Microsoft is back with its latest flagship convertible: the Surface Pro 9. It’s very thin and light (and Intel Evo certified) and the fact it’s almost more of a Windows tablet than a laptop means it’s somewhat more flexible than many ‘rivals.’ Will our review show that the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is the ultraportable to buy?
Table of Contents
|Screen||13-inch, glossy, 450-nit, 120Hz, 2,880 x 1,920, touchscreen, IPS display|
|Processor||3.6-4.8GHz Intel i7-1265U CPU|
|Memory||16GB DDR5 RAM|
|Graphics||1.25GHz Intel Xe|
2 x Thunderbolt 4
|Speakers||2 x 2-Watt|
|Extra Security||TPM 2.0|
|Dimensions||287 x 209 x 10mm (13mm with keyboard)|
|Weight||881g body | 289g keyboard (1.17KG total)|
|SKU||Surface Pro 9|
Features, Ergonomics and Design
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9’s brushed, blue, aluminium chassis looks as classy as it is solid. The glossy Windows logo adorns it well, but we’re not sure how much brand cachet comes with it. It’s also available in Graphite (grey), Platinum and Forest. Our variant is called Sapphire.
It’s typically sold on its own but we’re going to review it alongside the Microsoft Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2. These fabric-backed slim keyboards are available in similar colours plus a Cherry Red version, so you can mix and match. Adding the keyboard bulks the Surface’s thickness out from a thicc 10mm to a chonky 13mm which makes it the thinnest laptop we’ve reviewed for more than a year.
Using the Surface as a laptop – that’s actually on your lap – is a little more awkward than a regular laptop. The flip stand doesn’t cause too many issues on its own but the long-footprint between the edge of the stand and the edge of the keyboard is a smidge more awkward when it comes to balancing it stably. It’s still very usable though.
We’re big fans of the strong, magnetic power connection which can be easily ripped off the chassis to instantly transform it into a tablet. We also like that there’s a built-in fold which provides a slight incline to the typing position, making it more comfortable. If you give the keyboard a mild yank, it also reveals a magnetic recess for the flat, but usable Surface Pen 2 stylus. It’s one of the few styli we’ve not quickly misplaced… all stylus-oriented laptops should have a place for the stylus.
Microsoft says the Surface Pro 9’s screen is a ‘PixelSense Flow Display’ which is made-up marketing speak meaning it’s got a high 2,880 x 1,080 resolution at a super-fine 267ppi (pixels per inch). It can operate at 60Hz or 120Hz or dynamically switch between both. We actually found that the panel’s slow pixel response time meant that fast-moving objects never really looked sharp, though.
Still, the bright, UHD screen is very sharp and displays a particularly crisp and clear Windows Desktop. Multimedia performance, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. Colours are impressively bright and vibrant and true-blacks can be rendered well, where needed. However, colour transitions can suffer from light banding on occasion while monochromatic equivalents are, well, among the very worst we’ve ever seen: they get so blocky and messy that they prove totally distracting to any scene they blight.
At least the glossy, (tough) Gorilla Glass screen makes a decent fist of banishing reflections. It also does a decent job of fending-off fingerprints and helps make the (ten-point) touchscreen feel very responsive, however many fingertips are touching it.
Contrast is interesting in that it’s generally good but, in very bright areas detail can quickly get lost. Meanwhile, in dark, shadowy areas, detail is revealed but colours can get washed out – and yet true blacks are generally rendered well… hmm.
Audio performance was unequivocal. We’ve been impressed by speakers in previous thin laptops but what Microsoft has achieved is unholy. How such a thin, sealed device can deliver such loud, bassy audio with good fidelity at the top, middle and bottom is mind-bending.
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Above the screen is a very impressive, Full-HD webcam and microphone array. The camera captures an impressively clear image in low light, with minimal grain. The microphones capture impressively clear audio – even in a noisy environment – although they don’t remove the background noise as well as we’d hope.
Microsoft Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2
Microsoft makes a few compatible keyboards for the Surface Pro 9 but we reviewed it with the Microsoft Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2. This, fabric-backed keyboard is impressively stiff despite its thinness and soft borders. The low-travel, Scrabble-tile keys are generally very comfortable and accurate to type upon. There are squished up-and-down arrow keys but, because they’re located right in the corner, they’re not awkward to use.
The trackpad is smooth and accurate and has a nice, clicking action. It’s also backlit, to three different levels, with power being drawn via the magnetic connectors to the screen. As mentioned above, we like the way the top of the keyboard folds up to provide a slight incline when typing. We also likes how the hidden fold that facilitates this hides a recess where the Slim Pen 2 hides. It’s simple to access and we liked not losing it – like we usually do.
The Pen itself is comfortable and accurate to use but the touchscreen is so accurate that we rarely needed it for casual work. Those who use a stylus for workloads will likely be impressed though. It supports (the current standard) 4,096 pressure levels and an impressive 77% tilt sensitivity (which broadens the coverage like holding a pencil sideways). Artists who do digital colouring and shading will like that.
