When reviews of the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 hit, it seemed like Microsoft would be riding a wave of positive publicity into the holiday season. We liked both devices, and while the Surface Book wasn't everyone's cup of tea, most reviews were also fairly positive. But things changed once they actually reached consumers. Some early buyers reported a variety of issues, including screen flickering, system instability and power problems. Those concerns prompted Microsoft to release several firmware and software updates within weeks (on top of a launch day fix), which helped with some issues. But they came too late to erase the idea that something was up with Microsoft's new hardware.
And one big issue remains for Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 owners: erratic power management. Some users are reporting that the devices simply don't go to sleep properly when you close their lids or put them into standby. Instead, they continue to drain power, which could be a nasty surprise if you don't bring your charger along. That's a particularly surprising issue for flagship devices in 2015 — it's something that's mostly been fixed by laptop makers over the past decade. Making things even worse, a Surface engineering manager noted earlier this month that the issue might not be fixed until 2016.
"We are focused on delivering a great experience to every Surface customer," a Microsoft spokesperson told Engadget. "We know a small set of Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 customers are experiencing issues and addressing that is a top priority for us. We have dedicated engineering teams working to get updates and fixes out as quickly as possible and we will continue to use our Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 support forums to share new information directly with our customers as it becomes available."
Microsoft also issued a brief apology last Friday for the "less than perfect" Surface experience, which basically urged users to keep updating their devices. There was no mention of the ongoing power issues.
It's not unusual for brand new hardware to exhibit some growing pains, particularly unique devices like the Surface Book. But in those situations, being completely transparent with customers is usually the best response. It's been nearly two months since the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 have been released, so it's also surprising that they're still exhibiting debilitating power issues.
Microsoft reps tell us that they typically don't offer up timing expectations when it comes to fixes, as the Surface engineering manager (identified only as "Joe") did. Every update requires extensive testing to make sure they don't cause new issues, so it's not simply a matter of writing up a fix and deploying it. Still, at least "Joe" actually said something about the power issues. Microsoft has yet to acknowledge it otherwise.
It's not as if Microsoft is ignoring the Surface issues, though. It's constantly tracking all of the issues being reported; some just take longer to fix than others, reps say. The company has also sped up the timing of Windows Updates so they can be deployed as soon as they're ready, rather than just a few times a month.
Mostly, it seems that most of the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 issues caught Microsoft by surprise. While the devices went through plenty of internal testing, most of the problems only became apparent when they reached consumers. That may be a sign that Microsoft should open up its testing process a bit to a wider audience, before releasing new hardware. The company doesn't have plans to do that yet, reps say, but that'll ultimately be up to its engineers.
So where do things stand now? Microsoft is updating its Surface devices with all of the currently available fixes at the factory. If you've already got one, be sure to install all of the updates that get released. The company isn't offering any special customer support path for Surface issues, but I hear the replacement process is fairly painless if you're near a Microsoft store. Otherwise, contact Microsoft support and hope for the best. In some cases, they can send you a replacement before receiving your faulty device.
It's always tough to judge just how extensive product issues are based on forum complaints. Consumers having a negative experience with new products are generally louder than the rest. But when those issues are being reported consistently, it's worth noting. We've also seen a major issue with our pre-production: One Surface Book crashed after running a 3D benchmark and refused to boot. We initially chalked that up to just being early hardware, but some users are reporting similar booting issues.
One Surface Book owner I know -- who was particularly eager to get one -- had to replace their device three times at a Microsoft store. After getting tired of the issues, he just got a Dell XPS 13 instead.