By Dieter Bohn
With the new Surface Pro 8, Microsoft has finally gone and done the thing we’ve all been waiting years for: modernized the design of its flagship device. I had a chance to briefly use the new 2-in-1 Windows machine at Microsoft’s San Francisco office yesterday and found much more to like than dislike.
The redesign takes cues from the Arm processor-based Surface Pro X, which means it has a larger 13-inch touchscreen and much narrower bezels. That screen is bright and sharp at 267 PPI and maintains the Surface’s 3:2 aspect ratio. Microsoft tells me that it is able to adjust the color temperature of the display to match the room, but it was difficult to see in my brief time with it.
The screen has one more trick: a high, 120Hz refresh rate. Microsoft’s spec sheet emphasizes that 60Hz is the default, however, so it may be that ramping up the hertz will mean ramping down the battery life — Microsoft rates it at 16 hours of use, but we’ll obviously need to test that.
The starting price for the Surface Pro 8 is $1,099, but that’s not including a keyboard or a Surface Pen. It also doesn’t include upgrades from the base 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, or 11th Gen Core i5 processor (enterprise users have an option for an even less expensive i3). It can be specced up to a Core i7, 1TB of storage, and 32GB of RAM. There will be an LTE model, but only for enterprise customers.
Regarding the base model, I think consumers would benefit from upgrading at least the RAM and storage, and of course buying a Surface Pro without a keyboard doesn’t make a lot of sense.
But oh, that keyboard: it’s great. Microsoft says it’s made with a carbon fiber core now, so it’s stiffer without being heavier or thicker. I could definitely feel it — there was much less bounce when typing hard than I have ever experienced on a Surface keyboard (and the sound was also less hollow).
The keyboard also has a way to store the new Surface Slim Pen 2, housed in the little fold that props the keyboard up against the bottom bezel. It’s a super convenient solution, and like the overall design, is also borrowed from the Surface Pro X. (And unlike the Surface Pro X keyboard, this new one doesn’t block the taskbar when attached.)
There’s one more “finally” to discuss with the Surface Pro 8: Thunderbolt. It has two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports in addition to the standard Surface connector. It’s an overdue addition to the Surface lineup.
Otherwise, the Surface Pro 8 is physically very familiar. The main thing I noticed is that the corners are softened a bit so it’s nicer to hold. The kickstand hinge is still stiff but smooth, holding the device at any angle. Underneath it is a small door you can pop out to swap the SSD for something larger.
There’s still a Windows Hello camera for logging in, which Microsoft says has also been upgraded. It’s paired with Microsoft Studio mics for audio, while the rear camera has support for 4K video.
Finally, the new Surface Slim Pen 2 ($129.99) has a few new tricks in addition to a more tapered design. It charges inductively in the keyboard like on the Pro X, but now it has a haptic engine inside it. When you begin to draw on the screen, there’s a subtle vibration in the pen itself. We’ll need to do actual testing in the review, but my initial take is that it was too subtle and inconsistent to be meaningful.
Alongside the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft also updated its less popular tablets. The Surface Pro X just got a new configuration option, a basic $899 model without LTE. The tiny Surface Go got new processors, mainly, plus an option to get LTE at a cheaper price point. Both Surfaces represent bets on possible futures for Windows which haven’t panned out yet, but it’s nice to see Microsoft isn’t bailing on either just yet.
The Surface Pro 8 is available for preorder right away, but we don’t yet know when it’ll start shipping. We will of course have a full review as soon as we can — until then, the good news is that Microsoft’s flagship tablet finally looks and feels like one again.
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By Dieter Bohn