Microsoft's Surface devices are already great, hopefully the next ones will actually be good

Reading time icon 7 min. read

Readers help support MSpoweruser. We may get a commission if you buy through our links. Tooltip Icon

Read our disclosure page to find out how can you help MSPoweruser sustain the editorial team Read more

BBC’s Sherlock features a protagonist who is undoubtedly a “great” man. He is intelligent, resourceful and analytical in such a way that people cannot help but be awed by him. Yet despite these positive traits, there are issues with his character — deep rooted issues that cause other characters to acknowledge him as one which is flawed. Specifically, one character remarks at the very start of the show “Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day — if we’re very very lucky, he might even be a good one”

That’s exactly how I feel about the Surface concept from Microsoft. I love the idea of the device. A “tablet” that can replace your laptop is a great device concept – much like the iPhones and iPods, these two form factors share a lot in common in terms of use case and functionality that it makes sense for them to be combined. With the Surface, you have a “tablet” for reading magazines, comics, and books during your leisure time, but you can also strap on a keyboard and get to work when the occasion demands it  Granted, it wasn’t seen as a bright idea when it first debuted, the initial Surfaces can be charitably described as unsuccessful. However, as soon as Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 3, the hybrids stopped being a joke of a device and started being something which people could take seriously as a new form factor, something which people looked forward to.

You only have to look at the clamor for a “Surface Phone” as well as that of a “Surface Band” to see the cultural impact of the Surface brand among tech enthusiasts as well as the confidence it inspires due to being a “high end” aspirational device.

[shunno-quote align=”right”]The most popular Surface devices weren’t reliable at the start[/shunno-quote]

My Surface has been my daily driver for a few years now, and I can appreciate Microsoft’s intention for it — however, as we move on to the next generation of Surface devices, it’s time to talk about the reliability of the past few Surfaces. Far be it from me to point out the obvious but the Surface, at least in its most popular iterations isn’t a very reliable device. [Note: I won’t be talking about Microsoft’s Surface Studio here because its very nature as a stationary All-in-One device precludes it from suffering many of the mostly power-related bugs that plagued the portable devices]

Surface Pro 3 users will remember the Surface Batterygate incident last year, whereby Surface users began to face sudden and unexpected battery drain on their devices. This bug applied to more than one battery supplier and was also exacerbated on some devices by a faulty firmware update.

Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book users aren’t left out of the fun, of course, the Surfaces experience hot bagging, issues with BSOD, unexpected battery drain and a host of other problems too many to catalog.  These problems are made worse by their unpredictability and ubiquitousness — by that I mean that there is no seeming reasoning behind which Surfaces are affected by these bugs, one Surface could be totally fine, and the other? A total meltdown.

Granted, while most of these problems were mitigated after months and months of firmware updates, they still remain to some degree or another.

On the Surface subreddit on Reddit, a Surface user explained his experience with the Surface and its bugs, stating that “They slowly start adding up to the point where you just don’t want to use your device anymore. I recently stopped using my Surface pro 4 and bought a MacBook Pro 13 2015. This device has everything I wish my surface had, no inconsistencies, works out of the box and they really pay attention to the small details. great battery life and lapability.”

Another went on to say “I agree on all levels. I love my Surface, I really do, but Windows 10 was so bad I stuck with 8.1 so it would work. The device has been great on 8.1 but after all the modding I had to do with drivers and such to make my computer reliable, I could have saved a bunch of time and just went with another device. I love my Surface but after this [experience] if the issues aren’t resolved with the Surface Pro 4 I’m just going to go with another Microsoft product (I love OneDrive too much to give it up). I just am so over the headache of my type cover, WiFi, and such just cutting out on me. It makes my computer virtually unusable at times and that shouldn’t be okay [for] such an expensive product.”

These are just two of many similar anecdotes that invariably crop up whenever the Surface’s reliability is mentioned. The users love it and think the world on it, but when push comes to shove they just can’t depend on it.

Now, I’ve had a Surface Pro 3 for the past three years (replaced two times so really just over a year each) and while I absolutely love the utility of the device, I cannot deny that sometimes it drives me insane.   I have experienced random and unexplained battery drain when off the charger and on the go to the extent that my Surface now sits near permanently on the charger — because otherwise, it lasts for two to three hours (making it near useless for working away from home unless done sparingly and within spitting distance of an outlet). I would upgrade to a Surface Pro 4, but after all the experience with the Pro 3 and the certain unreliability of the 4, the only option is to hold out for the Surface Pro 5 or switch to another PC manufacturer such as Dell or HP (both of which make fantastic Windows 10 convertible devices).

[shunno-quote]I want a Surface device that just works[/shunno-quote]

I’m not undermining the work Panos Panay and his team has done. Microsoft’s Surfaces are ultimately great devices. The form factor combined with the pen and ink functionality lets users do a lot with their devices, and Windows 10 is genuinely useful on the Surface. Yet, that isn’t enough for me. With technology, I don’t want to be troubleshooting my device constantly to understand why this isn’t working or why that isn’t working or wait for X update to fix  Y bug — I want it to “just work”.

The Surface is supposed to be a MacBook equivalent for Windows users: a perfect marriage of hardware to software. These reliability issues should not be happening to the extent that they are, and yet they persist. This year, Microsoft is almost certainly going to build a new Surface Pro 5 and a Surface Book 2.

If it’s anything like the others, it’ll be well reviewed and have a few bugs here and there which can be overlooked for a while. The key thing, however, is that these bugs will eventually get out of hand and prove detrimental to the experience. If Microsoft has taken on feedback from its last two devices, this hopefully isn’t going to be the case.

The Surfaces today are great devices, and I one day (if we’re very, very lucky) they will be good ones too.

More about the topics: editorial, microsoft, Surface, surface book, surface pro, Surface Pro 3