous, given the high price of the Surface Pro, that even the more basic Touch cover isn’t included in the box; if those greedy beggars at MS want to make these things truly successful, that should be the first thing they redress.

Dumbo #6 is that the bastard thing can’t be upgraded, aside from sticking a MicroSD card into the side for a little extra storage. I’m actually happy with that as a means of adding a bit more space to the 128GB model I have, especially as all my music comes from streaming services, photos and docs are in the cloud and all that jazz. The real problem for is that the £799 model I bought only has 4GB RAM. Models with 8GB are available, but only for Surface Pros with 256 or 512GB of storage, which pushes the price over £1000 and into a place where Alecs fear to tread. Even if I had the nerve to ever crack the thing open, the RAM’s soldered onto the motherboard so I’m forever stuck with 4GB. This has been no problem whatsoever for my usual desktop work – writing, bit of Photoshop, web-browsing, movie-watching, hacking the FBI and all that – but because there’s no dedicated graphics memory, the weeny GPU is eating up a whole load of RAM when I run higher-end games, often prompting a panicky warning and an offer to auto-close the game from Windows 8. That said, the integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics chip is probably too piss-weak to make meaningful use of extra memory anyway.

Those are the major negatives out the way. 1200 words in, I’ll now tell you why I like this hobbled thing as much as I do. Part of that is that, quite simply, it’s a very lightweight PC with a built-in 10.6″ monitor. It’s little longer and a little thicker than a pre-Air iPad, but about the same weight – not uncomfortable to hold at all, though you will need both hands in play. The other part of why is… well, here’s a faintly disgusting but 100% true scenario for you:

– I’m currently, as repeated mentions in the very post might suggest, playing XCOM again. (Yes, it’s for some manner of should you/shouldn’t you buy judgement regarding a certain expansion, but that’s a while off yet I’m afraid). Much as I would love to perform 16 hour, motionless binges on the game, unfortunately my frail human body irregularly demands the likes of fuel, waste evacuation or being adjusted into a different position. Most inconvenient. However, the Surface enables me to continue playing the game while not being in the same place as my main PC, thanks to savegames going into the Steam Cloud. When the Steam Cloud works, that is – it’s not always a given, and I have had some infuriating experiences wherein one machine or the other outright refused to sync. Manually ferrying saves around on a USB key is a miserable business.

It would not be inaccurate to say that I’ve attempted similar with a traditional laptop, which my singed and weight-bruised thighs were not happy about – so a small, handheld, lightweight device with a touchscreen changes matters significantly, with regard to on-toilet gameplaying. I do apologise for any unwanted mental images here, but please believe me when I say that this system has made me very happy. I suspect desktop streaming services, like Splashtop or the stuff the NVIDIA Shield is trying, will ultimately be the better solution, but right now I’m simply loving being able to pick up where I left off on the main PC with this 10.6″ shiny thing. As I say, the touch controls work pretty much fine in XCOM – it won’t be the case in an FPS or suchlike, although the Type Cover might just about get me through short, er, sessions.

I’m not sure I could say that this truly justifies the great expense of the Surface, but it is exceptionally pleasing. Clearly, I’m having to run games at lowest settings (save for textures, which are happy on High) and lower than the Surface’s native resolution of 1920×1080, but XCOM on low at 1366×768 musters 30 frames per second, feels fine and doesn’t look half bad. As mainstream PC games move to PS4/Xbone bases and more than likely cease to cater to low-end graphics chips I suspect I’m going to be increasingly screwed, but I’m comfortable with knowing that there’s an infinite world of amazing indie and strategy fare the Surface won’t struggle with. This was and is never going to be my main PC gaming device, but as a portable stopgap it’s doing well so far. It’s also very nice to look at, hold and generally go ‘ooh’ at, at least phyiscally.

Mostly, though, I dig the Surface because it sidesteps what’s forever driven me spare on my i- and Google-things: half of the internet doesn’t display properly, I can’t run most of the things I download and, on Apple especially, I can’t even download much outside of what’s in the official store. With the Surface, I get the fancypants tablet fun but not the aggravating restrictions. It’s a PC, with all the problems that entails, but I have and will always prefer finding ways to circumvent or resolve those problems than simply having huge swathes of the electronic world shut off for safety and/or walled gardening. If I read about a neat browser game, I can just run it here, even if it needs Unity or something. That’s what I’ve always wanted from a portable computer, and this is, if nothing else, an exceptionally portable computer.

I can also just directly plug the thing into my big monitor and keyboard/mouse rather than machine-switch when I want to do proper work/looking-at-shit-on-the-internet. It might need games dropping to rock-bottom setting, but the device hasn’t blinked in the face of browsing, blogging and b-movie-watching. It also doesn’t suffer the thunderous noise and ravenous electricity consumption of my main PC, so I feel a little less environmentally rapacious (though that’s undone if I think about all the harmful stuff that went into actually making this toy).

