The latest Surface Pro is packed with new goodness. The screen is new and the chassis is new. It runs the latest Intel chipset and finally supports Thunderbolt 4. The Surface Pro 8 even packs Windows 11, which brings a host of new features. The signature kickstand works better, and the optional keyboard is improved. The only thing missing is the MicroSDXC slot, which didn't make the cut for this version.
The Surface Pro 8 is a major update from previous models, and yet it's still familiar. Microsoft finally updated the exterior of the Surface Pro, and it was about time. The company introduced the Surface Pro in 2013 and the casing had hardly changed through seven generations of products. For the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft utilized the wonderful body of the Surface Pro X, which it introduced in 2020. And it's fantastic. The Surface Pro 8 is better than ever.
I have no reservations saying this: The Surface Pro 8 is the best 2-in-1 yet. I love it. The portable is a joy to use and a great solution for those looking for a convertible Windows machine.
The Surface Pro 8 is impressive. Pop open the kickstand and Windows 11 springs to life. There's hardly a delay. Everything is snappy to load and respond. From Lightroom to Factorio, the Surface Pro 8 is fast with its eleventh-gen Intel Core CPUs.
The screen is lovely and among the best I've seen in a mobile device. Sadly, not all buyers will experience the best of this screen as Windows buries the 120 Hz option deep in the Control Panel. I cannot report on HDR support; I couldn't get it to work.
Windows seems like the weak link with the Surface Pro 8. Even in this new Windows 11 form, the operating system remains one of the Surface Pro's downsides. Windows 11 has some odd, seemingly anti-user quirks that I've been slow to normalize. I'm not too fond of the new Start menu, and all mobile-first functions like widgets are haphazardly added.
The Surface Pro 8 runs the latest Intel chips inside the lovely anodized aluminum case of the Surface Pro X released in 2020. Thanks to the new chassis, fingerprints no longer stick to the surface. Edges are rounded, and it's a more refined hardware experience than past models. It is thicker and heavier than its predecessor by 2mm and 100 grams. When asked why, a Microsoft representative responded, saying the company feels the upgraded cooling and larger battery are worth the slightly thicker build.
The Surface Pro 8 packs the best screen in any portable. The screen is impressive in both picture quality and touchscreen capabilities. It's bright and crisp, dense with pixels and clarity. The screen has a refresh rate of 120 Hz, though users must activate this feature in an advanced menu under Display settings. It's supposed to support HDR, too, though that feature doesn't seem available at the time of testing. The screen now supports adaptive color adjusting. The Surface Pro 8 slyly adjusts the color temperature to match ambient light.
The 11.3-inch screen has a resolution of 2880 x 1920 with 267 pixels per inch (PPI). For comparison, the latest iPad Pro sports an 11-inch screen that runs at 2388 x 1668 at 264 PPI.
The screen is a big part of the draw to this new surface Pro. It's lovely and makes everything from Slack to Photoshop shine anew.
Using the touchscreen is seemingly better, too. The new screen (or maybe Windows 11) feels more smooth when using a stylus or finger. In addition, it's a joy to touch the screen -- I know that sounds over-the-top, but that's how I feel.
Microsoft released a new version of the Surface Slim Pen. This second version features a redesigned tip and reduced latency along with haptic feedback. The Slim Pen 2 is fun: It can provide tactical feedback as different types of brushes. Using a brush feels different than using a smudging stump. When a pencil is selected, the Slim Pen 2 returns a scraping sensation. The applications have to support this feature (and a few do now), but the result is radically different from past experiences.
And the Surface Slim Pen 2 hides and charges in a clever spot on the keyboard hinge. But again, this isn't a new feature to the Surface line. Microsoft debuted this with the Surface Pro X in 2020.
Inside, an eleventh-generation Intel Chip powers the Surface Pro 2, and the active cooling keeps the performance stable. This time around, the Surface Pro doesn't seem to scale performance as aggressively as past models.
My test machine is a Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. It uses Intel's Iris X Graphics. This machine retails for $1,599 plus the cost of the keyboard (bundled with or without the Surface Slim Pen 2). This model is the least expensive option with the Core i7 CPU. Spend more money, and you'll get a Surface with more storage and RAM. Price continues to climb to $2,599, which features 32GB of RAM with a 1TB SSD.
Gone are the USB-A ports of old. Instead, Microsoft finally brought USB-C to the Surface Pro line, and they're the latest Thunderbolt 4 flavor. In this configuration, the Surface Pro 8 can power multiple 4K displays, connect to an external GPU or use a host of other data-intensive accessories. The USB-C ports can also recharge the Surface Pro, though Microsoft would prefer its recharged using the proprietary Surface Connect port.
