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A $144 Stylus? Microsoft's Growing Accessory Pricing Problem

(Image credit: Microsoft)

For better or for worse, we've all come on board with the fact that Microsoft sells its Surface Pro tablets without a stylus or keyboard, two accessories often deemed essential for using it to its full potential.

On the Surface Pro X, the company's new Arm-based tablet that releases in November, it gets more expensive and complicated than before. And frankly, it's getting a little out of hand.

You can get a Surface Pro X keyboard on its own for $139.99, which is $10 more than the Surface Pro Type cover ($129.99) but cheaper than the Alcantara Surface Pro Signature Type Cover ($159.99).

There's also the Surface Slim Pen ($144.99), Microsoft's new stylus with wireless charging (or USB Type-C if you have an older Surface Pro, see below). Sure, the older Surface Pen is $99.99 and works with the Surface Pro X, a significant difference, but it requires AAAA batteries, which feels ancient these days, and is designed with the aesthetic of the older Surface Pro in mind.

The Surface Slim Pen is also notably more expensive than the most pricey Apple Pencil for iPad Pro, which is $129.00.

What power users will likely consider (and probably what Microsoft is going for), is a bundle. There's a $269.99 Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard bundled with the Slim Pen. That has a spot to wirelessly charge the Surface Slim Pen, and removing the Pen opens a whiteboard. It's how Microsoft debuted the Surface Pro X, and clearly viewed as integral to the experience.

$269.99 for that bundle is a savings over the keyboard alone and the Surface Slim Pen (getting them separately would cost $14.99 more, a total of $284.98, and you wouldn't be able to charge the stylus in the keyboard).

So let's examine the Surface Pro X's starting price here with other accessories. Is starts at $999.00 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. But that's just the tablet.

Surface Pro X Surface Pro X with Signature Keyboard and Slim Pen BundleSurface Pro X with keyboardSurface Pro X with Surface Slim PenSurface Pro X with Surface Pen
$999.00$1268.99$1138.99$1,143.99$1098.99

There are more permutations. It's possible someone would want to just get the keyboard, and then add a Surface Slim Pen or Surface Pen later.

It's similar on the Surface Pro 7. Sure, it starts at $749.00, a Type Cover is $129.99, a Signature Type Cover (with Alcantara) is $159.99, and then pen options are the same as listed above

(Image credit: Microsoft)

And to add some insult to injury, there's no headphone jack, but Microsoft will sell you an $11.99 USB Type-C to 3.5mm audio adapter. Of course, you may have a cheap one lying around from a smartphone, or you can get one elsewhere pretty cheap. And if you have Bluetooth headphones, this won't apply to you.

But all of the options -- bundle, no bundle, cheap keyboard, different pen options -- bring forward one big point about Surface. In 2019, none of these pieces come in the box (Apple is on the hook for this, too, with its Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil for iPad Pro).

You've likely read some form of this before. This has been the case since the original Surface launched in 2012. And it's not that the Surface Pro X or Pro 7 won't be capable on their own.

But there's a reason they're marketed together. To do real work, to truly create, you'll likely need to get at least one of these accessories. And at this point, with so many options, the starting price should really reflect that.

Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom's Hardware as a team.

  • NightHawkRMX
    This happens when a company gets too big and starts to think their name makes them able to overcharge.

    Some other companies that come to mind are apple, apple, and apple.

    Maybe Nvidia, Intel, and Mercedes/BMW.
    Reply
  • TCA_ChinChin
    NightHawkRMX said:
    Some other companies that come to mind are apple, apple, and apple.

    Completely agree. Nickel and diming customers for things like fast(er) chargers (to charge faster than a pathetic 5w) and keyboards/pens (that are literally 50% of the reason the device exist) is disgusting.
    Reply
  • joeblowsmynose
    Stylus that requires batteries or charging? Why? The only thing I can think of is that to get the thing super thin and light they had to go with this style of tech and make the stylus inconvenient instead?
    Reply
  • Giroro
    To be fair, $144 doesn't seem like that much money to a Microsoft engineer paying $3000 a month for a 400 sqft studio apartment in Redmond. Let alone the marketing executive who sets the prices.
    Reply
  • justin.m.beauvais
    The problem is that they are improving an active pen, which will drive up hardware costs. For WACOM technologies they improve the actual surface and use similar pens, which aren't powered.

    Also, when did Microsoft stop including the pen? My Surface Pro 2 came with the pen, and in my opinion was the last point that Microsoft's Surface made real sense. The passive pens were just better. No charging, no batteries, and they just magnetized to the side of the device. Plus they were the size of real pens so they were more comfortable to use. Really WACOM's tech was better in a lot of ways. I remember when the Surface 3 Pro came out and everyone said "You don't need that kind of accuracy on a tablet" when they were talking about the 3's pen and digitizer vs the excellent WACOM system on the 2. Now Microsoft is trying to make even better pens! So... what happened to "You don't need that kind of accuracy on a tablet", eh?
    Reply
  • kep55
    I wonder if the head honcho for Surface used to work at Apple. That pricing sounds like something Apple would do.
    Reply
  • bigdragon
    $144 for a stylus is insane. They should be included or sold extra for $50. $144 is pricing that would make Wacom blush!

    joeblowsmynose said:
    Stylus that requires batteries or charging? Why? The only thing I can think of is that to get the thing super thin and light they had to go with this style of tech and make the stylus inconvenient instead?
    Correct. The EMR detection system adds thickness and weight to the device, so companies have switched over to using the capacitive touch grid instead -- it already has to be there to support touch operations. I used to think that the battery-powered, capacitive pens were garbage. HOWEVER, they do not feature the distortions and edge inaccuracy that EMR pens had. Drawing on a Yoga 720 (Wacom AES) beats drawing on a Motion LE1700 (Wacom EMR) by miles. So much more accurate!

    The capacitive pens do need high resolution screens to shine. 4k touch displays are normally built more sensitive to the accuracy of touch positioning thus translating to pen motions that are less likely to staircase when drawing diagonal lines. The batteries seem like a hindrance, but they do last a long time and are easy to swap. There is no delay for charging -- rechargeable pens honestly suck.
    Reply
  • BadBoyGreek
    After Apple pulled the $5,000 monitor with optional $1,000 stand stunt... stuff like this doesn't surprise me anymore. Seems the collective corporate approach now is throw sh1t at a wall, see what sticks and who's dumb enough to pay.
    Reply