Sadly, there is a downside to this being a PC – a dual-core, ultra-low voltage Intel Core i7 – running full-fat Windows, as opposed to a super-low-power ARM chip running a super-thin custom operating system. For one, it takes a couple of seconds to wake from sleep, as a laptop does when you open its lid rather than as an iPad or Android device does when you press its button. I’m grudgingly adjusting to it, but I have been spoiled by the instant response of ‘true’ mobile things. Secondly, the battery life isn’t a patch on an iPad or decent Android tablet, although it does give my phone a run for its money, and roundly trounces the miserable 2-3 hours my (soon to be sold in order to fund this purchase) gaming laptop manages.

It musters five to six hours for Looking At Shit On The Internet, in my experience, but only around three for running 3D games like XCOM (which is about half an hour on the gaming laptop). On lower-end, 2D fare, the CPU won’t have to go full-pelt and I’m expecting a longer life, but even so it’s fair to say this isn’t an outright replacement for a true tablet. I almost never leave the house these days – thanks, baby. Thaby – so power points are always to hand, but you’ll probably hear me having a right old whine on Twitter the first time I take the Surface on a long train or plane journey.

I’m committed to the thing now, but I suspect the smart decision for anyone craving a Surface is to hang on for the next generation, when Intel’s very recent incursion into proper GPU territory (as with the Iris Pro, currently only available on its highest-end mobile CPUs) may have borne dividends for ultra-portable PCs and tablety things. This second generation is only iterative from last year’s very similar first, with the main gains being in battery life. Much as I like the Surface Pro, I’m experiencing the inevitable punishment of the early adopter and I wish I’d had the willpower to wait another year or two for the tech to mature. At the same time I really am enjoying having a proper PC in a sleek -don’t say sexy don’t say sexy – and sexy – DAMMIT – form factor I can take anywhere. I can download anything, I can open anything in whatever I want to open it in, I can plug a gamepad, a keyboard and/or a mouse in and it’ll just work, and I don’t have Ghost Steve Jobs or Unsmiling Eric Schmidt standing in the way of any of it. The iPad’s going on eBay, put it that way.

PC, for all its sins and chaos, has always been where I’m most comfortable, which is simply from an endless tinkering and flexibility mindset rather than some ugly Master Race attitude, and having my tablet also be that does feel like a weight off my finickity shoulders after years of dealing with iOS’s restrictions. The Surface is very much a First World Solution to a First World Problem, in other words. I don’t by any means need it. There is no way I could justify it as a necessity, an improvement to my professional or personal life, or even recommend it as the portable device to buy. It’s just that, well, it turns out it really suits me. Now that the dust of multiple receipts has settled, I’m very glad I bought then returned then re-bought this Surface Pro.

Bloody hell, Windows 8 though. What a mess.


  1. db1331 says:

    This thing seems like it’s about 4 times more expensive than it should be.

    • phenom_x8 says:

      Exactly, while you can get something like this ASUS Transformer only for $400 (bundled with those tiny keyboard) ,

      link to techreport.com

      It can even run Dirt 2, and some indie game also run smoothly thats awesome

      link to techreport.com

      • Stevostin says:

        Where is the Wacom Stylus ? How do we draw ? Sculpt ?
        We don’t. Most of people don’t want it but some like me don’t even consider anything without it. If you’re in for some real quality input, Surface 2 is one of the most competitive solution for now (of course I’d rather sell some of my son’s limbs to buy me a Cintiq companion instead).

        • TT says:

          Yep, was hopping on lenovo to bring some alternative but they dropped the ball. Surface is the only real portable wacom thing around, despite Microsoft lack of marketing (Samsung keeps pushing the s-pen with same tech… oN their note things, android do). Would have liked a 16:10 format, :9 makes no sense.

          • wyrm4701 says:

            Lenovo dropped the ball hard on this one. I picked up a Thinkpad Twist, and the build quality is abysmal. I’d sent it back to fix a light leakage issue, and it came back to me twice as bad. Really surprising, actually, as I got it based on their reputation for toughness, but it appears to be unfounded.

        • Zeidust says:

          For the price point. $1,000 seems pretty standard for anybody with a 1080p screen, Core i5, tablet with wacom stylus. Samsung, Microsoft, Asus, Fujitsu, Acer all have these tablets at the same price. The Atom processor versions running either windows or android usually hang around $500.

    • Sakkura says:

      The choice of a Core i7 is part of the problem. It does not need a pricey Core i7, a Core i5 would still be much faster than the quad cores in tablets. It could use better graphics, but that’ll come automatically as Intel keeps adding more shaders.

      Edit: Nevermind, it actually has a Core i5.

    • Geebs says:

      You know, you’re wrong about it being too expensive – I just had the miserable experience of trying out a 700 quid Lenovo IdeaPad and it was a horrible piece of shit, to the extent that I won’t be feeling guilty about my fruitiness for at least a couple of years. Fit and finish is definitely worth something, and there’s a lot to be said for form factor (and xcom is brilliant on a tablet)

      Windows 8 is horrible though

    • Carra says:

      It really is way too expensive.

