Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Review: One Step Forward, One Step Bac

Microsoft sincerely desires the success of Windows on ARM. That’s the real story behind the most recent Surface Pro 9 for tech enthusiasts and early adopters.

Nonetheless, the Surface Pro 9 retains practically all of the features that made earlier editions of this laptop so popular, regardless of the configuration you select. That is, with no jack for headphones. And although if the Surface Pro 9 isn’t a glaring improvement over its predecessor in terms of raw performance, it is still among the greatest 2-in-1s available.

Specs and configurations

Hello colors, goodbye headphone jack

The screen of the Surface Pro 9.

Comparing the Surface Pro 9 to the device from last year, there aren’t many differences. It’s the same 2-in-1 tablet design we’ve all grown to enjoy, including the built-in kickstand and removable keyboard. It also has the enhanced screen and smaller bezels that the Surface Pro 8 received last year, creating a tablet with a contemporary appearance.

It’s unlikely to ever be as light or thin as an iPad Pro. Yet, at 1.94 pounds and 0.37 inches thick, it’s one of the smaller form factors in which you can run Windows 11 in its entirety. Of course, the Type Cover keyboard adds some more heft (and price), and is still an essential piece of the puzzle. Although the touchpad and keyboard are both excellent, I still enjoy the how the Alcantara cloth feels on my hands.

I still wish Microsoft would include these, but the Surface Pro 9 is still available for purchase separately from other tablets. You’ll have to pay the extra $180 on a Signature Type Cover even with Windows 11’s improvements to touch capabilities and the inclusion of select Android apps. For an additional $130, you can also get the built-in storage (and charging) solution for the Surface Thin Pen 2.

That is all nothing new. But the colors are. Microsoft used to simply provide flashier keyboard colors, but now you have additional options for chassis customization. Although there is also a Forest green choice, my unit is Sapphire. These fresh color choices are understated enough to inject some interest into the design without being tacky. I feel bad.

The ports of the Surface Pro 9.

The ports are essentially the only other aspect of the Surface Pro’s outer chassis that has changed, and this time, it’s not for the better. The 3.5mm headphone jack, which has been included on every prior Surface device up to this time, is absent from the Surface Pro 9. Obviously, this choice was not made in a vacuum. This year’s Dell XPS 13 and XPS 13 Plus were the first to do away with the headphone port, but they won’t be the last.

Yet, the absence of a headphone jack in the case would only put off potential buyers. Microsoft has not provided an explanation for the change, and there is no obvious reason why it had to occur this year. That would be one thing if there had been a noticeable decrease in thickness. But, it appears as though Microsoft removed the headphone connector from the Surface Pro 9 purely out of spite. Not the best method for winning favor.


The Intel Core i7-1255U that was installed in my review unit worked in it as expected. Because they only feature two Performance cores, these U-series CPUs aren’t among Intel’s top performers. But for a device of this type, you’ll find this chip to provide plenty of performance, especially if you’re sticking primarily to applications like web browsers, video calls, Office applications, and light photo editing. Think again if you still believe a tablet like this can’t completely replace your laptop.

Yet, there isn’t a clear upgrade from 11th to 12th generation. You can observe that single-core performance has decreased since last year. This is demonstrated in the Essentials test in PCMark 10, which evaluates single-threaded operations including web surfing, video conferencing, and program startup time. This is true in both Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23. The Surface Pro 9 performs these activities about 10% slower on average. Even though it might not seem like much, it’s unusual for a device to perform worse in a newer iteration.

Fortunately, the added Efficiency cores—in this case, eight—of Intel’s 12th-generation CPUs are a bonus. The end effect is noticeably improved multi-core performance, which in Cinebench R23 can reach up to 28%. This generally translates to quicker performance in programs like Handbrake or the Adobe Creative Suite. But, it’s unlikely that people are purchasing tablets primarily for such uses, and the majority of other laptops available in this generation will offer greater sustained performance. That holds true even for the Surface Laptop 5, which encodes videos in Handbrake 16% faster.

The Surface Pro 9 includes a fan, although it usually keeps things quiet and relatively cool at the expense of long-term performance.

Battery life

The screen of the Surface Pro 9 on a table.

Similar to performance, there aren’t many obvious improvements between the Surface Pro 8 and Surface Pro 9. With very little usage, the Surface Pro 8 offered slightly over eight and a half hours of battery life on a single charge. The Surface Pro 9 receives around the same as it did before, leaving it well behind Apple products like the MacBook Air and iPad Pro.

Again, the SQ3 model ought to balance things out somewhat, though I’m not yet certain by how much.

The Surface Pro 9 falls in the middle of other thin and light Windows laptops in terms of performance. The Dell XPS 13 and Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 both have longer battery lives by a few hours, while the HP Envy x360 13 and Acer Swift 3 lag behind by a few hours. Yet, I believe that consumers anticipate tablets to last a little longer, particularly given that the Surface Pro 9’s portability is one of its main selling points.

Choosing between Intel and SQ3

With the two options of Intel and SQ3 side by side, your assumptions about the strengths and weaknesses of these chips probably hold true. The Intel 12th-gen chips are faster, while the ARM-based SQ3 has better battery life. Microsoft admits this itself in its own spec sheets, claiming the SQ3 offers up to four more hours on a single charge — despite using the same 47.7-watt-hour battery.

Why the difference? Well, the SQ3 is the result of Microsoft’s latest collaboration with Qualcomm, built on the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. That means it’s a customized chip built for the Surface Pro 9, but it has a lot of the same performance and features as that SoC (system on chip). These ARM-based chips use a simplified instruction set, and are, therefore, much more efficient. If a chip can pull enough performance out of them, as Apple has demonstrated with the M1 and M2, they can be downright revolutionary.

The blue Type Cover keyboard for the Surface Pro 9.

I expect the SQ3 to improve that performance by a bit, but to land somewhere in the same ballpark. And yes, that means it’ll also likely be slower than last year’s Intel-based Surface Pro 8.

The Surface Pro 9 is at a crossroads

The Surface Pro 9 with the Type Cover keyboard lifted up.

The Surface Pro 9 is still among the top 2-in-1 laptops available. The impending Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 may put up a good fight, but for the time being, the Surface Pro 9 leads the field thanks to its distinctive collection of high-end capabilities and stunning appearance.

But, there are several aspects of the Surface Pro 9 that I wish were different. In addition to having a shorter battery life and lacking a headphone port, the pricing is a little high. This is especially true if you desire the Surface Thin Pen 2 with Type Cover. The price for a smartphone with only 128GB of storage is over $1,300. Even Apple doesn’t charge so much.

And as always, you really need to get into the 2-in-1 concept for the price to be justified. A better overall value can be found with laptops like the Dell XPS 13, HP Envy x360 13, and MacBook Air, but they cannot be used as tablets like the Surface Pro 9. They aren’t quite this compact either.


I still believe that the iPad Pro offers a far more concentrated touch experience by making better use of its physical factor.

Having said that, the Surface Pro 9 is unquestionably the greatest Surface model to date, especially if you require a tablet that can seamlessly replace a laptop.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button