When it comes to business capabilities, Microsoft's second-generation Surface tablets were not created equal. The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 have similar names, but they're worlds apart in specs, hardware and software compatibility. Still, both devices have plenty to offer an entrepreneur looking for a productivity boost.
To help you pick the best new tablet for your business, we put together a head-to-head comparison of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.
Is Windows RT 8.1 a deal-breaker?
The biggest difference between the two new Surface tablets is the operating system each device runs on.
The Surface Pro 2 ships with a full-fledged copy of Windows 8.1, the latest version of Microsoft's desktop OS. The Surface 2, meanwhile, runs on an updated version of Microsoft's stripped-down mobile operating system, dubbed Windows RT 8.1.
Microsoft stripped "RT" from the name of its second lower-end Surface tablet — the first version was called the Surface RT — but the Surface 2 retains all the limitations of its predecessor.
Windows RT 8.1 looks a lot like Windows 8.1 but lacks the full desktop functionality of its bigger brother. Specifically, the Surface 2 is not compatible with legacy Windows programs. That means programs you run on your Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC will not work on the Surface 2, with one notable exception: The Surface 2 supports the desktop versions of the Microsoft Office 2013 suite.
In fact, the following Office programs come pre-installed on the Surface 2: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote. With the single exception of that Office suite, Surface 2 users must rely on Windows 8 mobile apps, which can be downloaded from the Windows Store.
By comparison, the Surface Pro 2 has all the functionality you've come to expect on a home or office PC.
If you rely on a specific piece of Windows software to keep your business running — and need quick access to that program when you're on the go — the Surface 2 is not the tablet for you.
That doesn't mean Microsoft hasn't made some notable tweaks to Windows RT 8.1 that make it better for business. Among the upgrades is a new feature that lets you view two mobile apps side by side to streamline your workflow. That means business users can now easily edit an Excel spreadsheet or Word document while checking email or performing a web search.
The dock makes a difference
The other big advantage of the Surface Pro 2 over the Surface 2 is compatibility with a new desktop dock.The docking station, a first for the Surface line, launched alongside the Surface Pro 2 and can be purchased separately for $200.
For business users, this accessory is key to unlocking the full potential of the Surface Pro 2. Users can simply snap their Surface into the dock to immediately take advantage of external peripherals like a full keyboard and mouse.
The dock is compatible with the Surface Pro 2 and the original Surface Pro only. It can't connect to the Surface 2 or the Surface RT. The dock packs three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet connection and audio input/output.
This feature also means no more squinting at a tiny tablet display while you're trying to work. With the dock, linking your Surface up to a full, 3840 x 2160 resolution monitor is a snap — no extra cables required.
With a Surface Pro 2 and docking station, business owners can seamlessly transition between a portable tablet form factor at home and a powerful PC setup at the office.
Pick the Surface 2 if …
The lower-end Surface 2 does have some distinct advantages in this matchup.
Starting at $449, the device is much cheaper than the Surface Pro 2, which retails for $899 and up depending on how much internal storage you want. That could make the Surface 2 a better choice for a cost-cutting small business owner.
The Surface 2 is also the thinner and lighter tablet of the two, so it's easier to carry on your commute. And unlike the Surface 2, the Surface Pro 2 does not come with a copy of Office 2013 pre-installed, so users of the higher-end tablet must purchase the apps separately.
The Surface 2 also has a longer-lasting battery — running for about 7-10 hours between charges, compared with 6-7 hours for the Surface Pro 2 — so it's a better travel companion.
But most of the advantages of the Surface 2 come at the expense of computing power. The Haswell-powered Surface Pro 2 is about 20 percent faster than its predecessor, with 50 percent better graphics performance than the original Surface Pro.
Meanwhile, the Surface 2 is speedier than the Surface RT but still lags slightly behind the performance of the original Surface Pro.
In some respects, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are equally matched. Both tablets pack sharp 6-inch, 1080p displays. Both devices are equipped with an adjustable kickstand to transform your tablet into a laptop hybrid, as long as you purchase a keyboard add-on, sold separately.
Both new Surface tablets are capable devices that can fit the needs of most entrepreneurs.
If it's power, versatility and backwards compatibility you need, the Surface Pro 2 is your ticket to increased productivity on the road. But if you need a long battery life and portability in your next mobile business companion, the cheaper Surface 2 might be a better pick.