      Heck, they sold Surface Pros for €350 on TechEd this year. At that price…

    • hoho0482 says:

      Little too late to the party to expect a reply, but does a mini 360 controller exist that would suit this down to the ground. Something big enough to be usable but not huge like the standard controller and without the 20 foot cable?

  2. MajorManiac says:

    That is the best thing I’ve seen this year in the title pic. The laptop look meh though.

    • Mbaya says:

      The picture has been far more successful at making me think the Surface could be awesome than all of the (expensive) marketing Microsoft did for the device.

      Glad it suits your needs Alec and it was an interesting read, I might have a long trip coming up soon so this has been useful as I consider my options of life without a main PC.

    • Syra says:

      Yeah! What’s with that? I honestly looked at the pic and giggled like a little girl for a few mins before thinking the tablet is kinda sexy. On the other hand I have no desire to get a horrible windows 8 monstrosity. I might now have to go buy an iPad Air though…

    • hotmaildidntwork says:

      Not hiring Soundwave to act as their spokesbot was a grave tactical error on the part of MS Marketing.

  3. FurryLippedSquid says:

    God it sounds awful.

    Edit: All those cheery bastards on the adverts too. Seriously, fuck those guys.

  4. Jac says:

    Bought a surface pro 2 as well and love it. Change the power settings so it doesn’t limit the CPU an it runs stuff pretty well.

    Basically worth it just to play a proper version of football manager. And the fact you can stick a pad in means its pretty handy for other games. Has replaced my ipad nicely.

    • HidingCat says:

      Oh you poor sod you. You’re never ever leaving FM ever again. :P

  5. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    As someone with zero interest in this thing, I found that surprisingly interesting.

    Also, SURFACE!

    EDIT: This battlefield 4 takeover ad is actually crashing my browser. Marvellous.

  6. adg1034 says:

    Thanks, Alec. Thalec.

  7. Rizlar says:

    My mate’s got one and it looks amazing for drawing on. High res touchscreen with the ability to run all the graphics programs is delightful!

    Not sure when/if I will ever be able to justify paying for one though.

  8. Koozer says:

    Wait wait wait, it’s £700 and the keyboard is extra? I thought the dual touchy-typey thing was the whole selling point of this thing.

    • Baines says:

      The detachable keyboard is one of the selling points.

      But the ugliest truth about the entire Surface line is that they are too expensive for what they offer. So it isn’t a big surprise if Microsoft cut some corners for a product that honestly is still overpriced for what it does (and what it is incapable of doing.)

  9. Snargelfargen says:

    I got a first gen Surface Pro and agree that despite the flaws, its actually a great piece of kit. It’s absolutely fantastic for carrying around at school, especially since I can use the stylus to make notes on pdf and word documents if I’m just reading. Great for watching tv while cooking, reading comics and even typing essays. Kind of silly that the 2nd gen has an i7 when all anybody was asking for was more battery life and improved integrated graphics though.

    Downsides:The price is admittedly stupid, unless you buy it second hand like I did, and there are hardly any apps that take advantage of the metro interface, or touchscreens for that matter. That probably won’t change until Microsoft pull their thumbs out of their assholes and make an OS that integrates touch interfaces with the traditional desktop and file system. Content creation and data archiving needs it, and the libraries cause too much trouble (Video not a recognized format? Good luck finding it! Got some drunken pictures that aren’t work safe on your phone? Guess what, they are helpfully previewed on the photo tile for your boss!)

    I have barely had any time for gaming in the past few months (as a dusty thread in the forums will attest), but I think it’s worth noting that quite a few older/indie 2d games simply refuse to launch, perhaps something to do with the custom graphics drivers.

  10. Tyrmot says:

    All these reasons are reasons why I will probably end up with one of these too but… next gen

  11. tigerfort says:

    I see elephant #5 snuck out while Alec was worrying about the price of keyboards.

    • BooleanBob says:

      The absence of elephant #5 in the room in this article is a real elephant in the room in this article.

  12. daphne says:

    This is a citeworthy text for an overview of post-purchase rationalization

    • hitnrun says:

      He did return it to the store and retire home, his currency safely in hand, before going back out and re-buying it. I’d say that vaccinates a person from accusations of cognitive dissonance.

  13. Shooop says:

    Of course it has better functionality than the iPad, but for those prices Microsoft will never manage to get these to even carve out a niche market lot alone challenge Apple’s dominance.

  14. hitnrun says:

    I wonder how many years, product failures, and lost sales it will take before it occurs to someone at Microsoft that they should probably separate the branding of their horrible product from their generally well-reviewed product.

    Knowing Microsoft, I expect to hear why it’s vital for their strategy that they both be called “Surface” right up until both lines are canceled in 2017.

    • Ajh says:

      Microsoft generally puts out really solid general use keyboards and decent mouses too. I’ve a friend that likes their ergonomic whatever keyboard and it’s the only thing he’ll use for gaming. His first one lasted him a good 8 years before he bought a new model.

