REVIEW: Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 is almost identical to its predecessor, the Surface Pro 8. The latest improvements and introductions are minimal, resulting in a tablet that can’t do much more than the previous one.
That’s not to say the Surface Pro 9 is a bad tablet. It’s not. It’s one of the best Windows tablets on the market. The touch display is vibrant and responsive, the detachable Surface Pro Signature keyboard is still market-leading, and it boasts a sleek user-friendly design.
There just isn’t much to get excited about here. There haven’t been any significant changes introduced other than removing the headphone jack. The battery hasn’t improved, and the performance capabilities are only slightly better.
While iterative updates are now common in consumer tech – you only need to look at Apple’s iPhone and iPad lineups to see this at its best – usually, the next product iteration comes with more substantial improvements. The Surface Pro 9 doesn’t, and it’s hard to believe that this is the best Microsoft has to offer a year after the Surface Pro 8.
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I came away wondering what the point of the Surface Pro 9 is when you can get the exact same experience with the Surface Pro 8.
The Surface Pro 9 comes in multiple configurations:
12th Gen Intel Core i58GB RAM128GB SSD $1849
12th Gen Intel Core i58GB RAM256GB SSD $2029
12th Gen Intel Core i516GB RAM256GB SSD $2569
12th Gen Intel Core i716GB RAM256GB SSD $2929
12th Gen Intel Core i716GB RAM512GB SSD $3469
12th Gen Intel Core i716GB RAM1TB SSD $4009
12th Gen Intel Core i732GB RAM1TB SSD $4729
Microsoft SQ 316GB RAM256GB SSD $2939
In comparison, a 12.9-inch, 1TB Apple iPad Pro costs $3699. The HP Spectre x360 Laptop 14 – with its Intel i7 CPU, 13.5-inch screen, 16GB RAM and 1TB internal storage – costs $4325.
In this regard, as far as Windows-based 2-in-1s and tablets go, the Surface Pro 9 is competitively priced. But it’s quite a bit more expensive than the better performing, similarly, spec’d, Apple iPad Pro.
The Surface Pro 9 doesn’t introduce much change. It’s very similar to its predecessor, the Surface Pro 8. In fact, if you hold them next to each other, you won’t be able to tell the difference other than the Pro 9 no longer sports a 3.5mm headphone jack.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there just isn’t much here to get excited about.
There’s a new 5G model powered by Microsoft’s SQ 3 chip – which we didn’t get to test – effectively replacing the Surface Pro X range, the headphone jack has been removed, and the CPU is now a bit better – the Pro 9 boasts 12th Gen Intel processors over the Pro 8’s 11th Gen range.
That’s about it.
As mentioned earlier, besides the missing headphone jack, the Pro 9 has an almost identical design to the Pro 8. I didn’t have a problem with this. I liked the design of the Pro 8, saying in my review, “the design is functional, sturdy and good-looking. It does have some minor inconveniences regarding its ports, but overall, I loved its design.” The same can be said here.
Much like its predecessor, the Pro 9 is a sturdy, functional device boasting the same kickstand on the back, making it easy to prop up independently, whether in landscape or portrait orientations.
It boasts roughly the same 287mm x 209mm x 9.3mm dimensions, being only one millimetre wider, and it’s a little lighter, coming in at 879g as opposed to the 891g of the Pro 8.
Two new colours have been introduced to the range, Sapphire and Forest, which accompany the familiar Graphite and Platinum colours. These new additions add a splash of vibrancy to the relatively dull original options. It’s a nice touch.
Annoyingly, my frustrations with the Pro 8’s ports have remained. The Pro 9 has two USB-C (Thunderbolt 4) ports, a Surface Connect Charger port, and a port to connect the keyboard. The USB-C ports are both located on the same side of the device, making it tricky for multiple monitor setups. As I said in my review of the Pro 8, one on each side would have been much more user-friendly.
The removal of the headphone jack is a decision that I don’t love. I’m an advocate for having more options, and being able to use wireless and wired headphones is something I like. That said, based on how portable devices are going, wired headphones are being phased out, so this is to be expected.
The Pro 9 boasts mostly the same 13-inch PixelSense, 2880 x 1920 resolution, 120Hz, touch display as the Pro 8. It’s still a fantastic display that has responsive touch functions, a smooth feel and is sharp and vibrant.
The differences here are the Pro 9 supports Auto Colour Management and Dolby Vision IQ and the 120Hz refresh rate is now a variable refresh rate in which the screen can dynamically switch between 60 and 120Hz to save battery.
Auto Colour Management does two things, it ensures that colours across Windows apps are consistent on different displays, and it also assists in apps being able to render colours with more accuracy. While this isn’t something I readily noticed, for creatives, this can be a great benefit when trying to ensure colours are represented accurately.
