Has Microsoft got the Surface Pro pricing right? Yes, but no

Has Microsoft got the Surface Pro pricing right? Yes, but no

Summary: The Surface Pro only makes sense with a keyboard. It's competing with several comparable Intel-powered tablet-plus-keyboard combos, plus all the small ultrabooks out there. And, while its pricing is actually quite competitive against those devices, its reported battery life kills the portability factor.


So, Microsoft has finally revealed its US pricing for the Surface Pro. The question is, will it fly at that price?

We are still waiting for UK pricing for Microsoft's Surface Pro. However, given the exchange rate and the addition of sales tax, I'd say the base $899 64GB model should work out at £675 and the $999 128GB version £749 (I'm being very generous and avoiding the European mark-up that US companies frequently apply). That's without a keyboard, remember, and those cost £100 extra.

This is an ultrabook. You'd better buy the keyboard too

What are you getting for that money? Basically, a touch-capable ultrabook minus the keyboard — a very well-engineered one, but an ultrabook nonetheless.

Of course it's a tablet too, but I'm thinking in terms of the sole reason anyone would buy this rather than the ARM-based Surface RT: the ability to run the legacy Windows apps they already know and love. This is an ultrabook. You'd better buy the keyboard too.

What's more, this is an ultrabook with a reportedly rather rubbish battery life of around four to five hours. Bear in mind that ultrabooks are supposed to be notable for their excellent battery life.

Has Microsoft got this right?

Before looking at the Surface Pro specifically, I should mention what I would consider to be reasonable ultrabook pricing.

I'd say around £500 — about the same as a decent desktop laptop, if you know what I mean, with the portability of the ultrabook making up for its relatively poor graphics grunt. I know, this is not where the pricing is today, but if ultrabook volumes ramped up sufficiently, it could be somewhere in that region.

Problem is, there's something of a Catch 22 here: ultrabooks mostly cost hundreds more (depending on whether you're buying an old model or not), and tablets mostly cost less. So, if portability is your aim and you're not that bothered about having a real keyboard, these days you'll probably opt for a tablet. In other words, ultrabook volumes are probably not going to ramp up sufficiently to bring down the price.

Anyway, that's my fantasy pricing. Back to the real world, where the Surface Pro plus keyboard probably comes in at £775 or £850, depending on the storage.

Here are some rival ultrabooks and tablet-plus-keyboard combos that are currently available:

The conclusion? Actually — and assuming my calculation for the UK pricing is accurate — Microsoft probably has this one about right.

The problem is the battery life. I cannot get past it. Apart from the S7 (which seems even more of a dud on this point), those rivals I mentioned above will all give you significantly more. And on that point alone, the Surface Pro suddenly becomes a bad deal. What is clearly a high-end device in so many respects suddenly becomes a mid-range device in practical usage.

After all, the whole point of having a tablet, even one with a keyboard, is that wonderful portability. Ditto the ultrabook. And, certainly when it comes to a productivity tool, portability is a function of battery life, as well as of dimensions and weight.

Otherwise you might as well have a mid-range, bulkier PC — which you probably already have.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, Tablets, United Kingdom, Windows

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Has Microsoft got the Surface Pro pricing right? Yes, but no

    Yes they have. In a free market where profit is the name of the game they have priced the Microsoft Surface Pro just right.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Idiot again

      The objective is profit maximization, which depends on both price AND volume.

      Making a lot of money on a few units is hardly the way to go.

      I guess you never took an economics course. Judging by your posts here, you probably did not learn much in school, period.
      • Another interesting read

        • Not very interesting

          The article in The Register is not very interesting. It compares toy consumption-oriented tablets with the fully featured computer that just happens to be the smallest and the most portable one on the planet.

          To understand the "price up, battery life down" complaint, let's look at some numbers, shall we?

