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Grading on a curve: Microsoft Surface Laptop

Consumer Reports:

Consumer Reports is removing its "recommended" designation from four Microsoft laptops and cannot recommend any other Microsoft laptops or tablets because of poor predicted reliability in comparison with most other brands.

Here's how the publication came to that decision:

To get at reliability, the Consumer Reports National Research Center surveys our subscribers regularly. There are millions of these folks, and many of them supply us with information on hundreds of thousands of individual products, including everything from pickup trucks to washing machines.

I'm not a fan of how the modern Consumer Reports handles technology reviews. Ever since the iPhone 4 "antenagate" scandal, I've felt they've emphasized sensationalism and attention-seeking over data and trustworthiness. The ridiculously rushed MacBook Pro battery life bruhaha from late last year was just the latest nail in the trust coffin — and that includes reporting CR has done on Samsung as well as Apple.

Paul Thurrott, on the other hand, knows his Windows:

Microsoft had benefited from a curiously skewed series of positive editorial stories in mainstream publications because of its perceived innovation with PCs compared to Apple. I dispute that view, actually, and have wondered aloud how any PC maker could be called an innovator when they just released their first laptop in 2017.

That's similar to how I perceived Google Pixel phone reviews last year: That many in the technology industry were grading it on a curve:

The popular press has a weird relationship with Apple. They tend to be massive users of Apple's products, even as they take any excuse, real or imagined, to stick Apple in doomsday headlines. It makes sense — Apple has terrifically usable products, and those headlines garner huge amounts of negative attention. As long as you're willing to swallow the contradiction, it's win/win. Well, for everyone but readers and consumers.

I get it. Apple has topped the charts for so long it feels boring. And any excuse to get a breath of fresh tech air into the discussion feels new, different, exciting. But it often also seems forced.

Apple's no longer the underdog so, now, some actually seem to believe — and are probably right given social feedback — that knocking Apple products for any reason makes them look cooler, less biased, and more populist.

The problem is, people are looking for real advice on real products that they're going to spend significant real money on. Industry ennui does those people a profound disservice.

Surface Laptop is Microsoft's first real laptop. It's not in the least bit surprising it has issues. It's why many people simply never buy "Rev A boards". Give Microsoft a few years, though, and they'll get better and better. Until then, grading on the curve isn't a win/win. It's a lose/lose.

I'm happy Google is making phones and Microsoft is making laptops. The competition is better for everyone, companies and consumers alike. But it has to be treated like that — a competition.

