My Short Affair with Microsoft Surface Pro and the Retail User Experience

I couldn’t resist picking up one of those Surface Pro’s when they went on sale a few weeks back for $499. It is such a novel and interesting little device. A complete and powerful computer all neatly packed into a little tablet with a gorgeous 10.6 in. 1920 x 1080 hd touch screen. And of course I needed the accompanying Type 2 cover and keyboard.

I really wanted to love the Surface Pro but in the end I returned it to the Microsoft Store.

After two weeks I learned I couldn’t really find a way for it to work for me in a productive way. It still remained interesting, but it just felt like a device sitting next to me in the den while I used my recently rehabilitated 5 year old Macbook Pro.

Windows 8.1 was actually quite nice to use. After installing I had a complete Windows 7 desktop environment as well as Microsoft’s device oriented Modern UI. The touch interface was nice in modern UI and I’ve caught myself smudging the Macbook’s glass swiping at it a time or two :). The Windows 8 snapping applications thing was pretty cool too. Not that you can’t do that in any windowing operating system just without the swipe and snap.

I did install right after the Windows 8.1 updates which gave me the best of both worlds. A full Windows 7 desktop environment as well as Microsoft’s device oriented Modern UI. And I can completely see how for the mobile professional the Surface Pro could represent a solution that would let you have a complete professional computing environment both at the office, at the home office, and on the go.

But…it’s just not usable as a laptop and there’s the rub.

As much as I wanted to cherish this enticing device I could not be productive with it the way I compute most of the time. The kickstand was wonky when not at a desk. The type 2 cover keys had a really nice feel but a terrible mouse-touchpad thing. Even with the type 2 cover’s bit of rigidity the Surface was still too top-heavy to use effectively when not at a desk. It also got a little too warm as a tablet compared to…well…my iPad.

I was hoping the Surface Pro would cure my desire for a new 13 in. retina Macbook Pro. Instead, it was a short affair.

What Microsoft really needs to learn from this blog post has nothing to do with their hardware or software but rather their business systems and their understanding of how to interact with consumers. Because the $499. sale for last years Surface Pro was only over a weekend I ordered from the online rather than risk not getting one at the retail store nearby in Boca Raton.

When I called Microsoft to let them know I wanted to make a return they said I “could” return it to the retail store but it sounded like that would be awkward. I just preferred to bring it back to return it to the store and close the case so to speak. When I went to the store the employees were very nice but couldn’t figure out how to use the case number I was given by the online personnel. It took an incredibly long time for them to be able to process the return and 3 team members were involved to help get it to conclusion. The whole affair seemed painful to everyone and their systems. At one point someone mentioned that the online and the retail store locations use different systems – really, really?

I will complement Microsoft’s employees who were very nice and made sure that I did everything required to have a successful return. In fact, it seemed like one or two went above and beyond to try and minimize the lack of cooperation from the systems. Honestly though, it was two 30+ minute calls to support and 45 minutes at the Microsoft Store in Boca.

Microsoft, please take examine the retail user experience delivered by Apple. Seamless, swift, and never an unstated non-smile if you want to return something you decided against (as long as it’s in brand new condition).

Finally, and perhaps a contributor to my decision to return the Surface Pro, the recent browser usage statistics from New Relic show that IE is down to a paltry 14.8% share across more than 2 million application instances. If that’s not a signal that Microsoft’s role as THE predominant client is beyond repair I don’t know what is.

Maybe Microsoft should stick to what they have grown to be very good at – helping enterprises build and deliver corporate IT and applications and cede the consumer client space. The consumer client space will be dominated by those that focus on experiences and I’m just not feeling that competitiveness from this latest encounter.


11 Responses to My Short Affair with Microsoft Surface Pro and the Retail User Experience

  1. Apple has the same sort of return incompatibilities between
    different sales channels. My supervisor bought a Macbook Air
    through a higher education employee channel. The computer
    died a week later while he was on the road, and when he
    visited the Apple store they couldn’t do an exchange for him
    because of the channel differences. And he green-lights
    tens of thousands of dollars of Apple purchases a year!

