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Microsoft Surface Pro 2 – Apple faces competition

It may have a small market share, but Apple dominates the hardware market like no other company in history. Like it or not, the Californian company is the top brand in smartphones, tablets and PCs. It is ‘the one to beat’.

Now, for the first time this decade, Apple faces a real competitor.

Microsoft’s Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 devices offer a clear, credible alternative to the iPad – at least in the business market.

Microsoft Surface comes from another place, does different things

Microsoft’s Surface range is not a direct iPad replacement. It is an alternative path from laptops to a more mobile future. For the many businesses, it represents a smoother, more easily managed path from PC technology.

While Apple’s tablets do 80 percent of the tasks you might have once done on a laptop, Microsoft’s Surface 2 does closer to 90 percent of those tasks. The Surface Pro 2 brings that to 100 percent. There’s little a Pro 2 can’t do, that, say, a UltraBook can.

The Surface Pro 2 is as much a reboot of the laptop as a reinvention of the tablet.

Where the Surface Pro 2 scores

It may be a tablet, but the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 has a Windows computer pedigree. That makes it an ideal choice for anyone who needs to run Microsoft software – particularly for people who run multiple Windows applications.

Windows 8 is quite different from Windows 7, but most users will quickly adjust to the new operating system and its user interface.

Let’s put aside questions of whether moving to a new OS makes sense. For most users coming from Windows PCs, there’s less of an adjustment moving to a Surface Pro 2 than moving to, say, iOS or Android.

Disrupting the PC model

Although it has a Windows pedigree and moving from a PC isn’t disruptive, the Pro 2 manages to disrupt the laptop and tablet markets.

There are optional docking stations adding extra input and output ports. You can connect to a large screen monitor and a BlueTooth keyboard. In other words, you can replace an entire traditional desktop system with something that also functions as a tablet. In other words, it is a single device that can be a desktop, laptop or tablet.  That’s a powerful drawcard for businesses.

Don’t underestimate how much company CIOs and technology professionals will prefer spending money on something that takes users to the next level of mobility while also slotting right into existing systems.

My Surface Pro 2 experience

As a journalist, I often have to work on the move. The Surface Pro 2 is lighter and at least as portable as any UltraBook. The 10.6-inch touch screen compares with the displays on smaller UltraBooks. For simple tasks like writing or number-crunching, while surfing the web and dealing with incoming messages, it’s more than enough to get the job done.

You have to spend extra to buy a keyboard for the Surface Pro 2, the only sane choice is Microsoft’s Type Cover 2, which is close to the kind of keyboard you see on UltraBooks. It sounds like a trivial matter, but the two position kick-stand which props up the tablet on a desk is a smart addition to the tablet format.

While Windows 8 (or 8.1) is an acquired taste on conventional computers, it makes sense on the Surface Pro 2. It’s as if the software was designed to work on this hardware.

What’s not so hot?

The Surface Pro 2 works as a tablet, but I’d rate it behind the iPad Air in the pure tablet stakes. At 900g it’s heavy and uncomfortable for extended hand-held sessions. I also find the 16:9 screen format works fine on a laptop but isn’t so nice on a tablet. You may feel otherwise

Although the Pro 2 can, in theory, run most Windows apps, they don’t always run like well-designed tablet apps. And the tablet app store is relatively skinny. You’ll find replacements for all your favourite apps there, but be prepared for compromises.

Sometimes it feels buggy. Apps can crash and there’s inconsistency about the way things work, a gesture that works in one app might do something different elsewhere.

The Surface Pro 2 is expensive, especially when compared with the Surface 2. You can even argue it’s expensive when compared with Apple kit.

Microsoft hasn’t pitched its tablet as a head-on competitor with Apple’s iPad. The company is aiming at a different target with a different approach to mobile computing. But it is the first serious competition Apple has faced since it launched the first iPad.