Read more about Surface Laptop at Windows Central

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

30 Comments
  • I’ll just wait for The revised consumer reports review after Microsoft follow in apple’s footsteps and throw bags of money... I mean review the data and find flaws in their review process.
  • You’re going to be waiting a long time for that. The difference isn’t a bad battery test at CR. It’s 25 percent of Surface computers failing rather quickly.
  • Here's a problem with the computer industry as a whole. When a mfg. makes a performance claim, they should release all of the information so that ANYONE can replicate the exact same conditions as the mfg. used to derive their performance test results. PERIOD. Without knowing what the mfg's conditions are, how can anyone correctly validate those test results? Personally, there should be an independent testing lab that has official testing methods that everyone should have their products tested before making performance claims. But so far, the computer industry doesn't have that for testing battery life. If there is, then everyone needs to use them. That way there's no confusion with ANYONE'S reviews in terms of performance validation tests. If someone is going to call CR or someone else flawed in their tests, then ask yourself, do you know the exact test conditions the mfg. uses? Is that published? If not, then everyone is going to run open loop and create what they feel are the best tests. CR really should not be blamed in their original MacBookPro battery test because turning on or off the browser's cache should NOT have made any difference, but because there was a bug, it did, and Apple did own up to there being a bug, they did fix it, and to CR's credit, they redid the battery life tests with the fix and then they changed their position to a recommend status. With the laptop, all CR is doing is basing it on over 90,000 responses from customers that have owned Surface Products for a period of time, and since they had about 25% of the responses had problems, that just was a little too high of a percentage for them to recommend Microsoft Surface products. Heck, even Microsoft at one point released an apology for their Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 products in all of the problems people were having. The thing is, have all of their problems been fixed to the point where CR can recommend their products? Obviously not yet. That is something to be seen in the future.
  • "Apple's no longer the underdog so, now, some actually seem to believe — and are probably right given social feedback — that knocking Apple products for any reason makes them look cooler, less biased, and more populist." So, when reviewers knock Samsung, LG, Microsoft, etc., they're doing it because they have a genuine reason to do so. But when Apple gets criticized about anything, it's just because that reviewer wants to be cool with the poors - and those ragged, filthy souls cry out from social media in delight each time someone from the tech media decides to take on big, bad Apple. Glad you cleared that up for us...
  • Rene Ritchie. The Apple Kamikaze for a decade. He's not married because the long time girlfriend was a Windows user.
  • Good fabrication
  • I am not surprised at all to see you cry and complain about Microsoft and Google products getting good reviews. Was waiting to see your take on this and you don't disappoint. I suppose you were angry when Apple got knocked by Consumer Reports for them saying they couldn't recommend the new MacBooks but changed your tune after they changed their minds. I anticipate you will complain or look for things to cry about if the Note 8 or Pixel 2/2 XL get great reviews regardless of how iPhone 8/Pro does.
  • Apple PR sends out the orders and the drones comply. News like this makes it very easy to spot who is part of that chain.
  • He can only complain about something if there's something to complain about
  • I'm wondering when the $hit is going to hit the fan over the pink line that comes up with S7's and S8's. I have two friends that bought one of each and within a relatively short period of time after they purchased the product, there was a pink line in the screen. They bought them from T-Mobile. They went back to T-Mobile shortly after seeing this annoying pink line running down the screen and T-Mobile said it was not covered under warranty and that they had to BUY new phones. That was it. I have read about this annoying pink line cropping up in other Samsung user's S7's and S8's, but it's so far not getting headline attention like it should. Samsung has gotten away with so much crap, it astounds me how they keep on getting away with it. They got away with selling OLED phones that got bad screen burn in and took on a greenish hue within a year of use. If they were Sony and Sony TVs had this problem, they would have had a massive class action lawsuit against them. Just saying…..
  • "How any PC maker could be called an innovator when they just released their first laptop in 2017." As usual, Paul Thurrot is clueless. Microsoft has been a software company for 40 years. They recently released a tablet and VERY RECENTLY a laptop. How that equates to a "pc maker" is mind-numbingly stupid. Which brings us to this article. Being a fan boy site, I expect to see stupid articles here. But this is the kind drivel I used to see on usenet 30 years ago. "The tech press is obviously biased against (Apple/ Microsoft/Commodore/IBM - take your pick). Uh huh, right. "I've felt they've emphasized sensationalism and attention-seeking over data and trustworthiness". Maybe you should take a look in the mirror. My irony detection meter just went off the scale.
