Yesterday, Microsoft announced the next generation of its Surface line of computers: the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2.
The Surface 2 is a substantially upgraded version of the original Surface RT, while the Surface Pro 2 is an upgrade to the Surface Pro, but not to such a degree.
I have to say that I am somewhat underwhelmed by the new machines, despite the fact that they are indeed improvements over the originals.
Taking the Surface 2 first, the showstopper issue that I have with this machine is the simple fact that it does not run traditional Windows applications. It can only run the new Windows 8 Apps, and as far as I’m concerned, they are still a sorry bunch, with minimal functionality. That was what drove me to choose an Intel Atom-based tablet (the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2) last January. It’s a decision that I don’t regret, and I am still very satisfied with my choice.
I’ve said before that, if I don’t build my next desktop PC myself, I want to have a multi-functional device. It will be a tablet, running Windows 8 or its successors. It will have multitouch and a pressure-sensitive stylus. I will be able to carry it around and take notes/photos/videos on the move, and I’ll be able to plug it into a docking unit to support multiple monitors, a keyboard, and a mouse for my next generation Desktop. This is what I call Origami Computing.
The issue with the original Surface Pro was that it was running 3rd generation Intel processors, which meant that it had to be fan-cooled. Personally, I much prefer using a tablet that is fanless – that’s one of the reasons I like the ThinkPad so much. The new Surface Pro 2 still has fans, but it is using the new 4th generation of Intel processors (the Haswell line). That means that it has both increased processing power and lower thermal output, so the device should hopefully be both cooler and quieter.
Microsoft has also announced a docking unit for the Surface Pro line, so it becomes possible to consider it as a candidate for my first Origami device.
Nevertheless, I don’t think that the Surface Pro 2 is quite there yet for me. I am disappointed by the following:
Connected Standby is a new power-saving mode possible in both the new Atom and Haswell chips from Intel. It’s a sleep mode whereby the device can still respond to incoming events such as email, alarms or Skype calls, and wake itself up. My ThinkPad Tablet 2 has this, and I find it to be an invaluable feature. As far as I’m concerned it is a “must-have” for a modern tablet. As to why it is not present in the Surface Pro 2, it may be because it is not a fanless tablet; it may require devices to have passive cooling, although I would be surprised if this really is the case. After all, laptops have fans, and they can happily go into traditional sleep modes without problems. Connected Standby uses no more power than that, as far as I am aware.
Like the Surface Pro, the Surface Pro 2 does not have GPS. I find this surprising. Many tablets and convertibles (e.g. the ThinkPad Tablet 2) have this; why would a top-of-the-line tablet not have it? Perhaps Microsoft thinks that it is necessary to have 3G/4G/LTE mobile connectivity (the Surface Pro line does not have this) before GPS is provided. If so, they are wrong. It is true that Microsoft’s own Maps App for Windows 8 requires internet connectivity to get map data while on the move, but not all navigation applications require this. Indeed, Microsoft’s own AutoRoute and Streets and Trips applications are designed to run on Windows laptops without internet connectivity. All they need is GPS data to be supplied. But there again, Microsoft have shot themselves in the foot here, because these applications don’t use the new Windows 8 GPS data interfaces.
As for NFC, I would have thought that a flagship product, which Microsoft clearly consider the Surface Pro 2 to be, would have had it built in. True, it’s new, but it is making inroads into the smartphone market. I would have thought that Microsoft would have had it in their flagship tablet so as not to be behind the curve. (Update: it appears that it wasn’t included because it won’t work through the all-metal case of the Surface Pro 2. This may also apply to GPS as well)
One area where Microsoft are not being backwards in coming forwards is in their pricing of Surface. They are clearly following Apple’s line of setting premium pricing. If I were to specify a configuration suitable for Origami Computing, I’d be looking at a price of around €1,620 for a system with a Windows Experience index in the region of 6-7). This would replace a PC of roughly equivalent specs and performance (Windows Experience Index of 7.3) that I built for about €600. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll rush to do this.
So, all in all, I am rather disappointed. I’ll wait a year or two…