Why Microsoft's Surface Pro Can't Replace Your Laptop

Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) upcoming Surface Pro tablet is being given a daunting task: present a viable alternative to laptops and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iPads for business users in need of productivity devices. The device is hoping to do this with a price point that sits between iPads and high-end laptops including MacBooks.

Unfortunately for prospective buyers that were hoping to ditch their laptops for the software giant's tablet, they may be in store for an unpleasant surprise.

Now with 64% less space!
In an official statement to Engadget, Microsoft has now confirmed that the actual amount of free space available on the entry-level $899 Surface Pro will be just 23 GB of storage right out of the box, a whole 41 GB less than its advertised 64 GB of storage. That's also approximately the same deficit that the higher-end 128 GB model that costs $999 will see, with only 83 GB of free space from the get-go.

In fairness, all gadgets have less free space than advertised, since formatted capacity is always less and the operating system and first-party apps inevitably take up some space. The difference is that in most competing gadgets that usually amounts to a handful of gigabytes, not up to 64% of advertised storage.

This exact issue arose in October when the company launched its Surface RT and some users found out the hard way that those entry-level 32 GB models that cost the same as a 16 GB iPad didn't actually have twice the capacity. One such user happened to be a lawyer, and as lawyers tend to do, he sued for false advertising and unfair business practices.

Model

Price

Advertised Storage

Free Space Out of Box

Free Space Percentage

Surface RT

$499

32 GB

16 GB

50%

Surface RT

$599

64 GB

45 GB

70%

Surface Pro

$899

64 GB

23 GB

36%

Surface Pro

$999

128 GB

83 GB

65%

Sources: Microsoft and Microsoft statement to Engadget.

Windows RT and bundled apps take between 16 GB and 19 GB of space, depending on which model, while Windows 8 Pro gobbles up 41 GB to 45 GB. That's particularly hard to swallow for the $899 Surface Pro model in particular, as users only have 36% of advertised storage to call their own for content.

Microsoft's unhelpful suggestion is to use the device's USB 3.0 port to expand its storage capabilities with external hard drives and flash drives, which is not only inconvenient but decidedly less mobile and potentially costly.

Raining on Mr. Softy's parade
This comes just as Apple has added a new 128 GB option to its full-sized iPad lineup, in part to position it as a productivity device for business users willing to pay for more capacity if their work depends on it. Apple's move, while seemingly insignificant, appears to be aimed squarely at Surface Pro, since the new high-capacity iPad will be available just days before Surface Pro launches.

Model

Advertised Storage

Price

Display

Processor

Availability

iPad with Retina display

64 GB / 128 GB

$699 / $799

9.7-inch

Apple A6X

Now / Feb. 5

Surface Pro

64 GB / 128 GB

$899 / $999

10.6-inch

Intel Core i5

Feb. 9

Sources: Apple and Microsoft.

The iPad undercuts the Surface Pro price points by $200, and that's before factoring in the storage shortages inherent in Microsoft's tablet. One differentiator in Microsoft's favor is that Surface Pro supports legacy Windows apps, which makes it easier for enterprise customers to use existing software.

Sources: Apple and Microsoft. Images not shown to scale. Surface Pro (top) vs. iPad (below).

Apple's positioning of the 128 GB iPad as a business device is readily apparent in its press release, making numerous references to business uses. The iPad makes a "significant impact on business" with almost all Fortune 500 companies testing or deploying the device. Apple mentions Autodesk's AutoCAD several times and the large files it uses. This was clearly a move for the benefit of the enterprise market and to the detriment of Surface Pro.

Business customers aren't going to be thrilled when they find out how little of their critical work data they can carry around with the Surface Pro.

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Read/Post Comments (18) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 9:13 PM, chilero wrote:

    While the amount of available space on the Surface Pro entry level is disappointing it does support MicroSD cards to boost storage. The USB 3.0 port also allows for expandable storage.

    Whether it is Microsoft, Amazon, Google or Apple; they are all pushing cloud services for storage as well reducing the need for storage.

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 9:55 PM, dogmatica wrote:

    Aloha Evan,

    Do you know the stats on the iPad's "out-of-the-box" storage, for both the 64 and 128GB?

    Thanks!

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 10:08 PM, JohnF wrote:

    After reading your article I can't find anywhere that you describe why the Surface Pro can't replace my laptop. Al you do is go on and on about how it has less than the stated disk capacity (83 GB is more than enough for me). Then for some reason go change the subject to the new iPad and it's capacity which I can't figure has anything to do with the subject of the article's title.

    Are you suggesting that 64GB was what was keeping the iPad from replacing the laptop? And that now it's just as good as a laptop? I don't see how Apple announcing a larger capacity iPad has anything to do with competing with the Surface Pro. It's still just an iPad. By your logic are you suggesting it's also just as good as the MacBook Air since it has the same capacity.

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 10:08 PM, TMFNewCow wrote:

    dogmatica, I don't have those stats on the iPad's free space off hand. I looked but couldn't find them easily available, but from personal experience it's usually just a few gigs lost to formatted capacity and OS/bundled apps.

    -- Evan

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 10:34 PM, techy46 wrote:

    Blah, blah, blah. The author really needs to take a lok at the Lenovo Yoga 11 and 13 plus the new Helix coming soon. Lenovo;s the number 1 PC vendor now and sold 9.4m smart phones and 400,000 W8 tablets in Q4 2012 and their CEO loves W8 and WP8.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonevangelho/2013/01/30/lenovo...

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 10:48 PM, SuntanIronMan wrote:

    If your laptop is the current base model MacBook Air (also with a 64 GB harddrive), I don't see why the Surface Pro couldn't replace it. The MacBook Air doesn't eat up as much space out of the box (only about 12 GBs are taken up by the OS and applications), but both are easily expanded with memory cards, USB sticks or external harddrives.