    • Yes, apple would probably have a challenge handling a corporate education type account in the retail channel. My experience was purely consumer retail though. But I agree with you that every company has it’s limits where systems don’t cross over perfectly.

  2. First you say “The kickstand was wonky….” and some other stuff that looks like complaints about the hardware . Then you say “… has nothing to do with their hardware or software.”

    • I actually thought it was very beautiful hardware. I think what I said was “kickstand was wonky when not at a desk,” meaning it just wasn’t working ergonomically the way I compute. There was a beautiful Samsung ATIV 9 plus at the Microsoft store that was like $1699 that I’m sure I could have loved but that’s pretty premium. I thought the bigger issue was that the retail experience seemed so challenging.

  3. I shared a similar experience with the Surface Pro. I eventually sold it and bought an ATIV Book Plus because I needed something I could use without a flat surface handy. I actually still miss the Surface Pro sometimes when I want to sign a PDF, annotate a document, or sketch a wireframe. The stylus was really impressively great.

    Re IE: I think there’s an inherent bias in New Relic’s numbers. Looking at something like Stat Counter, especially if you focus on North America, IE is still in the running for #1 (and the trend is inconclusive at this point):

    • When I returned the SurfacePro I spent some time with the Samsung ATIV 9 plus ultra book and thought that probably would have worked out better.

  4. I had to laugh… I have all the same devices and predispositions. However, I found a compelling reason to keep my surface pro. The ink e

  5. … sorry about that. Your form keeps taking me out of edit mode every few keystrokes.

    As I was saying, the ink experience is supurb. I found writing in OneNote and tasks such as watching videos while taking handwritten notes a great experience. But unless I’m note-taking, I don’t use it much. I just hit the button to purchase a 13″ retina MacBook Pro, also. Wish Apple had great ink.

    • I agree with that. I thought the pen was very useful for note taking and used it on several conference calls rather than paper or typing into Everynote. And someone else I know really enjoyed writing Japanese words on it as well.

  6. Not surprised to hear about your return experience. I had pre-ordered an Xbox One through, but changed my mind about a month before the ship date. There was no way to cancel the order online! I had to call a support representative, who was very friendly, but had difficulty locating my order, and placed me on hold for several minutes. It took over 10 minutes to get this done. It felt archaic when compared to any other online ordering experience I’ve had in the last several years.

  7. I find it hilarious that the first comment on this article’s webpage is about Apple. A co-worker bought an iPhone 5 in Dubai, which “apparently” did not work correctly (it turned out to be one of the first Verizon iPhone 5s, which had a bug when used outside the US). He asked me to take the iPhone 5 with me back to the US (we work in Armenia) and see if they would replace it. The longest part of the trip to the Apple store was having to deal with the people that don’t make appointments (please schedule an appointment online before showing up) and just want to hang out and learn about their gadgets. Once a specialist was free, he had Apple’s servers diagnose the “issue” (they can diagnose a device from anywhere as long as they can connect to it) and was ready to swap the device with no questions asked. Total time inside the Apple store was 30 minutes, but that included me having to call Armenia to get the person’s iTunes password so we could wipe the iPhone 5 before Apple would swap the phone.

    As far as your return to the Microsoft Store is concerned, I bought a Samsung tablet online 3 years ago and the device had some major problems, mainly having a BSD occur once a day and the screen separating from the back case. I called up Microsoft online to make the return and they gave me the option to return to a Microsoft Store in the Los Angeles area. That return was effortless. I walked in with all the paperwork needed, an employee took the boxed device back to check that nothing was missing and returned with proof that my credit card had been credited and a form to sign. Total in-store time was ~5 minutes. It sounds like your local Microsoft Store may have some issues.

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