Wednesday , October 18 2017

Consumer Reports Yanks All Microsoft Surface Recommendations

Consumer Reports has announced it’s pulling its recommendations on four Surface systems due to extremely high failure rates. The organization regularly surveys its readers and members about the products that they own and use. Based on those surveys, the failure rate of all Surface laptops with detatchable keyboards is expected to be significantly higher than other devices.

This is playing out in two ways. First, Consumer Reports is pulling the ‘Recommended’ status on four systems: The Surface Laptop (128GB and 256GB) and the Surface Book (128GB and 512GB) are no longer preferred options. Second, the organization is categorically and specifically declaring the entire Surface product family ‘Not Recommended’ based on its own two-year survey results. According to CR, this is the first time Surface products have been popular enough for the company to gather data from its readers on their long-term reliability and service requirements. Here’s how the organization describes its findings:

A number of survey respondents said they experienced problems with their devices during start-up. A few commented that their machines froze or shut down unexpectedly, while several others told us the touch screens weren’t responsive enough.

“We’ve found that reliability is a major factor for consumers deciding on what tablet or laptop to buy,” Simon Slater, Consumer Reports survey manager, told ExtremeTech in an emailed statement. “And our brand reliability findings have proven to be quite dependable over the years.” Overall, CR reports a 25 percent likelihood that an owner of a Surface laptop or tablet product will have problems by the end of the second year of ownership.

There’ve been reports of poor longevity and recurring issues with multiple Surface products across the past few years. The Surface Pro 4 had marked problems with entering sleep modes, leading to low battery life, the Surface Book had hinge problems, and the Surface Pro 3’s battery life deteriorated badly last year. Microsoft initially refused to service these systems at all, breaking a promise the head of Surface had made about MS offering a $200 battery replacement plan. Instead, Microsoft forced Surface Pro 3 owners to pony up $450 for a refurbed unit. Redmond eventually changed course on this and refunded customers their money, but the company’s initial response was still to throw its customers under the bus.

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The Surface Pro reviewed well, but CR is pulling its recommendations from every product based on statistical analysis showing that Surface devices are suffering problems much more often than machines from other companies.

We can’t say we’ve personally observed any problems, but that’s what makes data sets like Consumer Reports’ so useful. A higher-than-expected failure rate isn’t the sort of thing you can expect to observe with a sample size of just a few systems. It takes much more data, collected in aggregate, to make those predictions. The fact that CR is pulling its recommendations and slapping down a “Not Recommended” on top of it should make people pause, even if it isn’t a problem they’ve seen on their own hardware.

CR’s work, meanwhile, has tended to push companies to either fix bugs or improve their products. The company also made headlines late last year for yanking its recommendations of the new MacBook Pro following erratic battery life test results. Ultimately, that issue proved to be a problem specific to CR’s own benchmark testing methodology, though the bug itself was real enough.

This, however, is a fundamentally different situation. CR isn’t referring to its own tests or evaluations, but its user surveys and reported reliability data from its own customers, gathered in the same fashion as the data the company collects on every other laptop manufacturer. It’s still theoretically possible that this group was tainted by a run of bad hardware, but the fact that CR is pulling recommendations from an entire suite of products suggests otherwise.

Microsoft, unsurprisingly, disagrees with CR. “Microsoft’s real-world return and support rates for past models differ significantly from Consumer Reports’ breakage predictability,” Microsoft said in an emailed statement. “We don’t believe these findings accurately reflect Surface owners’ true experiences or capture the performance and reliability improvements made with every Surface generation.”

Given the documented problems Surface owners have had with multiple iterations of their hardware, some of it directly caused by Microsoft’s refusal to make good on the promises of its own executive heading up the entire Surface division, we’ll take CR’s word over Redmond’s on this topic. After all, the Xbox 360 had perfectly normal failure rates according to Microsoft until, whoops, it suddenly didn’t.

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