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Is Microsoft’s Surface Lineup Unreliable?

Consumer Reports yanked its recommendation from several Microsoft laptops on Thursday, citing results from reader surveys that described problems such as freezing on startup and unresponsive touch screens.

Based on the feedback, Consumer Reports said that it can no longer recommend Microsoft products with detachable keyboards, including the Surface Pro and the Surface Book, or the Surface Laptop, which has a conventional clamshell design. The feedback from readers covers 90,741 tablets and laptops that subscribers bought new between 2014 and early 2017, according to Consumer Reports.

The publication said it uses reader feedback data to make projections about a product's reliability. It now estimates that 25 percent of Microsoft laptops and tablets will "present their owners with problems by the end of the second year of ownership." It said this is the first year it was able to gather enough data to make a reliability determination for the Microsoft Surface products.

Consumer Reports vs. PCMag

The results of the Consumer Reports reader surveys are markedly different from PCMag's Readers' Choice Award survey, which asks consumers several questions about their overall satisfaction with the products and their reliability, as well as experiences with technical support and repairs within the past 12 months.

Microsoft earned a Readers' Choice Award this year in the Laptop/Tablet Hybrids category, receiving the highest ratings for overall satisfaction (8.6 out of 10), satisfaction with reliability (8.7), and likelihood to recommend (8.7). In addition, Microsoft had the lowest percentage of machines needing repair in the category (7 percent).

Microsoft also earned high scores in PCMag's overall Laptops category, although it trailed Apple, MSI, and Alienware. Apple, which won the Laptops category, received ratings of 9 or better on on overall satisfaction, overall reliability, and likelihood to recommend. PCMag's surveys are hosted by Equation Research, which also performs our data collection.

Surface products have also performed very well in PCMag's lab tests, with Surface Pro models winning multiple Editors' Choice awards. Consumer Reports noted that the Surface Pro also performed well in its lab tests, earning scores of "very good" or "excellent."

Microsoft disagreed with the Consumer Reports reliability recommendation, and said that its own data suggest consumers are satisfied with Surface products.


"While we respect Consumer Reports, we disagree with their findings. Surface has had quite a journey over the last few years, and we've learned a lot," Panos Panay, corporate vice president of Microsoft Devices, wrote in a blog post. "In the Surface team we track quality constantly, using metrics that include failure and return rates – both our predicted 1-2-year failure and actual return rates for Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are significantly lower than 25 percent.

"Additionally, we track other indicators of quality such as incidents per unit (IPU), which have improved from generation to generation and are now at record lows of well below 1 percent," Panay said.

Microsoft is relatively new to the laptop business. It announced the first Surface product, a hybrid tablet, in 2012, and sales began early the next year. The Surface Pro arrived in February 2013, followed by the Surface Book in 2015 and the Surface Laptop in June. Microsoft also began selling the enterprise-focused Surface Hub in 2015, an interactive whiteboard with screen sizes as large as 84 inches. The Surface Hub is not included in Thursday's Consumer Reports announcement.

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