Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 is the next 2-in-1 from the longtime premium brand, which emphasizes Microsoft’s vision of modern computing. I spent some time with the Pro 9 to experience Redmond’s latest thinking in the tablet space.
The Surface Pro 9 is Microsoft’s latest 2-in-1 device and the third to use the design language introduced with the Surface Pro X. You’ve got a light machine thanks to the magnesium casing, but not so light that it feels flimsy.
The Pro 9 uses a reduced bezel size, allowing the 12.3-inch screen to dominate the device. Once again, Microsoft has opted for a 3:2 aspect ratio display which seems far better suited for doing “work” on the go than the 16:9 displays found in more entertainment-oriented PCs. You still have the iconic kickstand, which allows the screen to be tilted to the best position when in use, and support for the Surface Pen and detachable Surface Keyboard. Both of these remain add-on purchases, so the Surface Pro 9’s high price has – again – a sting in the tail if you need the full experience.
The Surface Pro 9 line is a pair of devices. While the Surface line has always offered different tiers of Intel processors, the Surface Pro 9 also offers an ARM-based version; we have both the Surface Pro 8 and Surface Pro X sequel.
My review unit is the Intel-based version. This is more suitable for tasks that require extra computing power – video and multimedia editing comes to mind, as well as complex legacy x86 applications. The ARM-based version is designed to be a highly mobile device with longer battery life and better connectivity. Practically, the Intel-based Pro 9 I’m reviewing can consistently hit the seven-hour mark of battery life with my mixed real-world usage.
Notably, the ARM-based version is the only version to offer 5G connectivity, although it caps out at 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage… Intel models go up to 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage on the Core i7 model.
How does the Surface Pro 9 work everyday?
The touchscreen is impressive, and with a resolution of 2736 x 1824 pixels there’s plenty of information on screen. This is especially noticeable when running office applications. I’m one to get as much information as possible onto the screen, especially on web pages, and again the extended display allows that to happen.
I would also highlight Microsoft’s use of tiling multiple application windows and “preset” configurations that you can quickly switch to. While much of the UI furniture still needs to be exposed, the larger screen means you don’t miss as much information compared to smaller screens running a 16:9 aspect ratio screen.
As a content-consuming device, the Pro 9 is excellent (albeit expensive). The light weight and long battery life means there’s plenty of confidence in the machine that if you grab it and go, it’ll still work in your hand. Where it starts to get troublesome is with content creation. Because with the best will in the world, using your fingers for touch and the on-screen keyboard for typing isn’t quick or fast. It’s handy in short bursts, but trying to use the Surface Pro 9 naked when creativity is flowing isn’t pretty.
Microsoft didn’t ship a Surface Keyboard or Pen with the review unit, and I was doing my best to only look at the Pro 9, but I’ll be honest… after two weeks I gave in and I I skipped the Surface Keyboard and Slim Pen from my old Surface Pro X to the Pro 9. At least there’s some backwards compatibility on offer.
The Surface Pro line has been an evolutionary line. There have rarely been massive jumps in supply; everything was a quiet step up from previous models. Take the inclusion of 5G connectivity on the ARM-based model. This builds on 4G LTE on the Pro X, which later moved to the Surface Pro 8. Surface Pen and touchscreen accuracy have both improved over time, with more accuracy added to the screen, more features such as pressure sensitivity in the pen and a faster inking experience thanks to the hardware.
There must be a few first steps to begin this journey. For the Surface Pro 9, I’d say bringing ARM into the mainline Pro line is the big step forward, and everything else is the result of aggressively applying Moore’s Law.
The Surface Pro 9 is competent in the best definition of the word. It has everything you expect from a tablet computer – from a large, responsive display to lightweight, easy mobility and secondary features that provide consumers with a good quality of life.
The ARM-powered version of the Surface Pro 9 is where I think Microsoft is pushing the envelope. Not only does it have the advantages of ARM in terms of battery life and portability, but it also includes improved video calling software, with AI to improve audio and visuals.
Would it have been nice if this was added to the Intel version? Yes, but it’s far from a deal-breaker.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro is a versatile line that has worked hard to establish the Windows tablet as a viable option for many. Yet the two most important problems – which are intrinsically linked – remain. The Surface Pro 9 is an expensive option. You pay a premium to go for a 2-in-1 over a regular laptop. And if you want to unleash the 2-in-1 potential, you have to pay even more for the keyboard and stylus.
What you get is a powerful, lightweight and portable computer. The physical design feels reliable and premium; in use, it is comfortable to use and quick to react; and with both the Microsoft name and the longevity of the Surface Pro brand, there’s a feeling of comfort and reliability around the product.
Now read my review of Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio, the transforming laptop with high-end power…