Surface Pro 2 as a dev machine

17 February 2014

Just over a week ago, I finally managed to get myself a Microsoft Surface Pro 2.

I intend to use it as my primary development machine, as well as for Office 365, web browsing, entertainment (e.g. Netflix) and all other general purpose computing needs.

The model I got has 256GB storage with 8GB RAM, along with a Type Cover 2. When the Dock becomes available in the UK, I'll get that too.

In this short review, I'll be concentrating almost exclusively on what the Surface Pro 2 is like to use as a dev machine, rather than its suitability as a laptop replacement.

The verdict after one week

Let me get straight to the point. After a week of using the Surface Pro 2, I'm delighted to say that it's become my machine (and not just for dev work) of choice. I'm not even tempted to boot-up my year-old, i7-based Lenovo laptop. In a very short space of time, the Surface has replaced both the laptop and Asus VivoTab Smart Windows 8 tablet I had been using. So, I'm now essentially using just two devices: the Surface and a Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows Phone.

General impressions

The overriding impression you get from the Surface Pro 2 is one of quality. It's a beautifully designed and engineered device. Compared to my Asus tablet, it feels solid, well-built and completely flex-free. When I pick the device up by a corner there's no worry that it will flex under its own weight, potentially causing cracks in the screen or internal circuit boards. My Asus tablet always felt very fragile in this respect.

While I wouldn't describe the Surface as light, it's certainly not heavy. I can comfortably hold it in my hands for several hours while browsing, reading, etc. Personally, I actually like the fact that the Surface is not super-super thin and light. I get the impression that the device can withstand the kind of knocks and accidents that are bound to happen in normal usage.

The Surface's screen is absolutely amazing! In particular, text looks incredibly crisp and clear. Before the device arrived, I strongly suspected that for serious work I'd have to hook it up to an external monitor most of the time. Although I do this, it's actually very comfortable to work using just the Surface's screen and the Type Cover. This means I really can work anywhere I want.

What's it like to use Visual Studio with the Surface Pro 2?

Using the Surface Pro 2 with Visual Studio 2013 is even better than I'd dared to hope for!

The Surface is perfect for my usage of Visual Studio 2013, which is a mix of Windows Phone 8 (C#/XAML), Windows 8 (C#/XAML) and ASP.NET MVC. I've not experienced any issues or performance problems. The Surface is always responsive and feels pretty much equivalent to my i7-based Lenovo laptop, which also has 8GB of RAM and a solid state disk drive. I've had three Phone emulators running at the same time with no problems. I also use the ReSharper 8 plugin, which can definately impose a bit of a burden on lower-spec machines. However, I didn't notice any problems or delays of any kind.

Screen size

As noted earlier, I thought the small Surface screen would be a problem. In fact, I often prefer to work without an external monitor being connected. The Surface's screen resolution is so good that code looks beautifully crisp and clear. Even working in the XAML designer looks great, as the following screenshot shows:

Keyboard and Mouse

I quickly discovered that I preferred to use the Type Cover 2 keyboard, rather than connecting a USB keyboard. For me, the keyboard is comfortable to use and the keys have just the right amount of travel, allowing me to type faster than with most keyboards I've used.

I got the Surface-branded Arc Touch Mouse, which uses Bluetooth. This works very well, and allows me to keep the USB port free for things like external disk drives, etc.

Battery Life

From my experience, Microsoft's claims about being to work a whole day without recharging seems to be true. I seem to get around eight to nine hours usage, and this while using the XBox Music app to play music in the background the whole time!

Touch

I was surprised at how well Visual Studio 2013 works wiith touch. For example, I can reposition the cursor in the text editor, select text to cut & paste, select menu items, open auto-hidden tabs, etc. And best of all, the new map mode scrollbars allow me to use touch to quickly jump or scroll to the required part of an open file

Conclusion

I can honestly say that, although I had high hopes for it, the Surface Pro 2 has actually exceeded my expectations. It's the perfect device for my kind of C#/XAML and web development work. Highly recommended!!