Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 has a new and attractive design on the outside, but a new iFixit teardown shows that its insides are more inviting, too. The newest of the company’s 2-in-1s now has a screwed-in battery module as opposed to an adhered one. Between that and other components having become more modular over the years, repairability is actually achievable.
In the past, the most daunting part of previous Surface tablet repairs was just getting it open: the glass had little flex for prying and would easily crack when attempting to open it after heating it. Now, as demonstrated in the iFixit video, we can see that the glass edges are a lot more forgiving against the force needed to lift it, making the adhesives easier to tear and remove the screen. iFixit is giving it a preliminary repairability score of seven out of 10.
Microsoft’s hardware repairability was at an all-time low in 2017 with the release of the Surface Laptop. It was called a “glue-filled monster” by iFixit, which couldn’t take it apart without permanently damaging it — giving it a repairability score of zero. “This laptop is not meant to be opened or repaired; you can’t get inside without inflicting a lot of damage,” said iFixit at the time. It was a disastrous score for a company supposedly focused on sustainability.
But in 2019, Microsoft addressed repairability with the ARM-based Surface Pro X. That model introduced more modular components and ports than ever before and even had a removable SSD that could be accessed from behind the kickstand. Now, according to Ralf Groene, head of Windows and devices research and design, Microsoft is more firmly committed to making sure the laptops it sells can be repaired if something breaks. “The tradeoff was repairability for perfection and design,” Groene told The Verge last month. “We worked super hard to make it repairable later. I don’t know if I’d make that tradeoff again.”
And the last few years of Surface devices seem to back Groene up. These days, Surface laptops are a lot more repairable. Microsoft even teamed up with iFixit last year to design tools for repair technicians to use to fix Surface devices. The company also works with Best Buy to facilitate repairs, though it’s not determined if the big-box house of Geek Squad will start performing repairs on-site.
Which brings us back to the latest Surface Pro 9. For years, Microsoft and many of its competitors, including the far less repair-friendly Apple, have glued batteries directly into the chassis because it could produce a thinner and lighter laptop. But people don’t always want the thinnest and lightest laptop possible. Sometimes it’s okay to sacrifice a little thinness if it means you can replace the laptop’s battery without repeat use of a heat gun.
“Every opportunity that comes with repairability creates a challenge that you have to solve, like how can you be able to swap something out without really ruining the design,” Robin Seiler, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Windows and devices, told The Verge. Given Microsoft’s Surface contributed to a major renaissance in laptop design years ago, maybe the company’s embrace of repairable design will spark a new renaissance in the industry. Wouldn’t it be nice to just swap out your battery when it dies?
Additional reporting by Tom Warren