The best Surface Pro yet but the Surface Pro 9 is only a minor upgrade
- Slim and light
- Superb build
- Faster than the Surface Pro 8
- Battery life merely adequate
- Screen could be more vivid
- No 3.5mm audio output
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is the latest instalment in what has, over the years, become something of a technological dynasty. From humble beginnings, when not many commentators gave Microsoft a chance of making its hardware business work, the company has refined and improved this 2-in-1 detachable to the point at which it has become – if you’ll forgive my use of a well-worn cliché – a design icon.
This process has been going on for nigh-on ten years now, so it probably won’t surprise you to discover that 2022’s edition is another incremental upgrade. Instead, Microsoft has spent its time upgrading the internals.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: What you need to know
As you might expect, the most obvious upgrade this year is to the CPU inside. But this isn’t the usual simple internal revamp. That’s because as well as moving to 12th Gen U-series Intel Core i5 and Core i7 chips, the Surface Pro 9 range now includes a model built around the ARM-based Microsoft SQ3 chip, and it’s significant because it signals that the use of smartphone-like chips (this is based largely on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3) to power laptops is a practice that’s here to stay, and that it’s likely to become more prevalent.
Effectively what Microsoft has done here is to subsume what was the Surface Pro X into the regular Surface Pro lineup. Pick Surface Pro 9 from the list of options on the Microsoft website and the SQ3 now appears alongside the Intel options, as if there were no difference between the models.
This makes some sense, especially given that last year the Surface Pro 8 adopted the Pro X’s chassis, screen size and keyboard cover. However, it does raise the possibility that some people will end up buying a non-Intel Surface Pro 9 without realising the implications.
My advice is to stick with one of the two Intel models unless you’re absolutely desperate for 5G as there will still be some software and games that don’t work on the SQ3 (although the list is steadily becoming slimmer) and some USB peripherals may not work, either. If in doubt, check that the manufacturer has released Arm64 drivers for your devices before taking the plunge.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: Price and competition
Model tested: Intel Core i7-1265U, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Signature Type Cover and Surface Pen 2.
Pricing is fairly straightforward for the Surface Pro 9. There are three consumer models and two business/education models, each based on a different CPU. The cheapest one is £1,099 and comes with a ten-core Intel Core i5-1235U, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Choose 16GB of RAM and that price rises to £1,399.
The next model up in the price range is the 5G model, which comes with the octa-core ARM-based Microsoft SQ3 chip, 8GB of RAM and a smaller 128GB SSD. This one costs £1,299, while paying £1,599 boosts the RAM and the SSD to 16GB and 256GB respectively.
At the top of the tree, we have another Intel model, starting at £1,599. This comes with a ten-core Intel Core i7-1255U CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 256SSD, and the price increases from there up to a maximum of £2,599 for the model with 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. Meanwhile, business customers (and those in education) get the slightly faster Intel Core i5-1245U and Core-i7 1265U CPUs to choose from. I was sent the latter with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
Don’t forget, if you do want to use the Surface Pro 9 as a laptop, you’ll need to add the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard at an extra £160, bringing the total to (at least) £1,259 for the Core i5, £1,759 for the Core i7 and £1,459 for the SQ3. Including the Slim Pen 2 in the bundle adds a further £100.
There are loads of competitors out there for the Surface Pro 9, but for this review I’m going to stick to a few standout devices, just to keep things simple. The first, purely due to its hardware capability, is the 12.9in M2 Apple iPad Pro. It’s fast becoming the complete 2-in-1 and, with proper support for multiple monitors imminent, the arguments against it are now vanishingly slim.
This latest iPad Pro is faster than even the Core i7 Surface Pro 9, has a better display and superior battery life but it’s considerably more expensive. The basic model with the cheapest Smart Keyboard Folio case costs £1,468, while moving up to the nicer Magic Keyboard, which includes a touchpad, pumps up the price to £1,628.
