A very useful tool to gauge the success/failure of a given product is to check out the reviews of said product on a popular site such as Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). After my recent piece regarding Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8, I became interested in how well the software giant's own attempt at a high end tablet/Ultrabook was working out. Does the public like the Surface Pro, or is it the flop that many seem to think it is?
Amazon Reviews Are Almost Uniformly Positive
Judging from the review ratings on Amazon, on a 1-5 scale, it seems that the device is getting universally praised, with both the 64GB as well as the 128GB models receiving an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 -- pretty impressive!
In addition to similar rankings for both models, it seems that from the number of reviews submitted for each device, the 128GB edition is markedly more popular than the 64GB edition. This seems to make sense, as users that seek the traditional PC experience will probably require more storage space. Further, at these price levels, a delta of about $100 for substantially expanded storage space (given the overhead that Windows 8 imposes) is likely more than worth it to the target buyers.
So it seems that the Surface Pro is well praised, but it is helpful to take a look at individual reviews to see what the common criticisms and praises are.
The positives that users seem to uniformly be pointing out are the following:
- Speed/Responsiveness: It seems that the mantra that an iPad is "fast enough" is called into question here. Users appear to be uniformly enamored with the speed and responsiveness of the device, and frequently point out the drastic difference between the Surface Pro and the iPad in this regard.
- High Quality Screen: Another point of praise is the high quality screen that the device ships with. Many professional reviewers also made note of the quality of the display, but it is interesting that even the "typical" users like it enough to explicitly mention it. A long-standing thesis of mine is that the PC industry is held back by the shoddy displays that come with most devices, and it is heartening to see more evidence to support that thesis.
- Stylus Well Received: The included pen seems to be garnering near universal praise. In my own time with the device, I was also quite pleasantly surprised with the quality of the stylus.
- Backwards Compatibility With Legacy Apps/Peripherals: Many users have indicated using the device for everything from the latest PC games to the full version of Office has been a pleasant experience. A number of users are also pleased that they are able to use legacy peripherals that they otherwise could not on alternate tablets.
- Desktop Replacement For Some: A number of users have indicated that the device is even suitable as a desktop replacement when hooked up to external keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
- Battery Life: Most tablet users expect ~8+ hours of battery life, but it appears that most users are getting about 5-6 hours. While this is still in-line with traditional notebooks/Ultrabooks, this is something that will need to be remedied in future high performance tablets in order for them to gain further widespread adoption
- Keyboard Troubles For Some: While many seemed fine with the type/touch cover, others appeared to want a "sturdier" keyboard to attach to the devices to more accurately simulate the full "notebook" experience. Some PC vendors such as Lenovo (OTCPK:LNVGY), Toshiba, and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) have released such "detachables" into the market.
- Touch Optimized Ecosystem Not Quite There: While the ability to run the traditional PC ecosystem is there, many users seemed a little disheartened by the lack of touch-optimized "Modern UI" applications. I suspect this will get better over time as the OS matures and adoption continues.
- 128GB Seems Necessary: 64GB model seems to not be as popular, as 128GB appears to be the minimum acceptable size. Of note, many have pointed out that the ease with which external storage can be attached is a nice convenience afforded to them by virtue of the inclusion of USB ports.
- Graphics Performance Not Quite There: While recent tests at Anandtech have shown that the included low voltage "Ivy Bridge" processor has multiple times the graphics performance of even the best conventional tablet available, it seems that improved GPU perforance could help further position this device as a truly capable gaming machine.
- Size: Many users seem to want Surface RT form factor with Surface Pro performance.
Based on what I have seen here, I have come to the following conclusions:
- Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) "Haswell" will be a significant step forward for these types of form factors given both its idle power characteristics (improving battery life) as well as its much improved graphics capabilities.
- Windows 8 is right at home in these convertible/hybrid devices, which seems to indicate that it is not yet time to write Windows 8 off as a "failure."
- Users care about performance; the "good enough" mantra perpetuated by processor vendors incapable of providing higher performance solutions seems to be contradicted here (as well as in their own aggressive pushes to win benchmarks).
- Microsoft should consider a Surface Pro 2 based on the upcoming Intel "Bay Trail" processors in order to strike a good compromise between full "Haswell" performance/full Windows 8 compatibility as well as the form factor/sleekness of the traditional iPad form factor. Hitting lower price points with functionally similar devices could be a financial success for vendors of such devices.
As always, these represent my own views and conclusions, and other views may differ materially from my own presented here. View this as a conversation starter rather than as a definitive statement as I -- nor anybody else -- knows how this will all pan out in the future.
Disclosure: I am long INTC, MSFT. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.