Testing: Microsoft has held back for a long time. But after eight years of modest development, the Surface Pro series is once again setting the tone.
I’ve long been a fan of Microsoft’s slick Surface Pro line.
In fact, I’ve owned one since Microsoft perfected its third-generation Surface Pro in 2014 with a magnesium design that was so successful it hasn’t been touched since.
However, 2014 is ages ago in technology land. And Microsoft has not just rested on its laurels, but has gone into year-long hibernation.
You, therefore, have to be quite Surface-savvy to even know a Pro 3 from a Pro 7 year 2021.
Apart from an update in the engine room with each iteration, the range is largely unchanged. Until now.
The eighth generation offers a multitude of adjustments, fine-tuning and improvements that make it the best Surface device in a very long time.
Better – both as a tablet and as a laptop
Since its debut 10 years ago, the Microsoft Surface Pro has tried to unite two seemingly incompatible sizes: the tablet and laptop formats.
The Pro series does not have long until it can celebrate its 10-year anniversary, but its basic structure has not been tampered with and thank you for that.
So you still get a hybrid machine in well-turned lightweight metal and the built-in support leg, which makes it easy to angle the screen, is still as cunning as it has always been.
It’s nicer to hold than before, thanks to its rounded sides. Microsoft has clearly distinguished the Pro X model here and that is a good thing.
At the same time, the Surface Pro 8 seems a little more solid than before. It is, however, approximately 100 grams heavier, but this is forgivable because now 12 percent more screen area is used.
The total package with keyboard cover, pen and Surface weighs 1,190 grams. The same as the lightest ones
At the same time, the magnetically removable keyboard/touchpad cover and the magnetic Surface connector that characterize the series are retained.
The many small news
On the surface, it may still be difficult to see where the major overhauls lie in the Pro 8.
But if you study the machine closely, you will notice that Microsoft has come up with many small but significant improvements.
The first thing you will notice is how the screen now spreads. Here, dishes are dished up with a 13-inch razor-sharp screen compared to 12.3 inches previously.
It’s a small but far from insignificant change that gives much-needed elbow room to one’s programs – it’s now very close to matching the 13.5 inches that come in the Surface Laptop.
On the side of the tablet, you will notice that there is no classic USB port to be had anymore.
It has been replaced by a more up-to-date USB-C instead. This can, however, be used for charging, should you feel like settling for just one charger.
However, the supplied Surface charger still has a USB-A port, which unfortunately cannot be used for anything other than charging, which seems a bit curious.
Another lack is the micro-SD card reader. Instead, however, you get something as rare as a limb that provides easy access to the on-board M2 SSD.
It requires the right tool (a SIM tool and a micro Torx screwdriver), but then you can also replace the SSD yourself in a few seconds.
And that gives food for thought, because an upgrade from, for example, 128 to 512 gigabytes of storage runs up to USD3000, while the upgrade from 256 gigabytes to a full terabyte runs up to a staggering USD500.
Then one could easily be tempted to instead buy a separate one of this kind for a third of the price and throw it in instead. However, you must make sure that it is a drive in the correct M2.2230 format.
A boost in image and sound
Another equally important overhaul in Microsoft’s new tablet can be found in the touch screen, which now updates twice as often as before with 120 Hz.
Unfortunately, the dynamic adaptation called DRR is supported, which is why you have to live with the fact that the faster screen response takes a little extra on the operating time.
As a user, you, therefore, get the sharp and colourful screen that characterizes the series and now the ability to make movements on the screen more natural and fluid. The advantage in games, apps and when drawing with the new Surface Slim Pen 2.
The latter also gets a clever placement in its own little nest inside the keyboard cover, where it can both be charged and at the same time avoid going astray during transport. It’s smarter than any other solution I’ve seen to date.
At the same time, the screen also gets Windows 11’s ‘Adaptive Color’ feature, so that it automatically adapts to the ambient lighting and adjusts the colour temperature – a feature that has existed for years with Apple’s iPads, and which provides a significant boost – especially in the dark winter months at home.
At the same time, the Surface Pro 8 is accompanied by better speakers, which give the beautiful screen the sound it deserves.
For many years, a Surface Pro review has been limited to where the only real development has been to be found: in the engine compartment.
This year is no exception. Microsoft has here made room for Intel’s excellent 11th generation quad-core processor, which is either served in i5 or i7 variants, where the biggest difference between the two is that the i7 spins a little faster.
Both simultaneously offer the most powerful version of Intel’s Xe graphics, which, unlike several previous graphics chips from the company, are not completely inept. It can even compete with some dedicated entry-level graphics cards, so it can turn into a bit of Fortnite or Call of Duty with the effects turned down.
In today’s test subject, which is based on an Intel i7-1185G7, however, you can see that the processor is not quite allowed to shoot the frequencies all the way up, because the power consumption and heat dissipation must also be reined in.
Microsoft chooses to prioritize operating time rather than retrieving the last 10 percent of performance.
A prioritization that most people would probably accept – but at the same time it makes it a little harder to argue for paying extra for the i7 model.
The battery on board is 51.5 Wh, which is on par, but actually somewhat larger than what you get in a Surface Laptop. According to Microsoft, this should be sufficient for 16 hours of operation. Personally, however, I would expect about half that, which is still reasonable in such a light and flexible device.
It is not only the Surface tablet itself that has been fine-tuned in every direction and edge. The accessories that Microsoft has tailored for the device have also improved quite a bit.
The keyboard cover, which is now called ‘Surface Pro Signature Type Cover’, is a few hundred kroner more expensive than before, but on the other hand, offers a much more usable touch-field than before. The daily price is around DKK 1,200 for the cheapest model.
At the same time, it can store a pen, while by spending a few hundred kroner you can get a cover with a built-in fingerprint reader.
It now seems a bit redundant, because the Surface Pro 8 has an excellent Windows Hello face recognition built-in.
However, the typing experience itself is still a bit hollow and cardboard-like on the go. And Microsoft still hasn’t solved the series’ recurring problem with ‘lapability’, i.e. the ability to lie safely on the user’s lap. A discipline like a laptop, almost by definition it must be able to.
Microsoft is not known for being generous with its machines when they need to be equipped.
On the one hand, the most budget-friendly models are often so scrappy that they should be avoided (for example, the Surface Pro 7 cheapest model with four gigabytes of ram and 128 gigabytes of storage), while the upgrades are often offered at exorbitant prices.
In this regard, Microsoft does not insult the consumer by starting with a paltry four gigabytes of ram in a ‘Pro’ product.
But in the Microsoft model, you can easily upgrade the storage space from the scraped 128 gigabytes that are included.
A small weakness of the model program is, however, the possibility of a mobile connection. Here you are limited to 4G, which is known not to be as future-proof as 5G.
Best Surface product in years
The Microsoft Surface Pro series is now so mature that it is developing in the same way as venerable devices such as Apple’s Macbooks or iPads or Lenovo’s Thinkpad machines. Conservative and slow.
In the Surface Pro 8, however, it has turned into many small streams of fine-tuning, adjustments, updates and revisions that make the final product far more convincing than ever.
The screen upgrade alone makes it far more useful as one’s primary machine, while the revised design, accessories and more power complete the package.
It is, in short, the best Surface product that Microsoft has delivered in many years.