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Today’s news that the American Consumer Reports team – equivalent to Which? in the UK – had pulled the Recommended awards from four Microsoft Surface products is a surprise, but not a shock.
Consumer Reports estimates, based on feedback from its consumers, that “25% of Microsoft laptops and tablets will present their owners with problems by the end of the second year of ownership”. It describes this as “poor predicted reliability in comparison with most other brands”.
Microsoft fights back, saying that CR’s results don’t tally with its own data. In addition to this, I would flag several things that perhaps Microsoft doesn’t dare to.
First is that you can’t compare the Microsoft Surface brand – which, until the Surface Laptop, always used a detachable design – with conventional, clamshell laptops.
I would expect the Surface Pro’s reliability to be poorer than a clamshell design because there’s more to go wrong. Connectors, stands, touchscreens in constant use – each of these is a potential weak point.
For CR to state that reliability is “poor” versus other brands doesn’t make sense unless you’re comparing against similar products. And, due to relatively low sales, I very much doubt that CR has enough data to make that comparison.
I would have more respect for CR’s announcement if it had said “poor versus other touchscreen laptops” but it doesn’t even say that.
The other point Microsoft makes is that “reliability improvements [have been] made with every Surface generation”. In other words, if you bought a first-generation Surface Pro then chances are it won’t be as reliable as the current fourth-generation offering.
That’s almost certainly true.
Should you buy a Microsoft Surface product?
So, should you buy a Microsoft Surface-branded machine? Personally, I’d say yes.
That’s mainly because the current crop of hardware is brilliant: the next issue of PC Pro, the magazine I edit, features a group test of touchscreen laptops, including every variety of Surface tablet and laptop; they all do extremely well. Plus, Microsoft delivers the best pen “experience” outside of the iPad Pro and Pencil.
What CR’s report does highlight, however, is that this type of product is less reliable than a conventional laptop. Touchscreens are more likely to go wrong. Any kind of connector that’s exposed could develop a fault.
Perhaps what it tells you most of all is that you should seriously consider extending the warranty to at least two years (something, incidentally, that John Lewis does automatically if you buy from them) and possibly three.