Microsoft Surface Pro Dazzles Despite Naysayers

If one of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) goals in entering the consumer electronics space was to emulate Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , there is one area in which it is already succeeding: The polarization between those who are fans and those who are not is palpable. Apple fans have long accused critics of being jealous if not purely ignorant, while non-fans consider any positive comment on Apple to be the drivel of sycophants. Responses to Apple products, both those that are well-reasoned and those that are not, contain intense emotion.

Microsoft's new release evokes exactly this type of division in opinion. Based on this article's headline, you know which camp I fall into, but the critics' complaints are not completely lacking in merit. While so much of what the Surface Pro does is achieved in a way that has never really been attempted before, concerns over battery life and what the device is not are worth consideration. Ultimately, I think the new device has the potential to be a game changer despite its flaws and should be a catalyst for the stock.

Pros of the Surface Pro
In a first-impression piece on the new device in Forbes, contributor Jason Evangelho explains: "The Surface Pro runs a full desktop OS, has the internals of an ultrabook, and resulting benchmarks put all tablets to shame." He further sees little merit in making an Apple comparison, stating that "I won't be comparing the Surface Pro to the iPad, because the Surface Pro defies characterization as a tablet. Anyone slapping the same label on these devices is doing you a disservice."

While I am more than willing to acknowledge that this may be an overly positive take on Microsoft's new device, Evangelho is dead on in characterizing the Surface Pro as more than a tablet. The new device can function as full laptop when the additional keyboard is added, it has stellar graphics that can be utilized to run full Windows versions of top games, and its ability to multitask is everything you could ask for in a device aimed at taking the place of two.

In fact, the Surface Pro has been so well received that the 128 GB version is already sold out online. The fact that the smaller-capacity one is still available might be a sign that heavy business users are opting for the larger capacity for the extra $100, but more likely it is a response to the heavy capacity needs of the OS and basic productivity suite. The larger version allows you to install all of this and still have enough room to operate with some efficiency to meet storage needs.

Cons of the Surface Pro
On the extreme other end of the spectrum, some critics are characterizing the launch as a disappointment. Central to each of the primary complaints about the new device is the argument that it is neither a great tablet, nor a great laptop. Critics claim the device is too heavy to be easy to use for long periods as a tablet, the battery life is painfully brief, and the cost is very high relative to its direct competitors. Many of these issues are mentioned in even the positive reviews, so there should be no doubt that they are accurate accounts of "flaws" in the product.

A matter of perspective
Given the fact that most everyone who has reviewed the new Surface Pro describes the clinical experience in similar terms -- meaning it is the response to that experience that is different -- reality must be largely a matter of perspective. To start with my suspicions first, I believe many of the naysayers are those same Apple fans than abhor the idea of any legitimate competition. This group is likely to find fault with any device without the familiar Apple logo emblazoned on the side or back.

Microsoft die-hards are likely willing to overlook even egregious missteps if they can throw their weight behind a device that does not hail from Cupertino. Many of these arguments may be equally lacking in reason, but after years of name-calling it is hard to blame them. Deciphering the truth requires a healthy bit of skepticism.

Ultimately, Microsoft has landed upon a brilliant concept that is well executed, but far from perfect. The company likely was forced to sacrifice on weight and battery life in order to cram a full laptop processor into a tablet form factor. Likewise, in order to stick with the tablet scheme, memory and capabilities could not hope to measure up to a full-blown laptop. At the end of the day, for many users, I think the flexibility to do some tablet work, while still having the option of carrying a 2-pound laptop in their briefcases will have appeal.

Microsoft is blazing a trail into a new space and it should be well rewarded. The hardware itself will only improve from here, and should be a critical driver for Microsoft. I will be honestly shocked if Apple does not respond to this device in some meaningful way, but time will tell. In the meantime, I believe Microsoft is a buy on the release.

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Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (1)

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  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 6:58 PM, marv08 wrote:

    "I will be honestly shocked if Apple does not respond to this device in some meaningful way,..."

    Sorry, they won't. Ever. There is no need to. And if MS will ever do a second attempt (I am not writing that off), it will be much different. It will have to excel at least in one of two functions (laptop or tablet) to get traction. It needs at least one inarguable selling point, it needs to do at least one thing better than either competing device category to exist. So far, it doesn't.

    There are several Windows 8 convertible devices in the market that definitely are better laptops (pretty much all of them), so this might not be worth the effort. But nobody is really working on dedicated Windows tablets (and by tablet I mean something light enough and with enough battery life to make sense) – at least most companies have postponed or killed their RT plans. If MS wants RT to survive, that's what they have to work on. Competing with companies like Lenovo on the tablet or convertible front is an exercise in futility. The sheer fact that the Surface looks good does not make a difference. Most people buy a $1k laptop as their main (or even only) computing device (if they even spend that much). The Surface Pro (in its current form) does not qualify as a main or only computing device. And that's where the interest will stop for most people.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 7:00 PM, marv08 wrote:

    Me sorry! Should, of course, read: "Competing with companies like Lenovo on the laptop (not tablet) or convertible front is an exercise in futility."

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 7:05 PM, dolphid444 wrote:

    "Ultimately, Microsoft has landed upon a brilliant concept that is well executed, but far from perfect. The company likely was forced to sacrifice on weight and battery life in order to cram a full laptop processor into a tablet form factor."

    This is exactly why Apple will not go there.

