Microsoft’s latest tablet, the Surface Pro 9, offers enhanced speed, improved repairability, and a broader range of options. But is it still the leading PC tablet on the market? That depends on your selection.
Unified Models, Diverse Choices
Microsoft has consolidated its two premium tablet lines under the Surface Pro 9. The base model, starting at £1,099 ($999.99/A$1,649), without a keyboard, builds upon the advancements of the Surface Pro 8 from 2021. It boasts faster 12th-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, along with an improved internal design.
Joining the lineup is the £1,299 ($1,299.99/A$2,599) Surface Pro 9 5G, which continues in the footsteps of Microsoft’s Surface Pro X series, employing ARM-based chips, akin to those found in smartphones. It offers a distinct set of trade-offs.
The Surface Pro 9 with Intel chip in blue (top) and the Surface Pro 9 5G in silver (bottom) with bands on its top edge for the mobile data antennas. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Sleek Design with Incremental Improvements
The latest Surface Pro 9 models are 12g lighter than their predecessors but retain a nearly identical appearance. They feature a modern, well-crafted design, available in a range of attractive colors. The convenient kickstand, a hallmark of Microsoft’s tablets, enables versatile and adjustable positioning.
The excellent 13-inch display is slightly brighter than before and can seamlessly switch between a 60Hz or 120Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling while optimizing battery life. The keyboard and Slim Pen 2 stylus remain unchanged from the previous iteration and deliver excellent performance. However, it’s worth noting that they are sold separately, adding an additional £260 to the overall cost.
Internally, the tablet offers improved repairability. A user-replaceable battery and upgradable storage, conveniently housed behind a little flap on the back, contribute to this advancement. Microsoft has also published a service manual and made spare parts available, marking a significant step towards user-friendly repairs.
The only downside is the removal of the headphone jack, leaving users with the option of a USB-C dongle (not included) or Bluetooth connectivity. While Bluetooth headphones released in the past two years generally function well with the Surface, call audio quality might suffer compared to wired headsets.
- Screen: 13-inch LCD 2880×1920 (267 PPI) 120Hz
- Processor: Intel Core i5 or i7 (12th generation)
- RAM: 8, 16, or 32GB
- Storage: 128, 256, 512GB, or 1TB
- Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
- Operating system: Windows 11 Home
- Camera: 10MP rear, 5MP front-facing, Windows Hello
- Connectivity: Wifi 6E, Bluetooth 5.1, 2x Thunderbolt 4/USB-4, Surface Connect
- Dimensions: 287 x 209 x 9.3 mm
- Weight: 879g (without keyboard)
A full charge takes about 100 minutes, hitting 80% in an hour using the included 65W charger via the Surface Connect port or equivalent USB-C power adaptor. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Intel vs. ARM
The wifi-only Surface Pro 9 offers a choice between Intel Core i5-1235U and i7-1255U processors. These processors, with similar power efficiency, deliver up to a 35% performance boost compared to the previous generation. This positions the Surface Pro 9 favorably amongst its PC competitors in terms of speed.
The top-of-the-line Core i7 version exhibits snappier performance during operations such as resuming from standby. It handles complex image editing tasks seamlessly and operates silently, with fan noise only noticeable when connected to a Thunderbolt dock or running intensive benchmark tests.
Battery life remains consistent, providing around eight hours of continuous work, suitable for a typical workday. While it may not match the endurance of some laptops that can last 16 hours between charges, it aligns well with similar PC tablets.
The story takes a different turn with the Microsoft SQ3 ARM chip version. While its raw computing power is comparable to the Intel variant, apps designed for ARM chips, such as Microsoft’s own programs including Office and the Edge browser, perform exceptionally. However, most Windows programs are optimized for Intel or AMD chips, necessitating the use of tools within Windows 11 to enable their operation on ARM processors. This “emulation layer” results in sluggish performance for Intel apps like Evernote, Affinity Photo 2, Chrome, or even the WhatsApp desktop app. Some apps, such as Google’s Drive syncing software, refuse to run altogether.
Windows 11 with Android App Support
The Surface Pro 9 runs Windows 11 and offers Windows Hello facial recognition for convenient authentication throughout the tablet, including apps and payments. Windows 11 has matured into a reliable operating system, and its recent addition of support for running Android apps enhances its capabilities.
Android apps can be found in the Microsoft Store and downloaded via Amazon’s Android app store. However, the current selection of available apps is somewhat limited. Most major apps, including Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video, already have dedicated Windows versions, rendering their Android counterparts unnecessary. The exception is the Kindle Android app, which provides a seamless experience comparable to that of an Android tablet or iPad.
The Surface Pro 9 demonstrates a commendable repairability factor. It comes with a service guide, houses a removable SSD, and offers a replaceable battery. Microsoft provides out-of-warranty service, with battery replacement costing £380.52 and other repairs, such as a broken screen, amounting to £474.72 when serviced directly by Microsoft.
Regarding environmental aspects, the tablet does not contain recycled materials. However, Microsoft operates recycling programs for its old machines. The company also publishes comprehensive sustainability reports, offering transparency regarding the environmental impact of each product.
The base model of the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 starts at £1,099 ($999.99/A$1,649), equipped with an Intel Core i5-1235U, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. Models featuring the i7-1255U chip start at £1,599 ($1,399.99/A$2,549). The ARM SQ3 models are priced from £1,299 ($1,299.99/A$2,599).
The Signature keyboard can be purchased separately for £159.99 ($179.99/A$259.95) or as a bundle with the Slim Pen 2 for £259.99 ($279.99/A$429.95).
For comparison, the Surface Laptop 5 starts at £999, the Surface Go 3 is priced at £369, Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 starts from £999, and the Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch is available for £1,249.
The Surface Pro 9, equipped with Intel chips, showcases minor but noteworthy speed enhancements, thanks to the inclusion of 12th-generation Intel processors. It offers snappy performance, a reliable battery lasting through the workday, a superb 120Hz display, and remains one of the most compact and adaptable PC tablets available. While the removal of the headphone jack and the lack of an included keyboard are slight inconveniences, the tablet’s significant upgrade lies in its improved repairability. With easier storage replacements and a user-friendly service approach, Microsoft has taken a significant step in the right direction.
The Surface Pro 9 with Intel chips represents one of the finest Windows 11 tablets on the market.
However, the same cannot be said for the 5G version featuring the Microsoft SQ3 ARM chip. Like its predecessor, the Surface Pro X, it is limited by software incompatibility. Unless you rely exclusively on Microsoft’s own apps, rather than the wide array of third-party apps and tools commonly associated with Windows, it is not recommended.
- Superb 120Hz screen
- Excellent Intel performance
- Thunderbolt 4/USB-4 support
- Excellent keyboard (essential additional purchase)
- Convenient kickstand
- Windows Hello
- Solid build
- Great stylus (optional purchase)
- Removable SSD
- Improved repairability
- Relatively expensive
- Keyboard should be included
- No USB-A port
- No microSD card slot
- No headphone jack
- Average battery life
- Microsoft SQ3 and Windows on ARM still lack sufficient performance
The excellent Slim Pen 2 stylus is stored and charged in a slot in the top of the keyboard when not in use. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian