In the second somewhat controversial decision by Consumer Reports in the past year, it has withdrawn its recommendations from several of the Microsoft Surface hardware products for reasons of projected reliability. Though it rated those products highly in its reviews and recommended both a couple of Surface Laptop and a couple of Surface Book models, a recent survey among owners of older Surface products suggested a 25% hardware fault rate within two years of purchase and that’s what led to the yanked recommendations. Last year, Consumer Reports somewhat controversially failed to recommend Apple’s new MacBook Pros over battery life issues that turned out to be caused by somewhat unusual testing conditions combined with a rogue script, something that it eventually reversed itself on, but there’s little prospect of a similar reversal here.
Though Consumer Reports has long used reliability of past car models in projecting the same for newer models on the basis that they often share platforms and components, that approach feels flimsy when applied to consumer electronics, and especially different models from the same company, given the frequent changes in components. If past reliability took a hit from a single component and that component isn’t present in the new devices, it would be completely irrelevant, but the lack of transparency here from Consumer Reports makes it impossible to know what’s really going on. Given the small share of the total PC market Surface captures, I also wonder just how much data CR has and how representative it really is. Overall, this feels rather like Consumer Reports trying to get attention for itself much as it did with the MacBook Pro issue, where it failed to provide adequate insight into its testing process until pressed by Apple. It’s clearly bad news for Microsoft, whose Surface hardware has generally been very well reviewed in the last couple of years, though most corporate buyers won’t be checking Consumer Reports for reliability ratings and will instead go by their own experiences, which as far as I can tell have generally been fine. Consumers, on the other hand, might lean more heavily on these ratings.
Update: Also worth noting are the overall reliability numbers for PCs, which are available within CR’s laptop ratings section: there, Microsoft comes last of all, but only by one percentage point, while it says differences of five points or less are not meaningful, and that spread covers six PC vendors including market leaders HP, Lenovo, and Dell. So it’s not that Microsoft’s reliability is massively worse than other PCs, but that there’s now enough evidence (by CR’s reckoning) to indicate it isn’t as good as it appeared to be.
via USA Today
Samsung Announces Windows Convertible With S Pen Stylus (May 30, 2017)
Samsung Surface Competitor Gets Poor Reviews (May 26, 2017)
Images Leak of New Microsoft Surface Pro (May 19, 2017)
Tim Cook is very fond of talking about Apple’s customer satisfaction ratings on earnings calls – he clearly believes these are both the best indicators of whether Apple is being successful and the best determinants of its future prospects. As such, reviews like this one, which focused on online and phone technical support and service for laptops across the top brands, are good news for Apple, given that it came top of the rankings. It’s also worth noting where others did and didn’t score well – Acer, Lenovo, and Microsoft took the next three spots, while Samsung came near the bottom.
Google calls time on the Pixel laptop – TechCrunch (Feb 28, 2017)
This is a minor news item, but a slightly surprising one – the first product to bear the Pixel brand at Google was a laptop, but the company won’t be making any more of those in the foreseeable future, apparently. With the big hardware push underway at Google, I had been anticipating that we might well see updates to both the laptop and the tablet that also bear the Pixel name alongside a revision of the Pixel phone this fall, but it seems Google’s hardware vision isn’t quite as expansive as I thought. It would be great to hear from Google at some point some sort of specific vision of why it’s in the hardware business, and why it wants to be in some categories and not in others (even some it’s done in the past).
Google has officially released its Android-apps-on-Chrome beta and it’s getting fairly terrible reviews. While Google is legendary for attaching the beta label to things that feel like they’ve long outgrown it (see especially Gmail), in this case the label actually feels premature, since the experience on these new Chromebooks sounds much more like an alpha than a beta. The software is very buggy, and the implementation of Android apps on ChromeOS is if anything even worse than it long has been on Android tablets. Getting Android apps onto a laptop sounds really compelling – all the apps you’re used to on your phone, now on your PC! – but the reality for now sounds extremely disappointing. It’s hard to avoid the sense that this is a misstep by Google, which promised these launches a few months back but clearly isn’t ready to deliver on them yet. In fact, these devices appear to suffer from some of the same lack of readiness as the recent Android Wear 2.0 release, although that was supposedly a finished product. This is uncharacteristic for Google, and it’s a worrying sign that things are being rushed out of the door to meet deadlines rather than because they’re ready.
The PC is interesting again – The Verge (Jan 4, 2017)
Rather than linking to a whole set of separate CES press releases from various PC makers, I’ll link to this. It’s a great summary of what we’ve seen in PCs at CES and to some extent over recent months in general. Though PC sales overall are declining, there are still some interesting things happening with form factors, performance, and more, and increasingly spec- and performance-wise, Windows PCs are now the equals of the Mac. The big question, then, becomes philosophical differences in approach as regards things like touch, convergence of operating systems across device types, and so on.
There’s a little too much hype in the headline here – this isn’t the future of laptops as much as the present, but as Chromebooks rather than Windows machines. The sort of convertible model Samsung is using here has been growing among Windows PCs for years now. In some ways the more interesting difference is that these laptops are being priced more like mid-range Windows PCs rather than cheap alternatives, as Chromebooks have been in the past. OEMs seem to be banking on Android integration to sell these machines now that price isn’t really a factor anymore.
For all the complaining about how the new MacBooks weren’t truly worthy of the Pro designation, it’s been largely a matter of opinion, and one I’ve argued doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to. But if this is a verifiable performance issue with the new MBPs, that’s a concern – I’ve seen pretty variable battery life on my review unit. But see also this iMore piece that questions some of the findings, and this later 9to5Mac piece which follows up with some additional data.