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Don't buy Microsoft Surface gear: 25% will break after 2 years, says Consumer Reports

Reviewers retract up-turned thumbs

Consumer Reports has a message for its readers: one in four of your shiny Microsoft's Surface laptops and tablets might not outlast their new computer smell.

The US nonprofit consumer product review mag today U-turned on its recommendation of Redmond's kit. The last time Consumer Reports removed a recommendation for laptops was in 2015, when it turned a thumbs up into a thumbs down for three HP and one Lenovo laptop for reliability reasons, a spokesperson for Consumer Reports told The Register.

As detailed in this latest study, the publication's journalists estimate that about 25 per cent of Microsoft laptops and tablets will present problems after only two years of ownership.

In earlier lab tests that measure factors such as display quality, battery life, speed and ergonomics, Surface devices were ranked highly by Consumer Reports.

The Register's reviews are also generally positive for the latest fondleslabs. We have previously noted problems with the hardware, such as its Sleep of Death bug and strange willingness to overheat, though.

This week, the magazine hit reverse gear, and pulled its recommendation for the Microsoft Surface Laptop (128 GB and 256 GB versions) and the Microsoft Surface Book (128 GB and 512 GB versions). It also says it cannot recommend Microsoft devices with detachable keyboards (ie, the June Surface Pro) or clamshell Surface laptops.

Consumer Reports surveyed owners of about 90,000 tablets and laptops purchased new between 2014 and the first quarter of 2017. It said that some Surface owners had reported startup problems, frozen machines, unexpected shutdowns or unresponsive touchscreens.

Not that many of the 90,000 surveyed were Surface owners, it would seem. CR told us they numbered "at least 300", but would not disclose the exact number. The survey took place from January to March of this year, it said.

A Consumer Reports spokesperson told The Reg that using the data it collected, the mag made a prediction of the breakage rate for Microsoft devices without a service contract using some "statistical models" that account for the number of hours devices are used per week.

The mag claims that the differences in estimated breakage rates between the devices of "most other brands" is "statistically significant".

Ranjit Atwal at Gartner, who was not involved in the study, told The Reg that Surface devices have "evolved" since the originals and that they were only first or second gen devices, so comparing them to more established PCs is a little bit unfair.

But "it's not great" news, since reliability "is one of the key elements" of systems, he added. Atwal opined that 25 per cent breakage after only two years is "a lot".

A spokesperson for Microsoft told The Register:

Microsoft's real-world return and support rates for past models differ significantly from Consumer Reports' breakage predictability.

While we respect Consumer Reports, we don't believe these findings accurately reflect Surface owners' true experiences or captures the performance and reliability improvements made with every Surface generation.

The spokesperson added that "Microsoft Surface Pro is designed and built with performance and reliability in mind," but did not clarify the "reliability improvements" made within the past two or three years. The Redmond giant also today blogged in defense of its hardware. ®

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