Sure enough, this year’s model of the Surface Pro is the one to get. It’s important to note that the new Surface Pro 9 comes in two distinct variants, each with its own set of hardware specifications and that these devices are quite different from one another if you don’t keep track of Microsoft’s internal component decisions with a maniacal zeal.
One variant that may be found in stores is one that runs on Qualcomm’s Arm-based SQ3 chip, which I tested only last month. The other device, which is powered by a regular Intel Core i7, is now in my possession. And I’ll go ahead and ruin the suspense by telling you that the Intel version is quicker. Quite a bit quicker. However, the Qualcomm Pro 9 offers 5G, a high-quality webcam, and other enticing extras that aren’t included in the Core i7 version, so it’s worth considering as an alternative.
Instead, the Core i7 version functions properly. In comparison to the Arm gadget, it performs admirably. I think it’s more than enough to convince you that the Intel Pro 9 is the greatest Surface Pro. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “the dull option is the right option more often than technology skeptics tend to recognize.” Success for Windows on an ARM is very important to Microsoft.
That’s the actual story behind Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro 9 model, at least for techies and early adopters. Yet, the Surface Pro 9 retains nearly all of the features that made its predecessors so popular, regardless of the configuration you select. Not having a port for headphones. The Surface Pro 9 may not be noticeably faster than its predecessor, but it is still an excellent 2-in-1 computer.
1. Specs and configurations
The Core i7-1255U processor, 16GB of memory, and 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) in the review device I received cost a total of $1,900. Microsoft, as is their wont, charges exorbitant prices for increased capacities of both memory and storage.
Increasing from 256 GB to 512 GB, or from 16 GB to 32 GB, costs $300. For instance, Dell’s XPS 13 range offers the same options for just $100. That’s a hundred dollars more than what Apple asks for its MacBook Airs.
One positive aspect about configurations? Microsoft does not impose additional costs for selecting a particular color scheme. However, they can only be used with the most expensive setups. Platinum is the only color option for the base Core i5 model and all SQ3 variants.
2. Hello Colors, Goodbye Headphone Jack
There aren’t many upgrades from last year’s Surface Pro to this year’s Pro 9. It has the same convenient kickstand and detachable keyboard that we’ve come to expect from 2-in-1 tablets. There are fewer borders around the screen and an upgraded display, just like the Surface Pro 8 from last year, giving the tablet a contemporary and clean appearance. There’s no way it will ever be as light or thin as an iPad Pro.
However, it is one of the most portable complete Windows 11 PCs, weighing in at just 1.94 pounds and measuring just 0.37 inches thick. The Type Cover keyboard does make things heavier (and more expensive), but it’s still a necessary accessory. The keyboard and trackpad are excellent, and I still like how the Alcantara material feels in my hands.
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I wish Microsoft would include these, but the Surface Pro 9 is still available to purchase alone. You should still shell out the additional $180 for a Signature Type Cover, despite Windows 11’s improved touch controls and the availability of some Android apps. For an additional $130, you can get a keyboard that both stores and charges the Surface Slim Pen 2.
That’s nothing new, though. The hues, however, are not. Previously, Microsoft’s brightest color selections were limited to the keyboards, but now the entire chassis may be personalized. My machine is Sapphire, however, it also comes in forest green. These new color choices are tasteful accents that enhance the aesthetic without going overboard. Count me out.
The only other obviously different part of the Surface Pro’s outside chassis are the ports, and they’re not better this time. The Surface Pro 9 is the first Surface computer to not include a 3.5mm headphone connection. This choice was not made in a vacuum, of course. The Dell XPS 13 and XPS 13 Plus aren’t the only laptops to do away with a headphone port this year.
Even still, the lack of a headphone connector in the housing would likely discourage potential buyers. Microsoft has offered no justification for the switch, and there is no obvious reason for the timing of this announcement. It would be one thing if we had noticed a significant thinning out. Nonetheless, removing the headphone connector from the Surface Pro 9 seems to have been done by Microsoft merely because it could. This is not a fantastic method for gaining favor.
The Intel Core i7-1255U in the review unit I received ran as smoothly as one would expect. There are only two Performance cores in these U-series processors, so they aren’t quite Intel’s top-of-the-line. However, if you’re only going to be using the device for online browsing, video calling, office software, and basic photo editing, you’ll find that this CPU provides more than enough performance.
If you still don’t believe a tablet like this can replace your laptop, you need to reevaluate your position. Although this is an improvement over the 11th generation, it is not without its drawbacks. Clearly, performance on a single core has decreased since last year. This is evident not only in the single-threaded Essentials test in PCMark 10 but also in the multi-threaded Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23 benchmarks.
In all of these tests, the Surface Pro 9 is consistently 10% slower than the competition. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s pretty uncommon for a newer model of a product to have poorer performance than its predecessor. Fortunately, the eight additional Efficiency cores present in Intel’s 12th-generation CPUs are a welcome bonus.
The end result is up to a 28% improvement in multi-core performance in Cinebench R23. In most cases, this will result in improved responsiveness in commonly used programs such as the Adobe Creative Suite and Handbrake. Most tablet buyers probably aren’t looking for a device specifically for those uses, and there are plenty of laptops available now that offer superior sustained performance.
