The Demented Ravings of Frank W. Zammetti Visit www.zammetti.com for all things me

12Aug/170

Microsoft, you’ve got to do better by a customer when DEATH (maybe) is on the line!

I have for a long time been a definite fan of the Microsoft Surface line. I have been since I first saw it. It’s always had this feeling of being from the future: thin, light and yet containing all the power of a decent desktop. My wife was the first in my house to get one, a Surface Pro 2 (on sale for $599 at the time). She liked it, but it had some frustrating Wi-Fi issues that I could never get corrected, so she moved on after about a year with it. That didn't sour my opinion of the line though.

I then got a Surface Pro 3 shortly after its initial release back in June of 2014, and it’s been my faithful companion ever since. The thing became my DESKTOP replacement, ably doing all I needed it to do while connected to a big honkin’ monitor, keyboard, mouse and other peripherals. It’s great to have such a mobile device that can be the ONE device to rule them all – no more worrying about syncing apps and data between my desktop and my separate laptop, it’s all the same machine! Put simply, it has served me very well and I've been a happy Microsoft customer.

Until recently.

You see, over the last few months, something weird has been happening. The screen, along the bottom edge, has been warping, bowing outward. The screen began to separate from the chassis. Then, some scorch marks appeared on the lower corners. I had been attributing this to heat all this time – after all, the thing was constantly running, sitting in a dock on my desk, it’s not surprising that heat might be an issue. A Surface arguably was never meant for that configuration, though it worked perfectly well that way (and I don’t recall Microsoft ever saying it WASN’T a valid configuration to use it in).

Here, have a look:

This is probably the "money shot", as they say:

And here are those "scorch marks" in the corners I mentioned:

Interestingly, my SP3 still FUNCTIONS fine despite the physical damage! What I mean is that the screen still works as if nothing were physically wrong with it. It hasn’t begun crashing or anything unusual (although in recent weeks it started randomly turning off every now and again, though I’m 99% sure this IS in fact due to it being a hot summer here, and more importantly, it’s never once done it while I was using it).

Like that watch slogan used to say: takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ (screen deformity aside). I'm surely not HAPPY with what's been happening to it, but at least it hasn't died outright, so that's something.

In just the past few days, the screen has started separating from the chassis along the top now, which is new, and one corner has lifted off entirely (though having it in the dock acts as something of a "clamp" and forces the adhesive to do it's job, at least temporarily). It has clearly gotten worse quickly, despite still working fine.

This past week, Consumer Reports posted an article entitled “Microsoft Surface Laptops and Tablets Not Recommended by Consumer Reports” (https://www.consumerreports.org/laptop-computers/microsoft-surface-laptops-and-tablets-not-recommended-by-consumer-reports/). Being a resident of the Surface subs on Reddit, I was not at all surprised to see it engender a lot of discussion there. On one of the posts, I decided to state the following:

I've had my Surface Pro 3 since shortly after it launched. It's the i5/256Gb model. It's been my primary DESKTOP machine since then: it sits in the dock most of the day plugged into a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals.

Over the last six months, it's become a mess: the screen has literally warped and now bows out, separating from the chassis along the bottom (I can now get my thumb into the gap without forcing it). In the two bottom corners, there are burn marks where the LCD obviously had too much heat behind it. So, all of that is really, really bad.

But, here's the thing: it still basically works perfectly! Yes, if the ambient temperature gets above around 90 then it starts doing some random shutoffs, but that's fairly rare (and it's never shut off on me in the middle of using it interestingly). The screen, despite the deformity and burn marks, still FUNCTIONS fine too. When I run various tests on the whole thing, including some hellacious burn-in runs, it never stumbles at all.

So yeah, nasty physical damage, but still functions perfectly. I'm not sure every other laptop/tablet would be able to keep going like this thing has.

And, let's not forget that my usage pattern for it isn't really what it's intended for. It wasn't really intended to be a desktop replacement, yet that's what I've used it as, and it has performed admirably. So, while I could argue that the type of damage I'm seeing due to heat shouldn't ever have happened for the money I paid for it, it's also amazing that it still works great despite all of that. It's also fair to point out that until the damage started becoming apparent, I used to leave it on 24x7. So, again, driving it harder than perhaps was reasonable.