If it must be Windows, the key rivals for the Surface Pro 9 come in the form of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and Samsung’s Galaxy Book2 Pro 360. The Dell starts at £1,249, comes with an Intel Core i5-1230U, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and includes a detachable keyboard as standard.
The Samsung isn’t a detachable 2-in-1 like the Surface Pro 9 – instead, it’s a 13.3in clamshell laptop with a 360-degree hinge – but it starts at an equally reasonable price of £1,149 (and it’s often heavily discounted) and includes an active stylus in the box. This model comes with a P-series Core i5-1240P CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and you can get the 15.6in model for £1,249.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: Design
So, the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 isn’t the most cost-effective 2-in-1 around. Nor is it the fastest and most capable of our favourites. But its design is – in this reviewer’s humble opinion – the very best in the business. The main tablet part is slim (9.3mm), light and beautifully built. It weighs 879g and comes with a 13in 3:2 aspect-ratio display surrounded by slim black borders and a slightly rounded, bevelled aluminium frame.
The rear panel is finished in silky-feeling matte aluminium, the only adornments being a mirror-finish Windows logo in the middle at the bottom and a camera lens at the top. And, as with all Surface Pro tablets, the bottom portion folds out to act as a kickstand for the display. This lets you adjust the screen to whatever angle you fancy, and you can push it almost flat against the desk to make a more comfortable angle for sketching and note-taking.
This isn’t a particularly thick device, so ports and sockets are at a premium. On the left edge is a pair of USB-C ports – these are USB 4/Thunderbolt on the Intel models and USB-C 3.2 on the SQ3. On the right edge is the magnetic Surface Connect port and, on the bottom edge, you’ll find the magnetic connector for the keyboard. There’s also an additional USB-A charging port on the compact 60W mains charger supplied with the Surface Pro 9. Finally, beneath the kickstand at the rear, is a small magnetic aluminium panel you can pop off to reveal the system’s SSD storage. If you have the SQ3 model, this is also where you’ll find the nano-SIM slot.
The keyboard is just as good as it was last year. It has chiclet-style square keys with flat tops and three-stage backlighting, the key action is nice and positive, too, and there’s plenty of travel on each keystroke. It has a shallow slot above the function key row in which to store and charge the Slim Pen 2 stylus (if you have one) and it folds at the top, clipping to the bottom portion of the Surface Pro 9’s chassis to create a more comfortable typing angle.
All in all, it’s a proven, polished design that works very well. The keyboard is rigid and comfortable to type on, despite its slenderness, the touchpad is sensitive and reliable, and the whole package weighs 1.14kg (or 1.15kg with the pen). The only major gripe I have is that the 3.5mm audio jack is no more. That’s a poor decision on Microsoft’s part.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: Display, audio and webcam
As mentioned above, the Surface Pro 9 is a small upgrade over its predecessor and, as such, the display holds no surprises. It’s exactly the same as last year’s panel across the board, from its 13in size, 120Hz refresh rate and 3:2 aspect ratio to its 2,880 x 1,920 resolution, 267ppi pixel density and colour performance.
It’s still topped with Gorilla Glass 5, has ten-point multitouch and active stylus compatibility. And, as with the very best laptops and 2-in-1 devices, it also comes with ambient light and colour sensors to ensure that working with the Surface Pro 9’s screen is easy on the eyes, no matter how long your working day.
Technically, it’s an excellent screen, too, although the IPS panel in use here can’t quite match the capabilities of the Mini-LED panel in the 12.9in iPad Pro or the OLED panels in Samsung’s Galaxy Book2 Pro 360 laptops.
There are two factory-calibrated colour profiles to choose from – sRGB and Vivid – and I measured both. The Vivid profile delivers a colour palette that’s slightly wider than sRGB (111%) but not quite good enough to cover the whole of DCI-P3 (76.5%), while the sRGB profile delivers 96.7% of sRGB. Colour accuracy in both profiles is decent but sRGB is the one to go for if that’s critical to your work. In this mode the average Delta E colour variance score is 1.14. Peak brightness reaches 446cd/m² and the contrast ratio is a healthy 1,302:1.
