Microsoft finally fixes Surface Pro 3 battery woes

Initial reports about the Simplo battery firmware update are positive, but why did it take Microsoft so long?

Microsoft finally fixes Surface Pro 3 battery woes

Yesterday afternoon Microsoft released a firmware update for all Surface Pro 3s. The stated intent of the update is to fix the battery issues that have bedeviled the tablet for many months -- a problem so onerous it sparked a class-action probe.

With more than 12 hours experience under our belts, it looks like the firmware patch solves the problem. Microsoft's Surface support reputation will take longer to repair.

The symptoms first appeared earlier this year on many tablets. The most thorough early report came from Kridsada Thanbulpong, posting on May 11 on the Microsoft Answers forum:

I've been using Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for a year, and shortly after the warranty expired I noticed my Surface Pro 3 can only last about 1-2 hours after a full charge… Talk with Microsoft via chat support and they insist this was a software problem and reinstalled the driver and asked me to wait few days to see if things improve. Not only it didn't improved, but now my Surface can only last 30 minutes.

Kridsada's initial post has had nearly 1,200 responses and is 117 pages long.

There was an initial report on the battery drain problem in the Microsoft Answers forum from Charles McKay on March 16, but that link now resolves to Kridsada's post.

Microsoft confirmed the battery problem on July 27:

We believe this is something that can be addressed via software and are working through the details of how we deliver that

It's taken more than a month since that confirmation, but we finally have what appears to be a solution. To Microsoft's credit, there's a FAQ that explains the cause of the problem as well as its solution:

  • A bad driver inaccurately reports the battery's charge status
  • With bad charge status information, the Surface Pro 3 doesn't recharge properly
  • The new driver correctly report the battery's charge status
  • Battery charge levels should “self-correct” over the next five charge/discharge cycles

If this analysis is correct, charge levels should be going back to normal in short order -- this has been confirmed by those who have installed the firmware patch -- and there should be no permanent damage to the battery.

The FAQ lists a series of steps to take to properly apply the firmware/driver patch. For those with truly dead batteries, there are extra steps to get the trickle flowing.

Microsoft also acknowledges that it charged people to fix the faulty battery, and is offering refunds:

We're currently working to gather additional details about which customers were affected. If we find that your device was one that could have been fixed, we'll reach out to you within 30 days with more information. We're committed to making sure that people who experienced this issue are taken care of.

Three obvious questions arise from this situation:

  • Which firmware patch caused the problem? There were firmware updates on Jan. 19, April 19, and July 21, but their release notes make no mention of batteries. Are the release notes that bad -- or is something else gumming up the works?
  • Why did it take so long? Initial report appeared on March 16, a definitive description on May 11, Microsoft's mea culpa on July 17, but the patch didn't roll out until Aug. 29. Surely a simple change to the battery driver, which only applies to Simplo brand batteries, couldn't take that long.
  • Why were customers left twisting in the wind? I've seen dozens of reports of people who were charged hundreds of dollars to fix a problem that was well-known to the Surface team. That never should've happened.

Surface customers deserved better from a billion-dollar business.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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