It’s hard to believe we’re already up to the 8th generation of the Surface Pro. I’ve owned a number of Surface devices over the years and have fond memories of the Pro 3, but while the hardware still features some of the iconic features (like the kickstand), there’s a lot new that makes the Pro 8 a very different device.
With a Matte black finish on the chassis, rounded corners and thin body, it’s a sexy looking device, but it’s perhaps the improved performance from upgraded internals that will be the real drawcard here.
The Pro 8 now comes with an upgraded touchscreen, measuring 13″ in size (in the famous 3:2 aspect ration), up from the 12.3″ in last year’s model, which was up just 0.3″ from the Pro 3’s 12″ display.
This year it feels like the Pro 8 is a far more serious contender for portable productivity, now powered by 11th generation Core i5/i7 processors and up to 32GB of RAM, this offers plenty of performance to get most your work done, with some spare for gaming in your downtime.
There’s a lot to break down and after using the Surface Pro 8 for a couple of weeks, it’s time for a full review.
A pen in the right place
The Surface Pro 8 now leverages a larger 13″ display in that familiar 3:2 aspect ratio. With the screen now consuming the vast majority of the device, it gives the Pro 8 a very different feel in the hand, when using it as a tablet.
The fairly unique 2880 x 1920 resolution, combined with up to 120Hz refresh rate and Windows 11, results in a really fast, really crisp experience.
Integrated into the top bezel of the device is a 5.0MP, 1080p webcam that offers fairly decent on-board video for your Teams calls. That camera is also Windows Hello enabled and that is ridiculously fast at authenticating you into Windows just by looking at your face.
On the back, you’ll find the matte-black finish which not only looks great, but also offers a great feel in the hand if you’re holding it and using it in tablet mode.
The rear offers a 10MP camera with autofocus and this time offers not just 1080p, but actually 4K video at 30fps.
Overall the design has refined and matured considerably over recent years. It is however a large tablet if you do use it handheld, but for those looking for a digital replacement to a physical notebook, the Surface Pro 8 in vertical orientation is only slightly smaller than a full A4 page. If you grab the new Surface Pen and leverage OneNote like Microsoft hopes you will, it’s a pretty great device to complete forms on.
While many will prefer an iPad, having a single device that can accommodate both these casual entry workloads, as well as being connected to a USB-C hub and extending the desktop to 2 external monitors for actual productivity is a compelling business case.
How does it perform ?
In determining the performance of the Surface Pro 8, there’s a number of characteristics to consider. The first is the actual processor and RAM combination, along with the fast SSD, which all combine for a really solid productivity experience.
Common workflows for me include downloading photos from phones, GoPros, Drones and DSLRs, then batch optimising images to embed in a review or share on social media. I also edit videos to share on YouTube or social media, along with a slew of regular office tasks, browsing the web and yes, some casual gaming when I find the time.
For all of these tasks, the Surface Pro 8 really impressed me. When you can fire task after task at the device and it never loses responsiveness, you know you’re onto a winner.
A couple of other measures of performance are the display and battery life. When it comes to the generous 13″ display, I’m happy to report that the new size is fantastic, matching the full width of the keyboard and that 3:2 aspect ratio really allows much more vertical space, great for working on Office documents or browsing the web, thanks to the new 120Hz refresh rate. Interestingly this wasn’t the default setting for me, 60Hz was, so make sure you dive into the settings and check this. This makes scrolling butter smooth, and those subtle new window animations in Windows 11, look even smoother.
On the battery life front, I distinctly remember working away for a number of hours, looking at the battery and expecting it to be significantly depleted and realising I was still above 70% left in the battery. Clearly, your battery experience will vary based on the tasks that you load up, the brightness of the screen you run, the accessories you hang off it, but in my experience, I was incredibly happy to get through the day even though a heavy day of use.
Stand out features of this device.
11th Gen Intel Core processors
This is the most powerful Surface Pro 2-in-1 that has ever been created. This increased performance enables typical workloads like rendering videos, compressing batches of images etc, to be completed faster, thanks to Intel’s latest chips.
