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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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Reader Comments:

Mon, Feb 11, 2013

The Surface Pro is a PC with a touch screen and a flimsy keyboard cover. You cannot compare the Surface Pro to an iPad or Android tablet. The surface Pro can do what a conventional laptop can do but you get laptop battery life in a smaller and lighter form factor. If you want ten hours of battery life then by a Surface, if you want true PC power then by a Surface Pro. Why are you complaining?

Mon, Feb 11, 2013

I currently use a MacBook Air for work. As we are a MS shop (don't get me started on why the Air was chosen) I run a Win7 VM to get work done. Battery life is roughly 4 hours if I'm using it constantly. If my boss came in today and offered a trade for a Surface Pro I'd do it without hesitation as I could run natively and not have to deal with idiosyncrasies of a VM and get the same battery life. Unless someone is a Apple fanboi I just don't know why they would chose the Air over the Surface Pro.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013

They also forget to mention the ability to have accessories in the future (touch keyboard for example) with extended battery life. This has already been hinted at, but not confirmed by Microsoft. These people really should do their research and jive the full story.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 80s Rocker

I think Barney (aka: MS hater) is still the editor, they just paid to use this guys name and picture. nothing has changed and Redmond Magazine needs to change it name to Cupertino Magazine. Seriously, no laptop gets more than 4-5 hours of battery life, and most business users will have it plugged in while at the office and only unplugged when mobile. Even at home if they are going to do a lot of work most people will plug it in. So for most users 4-5 hours is plenty, but you will have to charge it every night most likely. Which I have to do with my laptop now, so no difference except it is not a hybrid device.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013

You're all right about the battery life not being any different then any other similar system. What I find interesting about this article was the mention of the new lower powered CPU from Intel coming out in June, which will increase the battery life of any device Microsoft or other manufacturer's Windows unit. That by its self will make me wait until sometime after June before I consider buying a Windows 8 Pro device.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 Dan Iowa

"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." - I believe what you're saying is you've never owned a laptop, and you've never seen the Surface Pro. Hmmm... I guess I'll trust your judgement then?

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 Jeff Schwartz New York

I assure you I am not a Microsoft hater.My point was for the Surface Pro to be appealing to business users who are presuambly buying it so they can work remotely, the Surface Pro needs to work all day. I woulldn't pay that much (or more) for a MacBook Pro for the same reasons. I do believe this first version of the Surface Pro is aimed at showcasing what it can offer in terms of processor power and portability to business users. I the Surface Pro will have true appeal when it is equipped with Intel's Haswell processor, which prromises to offer much better battery life.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 TomH

How does the battery life compare to the Macbook Air? Its closest comparison. I don't believe you'll get a full business day out of that either so why do you expect it out of the Surface Pro? Not having a ton of Metro apps (yet) isn't that big of a problem since it'll run ANY legacy Windows app. Apparently the top 10 paid apps for iOS isn't on my top 10 list.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 bwebmasta

Well said on the above comment.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 Al

Seems like Barney was replaced with another Microsoft hater. Declaring something a flop before you even see it? What laptop can you buy for under $1,000 that gives you 10 hours of battery life? The trade-off of battery time will likely be acceptable to a lot of businesses that see value in a secure, easy to manage mobile device that does not force you to re-platform applications or stand up entirely new management and security solutions.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013

Nope - Don't need to be mobile all day. A four hour mobile session is fine for me. I connect my Ipad and Kindle to power whenever available. I will connect my Surface to power when available. BTW - I'm a teacher, and you ought to see the scramble for the "Wall Seats" where the power is for conventional laptops.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 Marc Wagner Bloomington, Indiana

Five hours of battery life is remarkable for any notebook computer. You want it to last twice that and still be as small and light as a tablet - and as fully functional as any other desktop OS? To put it bluntly, that is terribly naïve. The pundits like to claim that the long battery life of tablet is due to superior ARM technology but that is so much nonsense. Tablet batteries last longer because tablet operating systems are lame compared to full-function operating systems like Windows, MacOSX, and Linux. The capabilities, the features. the battery life, the weight, and the price of the Surface 8 Pro is virtually IDENTICAL to the MacBook Air. It is the same with the various Windows 8 ultrabooks. Whether or not an iPad or a Surface RT can meet all of your computing needs is a different question. If it can, then fine. If you need a more powerful device and still want the portability, you can go with a Surface 8 Pro, a MacBook Air, or any of a number of Windows 8 Pro Ultrabooks.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013

Forgetting the silliness of declaring something a "flop" before it goes on sale, I see trashing the Surface Pro largely on battery life ridiculous. At this point, it's competing largely with traditional WinTel ultrabooks. If you can get by on an iPad or Android tablet - great - have at it. For me, they are limited use even at a consumer level and useless to me for work. Win8 is immature and manufacturers are still trying to develop really compelling hardware for what I see as the future of computing. Funny the PC press never wrote obituaries for Android tablets even after years of extremely disappointing sales. Likewise, it'll probably take a few years to figure out the right Windows hybrid mix.

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