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Before it went on sale, the device was already contending with mixed reviews, gripes over its storage capacity, discontent over Windows 8 and the specter of Surface RT's underwhelming sales. Even the device's initially sold-out stock, ostensibly a good sign, became a source of frustration, with commentators either criticizing Redmond for being unprepared to ship enough units, or for intentionally limiting inventory in order to manufacture a sense of sky-high demand.
So after all the hullabaloo, how is Surface Pro doing these days, almost two months after it hit the market? Pretty well, it turns out -- at least if consumer reviews are any indication. Unlike most Windows 8 devices, Surface Pro features an almost flawless customer critique record on major retailer web sites.
This positive word of mouth would be vindicating for Microsoft, given that Windows 8 has been, at least so far, among the most polarizing products in the software giant's history. That said, users delighted with Redmond's second foray into tablet hardware might want to spring for the company's extended support options: The Surface Pro's out-of-warranty repair costs are high enough to dampen enthusiasm even among the most devout Windows 8 fans.
Talk of Surface Pro's positive momentum has picked up since a March 31 column in the Examiner reported that the device had averaged a near-perfect rating of 4.62 out of 5 across 396 user reviews at Amazon.com and the websites of big box retailers such as Best Buy.
As indicators of success go, online reviews aren't the most empirical of measures. And the reviews aren't universal raves, either. Though the Surface Pro's high-density screen drew praise, many users were less enamored with the device's battery life, which tops out around five hours during light use and can run dry much faster during more intensive applications.
[ What have we managed to learn about Microsoft's upcoming Windows update? Read Windows Blue: What We Know. ]
Even so, most Windows 8 and Windows RT devices average user scores of 4.0 or less, supporting the notion that among machines running Microsoft's reimagined, touch-centric OS, Surface Pro has offered the most pleasing package.
There are still reasons to take the praise with a grain of salt, of course. Surface RT's initial user reviews, though apocryphal in some cases, were also quite positive. These plaudits, which have since trailed off, didn't convince anyone that Microsoft's slimmed-down tablet was a success, and it's possible that Surface Pro's high marks are similarly misleading.
That said, the Surface Pro reviews represent a much larger sample size than the Surface RT's did. Moreover, the Pro model has already sold at least a third as many units as the RT. Such sales don't compare to, say, the most recent iPad launches, but given that the Pro has been available for less time than its Surface-branded sibling and is almost twice as expensive, these early sales figures nonetheless represent a modest victory.
If you're among those who've been enchanted by the Surface Pro's tablet-laptop synthesis, though, you might want to shell out for Microsoft Complete, the $99 warranty package that extends support from one year to two. At less than half the cost of protection plans for comparably priced Apple products, Microsoft Complete covers not only defects but also accidents such as drops and spills. Apple Care doesn't cover such mishaps, though it does offer a year more coverage than Redmond's offering. Microsoft Complete must be added within 45 days of a Surface Pro purchase, so time is short for many early adopters.
Why is the protection important? The Surface Pro is extremely difficult to repair, and Microsoft's general approach is evidently not to replace individual components but rather to swap defective devices for new or refurbished ones. Microsoft Complete covers this process at no additional cost -- but Internet rumblings, including some from Microsoft customer service representatives, suggest that for those outside warranty, the replacement process will cost roughly as much as new Surface RT.
In a sense, getting a fresh Surface Pro for around $450 is a much better deal than purchasing a new one outright. Then again, the device's most attractive configuration is already more than $1000. If all a user needs is a new battery, $450 is awfully steep. Though some customers' mileage has varied with Microsoft Complete, which will likely grow more streamlined and effective as Redmond becomes more comfortable in its new hardware manufacturer role, the $99 up-front investment is much more attractive than a costly replacement down the road.
Asked to clarify repair policies, a Microsoft spokesperson replied via email, "We stand behind our products with a manufacturer's warranty, which is additional to our commitment to honor any statutory obligation -- as either a manufacturer or retailer -- to repair or replace a faulty product." Redmond did not specify exact replacement costs for out-of-warranty devices but confirmed that a damaged Surface Pro can be replaced for less than the cost of a new unit.
Though Surface Pro is gaining fans both with and without warranty protection, discussions of its success -- or lack thereof -- might be fleeting. Windows Blue, the recently confirmed major update to Windows 8, is on the horizon, and it should usher in a new wave of Ultrabooks, tablets, and likely, Surface models. Many of these new devices will run on Intel's upcoming Haswell processers, which are expected to provide modest CPU boosts and extend laptop battery life to tablet-like lengths. Surface Pro might represent the apotheosis of Windows 8 at present, but if you're on the fence about a purchase, you might want to hold off a few months.
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