This, as you might expect, got some comments. One comment, in particular, was most interesting to me, courtesy of a helpful Redditor:

Take it to a Microsoft Store. You're dealing with battery swelling. Microsoft will replace a device that has a battery swelling issue regardless of warranty period. As long as your device doesn't show signs of physical drop damage, they'll replace it. That's a safety hazard with the swelling battery.

Revelation! I had never considered that it might be a battery issue! My mind has always been stuck on “heat issue.” But, after I read that, I took the thing out of the dock, shined a flashlight in there, and what do you know, it did indeed look like a swelling battery! Like, OBVIOUSLY so! I wish I had thought of that possibility myself, but I didn’t! (let that be a lesson kids: never allow yourself to become so convinced one answer is right that you stop considering any other possibilities!)

Well, fortunately, I have a Microsoft store 20 minutes from me, and in the biggest mall in the country no less, so I figured it was worth a shot. Especially since the device is otherwise in pristine condition, never been dropped even once, and this is a safety issue, as this Redditor said, I figured the worst that could happen was they said no.

Well, unfortunately, that’s exactly what they said.

They immediately acknowledged that yes, the battery is indeed swelling, that's what's going on. No debate. They also told me that while it's not a common thing, it's also not unprecedented (they said they'd never seen one as bad as mine though). But, all that said, the manager (who I was told has discretion on this) would NOT swap it.

I mean, to a certain extent, I get it: it's out of warranty, even out of the extended warranty (MS Complete Care that I paid extra for), and as Chris Rock said: “When you leave a restaurant, they don’t owe you a steak!” (NSFW, as you’d guess with Rock, but funny as hell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNAfvaJEOF4). It’s not like they owe me a brand new $2000 device.

Or do they?

I mean, at the same time, they made a big deal about how it's dangerous, and yes, of course, it is! Just ask Samsung! The store wanted to rightly keep it and dispose of it, even started paperwork for that. Unfortunately, I had to say no way, I'm not walking out of the store without a Surface, preferably a new one, but the potential bomb one if necessary (this was before the manager gave his answer). Remember, this is my PRIMARY computer at this point, and I need it to make a living, being without a working PC isn’t really an option.

But nope, they weren't willing to do anything. They didn't even offer to give me a new one for a significant discount, which I might have been okay with. In fact, in my mind, I was willing to go up to $500 for a newer Surface. It really shouldn’t have cost me a dime, but I was willing to bend a bit on that because I would, after all, be getting a newer, better device. That didn't strike me as entirely unreasonable, but I wasn't even offered that option.

So, while I kinda/sorta understand their perspective, I'm still not at all happy, and I don’t fundamentally think it’s right. I mean, in the end, is it going to cost them less to give me an SP4, or to get sued by me when it blows up in my face? I know which I would do if I were the manager. And sure, they could claim I was informed of the danger and used it anyway, and they’d be right and probably win in court. But again, just ask Samsung about the damage bad publicity can do. For the cost of a new Surface, which is NOTHING to Microsoft, isn’t it worth avoiding that possibility entirely? Seems like it to me.

Ultimately, they’ve lost a customer here, and a customer who had sung the praises of the Surface line since 2014 (just check out my Twitter history, I’ve been a big supporter over that time). Sure, it was my choice to leave with a messed-up and even dangerous device, but was it really a choice? My other option at that point was to walk away empty-handed or spend a ton of money on a new device that I don’t otherwise want (because the SP3 still is doing the job for me). I’m effectively out money either way, right?

Instead, my money is going to Dell now: I just put in an order for an XPS 15. When it's all set up, I'll bring the Surface to the MS store for proper disposal. To some extent you might say it was a spiteful purchase: I’m not exactly rich and the Dell isn’t cheap. But I’m entirely unwilling to give my money to Microsoft again at this point (and not for nothing but the XPS 15 is a KILLER machine anyway).

But, when we're talking a safety concern like this (their words, not mine remember) then they should have gone the extra mile to help me out in my opinion (and not JUST my opinion). But they didn't want to do that, so now I'll go a different direction, and it’s not a Microsoft direction any longer.

I’m sad about all of this because as I said, I’ve been a fan and I still think the Surface line is excellent overall, even despite the Consumer Reports story and this experience. In fact, I’m using it right now to type this up, and I will continue to do so until the new machine gets here - though I’ll no longer leave it on or even in the dock when I’m not actually using it – and I reminded myself where the nearest fire extinguisher is!