      Zunes weren’t bad. They just weren’t ipods and suffered from the same craptastic store selections the metro store suffers from. Otherwise I liked the little zune I got for free awhile back. I could play videos and music on it and the store had a subscription service that let me download every song I wanted to hear and keep 1 forever drm free.

      So yes…I do agree microsoft dooms products sometimes with their branding. And a few other mistakes.

      I think i’ll stick to my ipad and pc for the time being though…the fact that this thing works full out as a wacom compatible surface might someday sell it for me. Drawing on a “cintiq lite?” Sounds fantastic.

  15. Deepo says:

    Think I might have to stop supporting RPS with my $2 monthly, to help Alec stop making silly purchases like this.

    • Mctittles says:

      The way he refers to his “expensive” gadgets as iThing,Kindlething, and PlayStationThing tells me from his perspective it’s just throwaway money. From my perspective it’s like someone saying they have a BMWthing and Ferrarithing but for others that is just a “thing”. So I imagine like others in his bracket he doesn’t think of it as an expensive purchase like people below his income would.

      Which really means it would take a lot of money loss to impact these type of purchases. It’s all relative.

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      Corporation tax is 25% for a self employed person. You may as well buy ‘thingys’ and write them off against your tax liability. Not many people can claim for a PS3, Alec is just lucky in that respect. A perk of the job as it were. In this case lots of ‘thingys’ doesn’t indicate a high wage! Not paying VAT would shift him higher up the income bracket but as Alec hasn’t stated that he is/isn’t VAT exempt we are left guessing!

  16. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    I read the entire article in Soundwave’s voice.

    • Spacewalk says:

      The whole thing reeks of a Deceptacon plot, which is why we aren’t getting any thumbs from Prime.

      • waaaaaaaals says:

        Logically if Soundwave goes for Microsoft products then Starscream must be a fan of Dell.

  17. Simbosan says:

    Why does nobody , but nobody, bother to mention that this is a full Wacom digitiser? That is simply a huge bonus for the Surface Pro. If you ever do art, it’s a simply immense advantage to the Surface over pretty much any other device. It’s fkn amazing, why does nobody mention this?

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Does it have any disadvantages when compared to a cintiq?

      • 7rigger says:

        I use a cheap cintiq at home on my desktop and the surface pro on the move.

        I suppose surface pro would win out on portability – the smaller cintiq’s are 13″ but require a laptop, otherwise it’s 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity on both. The surface pro is a little wonky on the edges of the screen though. I can’t remember if the Cintiq has tilt sensitivity like the Intuos, the surface pro definitely doesn’t, pretty much the only reason I still have an intuos too.

      • tungstenHead says:

        The Surface Pro is basically a Bamboo digitizer. Wacom is selling the Cintiq Companion as a tablet computer. It’s twice the price of a Surface Pro, ($1999 for 256GB; $2499 for 256GB) but it has the full featured digitizer (2048 pressure, tilt), a larger screen and the express keys on the side. It strikes me as being vastly more preferable for doing artwork, but it’s not as good for gaming on the go.

        Or you could just plug your old Cintiq into your Surface.

        • 7rigger says:

          well I wasn’t aware of the cintiq companion, that is a much better option for artists- bigger screen and tilt – but that price is just far too steep for what I’d get extra (£1600!). I’d just pick up a surface pro and an intous 4 or 5 (or whatever they’re called now) for tilt, as not many programs actually take advantage of it in my experience.

          Or just get the 22hd and stay at home!

    • Don Reba says:

      Didn’t Alec mention this when he said it doesn’t work in Photoshop?

    • LionsPhil says:

      So’s my old-fashioned tablet laptop, when tablet meant one where the screen flipped ’round and folded down. I much prefer my trusty Bamboo, because that screen/digitizer depth difference is a killer—it decalibrates every time you move your head relative to it.

  18. Cleave says:

    “thanks, baby. Thaby”

    Bonus points for a Look Around You reference :)

  19. squareking says:

    Wipe down your table! Jeez.

  20. Leb says:

    im curious to know how it handles Paradox strategy. If I could kill my idiot son in CK2 while on the shitter im sold

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      And in the game?

    • wild_quinine says:

      I found the juxtaposition of toilet-gaming and the word ‘Splashtop’ to be disturbing. At first I thought it was some kind of screen protector.

      • HidingCat says:

        Me too, my mind went to some very gross places initially.

    • PearlChoco says:

      Great question.
      Alec could you please please let us know if Paradox games like CK2 or EU4 run well on this thingy? If they do, I might go out and buy one myself.

      I also wonder if the performance benefit of the i5 4200U is worth it over a Baytrail tablet.

      • tormos says:

        I was wondering this exact thing myself, not that I have the money for a Surface Pro

    • Gap Gen says:

      A lot of games work very well when ported to android tablets, I find. Eufloria works a lot better on a tablet thanks to the quicker response of clicking and dragging on a touch screen, and Waking Mars works well, too, despite being something that I’d imagine on a desktop might use several buttons to do all the jetpacking and seed selecting.