The MicroSDXC slot is gone but the SSD is now user replaceable. I'm sad Microsoft ditched the MicoSDXC slot. It was a major selling point over an iPad Pro. The SSD is hidden behind a panel under the kickstand. Poke it out, and the SDD is easily accessible and secured with just one screw. Swapping the SSD should take less than a minute.
The Surface Pro 8 is an all-day portable. Though I've only had my test machine for less than a week, I used it constantly and only had to plug it in all night. And I'm not a Microsoft app person. I use Chrome, Slack and Xoom instead of Edge and Teams. This is significant. When talking about battery life, Microsoft made it clear it optimized its apps to extend the battery life.
Microsoft says the Surface Pro 8 can get 18 hours of battery life, and I didn't hit that number. On average, I saw about 10 hours of battery life from using Chrome, streaming YouTubeTV and taking video calls.
The Surface Pro 8 features a new active cooling design, and it still gets hot to the touch. Because of the heat, I found it uncomfortable to use as a tablet when editing media. Lightroom runs like a champ but Photoshop causes the Surface Pro 8 to heat up to uncomfortable levels.
The Surface Pro 8 has a lovely webcam, and it's in the right spot. Microsoft threw a little shade at Apple over the placement, too. In the announcement event, a Microsoft spokesperson said with a smile, "And a front-facing camera, not on the side, but centered -- right where it belongs." For some reason, Apple continues to put the camera in the iPad on the shorter side of the screen. This means when the tablet is in laptop mode and connected to a keyboard, the webcam is shifted to the side -- it's an odd webcam experience.
The front-facing camera looks excellent. It features 1080p video and 5mp stills with advanced controls for white balance, exposure and all the rest.
Here's a comparison with the Surface Pro 8 and iPad Pro (2020).
Quick note on Windows 11
I use a PC for two things: Gaming and media editing. I'm writing this review on a Mac because that's my work environment. Windows is not my daily jam, and Windows 11 is not enticing me to drop Mac OS.
The new Start menu is offensive to the user. It takes up a considerable amount of space in the middle of the screen and lacks justification for its size. A large chunk of the new Start menu is white space. Worse yet, the Start Menu can hardly be customized like previous versions.
I guess the rest of the new Windows experience is acceptable. To me, someone who only uses the top layer of Windows, this new system feels much like the older one.
I don't use widgets on Mac OS, and I doubt I'll use them in Windows 11. Right now on my test machine, these widgets are not customizable. I can't add widgets, though I can customize the pre-installed widgets. They're also slow to load and refresh.
Look for our deeper dive on Windows 11 from a daily user.
Surface Pro 8 versus the iPad Pro
The Surface Pro 8 and iPad Pro are radically different, yet share a lot of the same target market. Where the Surface Pro 8 runs a full desktop operating system, the iPad Pro runs a mobile, though robust, version of the software running the iPhone.
Both the Surface Pro and iPad Pro have wonderful screens and the touchscreen capabilities are equally impressive. The two styluses work similarly too. Though the new Surface Pen features haptic feedback, the latest Apple Pencil and iPad Pro are seemingly more precise and more enjoyable to use.
Picking between the two requires shoppers to look at their use cases. The Surface Pro 8 is a better desktop replacement device, but some users might be better off with a mobile operating system for some tasks.
I have some advice.
Buy the Surface Pro 8...
- If you're looking for a desktop replacement device, complete with the ability to run proprietary software
- If you need a portable device to run Microsoft's enterprise applications
- If you like to game and streaming Xbox games satisfies that need
- If you need a full-size detachable keyboard
Buy the iPad Pro...
- If you're looking for a device to edit media with mainstream applications (Like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom)
- If you need a high-end portable to run Google's G-Suite
- If you are using the basic functions and apps of Microsoft Office 365
- If you enjoy mobile-first games like those found on smartphones
The Surface Pro has never looked better than this latest version. Several key features are missing at launch, but the potential is there. This is a lovely kit with a beautiful display and outstanding build quality. The new stylus is a welcomed upgrade, and Intel's latest makes the computer more reliable with performance.
The Surface Pro line has always existed in a weird spot, but this version pushes it close to a mainstream option. In the past, the performance had been just slightly lacking, and the hardware was barely good enough. With the Surface Pro 8, the performance is finally acceptable and the hardware is beautiful. The Surface Pro 8 is the best Windows 2-in-1 available.