back to article Don’t buy that Surface, plead Surface cloners

The mainstay of Microsoft's boutique Surface range faces tougher competition as rivals sharpen their act. Announced at IFA in Berlin with relatively little fanfare – just a line in Lenovo's official announcement – the refreshed IdeaPad Miix 520 is a Surface Pro clone that isn't cheap. But it does look like quality. In fact …

  1. Semtex451 Silver badge
    Pint

    Berlin or Bust

    Andrew are you actually swanning around IFA with a stein in one hand, or are you in fact stuck writing these in Vulture Villas?

    Either way have a beer.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Berlin or Bust

      Aren't UK denizens just about to be declared counter-Merkelite Euro-separative honorable Nazis in Germany, and thus open for a good shellacking? Germany may be dangerous.

  2. David Webb

    I think the sub £500 is being sewn up by little known Chinese brands, they are pretty good at making budget clones which actually are workable (using Intel x86), though Xiaomi is a pretty good brand when it comes to phones (premium product at "how is it so cheap?" prices)

  3. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Meh

    If we must have Surface-like machines..

    ..I'll be glad to see ones that aren't made by Microsoft. The Surfaces we've had have all been temperamental and unreliable. (not to mention unrepairable) Dell's version of the tablet has been better, but whose silly idea was it to not have any sort of video output unless you use a dock or USB-based video adapter?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If we must have Surface-like machines..

      ....and HP. My experience with the Spectre X360 i7 version has been the worst of any piece of hardware I can recall in at least 2 decades. Windows 10 drivers are most likely to blame as well as overly ambitious designs which amongst a whole bundle of problems also made the Spectre hot enough to cook an egg on, reaching 85c regularly. It's been back for a check where they gave it a new motherboard and fan (although they weren't broken they went through this ritual) but only when they updated the BIOS to slow it down did it actually run a bit cooler, thereby not actually now being capable of the original spec which I paid hard earned money for. Arrogant ignorant bastards.

      1. Alan Edwards

        Re: If we must have Surface-like machines..

        > My experience with the Spectre X360 i7 version has been the worst

        > of any piece of hardware I can recall in at least 2 decades.

        You've not used a Pavilion X2 then.

        2Gb RAM and an Atom X5 make for painful progress, 32Gb storage means you can't install OS upgrades without an external drive, plus a MicroSD slot that works fine until you actually try and use it, at which point it sometimes dismounts the card without warning.

        Piece of junk.

        Not as bad as a Dell Venue 8 though. 1Gb RAM that is mostly taken up with the Android-to-x86 translator, leaving not enough to do anything else with.

  4. whoseyourdaddy

    $1,600 for a laptop that doesn't have a network of factory stores to restore it to like-new condition?

    Nope.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Trollface

      Man up, Nancy . . .

      . . . and fix it yourself. You're a Register reader, aren't you? Aren't you!?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Man up, Nancy . . .

        I upvoted you, but I must remark that none of these machines would ever be this slim and light if it were easy to take apart. Laptops have never been easy to repair.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Man up, Nancy . . . @AC

          "...laptops have never been easy to repair..."

          You've never worked on (real) ThinkPads have you (T and X series, I'm not including the Z series that were Lenovo designs with a ThinkPad logo on them). OK, it's difficult to unsolder surface mount components, but breaking one down into it's replaceable units is pretty easy, and even described well in freely available documents!

          I can strip something like a T420 down completely in about 30 minutes with just a suitable set of screwdrivers and a spudger (OK, I may need a pair of pliers as well) and put it back together in only a little bit longer.

          1. d3vy Silver badge

            Re: Man up, Nancy . . . @AC

            IBM is the only manufacturer that I have come across who provide full exploded diagrams for their laptops (There may be others but IBM make them easy to find and free).

            Conversely I had a run in with Toshiba recently where the phone droid on the parts line was not getting what I was saying to her "I need a replacement digitiser and glass for a P845t..." this was greeted by them asking for a part number... which I didnt have, I asked for an exploded diagram of the screen so that I could be sure that the (expensive) part that we were ordering was definitely the right one only to be told that they are proprietary and could only be supplied to authorised retailers.

            The result of that was that Toshiba lost a £400 sale and I bought a full damaged second hand machine on eBay with a working screen for less than half the price.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Man up, Nancy . . . @AC

              "IBM is the only manufacturer that I have come across who provide full exploded diagrams for their laptops"

              Let's just hope the DHS doesn't read that on the laptop travel ban will be reinstated.

