Microsoft Surface Pro 9 hands-on: ARM steps up to Intel
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 has finally been unveiled. I say finally because this 2-in-1 device was widely expected given that Microsoft releases a new Surface Pro every year. While last year’s Microsoft Surface Pro 8 featured the most significant change for the series, the latest model doesn’t bring a major overhaul — at least in terms of design. Instead, the Surface Pro 9 story lies under the hood.
The new Surface Pro 9 features two models with current-gen processors — a variant packing a 12th-gen Intel Core CPU and another with the new Microsoft SQ3 processor. That latter model also offers 5G connectivity, which is a first for the Surface line. And, at least based on what Microsoft showed, it seems the 5G version is the only one taking advantage of new AI-powered neural processing unit (NPU) features.
While the Surface Pro 9 may not be shaking up the computing world, it has the makings of being one of the best 2-in-1 laptops, and it could also land a spot in our best laptops list. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the Surface Pro 9 and what I thought about it based on my brief hands-on time with Microsoft’s new machine.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9: Price and availability
The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 will be available for purchase on October 25 with a starting price of $999 / AU$1,649 for the Intel version and $1,299 / AU$2,599 for the model powered by Microsoft’s Qualcomm-powered SQ3 SoC (System on Chip).
For a limited time, you can get a special edition of the Pro 9 (and matching keyboard) with a laser-etched blue floral pattern. Created in conjunction with London-based design house Liberty to mark 10 years of Surface hardware, this model is no different from any other Surface Pro 9 except for the cosmetic changes.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9: Design
Both Surface Pro 9 models (with and without 5G) measure 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.37 inches and weigh 1.94 pounds. They feature an anodized aluminum body, with a kickstand on the back of the device and a magnetic attach for the keyboard. Color options include Platinum, Graphite, Sapphire and Forest, with the latter three colors only available on Wi-Fi models.
While I don’t particularly care for anything beyond the Platinum color option, I think it’s great that the Surface Pro 9 features a slew of different colors. The aforementioned Liberty variant isn’t really my style, but it’s certainly eye-catching.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9: Ports
Each Surface Pro 9 model features a different set of ports. This is because only the Intel model includes support for Thunderbolt 4.
Models with Intel chips have a pair of Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports, a Surface Connect port and a Surface Keyboard port. Surface Pro 9 with 5G comes with two USB-C ports, a Surface Connect port, a Surface Keyboard port and a nano SIM slot.
That isn’t a great abundance of ports but it should be enough to fit most people’s needs.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9: Display
Like the Surface Pro 8, the Surface Pro 9 has a 13-inch (2,880 X 1,920) 120Hz touch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio.
Microsoft touted features that should enable a more realistic writing experience. A 720p webcam, omnisonic speakers, directional microphones and Microsoft’s custom G6 chip are meant to work together to deliver tactile feedback when writing on the screen. Other features such as Ink Focus in Microsoft OneNote and the new GoodNotes app for Windows 11 supposedly help emulate a more realistic writing experience.
In my short time with the Surface Pro 9, I didn’t feel that the writing experience was much different than it was on the Surface Pro 8. That’s not to say it was horrible, but it certainly didn’t approximate writing with a pen and paper. For now, I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve had more extensive time with the device.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9: Performance
The Surface Pro 9 comes with either a 12th gen Intel Core “Alder Lake” processor or a Microsoft SQ3 CPU powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon tech.
Configurations with Alder Lake chips are meant to handle large workloads. According to Microsoft, the Surface Pro 9 offers up to 50% more performance than the Surface Pro 8 thanks to Intel’s latest CPU. Thunderbolt 4 functionality allows for rapid data transfer, docking to multiple 4K displays or support for external graphics cards.
Models with a Microsoft SQ3 processor feature 5G connectivity and have up to 19 hours of battery life, according to Microsoft. The company also says the processor has new AI features that are made possible via that NPU, which is capable of more than 15 trillion calculations per second, says Microsoft.
Surface Pro 9 models with Intel chips pack up to 32GB of RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage. 5G models have up to 16GB of RAM and up 512GB of (removable) SSD.
During its October 12 Surface event, Microsoft discussed what the NPU can do. In one example, the company showed how the new tech is able to completely eliminate background noise such as a noisy jackhammer. In another example, we saw how the AI-based tech was able to prevent a user’s face from blurring when they got too close to the webcam. This is some impressive stuff that I can’t wait to test out for myself.
Surface Pro 9: Windows 11 and accessories
The consumer version of the Surface Pro 9 will run on Windows 11 Home and comes pre-loaded with Microsoft 365 apps and the Xbox app. You can test both applications for free thanks to included 30-day trials for Microsoft 365 Family and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, respectively.
The Surface Pro 9 is compatible with Microsoft’s Surface Pro, Surface Pro X, Surface Pro Signature and Surface Pro X Signature keyboards. It’s also compatible with the Surface Slim Pen 2, which you can store and charge within the aforementioned keyboards.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to purchase these peripherals separately since they don’t appear to come bundled with the Surface Pro 9.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9: Outlook
Even though I didn’t spend much time with the Microsoft Surface Pro 9, I found it a decent upgrade to last year’s model. (Our Surface Pro 9 vs. Surface Pro 8 comparison looks at the changes in greater depth.) Because the new 2-in-1 isn’t a vast overhaul, you could argue that it might be worth skipping. That was my initial thought when I first found out about the device.
However, 5G connectivity and the new NPU features could make the Surface Pro 9 a worthwhile upgrade for current Surface Pro owners. It may also be what opens up the 2-in-1 to new customers looking for their first Surface Pro computer.
We should have a full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 for you relatively soon. At that time, we’ll see for ourselves if this new 2-in-1 is worth buying or skipping. Stay tuned for more!