Microsoft explains low Surface storage in weak support note

Microsoft has confirmed that only half of the 32GB Surface tablet's storage is available for your music, movies and photos.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Microsoft has confirmed in a non-apology in a service note on its website that only half of the claimed storage for its Surface tablet is available for your music, movies and photos.

Like any computer, tablet or in fact any gadget, the Surface needs some space to fill with important admin stuff like the operating system software and the built-in apps. The rest is for you to fill with music and movies, apps and snaps. But the 32GB model has just 16GB of free space set aside for your stuff, while the 64GB model has 46GB.

The issue was first flagged before the Surface was released, but Microsoft has now come clean with the actual numbers. The admin space is taken up by the Windows RT software, Microsoft Office and other built-in apps, with more space set aside for Windows recovery tools.

Of course, Microsoft isn't the only gadget manufacturer that does this, but making just half of the 16GB Surface's memory available is one of the worst examples I can remember.

Storage is certainly an important factor when buying a phone or tablet. After all, what's the point of buying a device with an eye-poppingly glorious screen if you can't fit any high definition movies on there?

At least the Surface has plenty of extra storage options -- you can add extra memory by bunging in a microSD, microSDHC or microSDXC card, or a USB drive. But that's not the point: the problem, as far as I'm concerned, is not how much room the admin stuff takes up, but the fact there's a misleading number on the box.

To me, the number that's written on the box should reflect the amount of memory available to you. The total amount of memory is certainly interesting and should be available for you see in the settings, but it's less important when you're making buying decisions. The fact there is 32GB on the tablet is of little use when you can only actually use half that number of photos or movies. After all, it's not very helpful advertising a car's 200mph top speed if you live in a 30mph area.

To make matters worse, Microsoft reports the amount of memory using the binary system, but advertises storage space using the decimal system. That way the number looks bigger, which is just more confusion for consumers.

Do you think storage figures should reflect what you can use, or is Microsoft right to put a misleading number on the box? How much memory do you need on your tablet or phone -- and how much does yours use? And is the Surface still a worthwhile buy? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.