Having great performance is only a benefit if you can use it. Thanks to efficient power management, thanks to an end-to-end Microsoft combination, the Surface Pro 8 offers up to 16 hours of battery life. When you are running low, you can leverage and Fast Charging to go from low battery to full faster.
The Surface engineers understand that productivity often happens at office desks (at work or home) and you’ll likely connect this to one or more external displays. To enable this, there are 2x Thunderbolt 4 ports, which provides plenty of bandwidth to power multiple 4K monitors.
If the internal storage isn’t sufficient, you could also choose to leverage the WiFi 6 connectivity (assuming your router supports it) or transfer files using a directly connected external hard drive or NAS setup and even expand the gaming performance by connecting an external GPU.
All in an ultra-portable design
While the Surface Pro 8 is aimed at professionals and enthusiasts, portability remains a key metric in relation to throwing it in a backpack for an overnight work trip, or just your daily commute. Starting at just 891 grams (before accessories like a keyboard), the Pro 8 is dense in the hand, but still plenty light enough that you’ll be happy to take it with you wherever you need.
If you buy a Surface Pro 8, it’ll ship with Windows 11, so if you’re someone who’s not comfortable upgrading an operating system, you can find comfort in the knowledge that you’re running the latest software on great hardware and the two work great together.
Not everything’s perfect
When it comes to the hardware, my only real complaint is that there is no expandable storage via a microSD card slot, as in previous generations. Other than that, the hardware is really well designed and that new keyboard with an integrated slot for the Surface Pen helps to solve the long-standing issue of losing digital pens. My main issue with the Surface Pro 8 is really the cost. The device itself, without the keyboard, is a little on the high-end, but by the time you add the cost of the keyboard (hard to believe many buy it without). the cost is certainly a premium which means less people can afford it.
Perhaps Microsoft sales data shows that most of these devices are sold to businesses that can absorb the additional cost, given they’re likely going with Surface Pro to avoid having the cost of both a laptop and an iPad. The Student discount certainly helps, but I think there’s more work needed to sharpen the price point before it truly begins to steal market share away regular laptop buyers.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 is available from November 4th, 2021 from Microsoft directly, or the regular common Microsoft online and physical retail outlets.
At Microsoft, you may be eligible for education pricing (students, parents, teachers) which would mean your starting price is just A$1,484.10.
Regular pricing starts from A$1,649.00 for the entry-level Core i5 with 8GB and 128GB SSD. If you need more storage, the 256GB model will set you back A$1,799.00.
Once you step up to the Core i7 model, with 16GB RAM, your storage options range between 256GB and 1TB and prices for these options climb quickly, ranging from A$2,399.00 up to A$3,2999.00 for the top-spec.
During checkout, you’ll likely want to add a Surface Pro Keyboard which comes in an array of colours and is ridiculously overpriced at $259.95 each. Microsoft also offers a keyboard and Slim Pen 2 bundle at A$429.95, or buying the Surface Slim Pen individually costs A$189.95.
Now in its 8th edition, the Surface Pro is absolutely a mature platform that you can confidently purchase as a great solution to your portable productivity needs. The increase in display size has really helped Surface more accurately compete with products from competitors and while it may not seem like much of a bump in the spec sheet, it certainly is a big deal when it comes to daily use.
Microsoft continues to lead the way in regards to 2-in-1 devices and that’s largely helped by that great piece of engineering on the back, known as the kickstand. When you’re travelling with the Surface, that fully adjustable kickstand, allows you to position the device at angles many others can’t and in that respect, it’s a really elegant design.
The performance available now in the Surface Pro 8 really does a great job at handling most common tasks, however, those looking for absolute performance should look to a solution with a dedicated mobile GPU.
If you’re chasing a 2-in-1 device, that looks great, offers a great typing experience, a great screen and battery life, then you should start with the Surface Pro 8 and only if your needs fall into a few small categories should you look elsewhere.
With the Surface Pro 8, this device is well and truly mature, which is possibly why we see Microsoft expanding the lineup of Surface products with other ideas. It does beg the question, where do they go from here?