Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet once seemed an interesting prospect. A tablet that was no weakling, a PC in a flat, touchable screen, with a keyboard in its flexible cover. It made us at RPS realise we need to reassess what counts as a PC, asked us questions about how far our remit now stretches. At this point, we're now wondering if anyone on the planet is going to buy one. A thought underlined by today's news from Verge that the 64GB version of the device will only have 23GB of usable storage.
The product, as a concept, sounds fantastic. A tablet that can operate as a laptop, and is a fully fledged PC. With 4GB of RAM, a 10" display at 1920x1080, a Core i5 processor with Intel's HD Graphics 4000 chip on board, creates a whole new space in the market between a tablet and a gaming laptop.
But there are a few warning signs. First, Microsoft, despite being less than two weeks away from the US release, has refused to even hint at battery life. That's the sort of thing you want them boasting about, not keeping secret from anyone who wants to pre-order. And talking of which, if you're not in the US or Canada, finding out when or if you can even buy one is quite the challenge. Microsoft's UK site barely acknowledges the existence of a Surface Pro - again not the sort of thing that fills you with prospective thrills. What you can find there is a page saying "COMING SOON", but hidden away in the Surface RT's pages. Oh, and then there's the price. The US version starts at an eye-watering $900, seemingly entirely missing the point of the tablet market. At a thousand bucks for the 128GB version, you could buy two similarly powerful netbooks for the same price, losing only the touch screen. And those are US prices, without the keyboard.
History suggests that the UK will get gouged for far more. Were you to pick up a 32GB Surface RT with keyboard in the States, you'd expect to pay $600/£380. The same in the UK would cost you $750/£479. That's that amazing £100 Being Not In America Tax we all so love. So the 64GB model will likely cost around £730, with the 128GB version at £860. Those are guesses, obviously, but match the equivalent pricing for the RT.
The news that the Surface Pro's 64GB version is going to have almost two-thirds of its advertised storage space occupied by Windows 8 itself is pretty ridiculous, but not a surprise. The RT model somehow managed very similar, despite not carrying the full Win 8 version. In fact, there's currently an LA lawsuit taking place over what's claimed to be misleading advertising. Microsoft dismiss the case, saying they made the actual storage size clear on their website. Well, that's not really true. The UK site lists the storage size with a little superscript indication to look for more details, and then in tiny, greyed-out print informs,
"System software uses significant storage space; your storage capacity will be less. See surface.com/storage. 1 GB = 1 billion bytes."
"Less" really doesn't imply "half of", as is the case with the 32GB RT. It also wouldn't suffice as an indication of the 41 billion bytes lost from the 64GB Pro. It's fair to say that an awful lot of customers will be astonished when they find out their massively expensive tablet computer has room for a third as much storage as they'd be led by the box to believe.
The 128GB model will also see a big chunk of space gobbled up, losing a mammoth 45GB to pre-installed guff. This will also include a recovery partition, which Microsoft say users can remove and replace with creating "backup bootable USB" partitions. Something with which I'm sure every home user will be completely au fait...
Curses. The notion of portable PC, something capable of even playing a far number of games, does hold good appeal. But at the price, and with the increasing pile of peculiarities, and of course Windows 8 to contend with, it does seem to be draining away.