  21. Engonge says:

    You have a gaming laptop? Euuuww

  22. Juke says:

    The Surface is fighting an uphill marketing battle, but I’m surprised at the negative tone in so many reviews (even this one, to a lesser degree). Maybe I’m the odd one, liking mine. Reviewers have been calling out the Surface as a hybrid tablet/laptop, making it a perjorative, but to me that’s the killer feature!

    In other words. IT RUNS WINDOWS. IT IS A FULL-FAT PC. It’s also well-designed, high-powered for a integrated-GPU laptop, with a great display, and has the aforementioned Wacom digitisation which makes taking hand-written notes, not a coarse compromise, but a legitimate reality. It does a ton of stuff well. Then reviews will point out that is heavier than an iPad (or can’t last multiple days on its battery,) as if that somehow negates it being a really useful device.

    It’s important to process what Alec says in his article. He’s selling his iPad and his laptop, and keeping the Surface Pro. Because it covers all those use cases. The Surface Pro will do about 90% of what a similarly-priced gaming laptop can do, at a fraction of the weight, and about 300% more than what an iPad can do (conservatively,) because it runs a real desktop OS. The cost-benefit is there. People don’t seem to be looking at it as a replacement for multiple devices, but they really should.

    • airmikee99 says:

      New niche products always have an uphill battle. Look at early designs for tablets, like the Apple Newton, it had an eleven year life cycle that ended more than 10 years before the first iPad was released. Or look at all of Google’s failed products, like Buzz.

      The Surface Pro 2 hardly matches the Lenovo Y500 gaming laptop, so come this Christmas I’ll be picking up a new laptop, because no tablet comes close to doing what I would need it to do.

      • Juke says:

        Admittedly, the Surface won’t fit the bill if a gaming laptop would be your sole PC gaming hardware. I had never bought a laptop without a discrete gaming GPU before getting my Surface Pro, but ultimately decided that the games it COULD play were more than enough for my mobile gaming needs. The desktop PC handles the rest. But that’s not everyone’s situation.

        P.S. RE: those type covers; they’re the slickest-looking keyboard solution for the Surface, but I freely admit the price on those is painful. But any Bluetooth keyboard can get the job done admirably. Bluetooth M/KB that stay in the bag if I’m just goofing off in tablet-ville, but come out when it’s time to work/game work great for me.

  23. 7rigger says:

    I bought a Surface pro about a year ago, for use on the train and for artsy stuff – I had the galaxy note tab and it was lighter and with a better battery life, but no decent painting programs. Being able to use any of my 300+ steam games plus Photoshop/Maya on the move, or do any regular tablet things is a blessing. I wish they’d release some kind of add-on for more battery life though.

    I do feel a little better for knowing that there’s very little difference between the original and the ‘new’ surface 2 – mine has an i5 rather than a kneecapped i7.

    In short, it’s actually a pretty damn good device if you have the need, but if you have the space for a laptop and you don’t travel much, or paint/draw either, then I really couldn’t recommend it

    *Edit* I just realised it can’t quite run ALL of my steam games, but it’s certainly no slouch either

  24. jlgroves1 says:

    in tf2 the other day there was a guy dominating half the server who claimed to be playing on a surface pro 2. If he was telling the truth that would almost be enough to justify this as a gaming capable device for me.

  25. binkbenc says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I absolutely love my original Surface Pro for most of the (toilet, new baby, old man) things that Alec mentions here. I’m still happily playing through a ridiculously large backlog of ancient games, so I haven’t had any issues with the graphics chip in the little pad o’ wonders being too skimpy. One thing I do, though, is plug it into my TV/monitor when gaming, otherwise I find the poor dear runs a bit hot.

  26. dogsolitude_uk says:

    I think you’ve nailed it as far as the unique Selling Point goes: it is a full Windows PC. It makes an iPad look like a toy. I could use Ableton/Visual Studio on it on the train.

    The full-windows compatibility of the Surface Pro 2 would make it a complete no-brainer for me, if it wasn’t for the price. If it was less expensive, I’d have one in a trice. It would be great for using Fritz Chess on, and it got me wondering what playing something like Europa Universalis would be like on it. The form factor would suit stuff like Civ and strategy games I think.

  27. LionsPhil says:

    I can download anything, I can open anything in whatever I want to open it in, I can plug a gamepad, a keyboard and/or a mouse in and it’ll just work, and I don’t have Ghost Steve Jobs or Unsmiling Eric Schmidt standing in the way of any of it. The iPad’s going on eBay, put it that way.

    Welcome to open platforms.

    And you should totally give IE a decent shot at it. It’s a lot, lot less dreadful than it used to be—in particular, MS have actually caught up or leapfrogged most of the others in terms of its security model. (Yes, like Chrome, it isolates away each tab, but does it into low-integrity processes; it’s really good, clever stuff.) It’s even not bad at standards compliance. I like it when Microsoft get scared—they pull their finger out and the smart people manage to get things done.

