The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is the latest all-rounder that sets out to challenge the iPad Pro for the crown of the best high-end tablet. There's always been a bit of a marketing fudge around the Surface brand; for example, Apple clearly believes the iPad Pro is a tablet first while Surface Pro is a laptop and tablet and perhaps does both well and neither exceptionally well.
I've spent over week with the new Microsoft Surface Pro 9 for this review and I've previously spent time with all models at Microsoft's London offices. This 2-in-1 tablet comes in two specs. The Intel Core i5 and i7 and there's also a 5G model that uses the Arm Microsoft SQ3. The major difference between the Intel and Arm models is speed and power (Intel), and battery life (SQ3).
The Surface Pro 9 isn't a huge leap ahead of the previous version, which we covered in our Surface Pro 8 review. The Surface Pro 9 impresses; this is a laptop that feels great in the hand, and has a superb screen and some lovely design choices, such as the hidden stylus holder in the keyboard attachment. Best of all, especially given the iPad 2022 needs new accessories, this new Surface Pro 9 works with your existing keyboard, stylus and mouse. This could well make it one of the best iPad alternatives to buy right now.
Now, keep reading as I have some detailed impressions of the new Microsoft Surface Pro 9 laptop, which promises to finally compete with Apple's best devices. The version I've reviewed here is the lower-spec SQ3 model, which has some specific limitations. I have previously tried the Intel Core i5 and i7 models – and to be honest these are better.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: design
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is a looker. The new model comes in four colours – the new Graphite, Sapphire, Forest and the original Platinum – and each one looks good. My review models is the Graphite, but I particularly like the deep green of Forest, it feels a little more fun than a straight grey.
The accessories, including the excellent keyboard, come in the same array of colours. The old keyboard and style will work with the Surface Pro 9 too, so there's no extra expense, unless you want your keyboard to match your new tablet.
The keyboard and case attaches to the Surface Pro 9 with a satisfying magnetic clunk and click. Once attached it's a strong connection and wraps around seamlessly. The keyboard is a good size (28.91 x 22.61 x 0.49 cm) and its keys are shallow and 'tappy' without being hard and unresponsive.
This is one of the best small keyboards I've used, and I particularly like the soft, suede-like Alcantara finish to the wrist-wrest panels. The same material is used across the whole case and gives the tablet a book-like feel when close. Not a fan or feel if I could get a little sweaty? Then Microsoft has a metallic case and keyboard finish.
Once folded out the Surface Pro 9 has a neat space to store your stylus – the Surface Slim. You pull out the keyboard slightly and its notch is revealed. This is a great design feature that ensures you'll never lose your stylus. It's not a new feature, this is the same design as the Surface 8, but it remains a good one.
The Surface Pro 9 PixelSense screen is excellent and has a smooth 120Hz refresh rate. Usually found on gaming monitors, the 120Hz will be welcomed by anyone who wants to connect their Xbox Game Pass to this smart 2-in-1. The 13-inch, 2,880-by-1,920-pixel resolution comes in a 3:2 aspect ratio and is a good all-rounder, ideal for work, video streaming and digital art. The Intel model features Dolby Vision IQ, adaptive colour and auto colour management.
While the bezel width is a little larger than iPad Pro it's not unsightly. I expect this is a design choice needed to fit in the Full HD, 1080p front-facing camera. At the rear of the Surface Pro 9 is a 10MP camera that can deliver 4K video. The front-facing camera is superb and benefits from Microsoft's Windows Studio Effects which offers a number of AI-driven features, such as auto-framing, an auto bokeh effect and eye tracking.
In action, the camera is mesmeric; no matter where you move or walk, it tracks and follows. If you work from home or need to present your art projects to clients, students or friends online, this alone places the Surface Pro 9 ahead of many rival 2-in-1s. (There's even a little clicker you can buy.) The good news? All of the above is true of all Surface Pro 9 models.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: performance
The performance of the new Surface Pro 9 will depend on the model you choose. As mentioned earlier, there are two skews. One is an Intel model built for power and speed, the other is an Arm chip SQ3 / 5G variant made for browsing, conferencing and is less power intensive.
The SQ3 model boasts around 12 hours of use, which beats other Windows tablets and is double the new iPad Pro 2022 (M2). The addition of 5G alongside such a long battery life makes the SQ3 ideal for anyone working on the go. But this build is really for word processing, web browsing, video streaming and more general work and play – it likely won't handle serious gaming or art software. In this review I tried to run Rebelle 5, one of my preferred digital painting softwares, and it failed. It did, however, run the less intensive ArtRage 6.
The other model, the Intel i5 or i7 build, is the option for those looking for more power. This will run video editing and art software, such as Photoshop and Premiere Pro, but you may find it's a little sluggish compared to a full-fat laptop, like a MacBook (M2). The Surface Pro 9 uses the i7 and i5 'U-series chips', which are designed to run on low power over pure performance. In my hands-on, I couldn't put the Surface Pro 9 through its paces, but we'll see how this performs in a forthcoming full review.
Like the Surface Pro 8, this new Surface Pro 9 runs Windows 11, which is excellent and speedy. While Windows 11 does have a tablet mode, that activates automatically when the keyboard is detached, I still found tabs and fonts on the Surface Pro 9 a little small and hard to navigate.
The solution is to click in a keyboard and mouse and use the Surface Pro 9 in this way, as a laptop. Once in your software, of course, it's generally a good experience, particularly if you're used to the app your using and can work on instinct.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review: final thoughts
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is a great 2-in-1 that has excellent build quality, feels great to use, comes with some neat features – such as the excellent web camera – and will run full software, and doesn't rely on paired-down apps. But you need to be aware of the two models. For many creatives, artists and designers the less powerful SQ3 should be avoided and instead focus on the more powerful i5 and i7 skews.
The Intel 12th-gen chips are faster and built for performance, while the ARM-based SQ3 has a longer battery life. Keep this in mind, and invest in the model that's right for you. The Intel model starts at $999 / £1099 (i5), $1599 / £1599 (i7), while the SQ3 begins at $1,299 / £1,299.
While starting prices seem at odds (the i5 and SQ3 are similarly banded) once you begin building out your device the Intel will come in more costly. For example, the SQ3 is limited to 16GB of RAM but the Intel models can feature up to 32GB of RAM and can a 1TB SSD – this will run to around $2599 / £2599 for the i7 build.
The i7 Surface Pro 9 model is an interesting option for anyone who wants to replace their laptop with a device that can be taken on the road, and used as a drawing tablet. It'll run your favourite digital and video editing software, can handle gaming and is good for streaming.
It's hard to justify the expense of the SQ3 model. It's underpowered for many serious tasks, won't run demanding art software, and is limited to office work and streaming. For a lot less you could pick up a higher-spec best Chromebooks or opt for an older iPad Pro (2021).