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Tough early reviews for the Microsoft Surface Pro

by Mark Tyson on 7 February 2013, 15:28

Tags: Surface, PC

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Announced many months ago, the Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro is on the brink of being available - customers in North America should be able to take one home starting from midnight on Friday.

The Microsoft Surface RT has been available for since October and it fulfils its requirements as a portable for both work and play pretty well; it has a good touch screen on which to enjoy touch-enabled entertainment, it’s not too big, not too heavy, possesses decent all-day battery life and comes with Microsoft Office installed so you can use it for serious tasks. However the Surface RT, by all accounts hasn’t sold very well.

RT or Pro, the choice is yours

Even before reviewers got their hands on the Surface Pro it was having a bit of a tough time. Pre-hands-on people were questioning its price, storage capacity, portability (compared to “standard” tablets) and its potential battery life. However users were optimistically looking forward to something that may be able to fulfil Windows 8 promise of the best of both desktop and touch interfaces.

What the reviewers said

Reuters summed up the tone of the plethora of reviews already out for the Surface Pro as “largely negative reviews, casting a shadow over the software group's hopes to take a bite out of sales of Apple Inc's iPad and MacBook Air.”

Looking firstly at the more negative opinions, ABC News was quite critical saying “As a tablet, the Surface Pro is not as strong as its competitors. It's larger, the battery life can't compete and still lacks critical apps. As a laptop it's hampered by its smaller screen size, lack of a good mouse option and the fact that it doesn't really sit on your lap. Putting the two together results in a breed that's simply not as compelling as separate tablets and laptops.” The reviewer surmised owning both a tablet and a Windows laptop is a better option.

Gizmodo also pooh poohed the Surface Pro as “ultimately the best answer to questions a lot of people haven't bothered asking yet”. In summary “the Surface Pro probably isn't worth it”.

The reviewer at The Verge was perhaps the most damning of the Surface Pro’s prospects “Who is this for? Even a well-executed Surface still doesn't work for me, and I'd bet it doesn't work for most other people either.” Harshly it was surmised that the Surface Pro is “too big, too fat, and too reliant on its power cable to be a competitive tablet, and it's too immutable to do everything a laptop needs to do. In its quest to be both, the Surface is really neither.” Ouch.

On the positive side of things The New York Times said “there's a lot to admire in Microsoft's accomplishment” and that it “strikes a spot on the size/ weight/ speed/ software spectrum that no machine has ever struck”.

ZDNet also concentrated on seeing how the Surface Pro could be seen as an ideal computer for some people. Calling it a; “brilliant, quirky, flawed” computer. For some mobile office workers the writer saw scenarios in which “The Surface Pro absolutely shines”. The review concluded that “In short, this is a great product for anyone who's already committed to a Microsoft-centric work environment”.

Microsoft responds

Microsoft’s Panos Panay and his team have already responded to many of the issues and questions raised about the Surface Pro via a Reddit Ask-me-Anything session. When discussing the shorter than ideal battery life he said that the Surface Pro offers the best possible compromise possible between Intel compatible power and portability.

Moving onto the subject of storage space Panay said “Initial reports out regarding available disk space were conservative (eg. 23GB available on 64GB and 83GB available on the 128GB system), however our final production units are coming in with ~6-7GB additional free space.” So obviously Microsoft has tweaked something there. He also pointed to the “ability to extend your storage via microSDXC, USB 3.0 and SkyDrive”.

Initially the Surface Pro will be available in both 64BG and 128GB versions at $899 and $999 respectively. Buyers are expected to stump up another $120 for a keyboard accessory. Meanwhile on Microsoft’s UK site the Surface Pro is still described as “coming soon”, no dates or prices for us as yet.

HEXUS Forums :: 26 Comments

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Time will tell
Should've made something with a built in sliding keyboard (see the ASUS Slider for the epitome of good keyboard-tablet deisgn, IMNSHO). If it's meant to be a “Pro” device I can't see many users not wanting a keyboard, and having to shell out an extra $120 for an essential is just ridiculous.

I'm also of the opinion that a 4:3 device would've looked better, but that's a personal preference as much as anything. If someone brought out a decent 4:3, 10" tablet with sliding keyboard they could have my money :)
I love the concept, not impressed by the execution.

Looking forward to see what other manufacturers do in this segment. I think I will eventually end of with a Windows 8 Pro convertible tablet of one kind or another. I need to be able to do proper Office work on it when I'm away from home so am reluctant to go with an Android tablet as a replacement for my netbook.

Also I'd be replacing a netbook, I don't really need a huge amount of power. I'm pretty sure an Atom would do rather than a Core processor, especially with enough RAM and a SSD rather than a clunky old hard drive.
I wanted one when I first saw it, I think they are great bits of tech and definitely the kind of thing I want. I found 10“ ARM tablets to be a useless halfway house - not more portable than a laptop (still requires a bag) and not useful enough over a smartphone to be worth carrying. I tried one and ended up selling it but I do use my Windows laptop a lot so I reckon a Surface Pro type device is perfect.

The Surface Pro is powerful enough to replace my laptop (a 12” Dell), is lighter to carry than an Ultrabook and has the tablet mode and a stylus (love those things) which is quite good for cramped commuter trains and idling on the sofa. The battery life isn't a real issue for me, I'm rarely going to use it more than 4 hours in a day, and if I am away from home that long I have a big enough bag for the power supply and I'm almost never 4 hours between access to sockets.

What's killed it for me at the moment is a few things, firstly the cost of the type keyboard - it's a bloomin keyboard FFS, no battery, no frills… a normal keyboard, price takes the piss. Other manufacturers keyboards is a dock which adds ports and an extended battery for similar money!

No 3G option… can workaround that but it's a nice to have, the sticks are so bulky sticking out the side and prone to being knocked/bent - I can imagine it's worse in a tablet so I'd have to get a MiFi or something or destroy my phone battery making a hotspot, neither is as quick or convenient.

Worst of all though all the reviews say it's nigh-on useless on the lap, especially in cramped conditions… meaning I'm going to struggle to work on the train or out and about unless I get a table-like thing - which is hard-to-impossible sometimes.

I've looked at the Samsung ones, Asus Taichi, etc but all seem either heavy, bulkier or just broken in some way or another. I want a Surface size device, with an Asus Transformer type keyboard dock thats *just* heavy enough to stop it falling backwards - careful battery positioning and weight distribution should sort that out.
I was really looking forward to the surface pro, until I discovered it lacks a track pad. I'm also put off by the stand thing which means (as far as I can tell) that it wouldn't work as a LAPtop. I do like the detachable keyboard though, we already have an old style laptop / tablet where you turn the screen round and lay it over the keyboard. Its good, but is rather heavy as a tablet and I think shedding the keyboard is a good way to reduce the weight.