          2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Man up, Nancy . . . @AC

            PG mentioned "...something like a T420..."

            We have five such Lenvo T-series in this household, due to 2014 buying spree.

            Let's be honest. If a puma attacked, one could kill the puma with a T420. I could fend off a herd of angry rhinoceroses with my T510. They're not the slightest bit miniaturized. Yes, easy to repair. I've been inside a couple of ours.

            Not really in the same category as the Surface.

            1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              Re: Man up, Nancy . . . @JeffyPoooh

              The comment I was responding to was "...laptops have never been easy to repair..." (as I quoted). the original poster did not say ultrabooks or convertibles, they generalised and said laptops. Thinkpads are laptops, and are very repairable.

              If I were selecting a new laptop, even though ultrabooks look good, the concessions regarding maintainability and the high cost would mean that I would not consider one for myself, and I don't think that they would make good second-hand purchases.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Man up, Nancy . . . @AC

            OK, it's difficult to unsolder surface mount components

            Ironically (as the original OP), that would NOT have been a problem - I have worked with SMDs pretty much from the day they became available (and initially soldered them manually), and I have used pretty much every tool going for their removal and refit. The main issue is that the smaller laptops have become, the smaller mounting materials had to be to go with it, to the point where screws were abandoned by some because screws need places to screw into.

            Yes, I've been digging into laptops such as Toshiba and IBM and that was relatively easy, but they were *massive* in size compared with current slimline devices. It appears it's a binary choice: have some degree of repair ability or have a slimline device. I guess it depends on your budget and your trust in the supplier which one you choose, plus how many idiot users you have that ruin keyboards with drinks. Parts that ought to remain quickly swappable are keyboards and touch pads IMHO.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      It's for people who get one thrown in when they buy their private charter flight.

      You know, to pass the time on long flights.

  5. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    I looked for a suitable laptop or surface clone, but they all seem like crap unless paying massive amounts. Why can't they use displays that are relevant compared to phones and tablets? Low DPI crap, and not even IPS in many cases. Development sure has stagnated. Forget CPU speed, fix the goddam displays!

  6. Roland6 Silver badge

    Still no replacement for portable all-in-one PC's such as the Dell XPS-18...

  7. Raja

    If the clone makers will only learn and not load their systems with crapware maybe they will sell!

    1. rmason Silver badge

      @ Raja,

      If they stopped with the crapware, they'd probably sell quite a few less units.

      It's the crapware that lets them set a price point of (for example) $1500 rather than $2200. They get paid to include it.

      For every techie or semi-techie user they gain, they'd lose droves to whom the few hundred dollars difference in price point is the single most important factor when selecting a new *thing*.

      If two similarly specc'd and similar looking devices are $199 dollars different in cost, what do you think the average punter is going home with?

      There aren't enough of us to make a difference. See also;

      "the year of linux on the desktop"

      "why are laptop screens all the same, crappy ratios?"

      "Why don't [large retailer or manufacturer] offer this OS free, cheaper?"

      etc.

  8. CheesyTheClown

    Pretty sure this doesn't count as a surface alternative

    I have bought :

    - A Samsung Series 7 Slate to be able to develop Windows 8 apps during the beta.

    - Two Surface Pros

    - A Surface RT

    - A Surface Pro 2

    - Two Surface Pro 3s (one Core i5/256gb because I had to wait a month longer to get the i7.. then I bought the i7)

    - A Surface Book

    So... why did I buy these machines? They are the "Official Microsoft Development Computers" for Windows. This means, updated drivers, updated firmware, flawless debugger support (you'd be surprised how important that is), long term support... etc...

    Before this, I would buy Macs, delete Mac OS X and install Windows instead.

    I buy machines because the vendor invests in them for long term support. Lenevo, Dell, HP, they have dozens of models of machines at a time. You know that as soon as the machines ship, their A-team moves to the next machine and the machine you buy is supported by the B or C team.

    Never buy a phone or a computer from a company that offers too many options. This is because there is no possible way they can properly support a machine they really don't care about anymore because they're really only interested in building and selling the next model.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pretty sure this doesn't count as a surface alternative

      Before this, I would buy Macs, delete Mac OS X and install Windows instead.

      Wow, what a waste of usability. That like buying a Ferrari and then fill it up with concrete and lock it into first gear only.