  28. tehfish says:

    A surprisingly interesting article :)

    As others have mentioned though, the price is the killer here.

    Non-touchscreeny, but i’ll stick with my little 11″ Thinkpad ultraportable… has most of the portability and gaming ability as this, but only cost me ~£300ish

  29. Tams80 says:

    In regards to writing and drawing, Microsoft have followed the rather stupid trend of going with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The smaller the display, the more a more square aspect ratio matters. At 10.6″, 16:10 makes more sense.

    /TabletPC enthusiast rant

  30. Brosepholis says:

    I got one because it’s the perfect device for playing Osu!, which I doubt this website will ever cover, despite it being a very popular PC exclusive.

  31. DrScuttles says:

    To echo a vague sentiment already expressed in the above comments, £800 is a lot of money to spend so I can play XCOM on the loo. No, with an elaborate and housemate-baffling mirror setup coupled with a wireless keyboard and mouse I’ll be just fine.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Now, I’m imagining your housemates wandering around the house, randomly blocking your game and catching brief flashes in the mirrors of you, sat astride the throne

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      I hope you have either a system to positively pressurise the rest of the house or a good brand of air freshener!

  32. Grovester says:

    I was going to post something in the forum about the Surface Pro 2 but I see that it would be redundant now.

    I have to say….it’s pretty damn good. Not great, admittedly, but unlike iOS and Android, I’m finding I’m liking it more and more as I get used to it, rather than slowly getting annoyed with iOS’s restrictions and Android’s inconsistency and appalling design. Maybe I’m cutting it more slack because I’m so used to Windows (and therefore work around problems), or maybe it’s just a more versatile device. That can run pretty much anything (sensible) that I’ve thrown at it.

    And I get to play Civ V on the train. Proper, beautiful, Civ 5. I even sat there messing around on Train Simulator 2014 for a laugh, for the incongruity of playing a train simulator on a train.

    And then I watched something on the proper iPlayer app.

    Then I watched something I’d just copied over from my PC using the media player of my choice, rather than something I’d had to download and pay for because the Android one was crap.

    As for cost – the 128Gb one is nearly £800, but then again, an iPad Air (with 4G) is £739, a 4G card ain’t exactly much, and you can run whatever you like on a Surface Pro. But yes, it’s expensive.

    And you can’t play anything requiring mouse + k/b simultaneously easily (The Walking Dead is just about possible, but not recommended for the commute – trust me on this one. The old lady next to me was rather peturbed).

  33. SuicideKing says:

    Was thinking of suggesting this to my dad, now i probably won’t. Thanks!

    Sick of Windows Phone 8 anyway.

  34. rfa says:

    I think, given now all I have is a laptop (i7, 8GB, GT 540M 2GB) that likes to turn itself off after 15 minutes of gaming one of these (Surface Pro 2) and a SteaMachine under the TV should cover all of my PC gaming needs.

    What is Civilization V like with touch?

    EDIT: Is it possible to dual boot (Linux)?

    • jrodman says:

      Dual booting on current flash storage can feel somewhat cramped, especially when modern windows is on one of those partitions (10 gigs and rising).

      However it appears to be not a huge challenge to get it installed since full-featured windows is running on this, including disk partitioning software etc. link to askubuntu.com

      Depending upon the recentness of the linux you’re installing, you may have to disable UEFI ‘secure boot’, or microsoft’s trojan horse into the boot sequence. But they were gracious enough to let us turn it off on their hardware.

      Of course there’s the question of what linux environment would feel reasonable, and how much work it will be to get everything working acceptably (I don’t see anyone discussing the stylus, for example). You’d have to accept this is something you’d install for the fun of tinkering with it and figuring out how to make things work, like Linux was on normal PCs back in 1993.

  35. thecolonel says:

    I don’t use it for gaming (my rig’s ATI card is nearly the size of the surface) but I ahve a Surface Pro 1/Original/Plain/Whatever that I use for the cloud based system I use for work. After using it for a few weeks I can’t understand why anyone would buy an iPad. It kicks the living crap out of it. The tablet version of IE even works well. (Hell just froze over).

  36. Rindan says:


  37. psepho says:

    I thought SIR-FACE was Jim’s new game?

    Out of interest, could you install Windows 7 on one of these? I have been thinking of replacing my netbook that I use on the train for gaming, writing and programming. However, Win8 fills me with dread…

  38. Xantonze says:

    I don’t get the fuss about the i7… Surface Pro 2 has a core i5. There’s no i7 version.

    • Sakkura says:

      Wait, really? *Checks* … Alec, I am disappoint.

      I just assumed he was right, I haven’t checked the Surface Pro 2 since it isn’t available in my backwards peasant country yet.

  39. melnificent says:

    I have a surface pro 128gb and it’s a pretty nice games machine for travelling with. Provided you have realistic expectations of its gaming ability. Resolution on 3D games shouldn’t really be higher than 768 or the frame rate tanks. 2D 1080p is fine. It is an integrated gpu after all.

