Just in time for Microsoft's Windows 8.1 operating system update, the company's flagship Surface tablet line is also getting a makeover. Or in the case of the $899 Surface Pro 2, it's more of a makeunder -- there's no flashy physical redesign, as with the thinner, lighter, higher-res Surface 2 (the updated Windows RT version that starts at $449).Of course, you're probably here because the Surface 2, despite its myriad improvements, isn't a real PC. Unlike that model's compromised Windows RT operating system, the Surface Pro 2 reviewed here runs the real-deal Windows 8.1, which includes full backwards compatibility with older Windows programs, not just the ones available in the Windows Store.In addition to having the operating system edge on its non-Pro sibling, the Surface Pro 2 also packs some internal improvements compared to the first-generation Surface Pro. A new Intel fourth-generation Core i5 processor -- along with some internal system tweaking by Microsoft -- has delivered notably improved battery life. The Pro 2 lasted nearly 7 hours in our admittedly tough battery test, versus just 4.5 on the original. Still not MacBook Air territory, but it's a worthwhile leap. Sweetening the deal is the Surface's ingenious detachable keyboard cover (available in flat Touch and real-key Type versions, both now with a handy backlight), which remains miles ahead of anything else available for slate computing.
But a keyboard cover isn't included in the purchase price, even though it's frankly crazy to buy a Surface without one. That $120-$130 add-on makes the Surface Pro 2's $899 starting price feel illusory. Further, that $899 is only for a 64GB solid-state drive (SSD) version, less storage than you'll find in most similarly priced ultrabooks. For a more reasonable 128GB SSD version, it's $999, and when you add in a Type Cover, you're looking at an investment of over $1,100 just to get started with the Surface Pro 2.The Surface Pro 2 is also entering a crowded market of Windows 8.1 PCs in all shapes and sizes that are either out now or coming soon. Among the closest competitor is Sony's comparably priced Sony Vaio Tap 11, which outshines the Surface Pro 2 in many ways -- it's thinner and lighter, despite having a slightly larger screen, and its included keyboard cover has a more traditional keyboard layout and a larger touch pad (that said, I like the magnetic clasp and wide kickstand of the Surface Pro 2 better).
In comparison, the still-chunky Surface Pro 2 is left feeling more like a Surface Pro 1.5, at least in terms of design. And yet, that may not be such a bad thing for Microsoft. The Surface Pro was intended from the beginning to show the way for PC makers to design and build better tablets, and it looks like that's actually starting to happen.The body of the Surface Pro 2 looks and feels almost exactly like the original version, and its measurements are the same. The body does have a couple of subtle changes, however. The logo branding on the back panel is different, reading Surface rather than Microsoft, and the built-in kickstand now adjusts to two different angles, making the screen easier to see from different positions. The original one-size-fits-all kickstand made the screen hard to see and interact with unless you happened to be sitting at precisely the optimal angle.
At the same time as the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft is introducing another new product, the Surface 2. This is the updated Windows RT version of the original Microsoft Surface, and it features a slightly slimmer body, an updated Nvidia processor, and a higher-resolution screen than the original RT version of the Surface. The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 share the same screen now, and it's been color-tuned for greater accuracy. While the Surface Pro 2 still comes in a slatelike dark titanium color, the Windows RT Surface 2 is now a lighter, silver color called magnesium. Overall, while I think the Surface Pro 2 is the more useful product, I wish it had gotten the same design love as the RT version.
The best part of the original Surface line was its optional snap-on keyboards, and both have been updated. The Touch Cover has flat keys that work, but they offer less tactile feedback than serious typists need, while the Type Cover has island-style keys that are shallow, but still very usable.The $119.99 Touch Cover 2 is about one-third thinner than the original version, but at the same time, more rigid for easier typing. The old system of one sensor under each key has been replaced with a full array of sensors, allowing partial keystrokes to be counted more easily and accurately, and supporting a handful of gestures.
The $129.99 Type Cover 2, with its full separate-key keyboard, is thinner as well, and remains one of the things people like best about the Surface. Its magnetic connection is powerful enough that you don't have to worry about it coming loose, and, while the closely packed keys take a little getting used to, it's comfortable and accurate for long-form typing. The touch pad is small, but responsive -- and you're clearly meant to use the touch screen for much of your navigation.Microsoft has also shown off a second kind of Type Cover that includes an integrated battery. Only slightly thicker than the standard Type Cover, this would allow the systems to run even longer by combining the internal battery and the secondary keyboard battery, an idea already used in a handful of Windows 8 laptop-tablet hybrids. A $59 Bluetooth adapter for the keyboard covers (yes, it's an accessory for an accessory) will snap onto the top of the keyboard and allow you to use it remotely as a Bluetooth keyboard. In the not-sold-separately department, as with the original Surface Pro, you also get an active-stylus Surface Pen that magnetically attaches to the power connector for transport.
