A Microsoft exec suggested in a leaked memo that the Surface Book had an unusually high return rate

According to a leaked memo from inside Microsoft (obtained by Paul Thurrott and which we first saw via The Verge) a high return rate of Surface Book devices may have been the biggest influencer in Consumer Reports’ findings that emerged last week.

The survey labelled Surface devices as “significantly less reliable” than other laptops, which prompted Microsoft to respond to the claims and back up the supposed reliability of Surface devices (Business Insider’s own Matt Weinberger, a long time Surface user, chimed in as well).

“We stand behind Surface” is the title of the blogpost issued by Panos Panay, Microsoft’s vice president of devices. Consumer Reports’ findings suggested that over 25% of Surface devices’ owners encountered problems within 24 months of ownership, while the Redmond company claimed that numbers “are significantly lower than 25%.”

The internal memo Thurrott got hold of, however, may paint a clearer picture. The leaked chart that accompanies the memo mentions a 17% return rate for the Surface Book around the launch period, which dropped in the following weeks, but remained over 10% for six months.

Leaked Surface memoPaul ThurrottThe chart Paul Thurrott obtained from Microsoft’s leaked memo suggests that things did not go spectacularly well for the Surface Book, especially at the beginning.

The Surface Pro 4, too, launched with a close to 16% return rate, but that one got below 10% in about a month. Both devices were in fact among the buggiest and less reliable Microsoft put on the market, and it took the company months before finally getting them fixed for good. Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Thurrott’s report says that, some time last year, CEO Satya Nadella met with executives at Lenovo. They reportedly remained “confused” about Nadella’s claims of problems with the Intel Skylake chips (the ones that power the two Surface devices in question).

“No one was having any issues,” Thurrott says Nadella was told. This prompted Microsoft to look more closely at its devices, whose issues primarily generated because of the custom software and drivers the company used on the products rather than Intel’s chips.

Panay and his team “worked tirelessly” to make sure that all bugs were ironed out, something that was seemingly not reflected in Consumer Reports’ essay. “These improvements were unfortunately not reflected in the results of this [Consumer Reports] survey,” Panay wrote in the memo.

“We take quality seriously, conducting rigorous reliability testing during development to forecast failure and return rates, which are then continually viewed against [real world data] post-launch,” the VP wrote. “We also regularly review other metrics to understand the experience we are providing to our customers and our findings show our products are in a much healthier place than noted by Consumer Reports.”

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