The Surface Pro 7 is still a fine 2-in-1 but this is a disappointing update
- Good value keyboard
- Finally has USB Type-C
- Tried and tested 2-in-1 design
- Middling battery life
- Core i7 model disappointing
If the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 were a small child it would probably be feeling pretty lonely and neglected right now, and maybe a little jealous of all the attention lavished on its younger siblings. With Microsoft launching an ARM-based Surface and teasing exotic dual-screen phone/tablet hybrids alongside it, the good old Surface Pro 7 looked humdrum by comparison.
That’s fair enough. Despite the new number, the Surface Pro 7 hasn’t been given much of an overhaul this year. And although it would be churlish to say this makes it a bad device – it absolutely isn’t – just that it isn’t much different from the Surface Pro 6: if you get the chance to buy the 6 at a discounted price, you should do that instead.
READ NEXT: Microsoft Surface Pro X review
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review: What you need to know
So what exactly is new about the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 over the Surface Pro 6? Well, if you hadn’t guessed already, not a lot. Microsoft has changed the CPU line-up to reflect Intel’s latest 10th gen 10nm chips and, at long last, it has added a USB Type-C port. Everything else about Microsoft’s popular 2-in-1 remains the same as last year. Everything.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Although the design is now looking a little stale and staid, it’s proven and still the best implementation of a detachable 2-in-1 tablet/laptop hybrid we’ve seen. Its large 12.3in screen is spacious and practical and its integrated kickstand lets you prop it up at whatever angle you like. The hybrid’s keyboard is both lightweight and very pleasant to use, too.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review: Price and competition
Microsoft still doesn’t include the keyboard in the box, but the good news is that, since the Surface Pro 7 is backwards-compatible with previous Type Cover keyboards, you can pick one up for as little as £80 from Amazon. It’s even possible to purchase third-party keyboards from around £40. That means the starting price for a Surface Pro 7 could be as low as £840.
That’s won’t get you much in the way of oomph, though. In fact, the lowest spec Surface Pro 7 is a bit sparse when it comes to the core components with only a dual-core 1.2GHz Core i3-1005G1 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ve detailed the other seven of your options in the table below. Suffice to say, though, I’d recommend you purchase, at the very least, the quad-core Core i5, which comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and costs £789 without the keyboard.
Surface Pro 7 model breakdown:
- 1.2GHz – 3.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i3-1005G1 | 4GB | 128GB | £699
- 1.1GHz – 3.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-1035G4 | 8GB | 128GB | £789
- 1.1GHz – 3.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-1035G4 | 8GB | 256GB | £1,035
- 1.1GHz – 3.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-1035G4 | 16GB | 256GB | £1,259
- 1.3GHz – 3.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7 | 16GB | 256GB | £1,299
- 1.3GHz – 3.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7 | 16GB | 512GB | £1,649
- 1.3GHz – 3.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7 | 16GB | 1TB | £2,024
- Buy from Microsoft.com
Those prices might look high but they’re more reasonable than the 12.9in Apple iPad Pro, which starts at £939 without the keyboard and half the storage. And although the iPad Pro is more usable than ever as a full-blown laptop – it’s certainly powerful enough – it can’t quite compete with the flexibility of a Windows- or MacOS-based machine.
The 13in Apple MacBook Pro also starts at a higher price (£1,155 with an 8th gen Core i5, 8GB RAM and 128GB storage), and even the MacBook Air is more expensive at prices from £985 with a similar specification.
In the context of other Windows devices, however, the Surface Pro costs about what you’d expect. Our favourite flagship laptop is the Dell XPS 13 and this starts at a price of £1,199; the equivalent Surface Pro 7 (with 256GB of storage) is £1,169.
The Surface Laptop 3 with an 8th gen Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB storage will set you back £1,199. In fact, you have to move back a generation to find significant savings. It’s still possible to purchase a Surface Pro 6, which costs around £760 for the model with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage.
Our favourite alternatives and where to buy them:
- 12.9in Apple iPad Pro | £969 | John Lewis
- 13in MacBook Pro (i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage) | £1,199 | John Lewis
- MacBook Air | £999 | John Lewis
- Surface Pro 6 | £760 | Amazon.co.uk
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review: Design
If you’ve ever used or owned a Surface Pro 4, 5 or 6, read any reviews of those devices, or seen someone else using one, you’ll be pretty well versed in what the Surface Pro 7 has to offer. That’s because the physical design and has changed very little in that time.
Even the Surface Pro 3, first released five years ago in 2014 has fundamentally the same physical features as the Surface Pro 7. And, let me tell you, five years is a long time in the tech industry. Five years ago, the iPad Pro didn’t even exist and that has had a significant physical update.
If this sounds like a bad thing, then I’m perhaps over-egging things a little. The Surface Pro 7 is a polished design that works really well; indeed, if you’re looking for a laptop that can double as a tablet (or, indeed, a tablet that doubles as a laptop) it’s among the best designs we’ve come across.
I love the 3:2 aspect ratio 12.3in display, which feels just perfect for working on. It’s clearly preferable to the rather squashed 16:9 displays you get on so many flagship ultraportables these days. And the whole thing is pretty light too, weighing from 775g for the tablet on its own and 1.1kg with the keyboard attached.