The Pro 9 supports HDR, and Dolby Vision IQ capitalises on that. Like dynamic HDR, Dolby Vision IQ autonomously sends metadata to the HDR signal to optimise the image on display. It does this by adjusting properties like brightness, contrast and colour. Again, it’s a subtle difference you probably won’t notice but watching movies, and TV shows on the Pro 9 look great.
The display also supports adaptive brightness and contrast, in which it will adjust the screen based on your surroundings.
Overall, it’s a very good screen.
The Surface Pro 9 is at its best when combined with the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard and the Surface Slim Pen 2. I would say there’s no point in buying the Surface Pro 9 without the keyboard, at least. Without it, you can, of course, use the touchscreen; however, if you’re doing prolonged typing, you’ll want the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard.
This is because it’s brilliant and is still my favourite detachable keyboard. It’s lightweight, well-spaced and feels great to type on. The touchpad is small but functional and responsive enough that it’s easy to get to the top corners of the screen with one swipe. It connects magnetically, has a solid build, and I liked being able to prop it up, so it’s on an angle.
While I’m not a “creative” – and didn’t have much use for the Slim Pen 2 – throughout my tests, it felt responsive and smooth. Granted, I was only writing a few words or doing some colouring in, but it has a nice, tactile feel to it. I especially liked how the back of the Slim Pen 2 acts as an eraser for easy interchanging between functions.
I didn’t have any issues with the PixelSense touchscreen, it’s responsive and accurate. Whether I was using my finger or the Slim Pen 2, I could easily input finer commands – like exiting a webpage – without pressing the incorrect button.
Like many other tablet accessories, the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard and the Surface Slim Pen 2 are expensive add-ons, however, when compared to the $279 Apple Pencil and Apple’s $709 Magic Keyboard, they’re significantly more affordable. The Surface Pro Signature Keyboard costs $300, and the Slim Pen 2 costs $200. You can also get them both in a package for $480.
These accessories work well together. There’s a magnetised slot in the Signature Keyboard where you can put the Slim Pen 2. It won’t fall out, and it charges here as well.
The Pro 9 has a 1080p selfie camera, which is among the better cameras out there. It’s good for video conferencing and zoom calls and is used for Windows Hello facial recognition. Frustratingly though, advanced features like auto-framing, portrait blur and auto eye contact are reserved for the Surface Pro 9 5G model powered by the SQ3 chip.
Our review device boasted the 12th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. This is on the lower end of the spectrum regarding performance.
To test the capabilities of the CPU, we ran GeekBench 6 tests. The Pro 9 achieved a single-core score of 1101 and a multi-core score of 4765. These aren’t great results; however, it pays to remember this is the weaker of the two CPUs you can get with the Surface Pro 9.
As comparisons, we ran the same tests on an HP Spectre x360 2-in-1, which had a 12th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU and 16GB RAM, and it achieved a single-core score of 1546 and a multi-core score of 7055. The Apple iPad Pro (2022) achieved a single-core score of 1895 and a multi-core score of 8484.
If you’re looking to do resource-intensive tasks with the Surface Pro 9, your best bet is to opt for the Intel Core i7 model. However, don’t expect to be able to do complex video editing or high-fidelity gaming with the Pro 9.
Interestingly, Microsoft’s claims regarding the Surface Pro 9’s battery life are less than the Surface Pro 8. It claimed the earlier model could last 16 hours while the Pro 9 can last 15.5 hours off a single charge.
Throughout my testing, neither of these claims were accurate, and it’s interesting to see Microsoft admitting the newer model has a worse battery.
Using the Surface Pro 9 for standard usage, like scrolling the internet, going on social media or writing, with adaptive brightness and contrast and the variable refresh rate on, I achieved around 7.5 hours of usage before needing to charge. That’s a long way off the 16 hours achieved by the HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 Laptop 14 but is a little closer to the 10-hour battery of the Apple iPad Pro.
The Surface Pro 9 charges via the Surface Connect charger and can achieve around 50% battery after a 30-minute charge. You can also charge it via the USB-C ports, but it’s significantly slower.
If you’re looking for a functional, responsive, sleek Windows-based tablet, the Surface Pro 9 is a great option. But there isn’t enough here to make it a must-have over its predecessor, the Surface Pro 8.
The Pro 9 barely introduces anything to warrant purchasing the newer device. It looks the same, feels the same and performs only slightly better. To make matters worse, it has less battery life and no longer has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
If you already own a Surface Pro 8, you won’t need to upgrade to the newer Surface Pro 9, and although Microsoft will probably stop selling the Pro 8, if you can get your hands on one, you’ll be getting the near-exact same experience at a reduced price.
While it’s still a great tablet, this year’s Surface Pro 9 is a disappointing iteration. There are no exciting new improvements, and overall, the changes Microsoft introduced negatively impact the product rather than push it forward.
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