I bought a Surface Pro (2017) and I’m going to return it


Ever since Surface was announced I loved the idea of a single device which could be powerful and flexible. When the Surface Pro was announced I was interested in the low latency pen input, so I went to my nearest Microsoft Store and played with one.

The pen experience was amazing. The device was thin, not as light as I thought it would be, but overall stunning. I decided I would save and eventually buy one. Last week the wait was over and I stopped by the same Microsoft Store and bought an i5 with 8GB RAM and 265GB Storage.

I rushed home and eagerly waited as the ‘Update Assistant’ downloaded the Fall Creators Update. The Update Assistant failed to install for unknown reasons, so I went through Windows Update which had a bunch of updates, then 1709, and a couple of hours later it was all up to date.

Using the Surface Pro was fast, responsive, quirky, buggy, and quickly began to feel like just another a half-baked Microsoft product. I should have known the failed update assistant was a bad omen, but the experience did not improve from there.

Disclaimer before I begin describing all the factors leading me to return the Surface Pro. I’m a big Microsoft fan. I used a Windows Phone longer than I should have, I develop UWP apps in my spare time, I was a Groove subscriber, I have been using O365 for years, I use Edge as my primary browser, I have multiple Windows devices in my house, I use Cortana, I use Bing, and OneNote is my favorite piece of software ever to be created. So to say the least I was excited to finally have this Surface Pro.

A big reason why I wanted to get a Surface Pro over the laptop or book was because I wanted a single device I could use as a tablet and a laptop. I’m an engineer during the day so I do a fair amount of sketching, annotating, and marking up on paper and PDFs. I use OneNote all day every day. I thought the Surface Pro would be the ideal device for me.

At first everything was going great, but as soon as I began using the Surface as a tablet the cracks began to show. Tablet Mode in Windows 10 is broken. The experience is terrible and there is no way to master it. Apps would routinely crash, only viewing two apps at once seemed pointlessly limiting. The compact keyboard and the pen input panel just float wherever, over the app you’re writing in or whatever it has no idea.

I have some content in the Movies and TV app, and I was playing Futurama in Compact Overlay while I browsing with Edge. When I would activate the Task View via the left edge swipe, Futurama would pause, then not be able to resume and when I switched to the Movies and TV app the episode would jump to the end and the next one would play. This bug was easy to replicate, a pain, and made the experience feel cheap.

Listening to music while in tablet mode was also painful. If I wanted to pause, play, next track, or previous track there were two options. First I could switch over to Spotify (which is a pain to use with touch) and then have full control. The other option was to bump the volume rocker and get a Windows 8 overlay from which I could control the music. Neither are too bad when you are using the device, but they are clunky, not ideal, and cheap feeling.

If you are listening to music on the Surface and not also working on the device the music situation is a blast from the past. Inline headphone controls do not work on the Surface. Also pressing the lock button after setting your music stops the music. When the screen times out and goes off the music will keep playing, but the keyboard pause button does not respond until the device has been awakened. This made me prefer to use my iPhone for music over my fancy new Surface.

The Taskbar is a core and essential tool when working on Windows . In tablet mode it is a sloppy mess. When there are too many icons Windows just mushes them all together and gives a dinky scrollbar to cycle through the app icons. So naturally they are hidden by default. Which means you must use the Task View to switch between apps, which as I mentioned does not work great with all apps, and requires you to take one hand off the device to pick the app to switch to.

The touch keyboard experience continued the disappointment. There was odd lag between tapping a text field and seeing the keyboard; when it decided to pop up at all. Also I never knew what keyboard I was going to get, pen input or small keyboard? To me those are the only two keyboards worthwhile when using the Surface as a tablet because they don’t take up 50% of the display like the standard and the split keyboards do.

Using Microsoft’s first party apps in tablet mode are a non-stop disappointment. For example, Mail and Calendar are so basic and are hard to use with touch and have zero awareness of pens. This is so surprising that Microsoft wouldn’t think to make their built in apps the best mouse, keyboard, touch, and pen apps the world has ever seen. Unfortunately they are a disappointment for every input method other than mouse. Maybe the people who build these apps were told to keep them dumbed-down and basic to avoid competition with Outlook 2016, but that would be sad if true.

Honestly I do not know how Microsoft can look at the Surface Pro and in any way suggest it should be used as a tablet. The device is essentially a super expensive weird laptop. I would be willing to live with all of these oddities and quirks if the device was $800, but clocking in at over $1,600 with pen and keyboard I cannot pretend this is a good value.

