Before you buy a used Surface Tablet

Before you buy a used Surface Tablet
If you’re thinking about buying a used Surface tablet, you might want to make sure you know what to look for because, clearly, you don’t want to buy a used Surface that’s been abused or has hidden damage.

It should be obvious but if someone refuses to let you run some tests before you buy then YOU DON’T WANT IT!! They probably know something is messed up and they’re just trying to cover it up.

These tests are all pretty simple and will run on both Surface RT/2 machines and Windows Pro (SP,SP2,SP3) models.

Obviously, you won’t be able to run these tests if you’re buying a used Surface from somewhere like eBay or Surface Exchange but they might give you ideas on what questions to ask of the seller before you buy.

You can run through the tests in just a couple of minutes but some may require you to have a WiFi connection (which is a good thing to test in and of itself) and you may need to install a few applications.

Also, you might want to take these tools with you to aid with the examination:

  • USB thumb-drive with a few files on it
  • Magnifying glass
  • Flashlight
  • (Optional) Monitor and an appropriate video adapter
  • (Optional) USB Port tester

Before you buy a used Surface Tablet: Case Scratches and Damage

Case scratches in of themselves don’t indicate that there’s a problem with the Surface but, if there’s a lot of them, it indicates that it may have handled pretty roughly. Of course, it could just mean that it’s been well used but never put in a protective case.

Things to look for:

  • If it comes with a cover, take it out of the cover to examine it for damage.
  • If there’s a skin or screen protector applied, you may want to peel it back to make sure there aren’t any scratches and nicks underneath. It’s possible that someone applied the skin or screen protector to cover up damage.
  • Look for camera lens scratches and chips. Skins and cases can’t protect the camera lenses on the front or back very well if at all (because if they covered them, the cameras wouldn’t work). You don’t want to pay money only to find out later you can’t video chat with Skype because the camera lens has a big chip in it.

Before you buy a used Surface Tablet: Damaged or Dirty Ports and Vents

Look at all of the ports and plugs on the Surface. Pay special attention to the USB port as it is the most often damaged due to careless insertion and removal of USB drives and other devices.

Things to look for:

  • Using a magnifying glass and flashlight, look inside of the various ports and vents on the Surface. Check for damage and cracks. The illustration below shows some of the types of ports/controls/vents you’ll want to make sure get examined.

  • Plug in the USB key and make sure you can read the files on it. Also, try to write some files to the USB key.
  • If you have a USB tester, plug it in and see if you get around 5.0 VDC out of it. If you don’t you may not be able to charge or power USB devices from the Surface
  • Use the appropriate video adapter cable and monitor (if you brought them) to test the video out port for functionality

Before you buy a used Surface Tablet: Screen and Touch

The screen is very important to test since the Surface is, primarily, a touch-screen tablet. Any problems with the screen or touch capabilities should be considered a deal breaker.

Things to look for:

  • Look for obvious scratches and chips of the screen. Hold the Surface at different angles when you look as they might be easier to see from a particular aspect.
  • Download Multi Touch Test from the Windows Store. Make sure the screen can detect the correct number of touches. Surface RT/2 tablets should be able to detect 5 touches and Surface Pro tablets should be able to detect 10.

  • Check for dead or stuck pixels. There are several apps in the Windows Store to help with this. If you don’t have any experience with dead pixel finders, try Dead Pixel Finder. Just start the app and look for dead pixels as you scroll through different colors using the buttons on the lefty and right of the screen.

Before you buy a used Surface Tablet: GPS and Sensors

The sensors like the the GPS module, accelerometer, and inclineometer are often overlooked because they’re internal and you don’t directly interact with them. However,certain programs and features rely on them a great deal.

For example, if you like to play driving games like Asphalt 8 that let you steer the car by tilting the Surface left or right, you really want working sensors.

To test the GPS and sensors:

  • Start the Maps app and see if the GPS can find you.
  • Download SensorInfo from the Windows Store. Use it to make sure the sensors are working. All you have to do is start the app and move the Surface around a bit. The sensor indicator plots should move as you do so, like in the example below.

Before you buy a used Surface Tablet: Battery

Run a battery report (here are instructions). It can tell you how healthy the battery is in the device.

Things to look for:

  • Look at the design capacity versus the full charge capacity. If the full charge capacity is significantly less than the design capacity, you may have reduced battery life.
  • Look at the cycle count. A high number may indicate that the former owner had to charge it frequently.

Before you buy a used Surface Tablet: Power Supply

A missing or damaged power supply can definitely impact the value of the Surface and might give you some bargaining power if the tablet itself is working fine.

Things to look for:

  • Check the cable for fraying and damage. Particularly near the power connector and where the cable meets the power brick

  • On a Surface Pro charger, check for USB port damage and use a USB tester to measure the power out to make sure it’s working.

Before you buy a used Surface Tablet: Keyboard Cover

Like the power supply, a worn or frayed Keyboard Cover can give you some bargaining power even if the rest of the Surface is in pristine condition.

Things to look for:

  • Make sure every key works. The old standby is to open Word/Notepad and type “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” as it uses all 26 letters. Don’t forget to test the other keys like shift, control, alt, caps, and the numbers
  • Make sure the touchpad works.
  • Make sure you can fold the cover back (when it’s attached) and that it “turns off”. Additionally, make sure the keyboard “turns back on” when you unfold the keyboard.
  • Check the edges for separations and wear pay particular attention to the top edge where the keyboard attaches to the Surface. I’ve seen more than one cover start separating at that point.

That’s about it. These tests aren’t going to find every possible problem with a used Surface but, I’ll bet, they’ll uncover 99% of them.

Remember, when you buy a used Surface, it’s up to you to make sure you’re getting what you expect and not getting cheated out of your hard earned money.

If you have any other suggestions for tests, please drop them in the comments section. I’m sure your fellow readers (and me) would appreciate hearing them.


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