          Intel Core-i5 3xxxU CPU costs around $225. Terga 3 costs maybe $25. You get $200 price hike on the CPU alone. 64GB SSD costs around $80 vs $50 for same-sized SD card. Add much better screen, pen digitizer, larger battery, and the $400 price difference doesn't seem unjustified. Certainly, having the keyboard included would make the price more attractive, but the set of features is not worse, and may be even better for some users, than the similar specced, entry-level 11" MacBook Air, which costs $100 more, having the same 64GB disk, has much worse screen and no pen input.

          Intel CPU consumes up to 17 Watts vs Tegra 3 1-2 Watts. These 17 Watts and the higher res screen eat the battery the same as they do in MacBook Air, which is heavier and has more room for the battery.

          The battery life is not going to be better, not until the next generation of Intel monstrous CPU architecture comes out some time next year. Microsoft has to be ready with a model update as soon as those new CPUs become available.
          • I get the specs/numbers issue

            I think the whole point is that the HW sucks for that type of application. It is like putting a big block V8 in a family car. By the time you have beefed up everything to support that big engine, you end up with a heavy, gas guzzling pig. It does almost nothing better than a smaller more efficient family car and almost everything worse.

            So maybe the Pro is just a power hungry pig. You gain a little in a few areas and lose a lot in all the rest. If you really need that power hungry pig, you have to buy it, end of story. The problem is, MS will discover that most people don't need it. They have discovered something better. The genie is out of the bottle and is not going back in.
          • Not sure I agree

            My problem with the Surface is that it costs too much, but I wouldn't buy any of the alternatives. I don't want a laptop because I want the touch screen, and pen input is an even bigger draw. I don't want a pc because I already have one and I don't want one of the many tablets on offer because I want to be able to do something useful on it, and spending ~£500 on something that is primarily only useful as an entertainment device wouldn't really be a good move when I have a smartphone that already does that job as well as I require.

            For me the Surface RT is dead in the water, if I was in that market I'd buy the Kindle Fire HD or an Android equivalent ...

            So here I am. I want the Surface Pro but I don't want to pay the price.

            So what I'll almost certainly do for the time being is make do without.
          • Wow

            Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online(Click on menu Home)
          • Biggest problem with the article

            The problem with the article is that its The Register.
            Loverock Davidson-
          • Says the person who.....

            has absolutely ZERO credibility. And I might add, who continues to reinforce that fact with virtually EVERY post.

            I am not going to repeat it, but you know what I think of YOUR performance here. Even the post above convinced me a tad more, if that is even possible. The irony is just so unbelievable and obviously lost on you.

            At the end of the day, all you have is your reputation. You have sure done one helluva job of messing up yours.
          • Atom Clover Trail

            That CPU already exists. It's called the Atom Clover Trail processor and has a TDP watts of approximately 3.5; therefore, it is directly comparable to the Tegra 3. From what I understand, Clover Trail runs circles around the Tegra 3 and ANY, including the latest ARM 15 chips. So for the money, the best W8 tablet you can buy is the Acer Iconia 510 which ships with this 2.1 Ghz Atom, dual core, with 4 thread hyperthreading. The MS Surface with its iCore processor is way over priced. They should have introduced this at $699 and the Surface RT should have been introduced at $429 with a $70 upgrade to the touchcover keyboard / trackpad.
          • Is $1,000 for the Surface Pro legitimate? Yes, but not for the masses

            Any thinking person should understand that the i5 and touch screen are going to play on battery life. 4-5 hrs should be expected then even though non-touch screen ultrabooks get better battery life.

            Will the masses spend that much on a device? No. The masses buy Kindles, Nexus 7s and $500 iPads. Companies may love the Surface Pro and other Win 8 hybrids since it's basically a portable desktop experience which can run any program while out in the field.

            For the college students and people who stay on Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Hulu, etc. then the Surface Pro isn't for them and the Surface RT leaves much to be desired since it lacks apps. This is where MS failed. People are now used to getting apps that they neither need nor use on their desktop. MS should have focused on bringing out a budget Surface with Clover Trail or an AMD proc. Now MS still needs a $300-$400 Win 8 tablet (not Win RT) if they really want to gain market share.
            Sim Lash
        • Yes D.T., they're all interesting reads, but what's your point?