  • "Rene Ritchie has been covering the personal technology industry for almost a decade." Almost a decade? Covering? Is that supposed to be impressive? I have been IN it for over 40 years. Programming, design, tech support, hardware, software. I have pretty much done it all. I have programmed mainframes using punch cards. I bought my first computer in 1978. I used a soldering iron to modify/upgrade it. I had an actual IBM PC. I had an Apple 2. I had an Apple 3. I remember when a large hard drive was 10 MB. That's megabytes, as in 2 modern MP3 files would fill it. I built dozens of what used to be called "pc clones" by buying my own cases, motherboards, memory, drives, etc. because it was so much cheaper AND it was fairly easy to do. The point is, it's funny to watch people with "almost a decade of covering the tech industry" under their belts, pretending to be unbiased - while accusing others of being biased - and doing so on an obviously biased fan boy site. What is the purpose of pointing out that CR has stopped recommending Microsoft tablets and laptops due to reliability issues, and in the next sentence accusing them of bias due to the "antenna gate scandal"? So pointing out problems in Microsoft stuff is OK but not Apple? If iPad reliability suddenly plunged and CR stopped recommending iPads, would you point that out here? Or would I have to go to Windows Central to read that? Everyone has their biases. But pointing out the biases of others on an unashamedly biased web site is absurd.
  • He is a butthurt Apple fanboy. What do you expect? He complains about Google getting graded on a curve along with MS yet Apple does not get knocked on tech reviews for having displays less than QHD and no SD card reader yet Android OEMs that do not include those get dinged. Perfect example of Apple as well being graded on a curve. If you do not believe me, Rene, go read Engadget reviews. Apple benefits from curve grading too. Also, the latest MB Pros have 4 USB C ports and no SD card readers, yet they get no punishment for them. A retort might be they are preparing for the future and you can use a dongle, yet if a Windows OEM did the same thing, they would be blasted and get a poor review due to lack of ports. Again, another double standard and Apple getting curve grading. If you are going to throw the term around, at least own up to Apple reaping benefits of curve grading too (heavily). Your reaction to this (this article) clearly displays the fact that you pounce on bad stuff about competition but cry and complain when you think things are unfair or Apple doesn't get praise as high as you want. You should go write for BGR. They could use someone with your mentality and devotion for products from Cupertino, California and heavy bias against the rest of the technology industry in general.
  • The only thing that feels butthurt in this article is your comment. You take this stuff way to serious. I'm wondering why you would come to an apple blog and be outraged if theres bias.
    What shows your own butthurt bias is the fact that instead of attacking what was said you attack the writer of the article. He should write a reply to you only pointing out how miserable your butthurt life probably is.
  • Apple got rid of the SD card reader because guess what? The majority don't use them anymore. And USB-C is the current USB standard, there's no lack of ports. USB-A is outdated now
  • The abscence of an SD card reader refers to iPhones not MacBooks, hence the reference to Android in the post. Its an incredibly efficient and affordable way of increasing phone storage, especially compared to the ludicrous prices that Apple, Google et al charge for extra internal storage.
  • It's not really efficient, the main reason iPhones don't take SD cards is because they're considerably slower than the internal storage
  • Of course they're slower than internal storage, but for things that take up huge amounts of space but do not require fast access such as music and photos then they're ideal.
  • Apple won't do it solely because of the speed issue, it's their decision unfortunately
  • No Naddy, clearly we are all supposed to be impressed with your resume instead. Nice of you to share it with all of us because you deserve so much recognition for your years of hard work soldering circuit boards. What anything you said had to do with your point is still over my head.
    Because you once owned an apple and IBM means its impossible for you to be biased?
    Reading the article might have actually helped you understand that he was tired of all the CR reports, even the ones against Samsung and Windows because they are trying to be more sensational than factual.
    Reading is a fundamental aspect of commenting on a blog.
  • Essentially Ritchie is a shill for Apple. Imore exists to sell Apple product. This is not journalism but then again, most of the crap we read by these so-called objective reporters is utter nonsense. Why do I read this stuff anyhow? I just love to see how depraved the tech press has become and how they are essentially PR machines for the big players in the industry. It satisfies my need to say--hey, I told you so!
  • Part of the problem is that Apple actively blacklist tech sites that criticise them. The Register, who frequently call out Apple for the quality control and pricing issues, has a rather colourful relationship with them to say the least. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/09/07/reg_effort_to_attend_iphone_7_l...
  • So how does problems with the Surface book and Surface Pro relate to the Surface laptop? Also, I feel like there’s a kind of customer who these are really wonderful for and they dovetail nicely with the tech press, which is customers needing premium hardware who have issues with Apples more restrictive environment.