    "I will be honestly shocked if Apple does not respond to this device in some meaningful way"

    MicroSoft after years of seeing what a "real" tablet is, proceeds in an attempt to make their tablet a PC.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 7:07 PM, TheDumbMoney wrote:

    I think the Lenovo Yoga 13 is a better option if this is what you are looking for. Surface Pro is a tablet with laptop capabilities. Yoga is a laptop with tablet capabilities. I think that's a better model, but time will tell.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 7:08 PM, daveshouston wrote:

    You'd have to be completely nuts to buy one of these when you can get a far superior MacBook Air for about the same $$$.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 7:29 PM, daveshouston wrote:

    This is a defensive move by Microsoft to protect the Windows franchise.

    They didn't want to do a real tablet, because it would have cannibalized Windows. So they made a half-assed compromise between a tablet and an ultra book.

    It's too clumsy to use this in your lap. So you end up sitting at a table or desk. Might as well get an ultra book.

    It's clumsy to use in the vertical position, which is how tablets want to be used for reading, etc.

    It's going to sell to the Windows faithful because it can run long of tooth Office apps. It's a no go for other people.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 7:49 PM, RLLH wrote:

    So far the comments seem to support your thesis to a tee. Great analysis, both from a technical perspective and a psychological one.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 10:45 PM, Klippenstein wrote:

    There is only one logical place for the iPad and MacBook to go and that is follow the lead of WIndows 8 Tablet PC integration. Otherwise Apple will drop to sub 10% worldwide market share not only in MacBooks and iPhones (where at 19% and falling it is also almost there) but also in iPads. Smart people will just not be willing to carry around two devices that run on essentially the same hardware (when adding a touch screen integrates them). Business have to be smart and cost effective, that's why they use PCs and are now very excited about Windows 8 Tablet PC integration. There will always be Apple product ideologues who don't care about the cost. That is good for Apple and insures its future. Its hard for me to see why people want to be Apple surfs.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 11:10 PM, walteru wrote:

    OK. So here it goes. All the critics out there that are dissing the new Surface Pro can complain all they want. Because all I need to say is I got one and they don’t!! Any one that doesn’t have one can comment all they want about how bad Microsoft is, and how they are playing catchup to Apple. But let me tell you this… There is nothing that this Surface Pro can’t do better and faster than ANYTHING that Apple, Linux, Unix, Blackberry, Android has to offer. Just imagine… The most powerful practical portable device ever.

    Because it is a Windows 8 operating system, I set up an SIP softphone, an FTP server, two Oracle Virtual Box systems running a Windows 2008r2 and SUSE. Anyone that is complaining about space, I dumped an extra 64GB microSD chip to handle the extra load. I can print to every shared printer on my network, run my Quickbooks and Skype all while I watch the new “Lincoln” on JustinTV. Tell me… What tablet can do that?

    I took all my notes this morning by writing in OneNote. Not typing, but writing! I did most of my Google searches with voice commands, just because I could.

    Believe me, a new era has arrived in computing. The desktop and laptops are going to go away. Because if this is what the future has in store for us, why do we need a desktop any longer? Let me tell you that the Surface Pro has raised the bar on all future products. Anything less than this will be, well, less.

    I can see future products, by other companies like ACER, ASUS, SAMSUNG etc. making faster products with greater battery life, smaller screens, lighter weight, more memory, with 4g. But what they will have as the backbone is Windows 8. And folks, that is where good ‘ol Microsoft will reign again. Because let’s face it. Apple is a hardware company. And until they make their software that can come close to what Windows 8 can do, who is going to want just an old iPad IOS 6 or anything running an OS X Mountain Lion?

    It’ll be years before Linux will catch up to the touch interface that Windows 8 has. Google will have to go back to the drawing board with their Chromebook. And their Android… could it ever dream of running MySQL or SQL Server express?

    The world has been waiting for the most powerful portable device that is not a laptop. And it has got it with the Surface Pro.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 11:46 PM, Klippenstein wrote:

    @marv08 Really?!? This is your response to some real information?!? Are you ashamed of yourself yet? Its obvious to the rest of us that you must be talking about yourself. @walteru has just offered you and the rest of us with some real world detail use examples and you come back with this nonsense?!? Shame on you!

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 11:59 PM, marv08 wrote:

    @Klippenstein: People buying a flimsy tablet to run Oracle Virtual Box? People running SIP on a device without 3G/4G? People actually thinking taking "all my notes this morning by writing in OneNote. Not typing, but writing!" is a selling point? Or new? Windows tablets in 2001 could do this perfectly well (I had several over the years). Like any adult I learned quickly that nobody can actually write as fast as one can type (not even if typing with two fingers, as I do – it's still at least three times faster than handwriting).

    This is a spoiled child's hogwash. Painfully assembled from random words heard, but not understood.

    Fact is: you can do most of this better on a $700 laptop. And even if you insist on some Windows 8 touching madness... Lenovo et al do offer better devices for less.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2013, at 2:37 AM, dividendgrowth wrote:

    Zune also sold out in 2009.

    It's already widely known that many retail outlets sold out no more than 10 Surface Pros.

    This thing fared even worse than the pathetic RT model.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2013, at 7:39 AM, H3D wrote:

    "In fact, the Surface Pro has been so well received that the 128 GB version is already sold out online"

    Or produced in such limited numbers.

    That you flag wave on "sold" out without actual numbers labels you as, what was that term you used? A sycophant?

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