Microsoft may be working on a new, low-cost Surface with introductions planned for as soon as the back half of this year. When Redmond first introduced Surface it offered two options — a lower-cost tablet with an ARM (Surface RT, Surface 2) or Intel Atom processor (Surface 3), and a high-end device outfitted with an Intel Core CPU. This worked well until Intel canceled its tablet and smartphone line of Atom products and chose to limit the new Goldmont core to laptops and desktops. The Surface 3 is still powerful enough to be useful as a lower-end device, but it hasn’t been refreshed since 2015 and Atom was never a bruiser. A new model would be welcome.
That’s exactly what Microsoft is building, according to Bloomberg. The report said the new devices will have 10-inch screens (roughly equivalent to Surface 3), offer USB-C support (a first for Microsoft), and unfortunately, will trade weight for battery life. Bloomberg reports that the devices are 20 percent lighter than current high-end models. The Surface Pro with a Core i7 weighs in at 784 grams / 1.728 pounds, which would put the new Surface 4 (hypothetical name only) at around 653 grams / 1.44 pounds. Unfortunately, this shift means giving up about four hours of battery life. Microsoft claims 13.5 hours of endurance for the Surface Pro.
I checked the reality of that battery estimate by scanning reviews from Digital Trends, CNET, Techradar, Wired, Hot Hardware, PCMag, and Engadget. Some publications test battery life in different usage scenarios, but I only logged the highest run-time and best-case result. Even so, the differences were huge. Hot Hardware measured a runtime of just 6.6 hours, while PCMag squeezed out nearly 14 hours in their video test. The average run-time across all seven publications came out to 9.6 hours.
Knocking four hours of battery off a tablet with a 13.5 hour runtime is bad. Knocking four hours of run time off a tablet with a 9.6 hour battery life is terrible. In fact, if that penalty carried over across the board, this new Surface tablet wouldn’t even break the three hour mark in Hot Hardware’s battery run test.
The device, which will supposedly start at around $400, will offer 64GB or 128GB of storage, a new cheaper version of Microsoft’s absurdly overpriced Type Cover and Surface Pen, and will also be available with LTE support. There’s no word on screen aspect ratios (3:2 seems likely), the Intel CPU used (likely a Core M derivative), or whether the systems will include a fan. Hopefully the battery life report is simply wrong. A low cost Core M device would represent a major upgrade over the old Atom-powered hardware, but whacking battery life in the name of weight reduction when devices are already below two pounds is exactly the wrong move to make.
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