Microsoft: 2017 Brand Report Card
Microsoft has only been in the laptop game for a handful of years, but in that time, it has already become a leader in 2-in-1s and detachables, thanks to the excellent Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. Unfortunately, because of Microsoft's limited laptop lineup and relatively static innovation over the past year, it gets the lowest score in this year's Best and Worst Brands.
Microsoft's Key Strengths
- Surface Pro 4: Still the best detachable on the market.
- Surface Book with Performance Base: One of the most powerful 13-inch, non-gaming systems currently on the market.
- 2-in-1s: Microsoft remains a clear leader in 2-in-1 innovation.
Microsoft's Main Weaknesses
- Limited lineup: Microsoft's portfolio consists of just two systems and doesn't feature anything larger than 13 inches or a true gaming machine.
- Pricey: Surface systems are usually more expensive than the competition's.
- Little innovation: Microsoft released just one new laptop in 2016 — the Surface Book with Performance Base and, in that case, only the base was new.
Top-Rated Microsoft Systems
- Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Fantastic tablet with lightweight keyboard
- Microsoft Surface Book (with or without the Performance Base): Great screen, excellent pen support
We reviewed only a single Microsoft laptop last year: the Surface Book with Performance Base. We gave it 4 stars and our Editors’ Choice award for its vibrant display, great stylus and discrete graphics, but a lack of versatility in Microsoft’s lineup kept the company from earning a higher score here.
Microsoft has doubled down on the Surface Book, retaining the polarizing treaded fulcrum hinge from the original as well as the inoffensive light gray, magnesium-alloy chassis. The company has instituted a few changes, most noticeably weighting the back end of the detachable device in order to make it easier to open. It's a solid change, but Microsoft should at least consider adding another color option to make the Surface Book a more compelling option. A refresh of the now-staid Surface Pro 4 is also in order.
As the publisher of Windows, Microsoft has a deep support site that covers most, but not all of the things you'd want to know about your Surface system and its OS. The company's phone support was mostly good in our tests. However, when we asked about how to disable the password prompt on wake up, one confused representative led us on a 40-minute wild goose chase, which involved changing irrelevant settings and unnecessarily enabling BitLocker encryption on our SSD.
It’s hard to say that Microsoft really innovated during our evaluation period, as the company released only the Surface Book with Performance Base, which is essentially a refresh of the existing model. Yes, it’s nice to get powerful graphics in a 13-inch system that you can take with you, but it kind of feels like just more of the same. We’re looking forward to truly new models of the Surface Book 2 and the Surface Pro 5.
Value and Selection (5/15)
With a grand total of two laptops in the Surface Pro and Surface Book, Microsoft has the smallest portfolio among laptop brands. While both systems are premium products with plenty of functionality, they don't come cheap. The lowest cost Surface Book goes for $1,299, while the Surface Pro 4 starts at $699 (without a keyboard or pen).
Microsoft backs its Surface laptops and tablets with one-year limited warranties that include free shipping when you send your device in for service, but they come with only 90 days of phone support. Unfortunately, opening the chassis at all, which is not easy to do, voids your warranty.
The company sells an extra service called "Microsoft Complete," which extends the warranty term to two years, adds accidental-damage protection and provides technical support for a very reasonable $149 to $249, depending on your device.