Surface Pro 3 not a notebook replacement to DIYers who want inside

iFixit again gives Microsoft's 2-in-1 the lowest possible repair score; blames large amounts of glue and 'paper-thin' glass

Microsoft may pitch its Surface Pro 3 as a notebook replacement, but to do-it-yourselfers, it's a tablet pure and simple, iFixit concluded today.

San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based iFixit -- one of the Web's best-known electronics repair firms -- picked up a Surface Pro 3, which went on sale last Friday, and pulled it apart to see what Microsoft had put inside, and to gauge how easy or difficult it was to reach components, like the battery, that DIY aficionados might want to replace.

iFixit assigned the Surface Pro 3 a repair score of just 1 out of a possible 10, its lowest-possible rating.

The company blamed several characteristics of the Surface Pro 3 for the low score, including what it called "paper-thin display glass" that cracked when its team tried to pry apart the tablet-cum-notebook.

"The Surface Pro 3 traded the [Surface Pro] 2's 90+ screws for some seriously hideous adhesive, and consolidated even more components," iFixit said in an email Monday.

During the teardown, iFixit not only cracked the display's glass, but also warped the battery. The culprit -- thick adhesive -- was liberally spread throughout the device, a common assembly technique by makers of ultra-thin tablets.

Last year's Surface Pro 2 also received a repair score of 1 from iFixit, as did the early-2013 original.

"We think the [Surface Pro] 3 is pretty much the same insane [level of] difficulty to repair as the [Surface Pro] 2," said Kyle Wiens, co-founder and CEO of iFixit, in an email reply to questions. "You're more likely to break the screen than on the 2, but things are more a bit more straightforward once you get inside. But even once you do get inside, it's not very modular."

The Surface Pro 3's score was in the same low league as a few other tablets: Apple's iPad Air, which debuted in October 2013, also earned just one point.

But Microsoft has been pushing the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop replacement, not as a tablet. And when compared to most notebooks, accessibility is a nightmare.

"Notebooks are usually pretty darn good," said Wiens about reparability. "Dell, HP, and Lenovo post service manuals for their laptops and believe that they are reasonably serviceable."

Admittedly, some notebooks are just as tightly sealed as an iPad or Surface Pro 3. When iFixit cracked open a Retina MacBook Pro in 2012, it called the machine "the least-repairable laptop we've taken apart," and slapped a 1 on the device.

But the MacBook Air, which Microsoft has repeatedly put beside the Surface Pro 3 to imply that the latter is a better buy than the former, earned a repair score of 4 out of 10 from iFixit in the latest teardown of mid-2013.

"Part of the reason we emphasize reparability on tablets is that it's such a huge departure from the designs of the past," Wiens explained. "People assume their electronics are repairable, and then are surprised when they learn that things have changed for the worse."

iFixit's Surface Pro 3 teardown, complete with photographs taken at each step, can be found on the company's website.

Surface Pro 3 teardown
iFixit demonstrated the grip of the adhesive used in the Surface Pro 3 with a parlor trick. (Image: iFixit.)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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