  • Ok. I just sense a bunch of fanboy sh*t rather than neutral analysis of CR trending. No need to point on competition just to get a clear point of CR crap nowadays.
  • Consumer reports used criteria of dumbphones when the Treo, blackberry and first iphone were starting to appear. Voice quality. Speaker. Ease of dialing. Talk time. It took them long enough to change with the times. Look at 2008 for CR: 1. BlackJack II
    2. T-Mobile Wing
    3. Motorola Q9c
    4. T-Mobile Shadow
    5. BlackBerry Pearl Flip
    6. AT&T Tilt
    7. Palm Centro 685
    8. Palm Treo 800
    9. Palm Treo 755P
    10 Apple iPhone 3G (8GB) How anyone in the smartphone sphere could take them seriously at this point is beyond me. Things never got better. Look, everyone is biased when it comes to tech. I've always felt that comparing two systems with different OS's makes no sense. You pick OS first. Then you pick the best hardware running that OS. You can't simply say that Microsoft Surface is better than a Macbook...they're different animals. I prefer MacOS. I can run windows on it. I prefer the UI and compatibility with iOS. I'm more concerned with picking the right MacOS device and comparing macs with macs.
  • In all fairness tech reviews are done in the moment. When you review the new iPhone you don't wait six months to see if reliability holds up.
  • Surface has always been a bit of a joke. And, the tech press fawning over Microsoft for mediocre hardware just makes no sense. Even the launch of he laptop was ludicrous. Most offensive was the comparison to an Apple machine. How did Microsoft get the price below $1k? By cheapening the product. If Apple had released a laptop with 4GB of RAM, they would have been hounded relentlessly. And the Surface Studio (the machine Laporte seems to have an unhealthy love affair with) is an underpowered overpriced piece of junk. And the sales figures back it up.
  • +1, agreed. Surfaces also have had a lot of faults with them too. Cheap product
  • Let's sum up this article:
    1) CR is not trustworthy because they at one time tested the iPhone and found that there were problems with the antenna. When 100s of Apple fans wrote 1000s of hate comments on the CR web site, without a change from Apple other than to give away a cheap case, CR gave in to the pressure and changed their stand adding the iPhone. Of course, then CR was once again reliable and completely trustworthy. But now CR is not trustworthy again, but they are to be believed completely when they are criticizing a Microsoft product, and don't you doubt a single thing that CR states. 2) Poor, poor Apple. I remember years ago about how the Apple fans would complain about how no one was allowed to state any dislike for Apple products because they were the small underdog. Apple was the little, harmless guy in the ocean surrounded by the sharks that is Microsoft. Now that Apple has a large marketshare (not really, they just make a lot of money) off of one specific device, now they complain about how they are being abused for being on top. Microsoft is the small guy in the tablet market, so does that mean that you can't criticize them, or they are the big software company, does that mean that you can't criticize them? I am confused - wait, I am not confused. It is whatever the argument is at the time to make sure that Apple looks the best, while the competition is attacked. As you said a few weeks ago, Renee, the people doing the criticizing says more about the person doing the criticizing than the product being criticized. 3) Apple has routinely had problems with their computers. Every release there is a problem, video cards overheating, batteries, keyboards, touch pads, displays, and on and on and on. And every time there is some excuse as to why it is not Apple fault. Usually it is some component overheating, and the blame is put on the other company for creating bad products not Apple trying to shove components into a form factor that the component was not designed for. For example, graphics cards from AMD/NVidia have been a common problem. But of course, we can't afford Microsoft the same excuses that you and others have made for Apple. No, Microsoft is competition for Apple, so despite all your pontificating about if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all, that all goes out the window when it is about an Apple competitor. Your sister site, WinCentral, often links back to this site when there is a big Apple media event. They don't go on the attack against Microsoft's competition. And I like those articles because it lets us see how the other 3.6% live. Plus I own a number of Apple products myself. But this site, to quote Steve Jobs, just has no class.
  • I don't know what rock these people are living under. I've read tons of articles on the Google phone and MS laptop that gave high praise without pointing out obvious flaws (the Pixel looks like an iPhone knock-off, upgrading from Windows 10 S to 10 will cost you battery performance). Serveral others have pointed out these flaws too: [url=https://www.aboveavalon.com/]Above Avalon[/url]
    [url=http://www.macworld.com/column/macalope/]The Macalope[/url] The only problem I have with this article is that it is weak on examples of the press reaching the odd conclusion. I have read plenty of them. Keep in mind, I recommend the Pixel: Google has great instructions on how to flaw the ROM in case you get infected with HummingBad or Shedun. It will get clear updates for 3 years (and I'm optimistic that it may end up being longer). But the reviews were inconsistent on what they fault each company for. Also, I think there beeds to be a code of conduct or flagging of explicit comments. Some of the comments here make me wish they would disable them entirely.