If you are a high paid, high visibility executive and are avoiding using an iPad in meetings then the Surface Pro is a really cool looking device. However, for 99.9% of everyone else either stick with laptops, or find a Windows tablet as cheap as the Tablet Mode experience.

As for me I’ll be returning the Surface Pro and going back to sharing the three year old HP x360 with my wife.

TL;DR Tablet Mode is broken, the touch keyboard is inconsistent and odd, nearly impossible to be productive in Tablet Mode. Built in apps are not aware of the pen. Bad media experience. Found myself just using the device as a laptop.

Comments (29)

29 responses to “I bought a Surface Pro (2017) and I’m going to return it”

  1. Oasis

    Thanks for sharing your tablet experience. You may have saved some people a lot of headaches.

  2. longhorn

    Nice write-up. It would be interesting to see comments from people who are satisfied with their Surface Pros. It's Microsoft's best-selling device I think.

    • lwetzel

      In reply to longhorn:

      As a retired Engineer I would have been happy to use the device in my work. I just did most of what he said he did and had no problems. I am even writing this with my pen in tablet mode on my Pro 4. I don't see his problem or problems .

    • Jules Wombat

      In reply to longhorn:

      I am really happy with my Surface Pro 4. It has been a great reliable and performant device for last 2 and half years. But its essentially only used a Laptop (Which is how Microsoft now seems to be marketting all their Surface devies now) , very rarely use without keyboard and hardly every use the pen.

      The Windows 10 Tablet mode is bit awkard to use to my mind, as well as being a rather clunky to comfortably handled. I get the impression that Microsoft have not really invested in developing Tablet Mode, as Windows 8.1 was a much better as a Tablet OS. (So Glad I didn't fork out a lot more for the Surface Book)

  3. ayebang

    I think he used McPro wrote this review anyway. I do not believe him too much. I am using New 2017 and find it very good.

  4. HowGozit

    Good review, and I can see your point - and I don't use the Surfaces with music to this extent.

    However I have a surface pro 3 and a Surface 3 which I used extensively as my main business tools (the Pro 3 was a work computer - the 3 was mine). I ran Office 365 Pro (in other words Office 2016). The Pro 3 primarily as a desktop (big screen, keyboard, dock). The Surface 3 as a tablet (it was in tablet mode even in a dock).

    So - not the Surface Pro 2017 - but the combination worked very well. I am a compulsive note taker - poison of choice being Onenote 2016. I would take the 3 into meetings and take notes - usually with the pen - and they synced with the Pro 3. If I didn't have the Surface 3 with me, I would take the Pro 3 out of the dock and use it in tablet mode with the pen for OneNote - or with the keyboard if that was suitable (tech meetings).

    Transitioning between wired (dock) and wireless at work was usually seamless.

    Yes - there are problems - the machine is delicate and won't tolerate rough handling. The switch of office programs back and forth from portrait to landscape is inclined to mess up the screen layout - but I suspect that is Windows (I assume it happens with other convertables as well.

    Now and again docking and undocking would mean that I needed to reboot during the day to clean things up - taking only 30 seconds to boot (usually) was a plus. However, now and again that boot would be 2 minutes - trying to find networks, I suspect.

    I love the form factor - I love the pen - I love the weight - and the Surface pro 4 keyboard I use is great. I also had a standing order that any of our staff that wanted a Surface talked to me first - thus keeping the number of machines in a large company down to about 9-11. They really didn't survive rough handling - they work poorly on knees and they are occasionally act oddly - significantly more oddly than the HP 840's that were our staple. I lug mine around in a padded slip case - even inside my backpack.

    So - YMMV. (Having said that - I use this as my main tool and have for nearly 4 years).

  5. prettyconfusd

    Agreed. I used my Samsung Slate and later my Surface Pro 3 as both a laptop/desktop(when docked) and tablet all the time and would easily switch between the modes as and when and Windows 8 (but 8.1 was especially good with this) would seamlessly adapt to whether I was using touch, pen, or mouse/keyboard.

    Windows 10 just removed everything that made it such a joy to use. I do like my Surface Pro 4, but unless I'm specifically writing in OneNote or drawing - it's essentially just a laptop/desktop now as it's a pain to use it as anything else.

    Such a shame you had to return it - maybe take a look at one of HPs convertibles? Gives you the best of both worlds while being a reasonable amount cheaper.

    It will be interesting to see where MS go with touch and pen - it's clearly something they're interested in and like to promote - but they just don't seem to be putting any effort in to make it a good experience. I've not been able to recommend Surface Pros to anyone since Windows 10 came along (and I do like W10 on desktop) because those expecting a good tablet experience too just can't deal with how messed up and buggy it seems.

