It’s a good time to release a non-pro Surface tablet

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After hearing the news today, a few things came to me that I thought are worth posting.

– The Surface Pro is big and heavy for a tablet (and it’s not cheap either), there is no ‘normal’ sized Surface tablet, so there is an untapped market here.

– with Android tablets effectively discontinued, there is now an opportunity here for Windows/Surface tablets (Chrome OS tablets suck and will continue to suck for some time, and at the moment there is only 1 in existence)

– The hardware is ready: Microsoft and Intel have figured out how to make a fanless tablet with good performance. The i5 Surface Pro and i5 Surface Book clipboard are fanless.

– Intel has improved a lot since the m3 processor in the Surface Pro 4, and I believe the upcoming version will have a PCH chipset made on the 14nm process for better battery life and less heat, which is especially important in a small fanless tablet and package such as the Core m3

– Microsoft has figured out how to make a cellular Surface, the Surface Pro got great reviews and people will want that option in a 10″ tablet

– we now know that Windows + ARM is not a good experience and possibly won’t ever be a good experience, Intel is the way to go for Windows tablets

Overall, a 10″ Intel powered Surface tablet just makes sense at this time, it certainly makes more sense than the Surface Laptop. I think it could sell well and surprise some people

Comments (30)

30 responses to “It’s a good time to release a non-pro Surface tablet”

  1. Dan1986ist

    I'm hoping the 128 GB version has a decent price point and support higher capacity microSD cards than existing 10 inch Windows tablets, as there are 400 GB microSD cards available now. I'm sure we'll find out what the specs are and what size SD cards will be supported.

  2. dcdevito

    You missed one thing: SOFTWARE. Without an app ecosystem any Microsoft tablet is DOA. Any 3rd party Android tablet, as bad as they are, is way better than anything running Windows. I'll throw in Amazon Fire tablets as better alternatives as well. Chrome OS tablets are getting there as well. And for $329 the iPad is the king and nothing is going to change that in the foreseeable future.

  3. Tsang Man Fai

    Look forward to a thin-bezel, stunning tablet. Despite the smaller screen, it may look even cooler than Surface Pro!

  4. Tony Barrett

    Since when have Android tablets been 'effectively discontinued'? There are still loads of choices out there. Samsung, Alcatel, Lenovo, ASUS, Huawei etc still make and sell plenty of them - the iPad isn't the only tablet in town. ChromeOS works very well as a tablet with touch too. What I'm not sure about though is would people buy an x86 Windows tablet? Windows is still too heavyweight, with a poor tablet UI in 10, with a barren app store. Intel have effectively pulled out of that market, so don't have any real mobile chipset either, and is anyone actually asking for a Windows 10 tablet! Could be a big mistake on Microsoft's part.

  5. lecter

    I think Windows just has way too much overhead for this type of device...it will never run any decent PC game at whatever eye-popping native resolution they stick in there, ever since the updated Office Mobile apps any device can view an Office document impeccably (and you won't reasonably be doing any serious work/editing on a 10'' device), so what's the usage scenario in which this is better than an iPad? Because it will be more expensive than an iPad, so there should be some kind of advantage for which you pay an extra 70 bucks, no?


    Content consumption is OK-ish if you like only Netflix and Hulu (Amazon Prime Video has no app and afaik HBO GO only has one in the US), otherwise you have to use a browser...same goes for Kindle, any decent news source, online shopping, social stuff besides Facebook, etc. Almost no official smart home apps either, which to me is another good use case for a tablet.


    And this is before we get into all the administration issues of full Windows 10, you can't just expect to give a tablet like this to your mother and not receive support calls :)


    They just don't seem to get it that Windows was successful for 30 years because buying a Wintel device was CHEAPER, not because anyone was willing to pay a price premium to use it and not because it was better than all the others at any one specific task.


    Now that they've lost the price advantage forever, they either need to come up with some completely new product line (unlikely), withdraw from the consumer market completely or just stick around in the consumer markets where they are actually as good or better than anything else without being more expensive (I only see 3 such consumer markets at the moment - Xbox, Office and hardware peripherals).

  6. BlackForestHam

    There is no reason consumers -- regular folks, not us geeks from the island of misfit toys -- will be compelled to buy this. With the failure of UWP, Windows 10 remains a hostile platform for touch-centric experiences. As Paul has opined here before, these folks also don't care about Surface Pen. And we are well beyond the point where consumers will accept the idea of needing to run virus protection on their tablet.


    But, hey, Microsoft could always use another write down, right?

  7. Daekar

    So, I'm not in the market for a tablet (nor am I likely to be, given how much I'm enjoying my first laptop as compared to my past tablets), but it seems from the comments that you have to give up a remarkable amount of capability to achieve that ultra-mobile form factor. Is that true, or is that just true of the Surface 3?

    • wright_is

      In reply to Daekar:

      The processor is always the trade-off in such a device. You need a cool-running, energy efficient processor for such a device. That means no power reserves for high-end desktop applications.

      On the other hand, this is a device that is sold for its mobility and being able to consume media and do limited work on the move. For the sorts of tasks it is aimed at, there is more than enough power in an ARM or Atom chip, let alone the Intel Y series Core processors.

