What is Microsoft Surface Pro? Microsoft Surface is a series of touchscreen-based personal computers, tablets, and interactive whiteboards designed and developed by Microsoft, most of them running the Windows operating system. They are designed to be premium devices that set examples for manufacturers of other Windows-compatible products. It comprises several generations of hybrid tablets, 2-in-1 detachable notebooks, a convertible desktop all-in-one, an interactive whiteboard, and various accessories, many with unique form factors. The majority of devices in the Surface lineup are based on Intel processors and compatible with Windows 10 or Windows 11.
What is Microsoft Surface Pro?
Whether you need a laptop, a tablet, or even a phone, Microsoft has you covered. The company that became a household name via its Windows operating system has been selling actual hardware devices under the Surface brand for many years. Last year’s Surface lineup included some standout PCMag Editors’ Choice winners, but this year is more of an iterative update on those existing, award-winning devices.
Whether you’ve owned many Surface devices in the past or you’re contemplating your first one, the current Surface lineup can be pretty confusing, since it employs a bit of its own lingo and many of the products sound similar. The word “Go,” for instance, translates to “smaller” and “less expensive” in Surface parlance, and it applies across multiple product categories. And the word “Pro” actually refers to one of the original and most mainstream Surface devices that Microsoft pioneered more than a decade ago: Windows tablets with optional detachable keyboards.
Not only are the Surface naming conventions byzantine and samey-sounding (“Pro,” “Go,” “Studio,” and “Duo,” anyone?), but the Surface family also welcomes new members on a regular basis, adding to the models worth considering. To cut through the Surface clutter, we’ve gathered every current Surface device in one place to help you decide which, if any, is the right one for you.
The Surface Tablets: The Original 2-in-1 Detachables
Most people think of Windows as an operating system for laptops and desktops, but the OS is actually much more versatile. Microsoft created the Surface tablet as a showcase for how Windows can power touch-screen devices without integrated keyboards. And in many cases, it works splendidly.
That’s certainly true of the Surface tablet that will attract most mainstream buyers. The Surface Pro has been a frequent Editors’ Choice winner that represents the best of detachable Windows tablets. At its core, the Surface Pro is a sleek 13-inch touch-screen tablet that can be used either by itself or with an optional detachable keyboard.
The Surface Pro’s signature physical feature is an integrated kickstand with a fully adjustable hinge. It allows you to recline the screen through 165 degrees of range, from standing at attention to nearly flat. It’s also a showcase for the new Windows 11 operating system and works with a new, larger stylus, the Slim Pen 2.
In 2021, we lauded the Surface Pro 8 as the best iteration yet, and the 2-in-1 detachable to beat. Unfortunately, the Surface Pro landscape got a bit trickier to navigate in 2022. Microsoft unveiled the Pro 9 in October 2022 in two different flavors, one based on the latest Intel CPUs and one with an Arm-based SQ3 chip.
New highly touted features include 5G support, smart camera technology, and super-long battery life, but those are only available in the Surface Pro 9 SQ3 version, which is the model we reviewed first. We next reviewed the Surface Pro 9 Intel version, which sees advanced performance with its 12th Gen “Alder Lake” chips, but none of those new features. The headphone jack was also removed from both models.
This distinction makes things confusing for shoppers, especially if you’re not well versed in the CPU differences, or don’t read the fine print closely about exclusive features when picking your model online. In this move, Microsoft also killed off the Arm-based Surface Pro X, since it has essentially been replaced by the SQ3 Pro 9 model.
Arm-based machines have Windows compatibility and performance limits, so in our view delineating this under the separate Pro X name was less confusing than having two quite different models named the Surface Pro 9. You’ll come across more caveats than before, so you’ll want to read our two reviews and Microsoft’s store carefully before purchasing a unit.
On the less powerful side, Microsoft also offers the Surface Go family, which brings most of the Surface Pro features to a smaller, more affordable form factor. Now in its third generation, the Surface Go 3 is one of the best budget Windows tablets available. However, its smaller screen and less-capable Intel processor mean it’s more suited to people who prioritize portability and cost savings, and it’s not a true laptop replacement.
Microsoft took an interesting turn with its next Surface Go, the Surface Go 4, making it exclusive to professional sales channels and designed as a fleet device for offices, mobile employees, and the education market. Updated with a new low-power Intel N200 processor, which Microsoft says is at least twice as powerful as the Surface Go 3 chip, this new CPU is full of features specifically aimed at IT departments in businesses and schools. Microsoft also threw in a slightly better UFS storage solution in the upper-tier models. The Surface Go 4 starts at $579.99 without a keyboard when bought individually. We’ve yet to review this one, so stay tuned for testing results down the road.
The Surface Laptop Family: Microsoft’s Most Powerful Surfaces
While the Surface Pro 9 can potentially do everything a laptop can, not everyone needs a laptop replacement. So a few years ago, Microsoft decided to add conventional laptops with clamshell-style hinges to the Surface family. Now in its fifth generation, the Surface Laptop 5 combines elements of the Windows tablet experience (chiefly the excellent touch-enabled display) and the laptop experience (a full keyboard for comfortable typing, more powerful processors, advanced features, and more connectivity).
The Surface Laptop 5 is available in either 13.5-inch or 15-inch screen sizes, and like many Surface tablets, it comes in multiple color options. The larger Laptop 5, which is what we reviewed for 2022, comes in fewer colors than its smaller counterpart, however, offered only in platinum and black.
The Surface Laptop 5 is also rather expensive for the components; its sleek build comes at a price premium. Similarly priced competitors will get you superior CPUs, OLED screen options, and even a GPU option. Like the Surface Pro 9, a decent configuration will be north of $1,200, and a well-equipped model is closer to $2,000. In short, it’s a fine all-rounder laptop with a high-end build, but you’ll be overpaying a bit for the core components.
As with the Surface Go tablet, Microsoft also takes some of the best parts of the Surface Laptop experience and distills them into a smaller, cheaper package: the Surface Laptop Go 2. This device has a smaller 12-inch screen, but it also comes with a far more palatable starting price of just $549 and ideal configurations in the $800 range.
A new model, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3, was just released, but it brings few changes. While the latest model has the same 12-inch size and looks nearly identical, Microsoft has bumped up the price. Microsoft boosted the basic specs, but not enough, likely putting off budget shoppers with the new base price of $799.
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