Am I wrong for thinking they should have done SOMETHING for me though? I don’t think I am. Again, this is a safety issue. Even if they don’t care about me personally, shouldn’t they care about the bad publicity an exploding battery could cause, especially given the knowledge of Samsung’s recent woes? I would think so. I was willing to bend a bit and spend SOME money, but they didn’t even offer that opportunity (and frankly, I didn’t bring it up – I wasn’t there to spend money after all). In point of fact, the manager didn’t even do me the courtesy of coming out to directly speak to me, which would have been warranted I think.

And yes, maybe you could chalk this all up to some bad store staff, but the truth is that aside from not getting what I considered the right answer, they were all very friendly, polite and I think ATTEMPTED to help me as best they could. I certainly have no complaints about how I was treated aside from not being truly helped in the end. Also, I’ve tweeted now to, I believe, three different Microsoft Twitter accounts pictures and comments about this issue over the last few months, and the response was always “go to a store.” Well, I DID go to a store, and got NO help. So, I’m not so sure I’m willing to chalk it up to simply one “bad” store (a store I otherwise have always had good experience with by the way).

So, sorry Microsoft, but you’ve lost a customer here. I’ll confess that part of me hopes someone from Microsoft sees this and contacts me to do right by me. I’d be more than happy to post a follow-up about that if it happens (a good redemption story is, err, good!) But, at this point, I’m not counting on it. In the absence of that, you’ve not only lost a customer, but you’ve lost a vocal FAN.

And that may be the biggest shame of it all.

ADDENDUM

The night of my visit to the store, based on further advice from a Redditor, I submitted feedback via the Microsoft feedback system. I gave my phone number and said I was reachable between 4pm and 8pm. Well, the very next day at 4:01pm, I received a call from someone at the store (I honestly didn’t catch if she was the manager or not, though I suspect she was). She asked me to describe my experience, and I did. She apologized profusely, and said I definitely should have been offered SOMETHING. She said that she could offer me a replacement Surface Pro 4 for $599. Here’s the key though: she said it would be the SAME SPECS as my SP3.

Now, to be honest, I MIGHT have accepted that if they had offered it to me immediately the night I visited the store, but I’m glad I didn’t because upon reflection, that’s not a good deal either. Think about it: doesn’t that effectively mean I wound up paying $599 extra for my device? Sure, you could argue than an SP4 is inherently better than an SP3 even for the same specs, but the fact is I would NOT have bought an SP4 for the price I paid for the SP3 PLUS $599. The SP3 was already arguably overpriced and I never could have justified the purchase for $599 more. Now, if they said “okay, you can have a top-of-the-line Surface Pro 2017 for $599”, that’s a different story. Even possibly the best SP4 might have been reasonable.

I want to be fair here, because for one thing, they obviously did call me immediately after seeing my feedback, and that’s got to count for something. And, they did ultimately offer me SOMETHING, which also should count for something. But exactly how much it all counts for is debatable when the final answer wasn’t acceptable.

Besides, remember, as I’ve said before: we’re talking about a potential SAFETY issue here. It’s literally a DANGEROUS device now, and is so not through any fault of mine but because of a manufacturing defect. How can ANY company justify not doing a straight swap, even if it means they lose some money by providing a newer, better device?

You know, I’m usually a person who is extremely non-confrontational, and I’m also a person who doesn’t believe in getting something for nothing. It’s that mentality that kept me from trying to get this addressed for so long: I honestly felt like I was trying to pull something somehow. After being given a different perspective by helpful people on Reddit though, my mindset changed completely. Once I understood that this is a safety concern, things feel quite a bit different, and it leads me to feel like Microsoft did not do right by me, even after they at least made SOME attempt to do so upon seeing my feedback. I still have a hesitation about all of this because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble at the store. That’s not my intention or desire. But, given how I now view this whole situation, I’m not sure that’s my primary concern any longer.

If nothing else, I hope this post informs anyone who might experience the same or similar issue about how they might want to perceive things. When you’re talking about a potentially exploding battery then you’re talking about a fire hazard and so you’re talking about a safety concern. You might want to be more forceful than I was in getting Microsoft to do right by you (or indeed any other manufacturer), and even if you don’t then at least don’t make the mistake I did and not recognize the problem for what it is. If that’s all this post accomplishes then that’s good enough for me.

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