    Skyrim is playable with a pad attached.
    Civ5 using touchscreen only is fantastic and makes you feel more like a god than it should.
    The other week I played Stanley Parables with the cover and a mouse attached (touchpad is awful for gaming) for 5 hours before getting a battery warning.
    Uplink using the pen is fun too. Though the steam version seems to hate every other machine I own.
    Lego Marvel on a tablet, why yes thank you very much.

    Windows 8/8.1 isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s a full PC, install something else if you want.

    Battery life can be drastically improved by setting your CPU to 75% max. This disables the turbo and doesn’t seem to impact framerates.

  40. Jakkar says:

    For those thinking about this mobile toy gamey art browsy chatty phone plate business, I’ve personally been tremendously happy with my acquisition of a Galaxy Note 10.1. Android Jelly Bean. I’ve three different browsers installed upon the thing after a long wrestle with getting flash content functional in ordinary browsing (more Adobe’s fault than Samsung or the Android OS, I think), but that illustrates the pleasure of Android in comparison with Windows or Apple; I installed three bloody browsers, and had a wide selection of others with tempting feature-sets. And they’re all sitting there fully functional at the tap of a finger, along with near a hundred games from various bundles or free promotions or tiny purchases.

    Then there’s Artflow, my painting program of choice – because the Note 10.1’s finest feature is that it’s basically a WACOM Bamboo inside a fully functional iPad sized tablet.

    Good cameras, good screen, frankly fantastic battery life, lasting a week on standy or a full day of heavy usage without a charge as long as I don’t push the screen brightness to its vibrant maximum, good performance with every indie game and toy I’ve tried on it… I don’t have a single complaint. I’ve very rarely in my pessimistic, grouchy, fault-finding life had not a single complaint.

    Think about it, I strongly suggest, if you’re an arty type, want mobile browsing (on the more expensive version – I have the cheapy non-web one, which I simply tether through my phone :)), Android gaming (ensure you grab Call of Cthulhu: Wasted Lands, the turn-based tactics WW1/Horror game), or just love shiny toys.

    One of my favourite experiences with it was visiting a local waterfall here in South Wales with it, too far up into the valleys to have mobile internet but snapping photos with this weightless plate in my hands, browsing and editing them with a pressure sensitive pen, then sending them off to Facebook and friends during the drive home through more technologically saturated regions…

    Delicious toy. And from the sounds of it it costs about a third what dear writer above paid for his horrible laptop/competent tablet hybrid monster thing.

    • Don Reba says:

      I have strong doubts that an ARM device can handle high-res painting. What’s the situation with lag?

      • Jakkar says:

        Depends upon your definition of high res. I’m told only the latest Note 10.1s can handle a 4kx4k canvas in Artflow due to some or other artificial limitation, but I’ve run canvasses of around 2kx1.5k pixels without issues. Most programs limit the number of layers you’re permitted, but several have a remarkably large undo buffer.

  41. Don Reba says:

    It does sound like it is shaping up rather nicely. I expect Microsoft to finally get it right in the third iteration, as usual.

  42. RProxyOnly says:

    Everything you said about it sounds like a pain in the arse. The only bright spot is mobility.. however if it came to a choice of buying this to play games on the pan, I’d rather shit in a bucket in front of my PC, smell and all.

    I appreciate the fact that you like it.. but it’s price, specs, maker and ultimate unuseablity makes me want to throw stones at people dumb enough to buy one.

    I’m surprised you had the obvious bad time you did, trying to put it to everyday usage, then had the balls to write positively about it…. You do know stupid people listen to you, yeah? I guarantee you’ll be responsible for a few sales of this thing.

    Finally… to put such a loathed product besides such a beloved one…. That’s a particularly underhanded technique in advertising (and psychology) to get people to feel better about whatever the pos is.. I’m wondering why you felt the need to do it. I’m not sure persuasion to go in this particular tech direction is a good thing or that it’s entirely responsible to attempt it.

    Anyways I don’t hate you for writing the article… but I do kinda hate your taste in tech and your willingness to try to persude some that it is actually a good idea despite the demonstrable reasons it’s villified for.


    If any one wonders, or cares, why I’m so dead set against this thing, it’s because this is what MS and intel want to reduce our beloved full featured PC’s to.. and any acceptance towards this new ‘computer’ model, is a nail in the coffin of our fully configurable, upgradable platform of choice. To be pefectly clear here..I’m not talking about ALL tablets.. just ones that want you to pretend they are real PC’s.

  43. MeestaNob says:

    Yes, I keep walking past these in the shops thinking it’s “almost” worth considering, but Windows 8 and early adopter hardware worries have held me at bay. I cant help but wonder what a more lightweight Linux version of this would work like, maybe a SteamOS version? That WOULD be a steambox I’d be interested in…

    • LionsPhil says:

      There is nothing “lightweight” about a useful desktop Linux stack, and that is what you would have to compare against. (Every so often they go through an iteration of rewrite-from-scratch “lightweight” components, which then grow to be as heavy as the last lot because “lightweight” doesn’t actually have the functionality to solve people’s problems. LightDM, for example, is a hell of a lot “fatter” than old XDM, and I think it may actually be more capable than Gnome’s display manager these days.)

