Microsoft's Surface Pro: All it's cracked up to be?

Microsoft's tablet is a high-end, wonderfully designed device that can also be used as a full-fledged laptop. Until you drop it.

broken surface pro3

As a reviews editor, I need to be aware of the vagaries of the major operating systems in use today. So I have a 13-in. Mac Pro with Retina (which is what I also use for my daily work), a two-year-old Samsung Chromebook (which at some point I plan to replace with a more up-to-date model) and a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for Windows.

Well -- I had a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Until Saturday, when I accidentally nudged it off a desktop, resulting in a rather nasty crack across the screen.

Now, I admit I can occasionally be clumsy with my tech devices, but (except for a cell phone that fell in the ocean) on the whole, I've been lucky. I've dropped my various smartphones several times, but even when they hit a hard surface, they've tended to bounce insouciantly back with a surprising lack of problems. (I do have a slight dent in my Moto X , but that just gives it a bit of character). The Chromebook and the Mac have also suffered several indignities, but they are both still pushing through with élan.

Unfortunately, the Surface Pro tablet didn't prove as resilient. As a result of the fall, a small chunk of display disappeared from near the camera, and several hairline cracks appeared elsewhere on the screen. The touchscreen no longer felt my touch -- and when I used the keyboard, application windows popped in and out like the geometric shapes in an Oskar Fischinger animation.

I was heartbroken -- and angry at myself for being so careless. However, my anger cooled somewhat when I talked to a few colleagues who also had experiences with the Surface Pro 3. One had cracked his screen three weeks in; the other had cracked hers nine months after she got it.

And when I did a search on "Surface Pro 3 cracked screen," Google came back with a long list of dismayed owners who discovered it was not possible to actually repair their devices. When I called Microsoft to confirm this, I was told (by a polite and patient staffer) that if you're not under warranty, your only option is to replace the unit with the exact same model; the exchange costs about $350 or a bit more, depending on which model you're replacing.

The recently-released Surface Pro 4 seems like it's made of tougher stuff. The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 4, which is, according to the company, a considerable improvement over the Surface Pro 3's Gorilla Glass 3. And the courageous folks at iFixIt (who are known for their teardowns of technology) were able to remove the display from their Surface Pro 4 unit without mishap -- definitely not the case with the Surface Pro 3.

While I'm still wishing I could borrow Doctor Who's Tardis long enough to go back and prevent myself from that one fatal movement of the arm, I don't feel quite as guilty as I did. But, considering the Surface tablet's edge-to-edge glass and extremely thin dimensions, I should have realized that it might not be quite as durable as a less premium product.

Let me emphasize that I really liked the Surface Pro 3 -- especially once I moved it from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. It was lightweight, fast, fit on my lap beautifully, was fine to type on, and made it easy for me to do my work no matter where I was traveling to or from. However, if you have a Surface Pro 3 that you want to keep in working order, learn from my example -- treat it gently.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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