Microsoft’s Surface Pro: Yep, this feels like a tough sell

When Microsoft’s Surface RT was released a little more than a month ago, one of the things we heard from some people in the tech industry was that they were waiting for the full-fledged Surface with Windows 8 Pro before seriously thinking about buying Microsoft’s new tablet.

Now we have key details on the Surface Pro, with the news yesterday that the pricing will start at $899 for the 64GB version, with the 128GB version going for $999. The signature keyboard covers will sell separately, which means another $120 or $130, roughly, if you want the TouchCover or TypeCover to turn the Surface into something resembling a notebook.

Microsoft’s target with the Surface Pro is the business market — aiming for CIOs who may see the benefits of a getting employees something that feels like a tablet/notebook hybrid rather than buying them a tablet and a notebook separately.

But I’m having a hard time envisioning a significant market for the Surface Pro. At these prices, the primary obstacle, in my view, is the notion that Surface can replace a notebook. The keyboard covers are interesting, and I’ve been using them both extensively with my Surface RT, but they’re just not the same as an actual notebook keyboard for work use on the go.

The existing Surface RT starts at $499 for a 32GB version without a keyboard cover. The biggest difference vs. the Surface Pro is that the Surface RT runs on the ARM-based NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, which requires less power but doesn’t support legacy Windows applications.

The Surface Pro runs on an Intel Core i5 processor, which means it supports legacy Windows applications but has about half the battery life of the Surface RT. As noted by Mary Jo Foley on ZDNet, that would translate into about four to five hours for the Surface Pro.

Surface Pro is also slightly thicker and heavier — about 2 pounds, compared with 1.5 pounds for the Surface RT. Surface Pro comes with 4GB of RAM (compared with 2GB for the Surface RT) and an included pen as an alternative form of input. (You have to buy a pen separately to use with the Surface RT.) Surface Pro doesn’t come with Office included, whereas Home and Student versions of Word, Excel and other Office apps come with the Surface RT.

Especially when compared to the pricing and specs for some of the new touchscreen Windows 8 ultrabooks, this feels to me like a tough sell for Microsoft out of the gate, particularly when the keyboard covers are an optional accessory, not bundled automatically.

Bottom line, the Surface Pro is a tablet, first and foremost, and not an inexpensive one.

  • Dave

    I think the biggest issue the Surface Pro will face as a laptop replacement is the short battery life since the core target market must be traveling mid- and senior-level executives. Price sounds high, but the smaller laptops my company buys for frequent travelers cost $1,000-$1,200 so the Surface Pro pricing is better than that. I had hoped that I could convince my IT people to buy me a Pro next time my laptop crashes, and use it in the office connected to a keyboard and monitor, but have a much lighter package when I travel. The lack of fully licensed Office products is an issue for personal users but not for enterprise users whose companies buy Office licenses on an Enterprise Agreement.

    However, the 4 hour battery life is not enough for anyone who travels. It is pretty bad actually and will cross this off my list.

    • Ryan Parrish

      Well, to give it better battery life you’d have to make it bigger and heavier, or give it a less powerful Atom processor. I think this strikes a very good balance.

      • Nathan O

        You’re right about that. If it was an Atom processor this wouldn’t make my ‘maybe’ list

  • http://frugalmechanic.com/ Eric Peters

    For the $999 you can get a Lenovo Yoga: http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/ideapad/yoga/yoga-13/ or for $1300 get it with 8GB of memory + the Core i7

    • Ryan Parrish

      Sure, but the Yoga book weighs almost 1 1/2 lbs more than the Surface Pro (including the few extra grams for either cover). It’s a very hard to beat deal for price, performance, and portability. I hope Lenovo, Dell, or HP all make solid competitors to the Surface Pro, but they’ve all lagged pretty far in affordable ultra portables. Surface Pro will be tough to beat in that arena for Windows 8 Pro machines.

