Consumer Reports creates flap over Surface Laptop

Surface Book
Panos Panay displays Microsoft's first ever laptop, the Surface Book. (Image: Microsoft)

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14 August 2017 | 0

When Consumer Reports stopped recommending the Microsoft Surface Laptop and latest Microsoft Surface Book last week, it did so based not on those specific products’ reliability. Rather, the company used reliability surveys of earlier Surface devices (including Surface 3, Surface Pro 3, and the early Surface Book), according to a report the publication released Thursday.

In addition to removing its ‘recommended’ rating from four Microsoft Surface devices, Consumer Reports stated it wouldn’t recommend any Surface products at all. Devices receiving the no-confidence vote include the Microsoft Surface Laptop, with 128Gb and 256Gb of storage, and the Microsoft Surface Book, with 128Gb and 512Gb of storage. Consumer Reports also predicted that 25% of all Surface laptops and tablets will generate problems within the first two years of ownership.

Though it named four specific products, a Consumer Reports spokesman said it was penalising the Surface brand as a whole. “We can’t recommend any of [Microsoft’s] laptops or tablets until we get data that shows better reliability,” the spokesman said in an e-mail.

Microsoft, for its part, said the company respectfully disagreed with Consumer Reports’ findings, and that its real-world return and support rates are on par with competing devices and “significantly lower than 25%,” Microsoft Devices corporate vice president Panos Panay wrote.

Consumer Reports, which bases its reliability reports on surveys that it sends to its subscribers, compiled data on 90,741 tablets and laptops that its members bought from 2014 until the beginning of 2017, it said. That data included devices from a variety of manufacturers, including Microsoft Surface devices.

The reliability predictions represent extrapolations made from data reported on older devices, such as the Surface 3, Surface Pro 3, and other devices sold during that time, the CR report said. Actual problems that consumers experienced included freezing or unexpected shutdowns, and touchscreens that weren’t responsive enough, the publication said. Using that past data, Consumer Reports then generated a reliability rating for the brand as a whole.

“Essentially, our analysis isn’t of the Surface laptops or any specific model line or family,” a Consumer Reports spokesman explained in an e-mail. “Rather we conduct annual laptops and tablets brand reliability surveys. We are not making claims about a specific laptop or tablet model released at a specific point in time. We are making reliability predictions at the brand level, based on the devices purchased between 2014 and the first quarter of 2017.”

The spokesman acknowledged the problem with using past data on a new product that wasn’t even shipping when the survey took place but argued the appraisal represented the best data the company has on the brand as a whole.

“Our analysis revealed that Microsoft as a brand has a comparatively worse reliability rate than other brands, so we can’t recommend Microsoft tablets and computers – no matter the model family. This wouldn’t necessarily change if Microsoft came out with a brand new tablet or computer next week,” he wrote.

Consumer Reports’ findings surprised many at Microsoft and elsewhere, which had seen steadily increasing reliability metrics from generation to generation. Surface Pro 3 owners had struggled through battery issues and overheating, while the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book suffered screen flickering and their own power problems. But by 2017, the Surface Book had become fairly reliable.

Consumer Reports noted that it ranked the new Surface Pro very highly in recent Consumer Reports tests, including display quality, battery life, speed, and ergonomics. The CR spokesman also acknowledged that models within a brand may vary, and that changes in design and manufacture might affect future reliability. By then, though, the damage had been done.

IDG News Service

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