Microsoft admits ‘trade-offs’ with Surface Pro battery life and storage; hints at future accessories

by Doug Drinkwater

February 7 2013

Microsoft suggested that the Surface Pro is for people who want a MacBook Air and an iPad
Microsoft suggested that the Surface Pro is for people who want a MacBook Air and an iPad

Microsoft held a Q&A session on the Surface Pro on Reddit yesterday, where it gave some frank answers on everything from the tablet’s weak battery life and limited storage to new accessories, cellular connectivity and retail availability.

The Reddit 'Ask Me Anything' session was overseen by various members of the Surface engineering team, all of whom answered questions with surprising honesty. One team member even admitted that work had only begun on the Pro on the launch of the Surface RT some four months ago.

Microsoft admits dilemma with battery life and storage

On the subject of the tablet’s weak battery life, said to be around just four hours, engineers admitted that it had been a ‘trade-off’ between achieving great battery life and getting the desired thickness.

“If you compare it to say a MacBook Air, you will quickly see that pound for pound in battery size vs. battery life, you will find optimizations that puts Surface best in its class,” said one Surface team member.

“That said we picked a smaller battery to be sure we were able to give you the same performance and to keep it thin. This kept the weight under 2lbs. While these trade-offs are challenges as much as they are opportunities, we think given the performance and experience you will be getting, it is an exciting product.”

A number of commenters also took to Reddit to vent their frustration at the lack of storage on the Surface Pro. Microsoft admitted that it was an issue but seemed to have a single piece of advice – buy an SD card.

 “We designed Surface Pro (and the allocation of disk space on our systems) to have the power of full Windows 8, the ability to have a simplified and fast upgrade to full Office and the confidence of a recovery image already available on your device,” said the Surface team.

“Beyond the flexibility and confidence this provides, we also include an ability to extend your storage via microSDXC, USB 3.0 and SkyDrive (including 7GB of free storage). Initial reports out regarding available disk space were conservative (eg. 23GB available on 64GB and 83GB available on the 128GB system), however our final production units are coming in with 6-7GB additional free space.

“Available disk space is a design choice and a tough one to make as an engineering team. It is a clear set of trade-offs to provide the customer more space while providing them the tools out of the box.”

Future: New accessories could include an external battery

The Surface Pro is set to launch alongside a collection of accessories on Saturday, most notably including the Wedge Mouse and Touch and Type keyboards, but staff working on the tablet suggest that more could be coming to market in the future.

Responding to a question about the new connectors found on the Surface Pro’s bottom dock, Microsoft Surface General Manager Panos Panay hinted that more accessories could be arriving soon.

"Wow - I'm pumped you caught that! We haven't announced what they are for but they aren't an accident!"

"At launch we talked about the 'accessory spine' and hinted at future peripherals that can click in and do more. Those connectors look like can [sic] carry more current than the pogo pins, don't they?"

If that appeared a little cryptic, other members of the Surface team were less discreet when faced with another question on the possibility of Microsoft making a thicker keyboard with an additional battery pack.

 “That would require extending the design of the accessory spine to include some way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery. Which we did.”

Looking to the future, Microsoft appeared to downplay suggestions of a 3G or 4G Surface Pro coming to market any time soon, but did say that it will be “have more to share” on taking the Surface Pro to additional retailers in the near future.

The Intel-based tablet launches at Best Buy, Staples and Future Shop in Canada on February 9, with Microsoft to officially announce the tablet the day before.

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  • pc987
    1 year 9 months ago

    The battery issue was a design choice - large battery vs small, light device, but the storage issue comes down to profits - NOT an engineering design challenge. Higher capacity memory chips don't take up more space than smaller ones, and even if they used 2x the amount of chips, they're so small as to be irrelevant.

    The decision here comes down to profits - they could have doubled the capacity for probably less than $10 to $20 per unit. Or they could have at least included an extra ~48 gigs or so just to cover the space required for the OS - giving customers a full 64 or 128 gigs of free space.

    Given that a breakdown estimate puts Microsoft's profit margin on the Surface tablets at a higher percent than even Apple makes on it's iPad, the memory issue is very hard to swallow. Microsoft is the one playing catch-up, and they're arrogantly forcing design decisions on their customers that primarily benefit Microsoft, not said customers (Metro on the desktop).

    Adding an SD card should be an option, not a practical necessity just to make the system useable. I love the idea of a full fledged Windows tablet, but Microsoft blew it with their pricing and configuration on the Surface. Had they had some humility and offered a little more value for their premium pricing, I'd have bought a Surface immediately, but now I'm waiting to see what other manufacturers offer.

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