          Seriously, after all is said and done, and all your links added, and blame assesed, and insight and opinions, in the end I still can't figure out what your point is, or even why it seems so important to you?

          We have people here that like Windows 8 / Surface tablets, yet you throw in links related to sales, or opposing opinions, but I'm really curious as to why? WHAT is so important, or unimportant that you feel the need to find someone who counters what someone here says?

          Are you angry that alot of people here have mentioned they LIKE the surface? I've seen people here giving hints back and forth about things they discovered/liked about Windows 8, and then you (or one of the usual users) throw in a link from some tech site where the reviewer says he doesn't like.

          Why are you working so hard to try to invalidate their opinions? These people aren't forcing you to use something you don't want, they'll not threatening you or your family, they're just talking surface.

          yet you seem to act as though for any positive review, that if you throw in a negative one they cancel each one out, and that the reviewers wil change their mind and say "the heck that I really like it, I'm returning it because so and so over at TechLunch said he didn't like it"

          So what is your point in all of what you do here?
          William Farrel
      • Re Loverock Davidson - "Please do not feed or annoy the trolls"

        Maybe you're new here and are unfamiliar with Loverock Davidson. If not, you should no better.
      • Apparently, you never took an economics class either,

        since, what Loverock said is not entirely wrong, and neither are you.

        Look at Apple, for example. Apple is not the leader in sales or number of units. Yet they are able to sell them at high prices and high margins, which has made them the richest company in the world. There are many companies who sell more computers, but cannot match the profits that Apple gets on a per unit basis. Android devices sell a lot more, and for lesser prices than iPhones, yet, the volume of sales will never make them more profitable than the iPhones with the lesser number of sales.

        So, it can work both ways, and perhaps Microsoft has the right formula. For now, its working in a niche market, and niche products tend to sell well and make hefty products. Ask Apple.
        • That should read: "and make hefty profits"...

          • How was your economic lesson?

            After a few months we can tell - it was really terrible :-)
    • Depends on what you are using it for

      If this is to be used as a full time laptop replacement that also replaces your tablet (and given the specs, it certainly can do that), the price is outstanding. I'm not looking for that though. I'm looking for something that can replace a netbook that can also replace my tablet. And for that, the specs are too high on this machine, and therefore so is the price. Something like the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T fits the bill for that. It has a lesser processor and lesser screen resolution, but the screen is actually an inch bigger and has better battery life, plus the final cost is $250 or so less. But it runs Windows 8, and so will run all the same applications. Slower perhaps, but for my needs it's plenty fast.
      Michael Kelly
      • Well said

        I use a NetBook a lot because no tablet can do what I need to do. I don't need desktop or even laptop performance from my netbook because I have a desktop computer (4 actually) for that. I need the netbook for portability and compatibility (and it's real ethernet port).

        So an 11" ASUS, an Acer One Aspire, or the Sumsung ATIV are much better choices for me.

        I really don't see the Surface Pro capturing much market share because it's simply an overly expensive tool to do a job that cheaper tools can do quite adequately.
  • Remember the target

    RT is meant for consumers and Pro was meant for enterprise.

    Now, RT is cool and all, but like any new ecosystem, without apps, not so great. So, I'm sure Microsoft wouldn't mind stragglers from the consumer side to pickup a pro, but their intention was always clear ... so battery not a great concern.
    • Surface Pro runs Windows 8, does it not?

      So how is Enterprise responding?

      "3. The enterprise is balking

      The enterprise was once leading the adoption of the latest PCs models. But since the launch of Windows 8, enterprise adoption has been somewhat disappointing. IT decision-makers are focusing more of their purchases on cloud solutions and mobile products than PCs. According to one recent study, enterprises won’t even consider adopting Windows 8 until 2014. That’s bad news for PC makers and Microsoft."