In fact, even the Surface Laptop 5, which is 16% quicker at video encoding in Handbrake, isn’t an exception to this rule. A fan is included in the Surface Pro 9, and it helps keep the device cool and silent, albeit at the cost of long-term performance.
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4. Battery life
The generational leap from the Surface Pro 8 to the Surface Pro 9 isn’t necessarily an improvement in all respects, including performance. The Surface Pro 8’s battery life was excellent, lasting for nearly 8.5 hours under light use.
Similar to its predecessor, the Surface Pro 9 falls far short of Apple’s iPad Pro and MacBook Air in terms of sales. Once again, the SQ3 model ought to even it out, though by how much I cannot yet say. When compared to other light and thin Windows laptops, the Surface Pro 9 is about average.
The HP Envy x360 13 and the Acer Swift 3 have shorter battery lives than the Dell XPS 13 and the Surface Laptop 5. The Surface Pro 9’s portability is a major selling point, but I believe consumers have come to expect tablets to last a little longer.
5. Choosing Between Intel and SQ3
Put Intel and SQ3 next to one another, and the similarities and differences between the two will likely confirm your preconceived notions about the relative merits of each processor. Battery life is improved by the ARM-based SQ3, but processing speed is increased by the Intel 12th-generation CPUs.
Microsoft’s own specifications reveal as much, stating that the SQ3 has an increased battery life of up to four hours despite having the same 47.7-watt-hour battery. Whence this distinction? Well, the SQ3 is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, and it’s the outcome of Microsoft’s most recent partnership with the company.
It’s a Surface Pro 9-specific chip, but it shares many of the SoC’s capabilities in terms of speed and power (system on chip). These ARM-based processors are significantly faster due to their reduced instruction set. Apple’s M1 and M2 show how transformative they can be when coupled with a powerful enough processor. But the SQ3 falls short in some key respects. Or, at least, not right away. Unfortunately, I haven’t tried the chip personally yet, so I can’t confirm anything.
My hopes are low, though. The ThinkPad X13s showcases the 8cx Gen 3 and reveals that while it is the most powerful Snapdragon PC chip to date, it lags behind the latest generation of Intel CPUs by as much as 37% in single-core performance. It’s nearly 20% slower in single-core performance than even the slower Dell XPS 13 (9315), making it feel more in line with laptops from a year ago.
The SQ3 should outperform the SQ2 by a small margin but still fall within the same ballpark. It’s also anticipated to be less speedy than last year’s Surface Pro 8, which was powered by Intel. Despite this, Microsoft’s SQ3 variant costs an additional $300 over the standard Intel offering. Spending more money for less output may seem unreasonable at first.
The SQ3 offers two big benefits over the Intel counterpart, so it’s not just about raw performance. To begin, the SQ3 is the only model with 5G connectivity. The battery life is another issue. Supposedly, the SQ3 extends the Surface Pro 9’s battery life, which is a crucial feature for a computer of this type.
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6. App Compatibility
Windows on ARM devices have always struggled most with software compatibility, rather than sheer performance. When the Surface Pro X first came out, it was widely known that many apps weren’t optimized for the ARM architecture, leading to a terrible emulated performance in even the most fundamental programs like Google Chrome.
Since then, things have changed for the better. The vast majority of commonly used software, both older 32-bit programs, and more modern 64-bit programs, work without a hitch. Microsoft’s own products, such as the Edge web browser and Microsoft Teams, have been recompiled for ARM. Though more third-party developers need to be won over before the emulator can truly shine, it has come a long way in recent years.
I want to put the SQ3 model through its paces whenever I get my hands on one, but based on other recent Windows on ARM devices, we can make some educated guesses about its performance. Although there aren’t nearly enough apps for this to be a genuine iPad competitor, it goes without saying that the Android apps available through the Microsoft Store also perform nicely.
7. The Surface Pro 9 is At a Crossroads
One of the best 2-in-1 laptops on the market is the Surface Pro 9, and it hasn’t changed much from its previous iteration. While the forthcoming Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 may provide stiff competition, the Surface Pro 9’s distinctive premium feature set and beautiful appearance ensure its continued reign at the top for the foreseeable future. But the Surface Pro 9 isn’t perfect; there are still issues I’d want to see addressed.
It’s a tad pricey, and there are a number of drawbacks, including shorter battery life and the absence of a headphone port. This is especially the case if you also plan on purchasing a Surface Slim Pen 2 and a Type Cover. Prices start at nearly $1,300 for a smartphone with only 128GB of storage. That’s double what Apple would charge.
Even if you’re convinced that the two functions are complementary, the higher price tag may still be off-putting. Better value can be found in 2-in-1 laptops like the Dell XPS 13, HP Envy x360 13, and MacBook Air, although these devices cannot double as tablets.
They are also not nearly as compact as this. Personally, I feel like the iPad Pro makes better use of its size and shape by delivering a more refined touch experience. However, if you need a tablet that can seamlessly replace a laptop, go no further than the Surface Pro 9.