  • danonym

    If you look at the specs for the Intel Core i5 (17W) and the Surface Pro’s battery life of 42 W-h, it’s hard to imagine that it will even last 4 hours.

    So you have to carry your keyboard, and you have to carry a charger. I’d rather have an ultra-book, to be honest.

    • Nathan O

      the keyboard is the cover (perhaps you haven’t seen MSFT terrible commercial.) Charger on the other hand is a pain. It would be nice if I could charge my Surface with a USB but MS has decided against that. I highly doubt the Pro version will be any different.

      • danonym

        If you always carry your cover (presumably a type cover) then where’s the difference really to an ultrabook, where the keyboard is attached? Where’s that whole tablet experience left?

  • raceurx

    I think I will stick with my RT, if I need to work on heavy programs I can remote into my desktop. MSFT really needs to price the pro’s at 750 and 850. They will get more interest at those price ranges. We all knew the prices would be higher than the RT but they overpriced it as a tablet hybrid – the ultrabooks will do better..
    The quality of these devices are second to none. I am really happy with my RT and battery life is fantastic. The Pro should have matched the battery life of at least come close. I agree with the article- the price demands the performance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasondouglasfarris Jason Farris

    The build quality of the RT is so good, I imagine the PRO will have the same feel. It will take a pretty sexy product from the OEMs to keep me from getting a Pro.

  • guest

    Nothing about the Surface strategy makes sense. They PO’d their OEMs by bringing it to market, which maybe was required because a lot of their OEMs needed a creative kick in the rear. But then they intentionally price it too high to be uber competitive in order to keep OEMs happy. They say they want to sell 5-6M units, but at this rate they’re not going to sell half that. Meanwhile they’re advertising the heck out of it as if it’s a flagship offering. This has “Kin” or “Zune” written all over it. And the last thing MS needs is another high profile failure at this point. Either drop the Surface price and drive unit sales to make it a success, or don’t bother bringing the Pro to market and just write this off as yet another failed experiment.

  • Dave

    other impediment for the Pro is going to be the slow adoption of Windows 8 by enterprise users. I have not seen anything suggesting large scale enterprise adoption of Windows 8 anytime soon. Most larger organizations finally just getting all their users to Windows 7 after skipping the disaster that was Vista.

    The surface looks great and has awesome build quality, but hard to see the Pro being a widespread enterprise purchase

    • Nathan O

      This is already commonplace for businesses. It is expensive to switch/upgrade OS’s for the entire company so more often than not they skip a version. MS knows this too which is probably one of the reasons that Win8 is so consumer orientated.

      • danonym

        Then what market segment exactly is the Surface Pro targeting?!

  • Guest

    I guess Todd didn’t have anything ‘real’ to write about today…i just wasted 5 mins of my life reading this worthless article…

    • GuestGuest

      I feel the same way about your comment.

  • SilverSee

    It is priced and spec’d to compete with the 11″ MacBook Air, which starts at $999, and I think the market potential should be judged in this light.

    This product has the potential to replace both a tablet and notebook. Whether this is practical or not depends on execution (see battery life). But pricing, I think, is competitive when looked at this way.

    You could spin this as a crippled laptop, as Apple faithful will do. Or you could argue that the Surface Pro offers the power of a high end Ultrabook with the *added conveniences* of a tablet form factor, touchscreen and stylus input.

    Of course, sentiment will be all over the map, just because it’s Microsoft.

  • http://twitter.com/StrongerMSFT Stronger MSFT

    Surface RT runs on NVIDIA Tegra. Surface Pro runs on Intel. Surface Pro failure could end up being a boon to NVIDIA. Intel has been struggling to gain foothold in mobile market and failure of Surface Pro could be the start of end of Intel domination.

    • Mark

      Dude, your retweeting all the negative news on MS isn’t making it stronger. So I have to assume you’re just another troll with too much time on his hands.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottmoore.seattle Scott Moore

    At that price, why would I not buy a MacBook Air?