Again, both the Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2 are backlit. Especially for a system intended for frequent travel, as a tablet is presumed to be, a backlit keyboard is practically required, as you can easily end up in a dimly lit coffee shop, airplane, or meeting room.The only real regret here is that the keyboard covers are not included with the $899-and-up Surface Pro 2, and remain an expensive add-on.A long time ago, laptops used to very occasionally convert into tablets but we never made a big deal out of it. They had rotating screens and touch, and were business-oriented. The problem back then was that these laptops weren't particularly useful most of the time unless you had specific applications in mind.One year into Windows 8, tablet-laptop hybrids are a dime a dozen. But the HP EliteBook Revolve 810 feels like a new spin on that old swivel-top design. It has plenty of company already, several examples of which are from Lenovo: the IdeaPad Yoga 11S, the ThinkPad Helix, and the ThinkPad Twist, the Twist being a very similar product to the Revolve in many ways with its own swivel-screen design.
Also, there's the problem of price: the EliteBook Revolve starts at $1,249 and our review configuration with 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) and Core i5 CPU costs a princely $1,449. When Apple's latest products undercut yours, you have a problem. And that ThinkPad Twist we mentioned just before starts at $849 ($899 as reviewed). The Revolve's higher price, albeit with an SSD, is hard to swallow, even with its Gorilla Glass 2-covered touch screen and vPro processor. Finally, there's the battery life: a disappointing sub-5-hour score on our tests means it's operating out of touch with the current PC landscape.
I liked the Revolve a lot at CES in January, but it's July now. An updated Haswell processor (with better battery life) and a lower starting price seem necessary, at minimum, to shoot the Revolve back into position as something I'd recommend. Right now, it's a good, sturdy little laptop that's just too little, too late; if it happens to make its way into your office's selection of business laptop upgrades, however, you won't be disappointed with how nice it feels. You'll just wish it had better battery life.
I remember the HP Folio 13 fondly: it was a compact business ultrabook that felt rock-solid and surprisingly comfortable. The EliteBook Revolve isn't the Folio reborn, but it has a bit of that feel in a smaller 11.6-inch laptop. It also happens to transform into a multitouch tablet, unlike other hybrids that are more like tablets that add separate keyboards to pretend to be laptops. The HP ElitePad 900 is an example of an Atom-powered tablet with laptoplike extras; the EliteBook Revolve 810, on the other hand, is a more expensive, ultrabook-level performance device on par with the Surface Pro and a host of other laptops like the Yoga 11S and the ThinkPad Twist and Helix.The Revolve is clearly a laptop that can pretend to be a tablet. It's nice-feeling all around. Nice being the operative word. Not mind-blowing, not supersexy. It still looks like IT department-issued equipment, but sports a clean-cut industrial profile.
A soft-touch business-rugged magnesium alloy frame is designed to take a mild licking, and indeed, the Revolve has been tested by HP for vibration, drop, dust, and temperature extremes, but it's not intended to be a true super-rugged machine. We didn't specifically test durability, but it's more solid-feeling than most laptops.
The Revolve, true to its name, has a screen with a center hinge that spins around, enabling the screen to flip over as the laptop is folded up so the whole package becomes a tablet. This is an old-fashioned idea: many pre-Windows 8 tablet laptops employed the same concept. It's a little more complex than the easy-fold hinge on the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, but it does make for very easy screen adjustment when planted on a table, for situations where you'd spin the display around to show a client or you want to watch movies without having the keyboard in the way. The hinge usually maintains position and opens smoothly, but it didn't always hold still when the base was shuffled around quickly. Swiveling the screen around into tablet mode is equally satisfying when it's used as a handheld device or as a kiosklike touch-screen-on-a-laptop-base.
Because the Revolve is a smaller laptop, the palm rest and touch-pad zones are sized down a little. But the backlit keyboard has been largely uncompromised, with solid, square keys going edge to edge without any needless cramping or extra keys. Key travel is deeper and better than on many ultrabooks. The spill-resistant keyboard has drains on the bottom tray for funneling away liquid, too. Below that, the clickable touch pad is similarly comfy to use.
The Revolve has an easily grippable design and lightish weight. At 3.02 pounds, it's lighter than the ThinkPad Helix 11 and ThinkPad Twist, but heavier than the 11-inch MacBook Air and Microsoft Surface Pro. It's nearly the exact same weight as the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S, but at 0.8 inch thick, it's chunkier than you'd expect.The top lid closes evenly with the front of the Revolve, but sits about a half-inch forward of the back edge, creating a little lip. It's reminiscent of the older Dell Inspiron laptop designs. The underbite is not very attractive.