    Speaking of, I feel like I need to wipe and refresh my SP4 soon - this is actually my fourth one after the previous three all had to be replaced due to bugs - as it's starting to get bogged down even as a desktop, and when I tried to use it in tablet mode last week it was unusable.

  6. pratisa

    The main reason I love my Surface Pro is the the screen's aspect ratio (3:2)

  7. Chris Payne

    Great writeup, and I agree 100%. Tablet mode in Windows is a horrible joke, and using regular mode without a keyboard/mouse is excruciating. And because of that, Surface Pros are a good laptop, and that's it. The thought of taking this keyboard cover off makes me cringe.

    But all that I can accept. The most frustrating part to me is how Microsoft can't seem to help themselves. They've marketed this thing as the best 2-in-1 for so long, and then when they either can't or won't fix the tablet mode problems, they give up and start marketing it as a laptop instead. I suspect it's a combination of both issues... lack of ability and lack of focus.. no one there knows how to come up with a unified vision. Or maybe they are visionary, but they can't get out of their own way to implement it. Panos Panay is not the visionary; he's just an uber fan boy.

    And as much as Panay and Satya talk about only producing the best, class-transforming products, they sure do phone it in on the consumer side. The Surface Pro has not changed since the Pro 3, in 2014. Three and a half years and they've not push the envelope. At all. Same goes for all their consumer product attempts, including Windows 10 (2.5 years ago) and the Xbox (XBX is just a souped up Xbox One, so nothing impressive there).

    As a big MS fan, all of this is so disappointing. And the Surface, though I use one daily for work, is just an exemplification of would could have been, but ultimately failed to deliver.

  8. pmeinl

    I agree.

    "... another half-baked Microsoft product ..." sums it up nicely.

    App switching and web browsing (with bottom navigation) in tablet mode were way better in Win 8.

  9. jean

    did it ever cross your mind that you can use it as a tablet without switching to tablet mode ?

    that works for me - just saying

    • TheJoeFin

      In reply to jean:

      It did cross my mind, however there are two issues I have with that solution.

      1.) Windows is awkward and tedious to use in 'desktop mode' with touch/pen.

      2.) Workarounds are fine, but every workaround cheapens the experience, and I was doing too many workarounds for the price I paid. This argument is the same one Linux users make, which is that Linux is free and you can get it to do whatever you want with a little work... but I paid a bunch of money to have the device work great from day one. Maybe some people get a positive return on their Surface investment, but I was not.

    • Orin

      In reply to jean:

      This is what I do with my Asus Transformer Mini. I never use the tablet mode. But I also primarily use mine as a laptop. The only time I use it as a tablet is when I take it to meetings for hand writing notes with the pen in OneNote.

  10. jimchamplin

    You can send it to me. I'm okay with Windows 10's Tablet mode! And I'd take really good care of it for you! :D

    I jest.

  11. ffjfhfjhfhj

    The Surface laptop is a nice device if limiting and overpriced. If it was $500 less I may have kept it.

  12. harmjr

    Good write up. I agree with you and have noticed all of the items you point out. Tablet Mode is worthless. I prefer using jsut regular desktop mode when I detach the keyboard. I purchased an SP4 last year. Had the updated HP version been out I might have that one right now. My biggest issue with SP 2017 is the non replaceable hard drive. Its like they are now making the devices for disposal and charging a premium.

  13. Polycrastinator

    For the most part, it sounds like your criticisms are of Windows 10 in a tablet form factor, not necessarily of the Surface Pro. I don't disagree, even though I like having tablet mode for some items, but it's very much a question of managing expectations: I convert into tablet mode, make notes in OneNote or changes to a spreadsheet while walking around, and then switch back. It's not a robust tablet operating system, and the app support (even including Microsoft's first party applications) is bad, as you note.

    TBH, one of the saddest aspects of Windows 8's failure is that as a tablet OS, it was actually better than Windows 10. The apps were similarly lacking, but it felt better thought out and more usable in tablet form than Windows 10 does today.

    FWIW, I just got a Thinkpad X1 Yoga for work, and I'm really impressed, I haven't experienced any of the bugginess I've associated with Surface devices, it's fast, responsive, and really nice for the sort of work I do.

    • cheetahdriver

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      The Thinkpad X1 Yoga is what my company has standardized on now after our Surface Pro excursion. The SP3's weren't bad until the SP4's came out. We got one SP4 and waited almost 8 months to deploy it while MS's attempted fixes to the SP4 kept breaking our SP3s. We finally gave up and started looking at other options, at almost the same time that the X1Yoga 2016 came out. That unit worked so well in testing that the 2017 X1 Yoga is now our only unit. The USB-C dock runs 3 screens without issue, and without strange workarounds that the SP's did.