    (Side note: I'm waiting for the next version of the MacBook Air.)

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 10:51 PM, dastaub22 wrote:

    Since Surface has a USB port, a 32 gig flash drive could be used for additional space. They sell for under 40 dollars.

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 11:42 PM, Cribbdaddy wrote:

    Yea no bias on this one...The title alone is hysterical, and he writes nothing of the sort... Icing on the cake is the analytics app running on the iPad. Let the hate articles to tickle the minds of the iSheep begin. Real machine for real work period. Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Adobe Suites, HyperV, Office Suite, Domain Join.

    microSDXC, usb 3.0

    Next...

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 12:44 AM, cesardl wrote:

    This article is non-sense and completely Apple fan boy.

    A Surface Pro IS a PC with the same Windows 8 than a laptop. Therefore, a Surface Pro can have the same drive space than a regular laptop with a 128GB SSD. It is the same!!.

    Also, compared to an iPad, you forgot to say that you can put a microSDXC of 64GB for $59 or 32GB for $22. Can you do that in an iPad?

    Also, it has an USB 3.0 for fast external devices, can run any Windows desktop application, etc.

    A Surface Pro IS a PC, it IS the same than a laptop with 128GB SSD, plus a tablet form factor.

    Everything you say in the article is just FUD.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 1:36 AM, nanarchy wrote:

    Soooo what is the reason a surface can't replace a laptop? you baited with the article title but then just talk about something irrelevant (disk space), which in the enterprise world lives on servers or if you are desperate for it in the device then a USB or microSD just like you would on a laptop? perhaps the article just needs to be renamed "my whinge about disk space"

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 5:56 AM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    "...a whole 41 GB less than its advertised 64 GB of storage. That's also approximately the same deficit that the higher-end 128 GB model that costs $999 will see, with only 83 GB of free space from the get-go."

    Absolutely not. An installation of iOS onto a 16 G iPad plus disk formatting overhead leaves over 13G available of available space. The overhead is taking up less than 3G. On a 64G it's less than 7G. On a 128G that will be about 10G.

    So a 128G iPad the user will have about 118G available. That is 92%

    Please check rather than guessing. 41G is approximately the same as 10G. I don't think so.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 10:28 AM, FuzzySquirrel wrote:

    I actually have a SurfaceRT and was not at all disappointed to learn about the storage, especially after learning that part of the reason was because that storage was being utilized by the pre-loaded Microsoft Office suite. I get PowerPoint, Word, Excel and OneNote – a fair trade-off. I also have an expansion slot for another 64G, so what’s the problem? I think the pro model could replace a laptop, especially given how much content is now shared and stored via cloud based solutions. I used to subscribe to Motley Fool, and this article reminded me why I cancelled my subscription.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 11:55 AM, grusilag wrote:

    Are you seriously comparing an iOS device with a full blown Windows machine? There's a reason Windows takes up more space than iOS - it does a whole lot more. An iPad with 128gb is not going to compete with the Surface Pro for the enterprise market.

    I think a fairer comparison and one that I would like to see, would have been Surface Pro to Macbook Air.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 12:37 PM, sal0475 wrote:

    The article has nothing to do with how the Surface Pro not being able to replace a desktop. Other than a complaint on memory .For everyone that knows this already I am sorry for explaining something extremely simple. Expandable Memory if needed you could install large programs, videos, music and anything else you could think of on an external drive. This means limitless storage capabilities. As well as an SD card slot. Please do your own research on a product before you listen to these guys.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 9:27 PM, aleksandrwho wrote:

    Well the reason why it has less storage is because it has FULL WINDOWS 8. meaning it can run apps a tablet like the ipAD will never be able to run.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 1:01 PM, brian23498683 wrote:

    As a matter of fact, the surface pro WILL replace my laptop. You apparently have no clear understanding of what can be stored on 60 GB + a 32 GB SD card plus virtually unlimited USB storage.

    As a 30 year IT professional who has lugged monster laptops around the world, this is the first product ever I plan to buy on launch date. I loved the Surface RT but decided I needed full Windows 8.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 7:32 PM, productdev wrote:

    How did this article get published? It's not even an opinion piece, just a few fragmented sound bytes strung together under an attention grabbing headline which makes a statement that isn't addressed in the content. I feel like a Motley Fool for reading it. How a CFA is qualified to write a product review is beyond me. This is my first and last post on this website.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 10:29 AM, IceX wrote:

    Evan,

    You are a CFA... And the C is not for computers.

    Please don't post anything if you don't have an expert behind you. It makes the site a fool of itself and devaluate the brand of Fool.com.

    About the Surface Pro. It has three different storage options.

    1-USB 3.0 (for massive storage)

    2-microSDXC card slot - Just like cell phones and cameras, just stick it in and carry it with you. It is just a few ounces. It storage documents, photos and music.

    3-Cloud

    If want to compare. IPad has no other onboard option or slot to increase the storage. There is an SD card adapter to transfer pictures, that's it.

    Surface Pro's power users will use the image recovery disk to remove the restore information located in the partition that takes most of the space. (http://www.windowsobserver.com/2013/01/31/free-up-approximat...

    This is not anything new (just a media blowout), as today's laptops sold everywhere contain their recovery information internally consuming a portion of the usable space.

    The real added value here is that anybody can use the Surface Pro as a laptop or a Tablet with todays corporate applications. It uses the newest generation from Intel making its battery life longer than any laptop/tablet out there with a real Core i5 processor. Pro's users will attach it to a big monitor with keyboard and mouse to do real engineering work.

    IceX

    ---

    PS: productdev... I am with you.

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