      1. CheesyTheClown

        Re: Pretty sure this doesn't count as a surface alternative

        I suppose this depends on your use case.

        I was working on a project of 3 million+ lines of C++ code at the time. With XCode or Linux, the average compile time was 8 minutes. With Visual C++ it was about 17 seconds. This isn't because Windows is so much fast than Mac or Linux. It is because Visual C++ has the best precompiled header support of any compiler. Add that to a progressive linker and librarian and there is no comparable product anywhere.

        If I would have used Mac OS X and XCode, it would have cost me close to a thousand hours of waiting a year and my work days would have been 16 hours instead of 12.

        Would you suggest that using Mac OS was an upgrade in that circumstance?

        1. arthoss

          Re: Pretty sure this doesn't count as a surface alternative

          parallels to unleash your creativity with MacOS still

      2. wallaby

        Re: Pretty sure this doesn't count as a surface alternative

        "Wow, what a waste of usability. That like buying a Ferrari and then fill it up with concrete and lock it into first gear only."

        That's like buying a Ferrari and driving it where you want to rather than where Ferrari say you can

    2. ds6 Bronze badge
      Gimp

      Re: Pretty sure this doesn't count as a surface alternative

      While I agree with your line of thinking, the world is rarely so clear-cut and understanding. The tech industry is moving quickly despite the stagnation of innovation. New systems and designs every few years even though it's mostly just the case that's different! New softwares that don't work with the previous ones! New upgrades that you are forced to download!

      When you really watch the market and observe how frequently things are being released, you start to realize how all the major vendors continually pump out new designs that are only marginally better than their predecessors; sometimes not even that is achieved. And you already know the "long term support" only means the occasional update for ancient systems; Microsoft surely doesn't want a repeat of Windows XP in the form of 7/8.1, with how hard they've pushed 10 on people.

      In reality, companies only support devices as long as they are still making money or unless they are forced to to preserve their image, and will quickly leave it up to the end user to either upgrade or repair their own stuff when the public begins to clamor for a new release. (And speaking of TrackPoint, it is for these reasons why I am still using an x220t for my tablet needs with a stockpile of replacement parts on the side. Bite me, big corp!)

  9. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Flame

    There is no such thing as an LTE SIM card

    There is, however, such as things as an LTE modem which can take a SIM.

    1. Keith Smith 1

      BS . . . Re: There is no such thing as an LTE SIM card

      Not to burst your bubble, but there are indeed LTE and NON-LTE SIM cards. Pretty much any SIM today will be an LTE capable SIM. Since the SIM defines the customer id, carrier protocol and frequency maps I think you could definitely call it an "LTE" SIM. However the old GSM SIM's for AT&T et. al. are not LTE capable even if you stuck them in an LTE phone. One could ask what LTE bands are actually supported on the LTE radio components. Now that would be useful information. "Only works in China" is not really useful here in the states. It's also about how many bands the device supports. Often you can get AT&T to work but only on one supported band, which can make things sketchy. Verizon LTE bands are rarely supported outside the US/North America YMMV.

  10. Suricou Raven Silver badge

    Open up!

    I want to 1. See inside and 2. See if it can actually go back together afterwards, unlike the Surface.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Open up!

      There's a teardown of the Miix 510 that you'll find posted on the web, which is probably a good guide. Looks tolerably maintainable, except the RAM is soldered.

      1. whoseyourdaddy

        Re: Open up!

        Pretty confident RAM DIMMs in laptops went away forever about half a decade ago...

        No one wants a bulky lapwarmer anymore.

        1. Joe User

          Re: Open up!

          "Pretty confident RAM DIMMs in laptops went away forever about half a decade ago..."

          Uh, no. More laptop models than not have DIMM slots. The ultra-slim machines have soldered-only RAM because there's just no room for the slots. It's a lot faster (and cheaper) to replace a DIMM with a bad chip than it is to get a system board transplant from the manufacturer's service company.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...suggests this is a luxury market."

    Yep. Our V.P. proudly brings his latest Surface to meetings.

    Meanwhile the rest of us have desktops with Pentium D CPUs, and 17-inch monitors. And we're forced to use the Invincia browser (runs inside a virtual machine for added security), so we spend 45 minutes a day watching Google trickle in as if it were being communicated in Morse code.

    1. The Wild Tomcat

      Re: "...suggests this is a luxury market."

      https://www.invincea.com/ : "The owner of www.invincea.com has configured their website improperly. To protect your information from being stolen, Firefox has not connected to this website."