      Plus I’m pretty sure most Linux people, if asked “is X.Org lightweight?”, would laugh and start talking to you about DirectFB Wayland.

  44. Brothabear says:

    Congrats a 2-3 more surface pro’s and you just bought yourself a new car lol….

    seriously tho Its supposedly a great device for “passive” consumption and workflow. Tho soon as you mention anything game based it sucks. However I CAN appreciate the fact that if you have everything else (not sure how you afford it just being a journalist on this site..) If you can afford it, then why not try everything. It gives you the most well-rounded opinion. You will know how much an Ipad sucks or how much a windows tablet sucks, or android devices.

    Yet to keep things going i will call you a Sellout. Because…its the internet.

  45. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    Needs the ‘Pictures of Alec’s House’ tag. Oh, and nice bokeh on photo 5.

  46. bill says:

    I think we need MORE posts about how much RPS hates windows 8. And more attempts at sneaking in snarky disparaging comments about windows 8 into every possible article. the 10 or 20 we’ve had so far haven’t been enough.

    In particular, we need more posts complaining about the metro design style that everyonoe clearly hates, despite the fact that everyone is copying it.

    Who would have thought a few years back that designers and even apple would be jumping on a Microsoft design trend?

  47. The First Door says:

    The Surface Pro really is a shame, because I can totally see where Alec is coming from. It really is a lovely device in so many ways… it’s just stupidly expensive.

    Also, I just want to say… I actually quite like Windows 8 on certain devices. I recently got a Ultrabook which has a touch screen and I’m loving Windows 8 on it. I don’t really use the Metro bit, but it’s so nice the touch works pretty well on desktop stuff. Being able to pause iPlayer by poking at it rather than using the touch pad is so nice! As are the little bits like Win 8 recognising when you have a new video/music player and offering you the option to change the default really smoothly.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      UI’s can look the same whilst being functionally very different. Fact.

  48. Tei says:

    I installed Gnome3 recently and had one of these “put the mouse/finger on the corner and a pretty menu shows”. Gnome3 is like a thing from the future. I finnaly disabled it, because I like a more traditional desktop. It strike me that OS designers are so confused, Do people really want OS’s to be hybrids tablets/pc? I think is a stupid idea, a hybrid will be a bad PC and bad tablet. Maybe some people would want that, a poweruser, until he find the “tablet” weights too much, eat batery way too fast, gets too hot, and you can’t watch movies comfortably in a tablet that weight that much.
    In any case Gnome3 is a great desktop, and I recomend it to everyone. Is really easy to install in Ubuntu. Theres a website that is connected to your desktop, with a “extensions market”. Once you have Gnome3 installed, you can go there and install/enable/disable extensiosn for your desktop, is a single click (so great!)… I was really impresed. Using extensions I reforged my Gnome3 to feel more like a classic desktop.
    This and a program called “tint2” that create a taskbar in the bottom. I was surprised how welll everything looked and fit with each other.

    • Don Reba says:

      Microsoft, for one, is actually being very explicit about its goals. Here is a how it sees the future: link to youtube.com

      The idea is that there will be a large variety of device form factors and desktop PCs will serve only a niche professional market. Touch will become the input method of choice for most applications.

      Personally, I have my mouse sensitivity set to maximum, so I can move the cursor across two monitors by moving my wrist a centimetre to the side. My most-used application, after Firefox, is Vim — I do most things from keyboard. It seems to me that either the OS will have to support proper mouse-and-keyboard UI for as long as it serves professionals or come up with something better than touch.

  49. vinnyq12 says:

    I would be getting excited about the huge back catalogue of mouse controlled games that I’m sure would work very well with this device. I’m talking about Fallout 1/2/Tactics, LucasArts Adventure games (or any other classic point’n’click adventure games for that matter), Age of Empire….etc. I’m sure the likes of Wasteland 2 will be mouse only capable as well all be it that the hardware might not be there yet.

    Note I said “I would be getting excited”, I’m not because of the price point. If this was priced at around £300 – £400 with the better keyword then it would be an instant purchase. For the current price I’d expect better RAM, GPU, battery life and the better keyboard.

    My body is ready Microsoft but my wallet is thin.

    • melnificent says:

      Most of the older games you mentioned use relative mouse position not absolute…. Touchscreen doesn’t work with them very well if at all… Telltale point and clickers so though.

      • vinnyq12 says:

        I did not know that. I’m sure there will be a way around it….I’m sure….

  50. MartinNr5 says:

    “Do not buy a Surface: it’s just a shit iPad.”

    Written like someone who has never used a Surface. Not to metion that the Surface 2 is massively improved.

    If you are interested in a Surface 2, I beg you not to take Alecs advice on the matter – a Surface is sooo much more than an iPad could ever be.

    I actually have a site where I review games that can be played on the RT devices but I won’t link to it for obvious reasons.