Surface Was Never Not About Compromise

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Otherwise, there wouldn't be two of them. They may look the same but couldn't be any more different. That's actually the Surface Pro's problem; it looks too similar to the Surface RT, which is a tablet first and foremost. This has lead to issues with how I believe it's being perceived. The fact you can buy a Pro without a keyboard only strengthens this misconception. As a result, it's being compared to the iPad, much like the Surface RT before it.

Does the iPad have a Intel Core i5 Processor? No, but the MacBook Air does. How much battery life can you get from one? "Up to five hours of the wireless web" on the 11 inch model according to Apple. The Surface Pro's battery life is more speculative. On one end of the scale there's David Pogue who "barely got 3.5 hours from a charge". On the other is Ed Bott who "consistently got between 5 and 6 hours". I would say on average it's more like between four and five hours, based on the many other reviews I've read in the last week. Not too dissimilar to the MacBook Air then.

There are two important differences though. The 11 inch Air's native resolution is 1366 * 768, which is significantly less pixels than the Surface Pro's 1920 * 1080 resolution. For the number fetishists, that's approximately one million more pixels on the Pro i.e. roughly twice as many. Secondly, the Pro, unlike the Air, has a touchscreen. recently compared the battery lives of two Windows 7 non-touchscreen laptops (Toshiba Satellite P845-S4200 and HP Envy 4-1030US Ultrabook) with their identically specced Windows 8 touchscreen equivalents (Toshiba Satellite P845t-S4310 and HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4). The results didn't reflect well on Windows 8 or a touchscreen's endurance. It's however unclear if the cause is Windows 8, the touchscreen or a combination. It may be anecdotal but based on my own experience upgrading a Windows 7 non-touchscreen laptop to Windows 8, I would be surprised if the touchscreen is completely innocent. Anyway, the crux of the matter is that the Pro's battery life can compete with the Air's, despite having more pixels and a touchscreen. Not bad.

Differences noted, besides battery life, there is another significant similarity. Price. The 64GB Pro with a Type Cover sets you back $1,030. That is only $30 more than the the Air equivalent, a similarity in price that isn't a coincidence. I would argue with a touchscreen, pen input, and a higher resolution, those extra $30 represent excellent value. But, it's that touchscreen that makes what I consider to be a reasonable, if not competitive, price seem unreasonable. Not when you could get an iPad for as little as $499. Microsoft haven't helped in this regard, by describing the Surface as a "no compromises" experience. People have interpreted that as a free pass to compare it to the iPad. So, I don't think they can complain when they do.

Microsoft needs to do a better job at communicating the differences between the Surface RT and Surface Pro. By doing so, they would decrease the possibility of the Surface Pro being unfairly judged by its appearance and not guts, as is the case at the moment. This isn't easy though. Not when the Surface RT has a Desktop and Office pre-installed. Retaining the Desktop on WinRT is misleading. People will expect all their Windows 7 apps to run just fine. And, then there's Office. By having it pre-installed, you increase the Surface RT's workmanlike qualities. In other words, you unintentionally detract from the Surface Pro, and make it a more confusing call for the consumer than it should be. I suspect once a 7-inch Surface RT comes to the market (with probably no Desktop or Office), differentiating between the two becomes more straightforward. Even more so, if the 10.6 inch Surface RT is dropped.