Surface Pro: Too much money for too little tablet?

The Surface Pro, Microsoft's Windows 8 tablet/laptop for the enterprise, may offer too little goodness for too much money.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Too expensive as a tablet, not remarkable as a laptop, does Microsoft's Surface Pro have any place in IT?

The Surface Pro, Microsoft's Windows 8 hybrid tablet/laptop for business, sounds good. But, at a starting price of $899 for the 64GB model, without a keyboard, is anyone going to want it?

The good news is that the Surface Pro runs full Windows 8, rather than the crippled Windows RT. While I have no use for Windows 8 on a desktop, I've also thought that its "Metro" interface might work well on a tablet.

In addition, with an Intel Core i5 processor the Surface Pro has the horsepower needs to run Windows 8 properly. The Surface RT, with its NVIDIA Tegra 3 ARM processor, is underpowered. So why do I think that the Surface Pro will be too little, too late?

In two words: the Apple iPad.

Love it or hate it, the iPad started the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement in IT. Steve Jobs may not have had office workers in mind when he dreamed up the iPad, but the iPad has become the poster-child for tablets in business.

Besides grabbing people's imagination, for once the iPad is cheaper than its competition. A 64GB iPad with Retina Display with Wi-Fi and cellular is $829. That's $70 less than the entry level Surface Pro.

Some people argue that the Surface Pro is not over-priced because its competition is really more lightweight laptops like the MacBook Air. My response is that while it may not be fair to compare the Surface Pro with the iPad, that's exactly what people will do.

Besides if you do compare the Surface Pro with the MacBook Air does it really do that well? I don't think so. Microsoft itself admits that the Surface Pro will have only half the battery life of the Surface RT. That would put it, at best. at about 4 and a half hours, which is awful for a tablet, and a bit below my MacBook Air, which consistently gets five hours plus.

It's also, I must add, below my Samsung Celeron-powered Chromebook, which comes in with six hours, and my ARM-powered Chromebook, which keeps running for up to six-and-a-half hours. The ARM model, which runs great with the lightweight Chrome OS, also only costs $249.

If Microsoft had waited to introduce the Surface Pro after Intel's more energy efficient Clover Trail chipset the Surface Pro might have been more competitive. Clover Trail has been slow to arrive though and the Surface Pro won't be available for purchase until January even so.

What it all adds up to is that the Surface Pro is tardy to market; simply isn't competitive as a tablet; and, with the Touch Cover or Type Cover add-ons ($120 or $130), it's not that interesting as a notebook. I see IT departments buying iPads, Android tablets, MacBooks or Ultrabooks for all the niches that the Surface Pro might fill. Neither fish nor fowl, I don't see the Surface Pro finding a business audience.

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