      The problem is that many people use them as a one-size-fits all device - you have a lightweight, silent, mobile device for on the move and you slap it in a dock when in the office... And because they have a big screen in the office, they then complain that it won't run Photoshop or other high-end productivity software well.

      You need to look at your workload and right-size the device to cope with it. It might also mean having a high-end laptop or desktop in the office and a small tablet like device for travel or taking notes in meetings...

      • Chris_Kez

        In reply to wright_is:

        I agree with your general point that devices need to be considered in the context of their primary purpose. However, I will say that you not only sacrifice in the processor department but also typically in RAM and disk speed and often other less obvious places like the wireless antenna or the camera or other components-- because manufacturers, when making smaller devices, seem to want to shrink the overall price as well and still maintain their usual profit margin. If this new 10" Surface had an i5 with 8GB RAM, a top of the line SSD, LTE modem and all other premium components then with a dock it really could be a do-it-all device-- it would also cost $1200. There are still people who would want that, but it's now a different device altogether. Sorry, this was a long-winded way of saying that it's not only size but price that imposes compromises.

        • Tony Barrett

          In reply to Chris_Kez:

          The big problem here is that a low cost, low power Win10 tablet, maybe even running off emmc flash and not SSD will NOT give a good end user experience. Just pushing down the price with low cost components and build in the vague hope it drums up sales is not a good idea.

        • wright_is

          In reply to Chris_Kez:

          Correct, up to a point, but putting a Core i5 into such a device either means it will be throttled especially when it is under prolonged load or the device will be much thicker, with heating vents and fans...

          • Chris_Kez

            In reply to wright_is:

            Warning: I am not an engineer. Could they not shrink the fanless Surface Pro down to a ~10 inch device through some combination of improved thermal design and improved chip efficiency in the latest generation?

            • wright_is

              In reply to Chris_Kez:

              The problem is, fanless design needs more surface area. Looking at some of the Surface competitors that use the Intel Core Y chips, they get throttled very quickly, because the thermal design at that size reaches its limits. Shrinking the Surface down to 10" means you lose a lot of surface area for cooling, meaning it will reach its thermal limits more quickly and will start throttling the processor much more quickly.

              Not a problem on tasks than a normal user would need (and wouldn't need the performance of a Core i chip to do), but as soon a sustained CPU utilization comes into play, you would be looking at the processor being drastically throttled after a couple of minutes at most.

              Or not, as was the case with my Lumia 950: it got so hot, it burnt out the camera!

  8. illuminated

    I agree with many thing that you stated but software could be the problem here. There are less UWP apps than Android tablet apps and still we see decline of Android tablets.

    Maybe tablet category is slowly dying. Big phones eat it from one side and light laptops from another. I would consider Surface as an ultra-light laptop.

  9. t1618

    Awesome news!! I've stuck with my Surface 3 all this time for its portability, so perfect for travelling/working.

    A more powerful update could be a beautiful thing.

    ?

  10. Chris_Kez

    They will not get a Core i3 processor in a $400 device (there is no more Core m3, not that it was any cheaper anyway). I also doubt a $400 tablet will have an SSD. I own a Surface 3, and believe me I would love an upgrade-- the Atom processor, 4GB RAM, eMMC storage and 214 ppi screen are all a bit underwhelming. My only hope is that perhaps Microsoft will offer a few 10" SKUs-- and the one I'll want will have an i3 or i5 with 8GB RAM and LTE. This type of top-end configuration will be more like $800-$900 or more.

    • Bdsrev

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      I doubt it'll get an i series processor, it'll get an core m series (also known as Y series) processor

      • Chris_Kez

        In reply to Bdsrev:

        AFAIK the 7th gen Y series (7Y32 and 7Y30) were the most recent versions and they'll be 18-24 months old by the time this new Surface comes out. I haven't seen any mention of an eighth or ninth gen Y series, but I only checked Wikipedia and did some cursory web searching. Either way, unless they pair this Y series processor with a massively improved storage solution (the eMMC drive was an invisible killer of performance on the Surface 3), I still see this as a warmed over rehash of Surface 3. And given the Surface team's 5 year history of under-delivering I have limited hopes for a $400 Surface device. I really hope Panos proves me wrong, but they have yet to earn the benefit of the doubt.

      • wright_is

        In reply to Bdsrev:

        Agreed. Core i3 is too power hungry and too expensive for this end of the market. You are pushing up the price, size and weight to compensate for the Core i3 processor or cutting back on the quality of key components, like the display and storage...

    • illuminated

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      Maybe Microsoft can do something this time. After all surface 3 (non-RT) was OK and for $800 one could have model with LTE. Storage was obscenely slow but maybe after a few years slightly better configuration could be thinner and less expensive?

  11. Bats

    The problem with Surface is not hardware. It's software. People don't buy the iPad because of it's internals. The buy iPads it's because they can do things with it and rather easily. Windows is Windows where it takes a lot of clicks to do one or more things. It's confusing. 


    I true iPad competitor has to match or surpass iPad's ease of use. The iPad is so easy a 1 year (seriously a 1 year old) can use it.

  12. Bdsrev

    small update on this: Intel revealed a "new" chip called Amber Lake, and I'm confident that will be in the coming smaller Surface tablet

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