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Microsoft plays down Surface Pro battery life concerns

Microsoft's Surface Pro hits US stores on 9 February and is "coming soon" in the UK. Some have voiced concern about certain features, like battery life and actual available storage.

The Microsoft Surface team, including Panos Panay, a corporate vice president at Microsoft, stopped by Reddit for an "Ask Me Anything" about the Redmond-based firm's newest tablet.

Two of the biggest topics were battery life and storage capacity.

In our battery rundown test, the Surface Pro lasted four hours and 58 minutes. To some, this is subpar for a $899 (£575) device. But according to Microsoft, it designed the Surface Pro so that it "did not compromise speed [or] performance in any way."

"With that, we wanted to be the best notebook/laptop product in its class, but still deliver you the tablet form factor. This product is optimised in every way to take advantage of the full third-generation Core i5 it runs, yet give the best battery life," Panay said. "If you compare it to say a MacBook Air, you will quickly see that pound for pound in battery size vs. battery life, you will find optimisations that puts Surface best in its class."

In our testing, the 11in MacBook Air completed the video rundown test in four hours, 14 minutes - less than its sibling, the Apple MacBook Air 13in, which lasted almost seven hours.

Still, Panay acknowledged that Microsoft selected a smaller battery "to be sure we were able to give you the same performance and to keep it thin."

The Surface Pro weighs just 900g.

"While these tradeoffs are challenges as much as they are opportunities, we think given the performance and experience you will be getting, it is an exciting product," he concluded.

The team hinted there might be more to come on battery life. When asked if Microsoft had plans for an external battery or a thicker keyboard cover with an extra battery, the team said "that would require extending the design of the accessory spine to include some way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery. Which we did..."

Later, the team said it talked about the accessory spine at launch "and hinted at future peripherals that can click in and do more. Those connectors look like can carry more current than the pogo pins, don't they?"

Only 23GB of Storage?

Another hot topic was just how much space people can expect on the Surface Pro. Recent reports, for example, suggest that someone buying a 64GB Surface Pro will only actually have 23GB of available space, while those buying the 128GB will have 83GB free.

Panay said those estimates "were conservative." Final production units were coming in with about "6-7GB additional free space," he said.

"We designed Surface Pro (and the allocation of disk space on our systems) to have the power of full Windows 8, the ability to have a simplified and fast upgrade to full Office and the confidence of a recovery image already available on your device," Panay wrote.

"Available disk space is a design choice and a tough one to make as an engineering team. It is a clear set of tradeoffs to provide the customer more space while providing them the tools out of the box."

He also pointed out that users can extend storage via microSDXC, USB 3.0, and SkyDrive, which includes 7GB of free storage.

Other questions posed to the team:

Why no docking station?

"I have been using my pre-production unit as my main machine for a while now," said Andrew Hill, who leads the Surface's mechanical team. "When I am at my desk I plug in a Mini Displayport and a USB cable and go to work. Others among us take advantage of docking station solutions that are available to drive displays over USB3."

Why did the Pro launch after the RT?

"This is simple. We started the Pro 3 months after we started Surface RT :-) That is exactly when we staffed the team to go and bring this product to life!" the Surface team said.

Why so expensive?

"Surface Pro is perfect for the person that wants a MacBook Air and an iPad, but doesn't want the weight or hassle of both devices," the team said. "We didn't skimp on the performance you need to run a business but gave it to you in a very portable package."

Why doesn't the keyboard just come with it? It seems like a real d**k move on the part of Microsoft [Reddit's wording]?

"Through the launch of Surface RT we had consistent feedback from our customers that choice is important," the Surface team responded. "Some customers prefer color Touch Covers, others prefer a Type Cover. For the same reason we are now introducing a 64GB standalone for RT, we will sell Pro without a keyboard and allow customers to choose what suits their style."