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Review: Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 Gets It Right

The verdict from the CRN Test Center: The redesigned Surface Pro 2-in-1 is a pleasure to use, with a larger display, zippy performance, Windows 11 UI improvements and a superb digital pen.

What a week this is for Microsoft (and anyone who follows the company’s products). Along with rolling out the first new version of Windows in six years with Windows 11, the company is also launching the biggest update to the Surface Pro 2-in-1 line in an even longer timespan—with the Surface Pro 8.

It’s been worth the wait. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 offers a ton of useful improvements over its predecessors and is a major step forward for the productivity-focused Surface Pro line. Based on our tryout in the CRN Test Center, we’d argue that this is the most compelling candidate for a laptop replacement that we’ve seen in a 2-in-1 yet.

The Surface Pro 8 ships Tuesday, coinciding with the general availability launch for Windows 11.

[Related: Review: Windows 11 Brings Refreshing Design, Improved Productivity And Some Questionable Changes]

As Microsoft puts it, the Surface Pro 8 is the biggest redesign of the Surface Pro detachable line since 2013’s Surface Pro 3. That’s not counting the Surface Pro X, an offshoot of the standard line that originally debuted in 2019—and that the Surface Pro 8 borrows several of its key updates from.

One of those changes lifted from the Surface Pro X is the 13-inch display, which sets the Surface Pro 8 apart from its 12.3-inch forerunners. We appreciate the extra space, especially when doing things like using Windows 11’s new split-screen Snap Layout feature. Overall, 12.3-inch displays have never felt like quite enough room for getting to peak productivity.

The Surface Pro 8 display—as usual, showcasing Microsoft’s PixelSense LCD technology—has also gotten a boost on resolution (a 10.8 percent increase) and brightness (a 12.5 percent increase). It’s a vivid, sharp and bright display—no doubt about that. But the even more exciting update is on the refresh rate, which can now be set to 120Hz.

That’s double the usual rate of 60Hz and provides a smoother display motion when scrolling through emails or webpages, or playing games, for example. The Surface Pro 8 display just feels more responsive than the typical display. This also means that the tablet matches the refresh rate of Apple’s iPad Pro, though the refresh rate on the Surface Pro 8 doesn’t automatically adapt based on the user’s actions, like on the iPad Pro, to save on battery life.

(Side note: To aid battery life, it’s still possible to set the refresh rate to 60Hz on the Surface Pro 8.)

While we’re on the topic of the display and the 120Hz refresh rate, one other key upgrade for the Surface Pro 8 is on the digital pen experience. Our tryout unit came with the new Surface Slim Pen 2, and we’ll cut right to the chase: This is by far the best digital pen experience we’ve had with any type of device. While device makers perennially claim with each new version that “this” is the digital pen that really feels like pen on paper, the Surface Slim Pen 2 actually pulls it off.

Among the advancements making this possible is the inclusion of tactile feedback using a built-in haptic motor. There’s also a latency improvement for using the pen with the refresh rate set to 120Hz—the latency is barely noticeable on that setting—though it’s still a terrific digital pen experience even at 60Hz. For the first time on a Windows PC, this feels like a digital pen we’d actually use.

And there’s more: The Surface Slim Pen 2 also handily stores inside the detachable keyboard for the Surface Pro 8, magnetically attaching to the storage area and charging there, too. This is one of the other elements borrowed from the Surface Pro X. Clicking the end of the pen, meanwhile, automatically brings up the Microsoft Whiteboard app, and the end of the pen also serves as an eraser. The Slim Pen 2 can be used in a number of other apps as well, including Word and PowerPoint.

As for the Surface Pro 8 keyboard, the design is solid-feeling but not rigid, with comfortable keys and decent key travel. The metal kickstand on the back of the tablet is sturdy and works great, with a wide range of angles available. Unlike some other 2-in-1 tablets, this is a device you can actually use on your lap thanks to the kickstand versatility.

Performance And Battery Life

One of the big upgrades over the Surface Pro X is that the Surface Pro 8 moves to full-powered Intel Core processors, rather than Microsoft’s Arm-based chips developed with Qualcomm (the SQ1 and SQ2). Our tryout unit came configured with an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 chip (the i7-1185G7) and 16 GB of RAM, and the result was stellar performance all around. We felt like we were able to fly through everything we were doing on the Surface Pro 8, even with loads of windows and applications open at a time. (Microsoft has touted the Surface Pro 8 as being more than 2X faster than the Surface Pro 7.)

For web usage, the Edge browser felt especially speedy on the Surface Pro 8 with Windows 11—Edge was noticeably quicker to load things than Google Chrome, by comparison. The Surface Pro 8 plus Windows 11 plus Edge is basically Microsoft’s ultimate vision for what is possible in web-based computing.

All of this—the improved performance and the larger, brighter display with higher refresh rate—take a toll on battery life, so it’s fortunate that Microsoft included a larger battery this time around at 51.5WHr. (That’s a 19 percent larger battery capacity than the Surface Pro 7’s 43.2WHr battery.)

In our tryout, we got 7.5 hours of battery life, with heavy usage of browsers and other apps, and the display brightness and refresh rate cranked up. We consider that a strong result, and more battery life can of course be squeezed out by lowering the display settings.

Collaboration And Portability

Another area of emphasis for the Surface Pro 8—like all other new work-oriented devices these days—is on collaboration features. Microsoft has outfitted the tablet with a 5-megapixel webcam, offering clear, high-quality 1080p video and better adjustments for low-light situations. The Surface Pro 8 also comes with dual “studio” mics and 2W stereo speakers. For a tablet, we found that the speakers could get impressively loud, while still maintaining good audio at high volumes.

In terms of portability, with the larger display size and battery capacity, the Surface Pro 8 weighs in at 2.58 pounds (for both tablet and keyboard), making it somewhat heavier than the Surface Pro 7 at 2.38 pounds—but still very manageable and still lighter than many laptops.

Other Key Updates

For business users, two other updates with the Surface Pro 8 may be worth noting. The first is the SSD, which is now easily removable with a SIM card tool (the SSD is located underneath the kickstand on the back of the tablet). This is a helpful feature for businesses with data retention policies and so forth.

The second update might not be as welcome: While the Surface Pro lineup up to the Surface Pro 7 continued to offer USB-A, the Surface Pro 8 only comes with USB-C. There are two USB-C ports on the tablet—though thankfully, you don’t have to use one for charging, as there’s still a dedicated charging connector on the Surface Pro 8.

We haven’t said too much about using Windows 11 on the Surface Pro 8, but as we said in our review of the new operating system, its UI definitely offers a more pleasant vibe than Windows 10. As long as you’re OK with some of the changes in Windows 11, such as to the Start Menu and taskbar, the operating system could be another plus with using the Surface Pro 8.

All of the tablet’s updates have also had an impact on the price tag, with the Surface Pro 8 now starting at $1,099.99 (for the tablet only, with Intel Core i5 and 8 GB of RAM). That’s up from the original starting price of $749.99 for the Surface Pro 7—though that device had started at a lower CPU level (Intel Core i3) and with half the RAM (4 GB).

Add in the Surface Pro 8 Signature Keyboard and Surface Slim Pen 2 and you’ll have a starting price tag of about $1,400. In other words, laptop-level pricing. But it doesn’t seem outrageous—because as we started off by saying, the Surface Pro 8 really is good enough to become a laptop replacement, even for diehard laptop users.

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