Still the best tablet-laptop: Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review

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Enlarge / Surface Pro 9 from Microsoft.

Andrew Cunningham

Let’s talk about the Surface Pro 9.

Which Surface Pro 9? Not the 5G version, which comes with a Qualcomm-made Microsoft SQ3 Arm processor and the typical shortcomings of an Arm Windows device (relatively poor performance, ongoing app compatibility issues), but the plain old Surface Pro 9, the Intel based on one that tracks a decade of numbered Surface Pro models.

Aside from that naming confusion, the regular Surface Pro 9 isn’t designed to wow. It (mostly) improves performance while (mostly) keeping everything that worked on previous models intact. It won’t convince anyone who hasn’t liked the Surface, but for anyone who loves their 3-5 year old Surface tablet, it should be a pretty safe upgrade.

look and feel

The keyboard cover.  It folds down to reveal a compartment for the Slim Pen 2.
Enlarge / The keyboard cover. It folds down to reveal a compartment for the Slim Pen 2.

Andrew Cunningham

The basic design of the new Surface Pro is recognizably the same as it was eight years ago, when Microsoft discovered the fully adjustable kickstand and keyboard that folds up against the screen to increase stability and prevent the entire device from feeling wobbly on a table. . or lap (a lesson some tablet makers have chosen not to learn).

The design has evolved steadily ever since, picking up USB-C ports (and ditching USB-A), shrinking screen bezels, enlarging the screen, and gradually getting faster and bigger. The biggest change came last year, when Microsoft redesigned the front of the tablet enough to break compatibility with previous Surface Type covers, but increased the screen size from 12.3 inches to 13 inches. The Surface Pro 8 mirrored design changes that Microsoft had made for the Arm-based Surface Pro X a couple of years earlier, and the two are compatible with the same keyboard covers and other accessories.

Compared to those changes, the updates to the Surface Pro 9 are mainly small enough that most people won’t notice them. The buttons and ports have moved, but the Microsoft Signature keyboard covers are the same, the screen is the same, and the front and rear cameras are the same. Pen support is the same (we have some notes on the Surface Slim Pen 2 in our Surface Pro 8 review). It’s lighter, but not so much that you’ll notice (only 0.02 pounds). And the Surface Pro 9 comes in colors other than Graphite and Platinum, with a greenish “Forest” option and a “Sapphire” blue finish (our review unit is Sapphire and it looks great). Windows 11’s default floral wallpaper comes in the same color as the finish you choose, which is a nice touch.

Brightness of the screen.  The Surface Pro 9 registers slightly more brightness than its predecessor on our colorimeter, although it's not really noticeable to the naked eye.
Enlarge / Brightness of the screen. The Surface Pro 9 registers slightly more brightness than its predecessor on our colorimeter, although it’s not really noticeable to the naked eye.

Andrew Cunningham

another changes you maybe The notice is the headphone jack, which has disappeared wherever headphone jacks go (which would totally fit into a device but don’t for some reason anymore) when they die. If I had to list every device in the last two or three years that’s been released without a headphone jack, we’d be here all day. I’ll just say that as the number of devices without a headphone jack in my life has increased, so has the amount of time I’ve spent cursing Bluetooth and related technologies.

Every time my phone refuses to connect to my headphones because they have instead been connected to a computer upstairs; every time I run out of batteries in the middle of something; every time a bud falls out of my ear and lands on the ground or sidewalk, I wonder if it really improved things or if we just exchanged a problem set for a more expensive problem set. I still use wired headphones sometimes, and I can’t say I miss having a wire dangling down and snagging everything. But they’re reliable and predictable, two adjectives that don’t belong in any conversation about Bluetooth audio unless you put a “no-” to them.

In any case. Bluetooth audio on the Surface Pro 9 doesn’t seem better or worse than most devices I use.

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