      That's reassuring for a security product...

  12. JoeCool

    "Clone"

    No tablet with a 19:10 screen should be seen as a Surface clone. All they are is a commodity play into the low end space. I am nothing near a Surface fanboi, but MS deserve credit for bucking the indistry trend on the screen aspect, with the third gen version.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: "Clone"

      The Acer mentioned on the article has a 3:2 display, same as the Surface range. MacBooks have a 16:10 display, whereas the vast majority of other laptops have the wretched 16:9 aspect ratio.

      I'm not aware of any laptops with a 19:10 display, though it wouldn't surprise me if some weird specialised gaming laptop had one.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: "Clone"

      Well there is the whole question as to just what is a Surface clone. Remember MS only entered the market to ape Apple and thus effectively create a clone of the MacBook Air that ran WIndows out-of-the-box instead of OSX/MacOS.

      MS were also complaining about how few 'boutique' Windows PC's were being offered for sale. Naturally MS with it's ability to cross-subsidise PC's from other profit centres didn't have to worry about the line being profitable, hence why they could enter the boutique/luxury end of the market. The sub-£500 Surface clones were clearly a mistake, I suspect MS got their fingers burnt with these.

      What is clear with obvious feature omissions, such as the lack of an LTE modem and SIM card slot, it that MS still don't understand either the mobile market or the top end portable computer market and certainly haven't learnt from the demise of the netbooks (an ultra portable PC, where reviewers got to see one's with built-in 3G, but such machines being offered for sale were almost as rare as rocking horse shit) and the success of the iPad.

      What is good is that the OEM's seem to have worked out how to built systems of equal specification to the Surface and (?) make money on them. Hence I suspect that soon the MS Surface will begin to look low spec for the price...

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: "Clone"

        > Remember MS only entered the market to ape Apple and thus effectively create a clone of the MacBook Air

        That's a bit of an over-generalisation, maybe? MS have had problems for years with how to bring hardware-dependant features to their OS when laptop vendors aren't interested. So yeah, they must have envied Apple's integration of software and hardware, but MS have borrowed from Apple's methods and not just blindly copied (aped) the results.

        Apple sell laptops to make money on the hardware, whilst MS mainly want to strengthen the image of Windows laptops as a whole. These days you can buy Windows laptops from a range of vendors with a excellent high resolution (and colour accurate) screens and trackpads that are actually usable! The strategy seems to be working.

        There are also Surface features such as stylus input that traditionally Apple left to partners like Wacom, or else implemented in a different way (through the iPad Pro range).

        Features such as a removable keyboard with a discrete GPU are very non-Apple, though macOS is beginning to play nice with external GPUs over Thunderbolt.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hope there will be a clone called Windows Attack Surface :-)

  14. rmason Silver badge

    I'd happily replace all the surfaces kicking around here if I could.

    I can't with these though, because the users develop things for windows based systems, and they need to be official MS development machines (support, drivers, updates etc)

    which means surfaces, given they "need" (read: have successful convinced a director) touch screen in a lot of cases.

  15. Flash_Penguin

    Cheap Surface Clone

    Nothing but good words to say about the Cube i7 stylus (250 GBP) as a surface clone.

    I use as a netbook, with the optional metal keyboard.

    It can also come with the surface style keyboard, which I don't like.

    https://techtablets.com/cube-i7-stylus/review/

    Runs Dragon NaturallySpeaking really well, and dual displays when in the office over usb c - hdmi which is a key tool for me.

  16. David Austin

    Liquid Cooled

    In a Laptop? Don't think I've seen that outside the Gaming laptop area, even in Business Premium before.

    My gut reaction is it sounds like a bad idea, but I could [Probably] be wrong. Anyone willing to weigh in on this? Off the top of my head:

    - Is the Liquid moved using convection or by pump? Wouldn't running the pump take more out of the battery than a temp controlled fan?

    - Assuming it's a sealed loop for serviceability, will that give it a shelf life through coolant loss?

    - How will liquid cooling cope with being bounced around in a backpack all day?

  17. Nimby
    Pint

    Size really does matter.

    I'm still waiting for a good 5 inch (real 1080p) Surface or clone, x86, with a fully working version of Windows, and GPS. I'd even settle for it being a phone, as long as it worked. (Emulation strictly forbidden.) Seems like a simple enough concept. Would love to be able to retire my ancient Viliv S5.

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