Blog Post

No surprise: Microsoft Surface Pro arrives to a mix of cheers and jeers

My calendar says it all this morning: Microsoft’s(s msft) Surface Pro is available for sale this weekend, starting at $899. That means the early reviews are in to help consumers and enterprises see if this was worth the wait.

The device’s little cousin, Surface RT, launched in October to generally mixed reviews and many waited to see what the Pro experience was like. Here’s a roundup from some of the reviews, tweets and comments I’ve seen so far. I’m withholding final judgement on the Surface Pro until I spend time with one myself, of course.

Let’s start with the good

Some of the more positive comments have come from AnandTech, Computerworld and TechCrunch.

AnandTech, which I find always provides some of the best technical reviews of products, says this in the lengthy post:

“If you’re shopping for an Ultrabook today and want that tablet experience as well, Surface Pro really is the best and only choice on the market. If however you do a lot of typing in your lap and in weird positions, a conventional notebook is better suited for you. The same goes for if you’re considering a tablet for reasons like all-day battery life or having something that’s super thin and light.”

Battery life seems to be a common theme of concern with run-times in reviews ranging from just under four hours to approaching six, depending on the usage activities. Late this year, Intel’s next-generation chip should help with that aspect, so for now, road warriors may want to bring their Surface Pro power cord along.

Noted analyst Michael Gartenberg, writing for Computerworld, generally likes what he sees, provided you look at the device for its intended purpose and market:

“I’ve been a Surface Pro user for a few weeks now, and what I have found is that it is the best articulation of Microsoft’s vision for Windows 8 and how the PC and tablet experiences can meld on one device.

“While it might not be the device for the masses, it is the device that points the way for Microsoft’s future.”

Really, that’s what Surface Pro — and Surface RT, to a degree — is all about: Microsoft’s effort to move beyond the legacy ideas of a personal computer and towards the idea that a tablet can be a full PC in a new form factor.

John Biggs at TechCrunch may be the most enthusiastic of the bunch, leaving his MacBook(s aapl) behind for a week and not missing it all that much.

“In short, the Surface Pro is so good that it could drive Windows 8 adoption with enough force to make people reconsider Microsoft’s odd new OS. Microsoft bet the farm on a new paradigm and it needs a champion. Surface Pro is the right hardware for the job.”

A common theme: poor battery life and compromises

Not everyone saw the good amongst the bad, however. Laptop Magazine offers the most negative conclusion I’ve read yet, with Surface Pro earning 2.5 out of 5 stars. The Ultrabook-like performance was welcome, but the device appears to be a jack of two trades and master of neither:

“While we like its design and Core i5 performance, there’s no getting around the fact that an $899, two-pound device with 4.5 hours of battery life is impractical for those who need or want to carry a tablet for extended periods of time. And, as a laptop replacement, the Surface Pro falls short, as both keyboard covers — neither of which are included — simply aren’t as good as a genuine notebook keyboard.”

Tech site Engadget follows suit on the compromise aspect of Surface Pro. Based on their thoughts, it seems the market isn’t ready for a full Windows machine that relies heavily on touch, doesn’t like a hybrid type of device that works as both tablet and laptop or thinks the execution is simply a bad one.

“We’re still completely enraptured by the idea of a full-featured device that can properly straddle the disparate domains of lean-forward productivity and lean-back idleness. Sadly, we’re still searching for the perfect device and OS combo that not only manages both tasks, but excels at them. The Surface Pro comes about as close as we’ve yet experienced, but it’s still compromised at both angles of attack.”

Even noted Microsoft-watcher Mary-Jo Foley is riding the compromise bandwagon over at ZDNet. And that’s interesting to me because Foley owns and likes her lower-powered, less expensive Surface RT. Here’s the takeaway on her view of Surface Pro market appeal:

“I keep scratching my head over who Microsoft expects to buy the Surface Pro. It’s not as good of a tablet, in terms of weight/battery life, as the Surface RT is. But it’s also not as good of a Windows 8 PC as other OEM-produced devices, coming in at lower price points with better battery life and other specs.”

Add it up and what do you get?

So some good reviews, some average reviews and some poor reviews. When you total that up, what do you get? According to a few on Twitter, not much at all and perhaps too much compromise:

Again, I’m not sharing thoughts until I actually use the Surface Pro. But I can’t say I’m surprised by the compromise commentary: Microsoft’s progress has long been held back by its success in the past. By having such a large legacy user-base, any innovation going forward has to appease both new users as well as old. Anytime you try to keep both happy, you’ll likely fall in the middle at best.

6 Responses to “No surprise: Microsoft Surface Pro arrives to a mix of cheers and jeers”

  1. Spinedoc

    I’m first in line to buy one, that’s if the snow doesn’t swallow me first. Revolutionary device, but not for everyone. I think it will be popular, but remain somewhat niche until next year when they can give more battery life. The place to be at is the atom based tablets, which is why it’s a mystery MS didn’t use an atom CPU in at least the base model.

  2. Over Zeetop

    Funny, I see it as the perfect device for when I travel, since it means I don’t have to carry two devices. It’s got a better screen than any laptop under $700, and a better digitizer than (or at least as good as) any tablet on the market. It has the potential to be a tablet you can do real work on, whether its Photoshop/Lightroom and the rest of the Creative Suite, AutoCAD/Revit/Bentley/ProEngineer, Notion/Sibelius/Finale, Bluebeam/Acrobat, Audition/Audacity/Cubase/Reaper. Can you imagine how much better it will be to have MediaMonkey on your portable device instead of the glorified pocket players on current tablets? How about real Flash, Java(script).

    I’ll agree that battery life is going to have to get better, I wish the SSD was upgradeable, and I think not having at least a modular LTE option will hold it back. Still, it has the potential to remind every single PC user out there what they’ve been giving up by using an iPad. The longer I have the iPad, the more I realize how horribly limited it is. If the Surface lives up to the display quality hype, and they get a grip on the scaling (or its not as bad as they say), I suspect my iPad will take up permanent residence in my vehicle as a great GPS and media player, and nothing more.

    • That is probably why we should never suggest the Surface to anyone who you will have to be their IT support. They can screw it up to easily. That is pretty much the major of people out there. I truly believe that a limited device like the iPad and Android tablets have been a godsend.

  3. The surface would be nice at half the price.
    If a 10 inch netbook is sub 300$ and a dual core laptop with better perf (no low voltage -read low perf- part) is 400$ then Surface pro perf is worth 350$ and you add 100$ for the screen and touch (not thinking about BOM but about the value it brings to the user) to get to half the current price.
    The Intel chip is listed as a 225$ part at a die size of 118.1mm2 (smaller than the SoC in the iPad 4, granted on a different process). The extra NAND versus a 16GB tablet should cost less than 30$. No idea how much Intel asks for the chipset but it’s pretty clear what drives the price up and why any such device has minimal relevance.

  4. ” but it’s still compromised at both angles of attack.” That is typical of Microsoft Products. Take SharePoint. It tries to be all things to all people without being really good at anything (not out of the box).

    “I keep scratching my head over who Microsoft expects to buy the Surface Pro”

    Well, lots of people buy SharePoint.