Microsoft: Best and Worst Laptop Brands
Though Microsoft makes only three systems, we added the company to our Best and Worst Brands for the first time this year because its Surface 2-in-1s have become so popular. The company is certainly innovative, creating the Surface Book laptop with its unique hinge design and improving on its trend-setting Surface tablets in 2015.
However, Microsoft has a disturbing tendency to release products before they're truly finished, as we saw with the wonky camera on the Surface Pro 4 and the awkward touchpad on the Surface Book. Its few products are also very expensive relative to the competition, especially considering that the company charges $130 extra for its absolutely necessary Surface keyboards.
When combined with its smart cover, the Surface Pro 4 is one of the lightest and thinnest 2-in-1s on the market, delivering a fetching industrial chic. So it made sense that Microsoft wanted to bring that aesthetic over to its first laptop.
While it wasn't the "ultimate laptop" that Microsoft claimed, the Surface Book definitely turned a head or two. When the 13-inch tablet is connected to its keyboard dock, it relies on a treaded fulcrum hinge that's different, but polarizing. Other design quirks include a short front lip that made opening the laptop difficult and an ill-placed audio jack. Overall, it's a good first attempt, but Microsoft will have to do better to compete with the likes of Apple or Samsung.
Microsoft sits right in the middle of our review rankings, with the fifth best average rating. The non-pro Surface 3 led the way with a 4-star review, thanks to its portable design, good battery life and affordable price tag. While we liked the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book enough to give them 3.5-star reviews, neither system offered the kind of value delivered by the Surface 3. Both devices also suffered from some unusual quirks, such as less battery life on the Surface Pro 4 versus the previous year's model, and an inaccurate touchpad on the Surface Book.
Tech Support (17/20)
In its first year competing in the Tech Support Showdown, Microsoft rose to second place with accurate phone agents and thorough online resources. The company's Twitter support team handed us some incorrect answers, but offered correct fixes once we pointed out their mistakes. We only wish Microsoft wouldn't make it difficult to access its toll-free support agents, and that those agents were more prepared when following up over the phone. The company's Surface-specific Twitter support account @SurfaceSupport was much more on the ball.
Microsoft backs its limited lineup of 2-in-1s with a one-year limited warranty where the company pays for shipping if you need to send in a unit for service. Upgrading your laptop voids the warranty, but considering that the Surface and Surface Book products have sealed designs, you probably couldn't swap out the memory or storage even if you wanted to.
Microsoft's hardware offerings have been pristine. The Surface Book and the Surface Pro 4 showed up without any bloatware to muddle Windows 10. Instead, users can focus on useful features like drawing on Web pages in Edge, talking to the virtual assistant, Cortana, and picking out Universal apps from the Windows Store.
With the Surface Book, Microsoft launched one of the most innovative new products of 2015. This 13-inch detachable hybrid has a unique, magnetic hinge design, a highly accurate stylus (with custom tips) and over 12 hours of battery life. The company continues to improve its tablets, adding a revamped Type Cover keyboard to the Surface Pro 4.
Value and Selection (4/15)
Microsoft makes only three computers: the Surface 3, the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book. The first two of these are sold as tablets, though they become formidable 2-in-1s when you add on a $130 Type Cover. While all three have innovative designs, sharp screens and good pen support, none is a particularly great deal. The Surface 3 starts at $499, but costs $630 with the keyboard, a lot of money for a device with a low-performance Intel Atom processor. The Surface Pro 4 starts at $1,030 with keyboard, but that base model has a weak Core m3 CPU and just 4GB of RAM. The Surface Book goes for a minimum of $1,500.
How Microsoft Can Improve
It's one thing to release a piece of software with a few bugs you can fix via updates and another to roll out a laptop or tablet with serious flaws. Microsoft needs to stop releasing half-baked products with touchpad or camera problems. It also needs to focus more on battery life, an area where its flagship Surface Pro tablet falls way short. It's unlikely that Microsoft will shift course and start bundling the Type Cover with its Surface tablets, but we can always hope.