      It's lovely not to fight your hardware every update cycle.

      • Tony Barrett

        In reply to cheetahdriver:

        We've had a look at the Surface's too in our company, but there are many shortcomings, the price being one of them. They are just not enterprise ready devices, and compared to business 2-in-1 offerings from Dell for example, are really, really poor. We bought 4 - one was broken out of the box, another developed a screen fault and one had a broken keyboard. We looked, we laughed, we sent them back. Personally, even if I had the spare cash, I wouldn't buy one for home either. Overpriced, under designed running an awful OS.

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      I agree that Windows 8 felt much better to use as a "tablet" OS. I loved the edge gestures for quick app switching and selection. I can only hope that Microsoft substantially improves this situation as they approach the rumored Andromeda device. On the Surface 3 or the Surface Pro it is easy enough to just stay in desktop mode, but that is not going to fly if you're talking about a device less than 8".

      • shameermulji

        In reply to Chris_Kez:

        In hindsight, I wonder if it would've been better off for MS to have separate OS's => one designed around the multi-touch / stylus paradigm and a desktop OS (Windows) designed around a KB / Mouse / trackpad paradigm, you know, like iOS / macOS

        • skane2600

          In reply to shameermulji:

          IMO, that's exactly what they should have done. With Windows 8, MS compromised the experience for their core customers in order to chase a mobile market that they had little hope in competing in. They also started down a path that would eventually become "One Windows" a goal that would end up being more relevant to naive developers than users.

    • TheJoeFin

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      True that most of the criticisms are of Windows 10, but the Surface is sold as a tablet, and if the OS doesn't work in tablet mode... then that is an issue with the overall package. Also the Surface does nothing to alleviate the Windows 10 pains, (like inline headphone remote support) and makes some stuff worse like strange screen flickering at low brightness (apparently an Intel "feature" which cannot be turned off).

      All in all that device sold with Windows 10 at that price is a bad deal.

      • Chris_Kez

        In reply to TheJoeFin:

        Maybe this is why Microsoft now explicitly calls the Surface Pro a "laptop", LOL. I have a Surface 3, and though I often use it without the keyboard (web browsing, Netflix, Twitter, OneNote) I don't think I ever use "Tablet Mode"; I just keep it in desktop mode. If I know I need to do text entry, the keyboard comes back on.

        I hope Microsoft is listening because you highlight a bunch of serious shortcomings for anyone who is thinking they will use a Surface Pro the same way they'd use an iPad.

  14. Bats

    So you bought this Surface Pro device for $1,600? 

    Microsoft if you're reading....

    You are pricing the Surface Pro wrong. 

    This is very disappointing to read. I don't own a Surface Pro or any Surface computer. I was so close to buying one, until HP announced that beautiful Gray and copper (or gold) Spectre X2 and I bought that instead.

    Ya know this very disappointing to read because Macs got their reputation on the argument that Apple hardware married to Apple software means overall better experience and reliability. Here, with you, it seems like you haven't gotten the same experience with a product that marries Microsoft hardware with Microsoft software.....(running Windows 10 Signature edition).

    Consumer Reports:1  Microsoft:0

    Did you ever consider, maybe you got a bad computer?

    • MutualCore

      In reply to Bats:

      Nope! MS does not maintain a separate code branch of Windows 10 that is 'tuned' for Surfaces. That would be cost prohibitive. Surfaces might have better hardware(in theory) compared to other 2 in 1 devices but it's running the same un-tuned Windows 10 that everyone else is. So there is no advantage in buying a Surface in the Apple-sense of getting a fully integrated experience. MS will never stop selling W10 licenses to OEMs and decide THEY will make all Windows 10 PCs going forward. Not ever going to happen, going the full Apple route.

    • Jules Wombat

      In reply to Bats:

      But the Surface Pro is a really awesome pwerful ultrabook, light and neat to carry around. In that class it deliveres. (Its no longter marketted as a Tablet) The Spectre X2 is a beautiful devise, but thats in another use class.

    • TheJoeFin

      In reply to Bats:

      Yeah the price was high, so my expectations were also high and the Surface Pro did not meet expectations.

      I don't think I got a bad device, I checked around and almost all of the issues I described I found in forums or on Twitter with no solutions. Windows 10 is just a bad tablet OS.

  15. MutualCore

    Simple solution to any Surface. Drive to the nearest garbage dump - throw it in the dump. Drive to the nearest mall, locate Apple Store. Buy a shiny new Mac, walk away happy for the next 10 years.