Webcam quality is superb. This is a component that often gets ignored by manufacturers – even Apple didn’t pay it much attention until recently – and the 1080p camera in the Surface Pro 9 is brilliant, producing crisp, well-exposed and largely noise-free results. It also comes with dual far-field microphones that pick up your voice clearly and a set of stereo 2W speakers that go surprisingly loud (although a lack of body means they’re less great for music). The Surface Pro 9 is a superb device for video calls, then, but less so for entertainment.
This being a Surface Pro device, the webcam is also compatible with Windows Hello, allowing you to log into the device with your face. There’s also a 10MP rear-facing camera that can shoot 4K video. Quality is okay in good light but photographs tend to look a little lurid and are overexposed in bright parts of the frame. It’s not a patch on the 12.9in iPad Pro’s rear camera.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: Performance
This year’s Surface Pro gets an upgrade to 12th Gen Intel silicon – either a Core i5 or a Core i7 – or the Microsoft SQ3 chip, depending on the model you choose. My review sample comes with an Intel Core i7-1265U: this CPU has ten cores that break down into eight “efficient” cores running at up to 3.6GHz and two Hyper-Threading performance cores that operate at a max Turbo frequency of 4.8GHz.
Bear in mind that I’m testing the business model here; the consumer edition uses the very slightly slower Core i7-1255U. This has the same number and configuration of cores but they run at slightly slower frequencies: its efficient cores run at up to 3.5GHz and its performance cores at up to 4.7GHz.
As you can see from the chart below, performance for this Surface Pro 9 model is a significant step up from the Core i7-based Surface Pro 8 and it’s not far off the M2 Apple iPad Pro (note that the iPad is missing from our 4K media benchmark chart because it can’t run the software required).
I’ve thrown in the HP Pavilion Plus 14 at the bottom of this chart to demonstrate the sort of performance levels you can expect to see from the consumer-grade Core i7 Surface Pro 9. It’s slower than the business model I have here but still significantly quicker than last year’s Surface Pro 8.
Graphics performance isn’t particularly impressive, but then you can’t expect much from Intel’s ageing integrated Iris Xe GPU. Here, once again, the iPad Pro is ahead. If mobile-style gaming is your thing then you’ll get a better experience on Apple’s tablet than Microsoft’s.
The performance of the SSD is better, ensuring apps load speedily and large files read and write to the drive in double-quick time. In fact, of the rivals I’ve chosen to compare it with, the Surface Pro 9’s SSD is at the top of the table:
However, it’s back down to earth with a bump when it comes to battery life. In our video rundown test with the display set to a brightness level of 170cd/m², flight mode engaged and both auto-brightness and colour disabled, the Surface Pro 9 lasted a mere 8hrs 40mins, lagging a long way behind the M2 iPad Pro and the Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro 360. However, it did at least last longer than the Microsoft Surface Pro 8:
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: Verdict
Overall, it’s a bit of a mixed bag from the Surface Pro 9. While it’s perfectly capable of doing the job it’s designed to do, the hardware can’t quite match the best in the business. The Apple M2 iPad Pro is not only quicker all round, it has a better display, camera and speakers. Apple’s 2-in-1 is the gold standard for this type of device and it gets more capable year on year. It’s also more expensive than the similarly capable Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro 360.
However, not everyone gets on with using iPadOS over a more traditional desktop OS and many prefer the flexibility and portability of the detachable 2-in-1 form factor. For those folk, it’s hard to look anywhere other than the Microsoft Surface Pro 9. It’s beautifully designed and lightweight, lovely to use, performs well across the board and delivers a decent upgrade over the Surface Pro 8.