The key to the Surface Pro’s success is its integrated kickstand, which can be pulled out from the rear of the tablet to prop up the screen. Unlike the iPad Pro, which is limited to two positions, the kickstand on the Surface Pro can be used to set the screen to any angle you wish, making it a lot more versatile. But there are plenty of other nice touches, including an 8-megapixel camera on the rear and a 5-megapixel Windows Hello authentication camera on the front, which makes unlocking the device absolutely effortless.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that Microsoft persists in designating both the compatible Surface Pen stylus and – more controversially – the detachable Type Cover keyboard, optional extras. I’m not too worried about the Pen but, for the record, a keyboard is most definitely not optional with any Windows device, so make sure you budget extra for one when purchasing.
The good news, however, is that the regular Type Cover is both cheaper than the official keyboard that goes with the iPad Pro and a tonne more versatile. Not only because it can be tilted up at an angle for more comfortable typing but also because it is backlit and thus easier to view in dim or dark conditions.
It’s also a brilliant keyboard for typing on. The keys have a good amount of travel to them and a good, positive kick of feedback, and the touchpad is reliable, too. It isn’t particularly large and, as it’s a diving board style pad, clicking takes a little more effort than I’d like but Windows 10’s many multi-finger trackpad gestures work perfectly on it.
As ever, though, the two clouds hovering over the Surface Pro remain in place: the 2-in-1 form factor remains a touch impractical for those who make a habit of lap-typing; and it’s still limited when it comes to physical connectivity. Yes, Microsoft has relented and finally added a USB Type-C port to the right-hand edge, making it more flexible than in the past, but there’s only one and the other ports remain unchanged. That means you’re getting a single full-sized USB Type-A port, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a microSD card slot (underneath the kickstand), and that’s your lot.
That USB Type-C port isn’t Thunderbolt-enabled, which is a little disappointing, but it can at least be used to charge the Surface Pro 7 so you can have single-cable connectivity to, say, a USB Type-C monitor. Which is nice.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review: Display
Another area that has remained the same – but isn’t a huge problem – is the Surface Pro’s screen. It measures 12.3in across the diagonal and has a super-sharp resolution of 2,736 x 1,824 plus a pixel density of 267ppi. It’s touch-sensitive and compatible with the Microsoft Surface Pen for sketching and taking notes, as it always has been.
Although perfectly good, we’d ideally like to see a panel capable of displaying a wider range of colours. This is an sRGB display that isn’t capable of displaying a wider P3 colour gamut like, for example, the more recent Apple MacBook Pro laptops.
Still, within its colour space the Surface Pro 7’s display is perfectly decent. It’s super accurate (if you select sRGB in Windows 10’s display settings) with an incredible average Delta E of 0.84 and its sRGB coverage is 92.8%, which is a solid set of figures. Plus, with peak brightness reaching 400cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 1,317:1 image quality is largely excellent. This is a screen that you’ll be able to work on in all but the sunniest outdoor light.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review: Performance and battery life
One of the biggest updates this generation is to the CPU, with Microsoft moving to the Intel 10th Gen Ice Lake series of chips. The model I was sent had a quad-core 1.3GHz Core i7-1065G7 with Iris Plus graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD inside.
Performance from this setup was disappointing. It feels perfectly responsive to use but cooling seems to be an issue because in our demanding 4K media benchmarks, which stress the CPU, storage and cooling systems of a laptop, the Surface Pro 7 performed no faster than the Core i5-based Surface Pro 6.
I wasn’t sent the Core i5 to test but this result suggests you’re probably better off saving some money and opting for the lower power processor as it’s probably a slightly better fit for the cooling properties of the Surface Pro 7’s chassis. Either that or just go for a laptop like the Dell XPS 13 or the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro. Even a Dell XPS 13 running previous generation Intel silicon will get you better performance than this.
The good news, however, is that the graphics performance is much improved, with the Surface Pro 7’s Iris Plus graphics stretching out a significant lead over the Surface Pro 6. This isn’t a gaming machine, of course, but it’s nice to know that if you want to do a little casual gaming it’ll cope better than the previous Surface.
When it comes to battery life, however, the Surface Pro 7 disappoints once again with the new and supposedly more efficient 10nm Ice Lake chip actually falling short of the result of the Surface Pro 6 by nearly an hour in our video rundown test. That’s a big disappointment.
READ NEXT: Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review: Verdict
Microsoft might well argue that it hasn’t neglected the Surface Pro 7. It’s added USB Type-C and upgraded the internals, too, but all the evidence points to a hybrid that’s badly in need of an update.
The design is still nice, as ever, but it’s beginning to look dated. Meanwhile, the new silicone inside seems to be limited by the chassis. To cap it off, battery life is less impressive than I’d like it to be. Heck, Microsoft couldn’t even be bothered to borrow the neat docking system for the Surface Pen from the Surface Pro X – it still mounts magnetically to the side of the tablet whereas the Pro X has a handy pen-sized slot at the top of the keyboard.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is perfectly serviceable, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a marginal update that fails in any way to get the pulse racing.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 specifications
|Processor||Quad-core 1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7|
|Additional memory slots||No|
|Graphics adapter||Intel Iris Plus|
|Screen size (in)||12.3|
|Screen resolution||2,736 x 1,824|
|Pixel density (PPI)||267|
|Touchscreen||Yes (10-point multitouch)|
|Memory card slot||MicroSD|
|3.5mm audio jack||Yes|
|Graphics outputs||USB Type-C|
|Other ports||USB Type-A, Surface Connect|
|Web Cam||8MP, Windows Hello|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||292 x 8.5 x 201mm (without keyboard)|
|Weight||775g (without keyboard); 1.1kg (with keyboard)|
|Battery size||Not stated|
|Operating system||Windows 10|