Inside the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is a power-efficient, 3.6 – 4.8GHz Intel i7-1265U processor with two Performance cores and eight Efficiency cores that operate across 10 Threads. It’s backed-up by 16GB of DDR5 RAM and a (rather stingy) 256GB hard drive.
All of this combined to score 4,399 in our PCMark 10 benchmark, which measures general computing power. This is one of the lowest scores we’ve seen in years, but we still didn’t notice any lag or slowdowns in office work or multimedia playback.
In the CPU-based rendering tests, Cinebench R15 and R23, the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 scored 1,515 in the (drag-race) former test and 7,976 in the longer, latter. These scores too, are rather low and you can expect to be waiting for a long time if you plan to do any hardcore processing work on this laptop. It’s also worth noting that, in the 10-minute R23 test, the Surface slowed down 11 per cent, due to thermal-throttling, by the time it completed the benchmark, because it got so warm.
3D performance comes via the processor’s integrated Xe graphics which run at 1.25GHz. It wouldn’t run the difficult 3DMark ray-tracing tests, Speed Way or Port Royal. In the AAA-gaming-title tests, it scored 1,774 in Time Spy (average 10fps) and 2,279 in Fire Strike Extreme (average 10fps). So, it won’t play the latest and greatest games.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 did manage to score 17,326 in 3DMark Night Raid, which apes casual and competitive games. That’s an average of 98fps, so it’s not totally without casual gaming prowess.
We also ran our old CS:GO tests because they stress the whole system. The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 averaged just 8.4fps in this game and that dropped to a 1.4fps slideshow when things got tough in the slowest one per cent of frames (1% Low test).
Ultimately, the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is not very powerful and certainly not a gaming machine. It’s not designed to be, though. Most importantly, it did keep all of our general office work lag free and responsive and even multimedia work didn’t slow it down. There are more powerful SKUs than our review unit but there might be fleas that come with such a dog…
Indeed, we noted that the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 can get rather warm when under load (there are no vents for fans and no heatsink-style grooves in the solid, smooth chassis). The fans can ramp up to a low, whoosh when this happens but it’s not distracting and it generally remains silent when performing office tasks.
Connectivity and Ports
Inside there’s Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.1 wireless connectivity. These might all represent current-gen connections but we’d really like to see more of them.
Portability and Battery Life
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 weighs just 881g which is more of a tablet weight than a laptop weight. Adding the 289g keyboard bumps the total to just 1.17KG which is a whisker behind Dell’s XPS 13 corporate ultraportable.
The small power supply only weighs 261g and it has a USB port for simultaneously charging your phone or another mobile device. We’re big fans of the magnetic connector which pleasingly snaps into position and usefully falls away when yanked… without taking the whole Surface with it.
The small chassis holds a small 48Wh battery but this still ran our PCMark 10 Modern Office test for a decent 13 hours and 24 minutes.
Beware that the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 has an odd feature where it won’t charge to 100 per cent (it will only go to 80%) unless you ‘hack’ it in a convoluted process, involving hidden settings. While this is to ‘protect’ the battery’s longevity, when you need a full-charge to go out and about, it can be infuriating trying to turn the feature off. We’ll be covering this more in a future article.
Meanwhile, the aluminium chassis is incredibly solid and has no flex when you try and bend any of it. The Gorilla Glass screen adds to this rigidity and helps protects the screen. We wouldn’t like to drop it, but it’s so solidly built that it should easily survive life on the road. The softy keyboard-cover provides some nice additional protection too.
Price and Availability
Our SKU of the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is available for a hefty $2,699 which is a lot for a diminutive, low-powered laptop. However, it is one of the thinnest and lightest computers we’ve seen and that, on its own, makes it attractive. Variants with beefier specs are also available but the price increases quickly. Also note that, at the time of going to press, only graphite and platinum ‘colourways’ were available.
It’s worth noting that the Microsoft Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2 adds another $430 to the mix. While it’s impressively built, it feels hugely overpriced for what it is.
Conclusion: Is the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 worth it?
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is designed for corporates who want a hybrid, mobile workforce to have a highly mobile tool that’s good for office work, is reliable when out and about and provides good web-conferencing. In these regards it’s a great success. It’s so easy to chuck in a bag (or even a brief case) and rip out and start working instantly, that it’ll be a boon to most workers’ productivity.
Being a corporate computer, many buyers will be assigned one by their company’s IT department or Managed Service Provider at a cost that’s different to the retail RRP. However, there’s no getting away from the fact it’s very expensive for any laptop, let alone an ultraportable convertible.
Individual buyers would do well to also check out the Dell XPS 13 and HP Envy which offer even better portability for much less money, while offering improved performance and connectivity options. However, they’re still a bit more bulky and, if you want ‘thin and light’ over everything else, the combination that the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 provides will be attractive to many.
Expensive optional keyboard
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Scores
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is very stylish, very thin and very light. However, it’s not very powerful and nor is it cheap.