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

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Microsoft's Surface Pro 9.
Enlarge / Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9.

Andrew Cunningham

Let’s talk about the Surface Pro 9.

Which Surface Pro 9? Not the version with 5G, which comes with a Qualcomm-made Microsoft SQ3 Arm processor and the typical shortcomings of an Arm Windows device (relatively low performance, continued app compatibility issues)—but the vanilla, plain-old Surface Pro 9, the Intel-based one that follows-up a decade’s worth of numbered Surface Pro models.

Aside from that name confusion, the regular Surface Pro 9 isn’t designed to surprise. It (mostly) improves performance while (mostly) keeping everything that worked about prior models intact. It won’t win over anyone who didn’t already like the Surface, but for anyone who loves their 3- to 5-year-old Surface tablet, it ought to 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 figured out the fully adjustable kickstand and the keyboard that folded up against the screen to increase stability and prevent the whole apparatus from feeling floppy on a table or lap (a lesson some tablet manufacturers have decided not to learn).

The design has evolved steadily since then, picking up USB-C ports (and shedding USB-A), shrinking the display bezels, enlarging the display itself, and becoming gradually faster and larger. The biggest change came last year, when Microsoft redesigned the front of the tablet enough to break compatibility with older Surface Type covers, but moving up in screen size from 12.3 to 13 inches. The Surface Pro 8 mirrored design changes Microsoft had made for the Arm-based Surface Pro X a couple of years before, and the two are compatible with the same keyboard covers and other accessories.

Compared to those changes, the Surface Pro 9’s updates are mostly small enough that most people wouldn’t notice them. Buttons and ports have moved around, 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 about the Surface Slim Pen 2 in our Surface Pro 8 review). It’s lighter, but not by so much that you’ll notice (just 0.02 pounds). And the Surface Pro 9 comes in colors other than Graphite and Platinum, with a green-ish “Forest” option and a blue “Sapphire” finish (our review unit is Sapphire and looks very nice). The default Windows 11 bloom wallpaper comes color-matched to the finish you choose, which is a nice touch.

Display brightness. The Surface Pro 9 registers a bit brighter than its predecessor to our colorimeter, though it's not really noticeable to the eye.
Enlarge / Display brightness. The Surface Pro 9 registers a bit brighter than its predecessor to our colorimeter, though it’s not really noticeable to the eye.

Andrew Cunningham

One other change you might notice is the headphone jack, which has disappeared to wherever headphone jacks (that would totally fit on a device but no longer do for some reason) go when they die. If I were to list every device in the last two or three years that has been released without a headphone jack, we would be here all day. I’ll just say that, as the number of headphone jack-less devices in my life has increased, so too has the amount of time I’ve spent cursing Bluetooth and related technologies.

Every time my phone declines to connect to my earbuds because they’ve instead connected to a computer on the floor above; every time I run out of batteries in the middle of something; every time a bud falls out of my ear and onto the floor or sidewalk, I question whether we have really improved things or if we’ve just exchanged one set of problems for another, more expensive set of problems. I do still use wired headphones sometimes, and I can’t say that I miss having a wire dangling around and catching on everything. But they’re reliable and predictable, two adjectives that don’t belong in any conversation about Bluetooth audio unless you put an “un-” in front of them.

Anyway. Bluetooth audio in the Surface Pro 9 seems no better or worse than it is in most devices I use.

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