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Surface Pro: Ironically Powerful While Lacking Power

Microsoft's Surface Pro hybrid tablet-PC goes on sale tomorrow, and based on the early reviews, the debut model is impressive yet shaping up to be a flop. It appears Microsoft is strategically rushing this device out to showcase how powerful a tablet can be, even if it lacks enough battery power to get you through half a business day.

In other words, don't expect the Surface Pro to share the fate of the Kin, Microsoft's short-lived consumer shartphone that the company pulled from the market in 2010 less than two months after releasing it. Rather, consider the Surface Pro a prototype of what's to come later this year.

I haven't seen the new Surface Pro but I plan to check it out this weekend. I'm not sure I'd personally plunk down more than a grand for any PC but if I did, I'd expect in the range of 10 hours battery life as a non-starter. Sight unseen, I wouldn't even consider any portable machine for as little as $500 that couldn't get me through the day -- after all, what's the point?

In his review yesterday, New York Times columnist David Pogue noted the test unit Microsoft sent him only ran 3.5 hours, others have said it gets a paltry four-plus hours. Surely Microsoft can't believe these systems are going to fly off the shelf at the price of $1,129 (for a 128GB unit with a keyboard) with that kind of battery life. At least Microsoft better hope they don't sell like crazy because if they do, I predict they're going to have a lot of disappointed customers.

More likely Microsoft is releasing this lacking-in-power Surface Pro to show IT pros how ironically powerful a tablet PC running Windows 8 can be compared with competing devices which now rule the roost, namely iPads, Kindle Fires and Android-based tablets.

With the Surface Pro's Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processors, Microsoft can now stem the bleeding and showcase to CIOs how a Windows 8 tablet can do things that a low-power ARM-based devices can't do, like running Photoshop and running other processor-intensive apps.

In a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) chat Wednesday, Panos Panay, the Microsoft corporate VP leading the Surface Pro engineering team explained why the company decided to sacrifice power for more power, so to speak.

The product was designed to take full advantage of Windows 8 coupled with the Ivy Bridge core processor from Intel. We created a product that did not compromise speed, performance in any way. With that, we wanted to be the best notebook/laptop product in its class, but still deliver you the tablet form factor. This product is optimized in every way to take advantage of the full third generation core i5 it runs, yet give the best battery life. If you compare it to say a MacBook Air, you will quickly see that pound for pound in battery size vs battery life, you will find optimizations that puts Surface best in its class. That said we picked a smaller battery to be sure we were able to give you the same performance and to keep it thin. This kept the weight under 2lbs, and still kept it thin enough to take advantage of our great Windows work for inking and give you a great inking experience (like pressure sensitive inking, ability to do kanji, great sketching). While these tradeoffs are challenges as much as they are opportunities, we think given the performance and experience you will be getting, it is an exciting product.

I'm still not buying it and others, like All About Microsoft blogger and Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley, aren't either. Come June when Intel is expected to release its 7-watt Haswell processor, touted to offer the most significant boost in battery life yet, that could be a game changer. If Haswell lets Ultrabook manufactures, including Microsoft, to deliver these new truly high-power systems -- that could raise the stakes for the Surface Pro and Windows 8 Pro.

That's why the initial Surface Pro may be a dud, but it's certainly not headed down the path of the Kin.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/08/2013 at 1:15 PM


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