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(Pocket-lint) – The Surface Pro 9 was announced at Microsoft’s fall event alongside the Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Studio 2.
But while last year’s Surface Pro 8 brought a number of updates, the Surface Pro 9 is a more subtle change from its predecessor.
Its external appearance is virtually identical, what exactly has changed? And is it worth upgrading if you have a Surface Pro 8?
We dug into the specs and found out what’s new in the latest Surface tablet.
Design and connection
- Both: 287 x 208 x 9.3 mm / 2x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4, Surface Connect port
- Surface Pro 9 colors: Sapphire, Forest, Platinum, Graphite
- Surface Pro 8 colors: Graphite, Platinum
As we mentioned in the introduction, the design has largely remained the same with the latest generation of Surface Pro. Input-output is largely the same, consisting of Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect port and two USB-C ports. Both of these ports support Thunderbolt 4 and USB 4.0, just like on the Surface Pro 8.
Well, at least it does for Intel-based models. Microsoft introduced an ARM-powered 5G model with this generation, which we will explore in more depth later in this article. The ARM model has the same IO, but its USB-C ports are only capable of USB 3.2 connectivity. It also has a SIM tray to support its 5G connectivity.
All variants of the Surface Pro 9 dropped the 3.5mm headphone jack for some reason. Given that the chassis is otherwise identical in size, we’re not sure why this needs to be removed, and it’s certainly bad news for fans of wired headphones.
There are a few new color options this time around, and these are exclusive to Intel-based models. There is Sapphire, which is a light blue color, and Forest, which is a green offering. Both are very nice additions and add a bit of flavor to the otherwise minimalistic design, we’re particularly happy with the Forest option, it looks great.
Screen and cameras
- Both: 13-inch 3:2 PixelSense Flow display, 2880 x 1920 at 120Hz.
- Surface Pro 9: Dolby Vision IQ support, Gorilla Glass 5
- Both: 1080p front camera with Windows Hello, 10MP 4K rear camera
There wasn’t much of a display update on the Surface Pro 9, but that’s not a bad thing, the display was great on the Surface Pro 8 and it’s basically making a comeback here. Both offer a 13-inch panel with a practical 3:2 aspect ratio. A refresh rate of up to 120Hz ensures optimal fluidity, while adaptive technology allows the rate to be reduced to improve battery life when not needed.
New is support for Dolby Vision IQ, which uses a sensor to adjust picture settings based on ambient light. How much better that is than the regular Dolby Vision support offered by the Surface Pro 8 remains to be seen, but it’s nice to see something that differentiates the displays.
Another thing we noticed is that Microsoft specifies that the Surface Pro 9’s screen is covered in Gorilla Glass 5, which is excellent for durability. The type of glass used on the Surface Pro 8 wasn’t specified, but we think it’s safe to assume this is an upgrade.
All models use the same camera hardware, however the ARM variant of the Surface Pro 9 has a few more tricks up its sleeve. The Microsoft SQ 3 processor has a dedicated neural processing unit which enables audio and video enhancements using AI.
There are a number of things it allows, most of which are centered around video conferencing. This ranges from fairly mundane things like blurring the background to simulating eye contact by increasing pupil position. This can either make conference calls much more natural or be quite disconcerting, depending on how it works in the real world. We can’t wait to find out.
One of the standout features showcased at Microsoft’s event was called Voice Focus. The demonstration was done on a conference call that took place next to a leaf blower, and it seemed to work impressively. For anyone who often works in shared offices or cafes, this feature can be a game-changer.
Hardware and battery life
- Surface Pro 9 Processor: 12th Gen Intel Core i5 1235U / i7 1255U / Microsoft SQ 3
- Surface Pro 8 Processor: 11th Gen Intel Core i5 1135G7 / i7 1185G7
- Both: 8GB/16GB/32GB RAM and 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB storage
- Surface Pro 9: Up to 15.5 hours of battery (Intel) / Up to 19 hours (SQ 3)
- Surface Pro 8: Up to 16 hours of battery life
It’s inside that the real upgrades have taken place this generation. The Intel models have been updated to use the latest 12th Gen chips, which should provide a pretty significant performance boost. Microsoft claims it’s the most powerful Surface Pro yet, and from what we’ve seen with other 12th-gen devices, we’re sure that’s the case.
But it was the 5G-ready Microsoft SQ 3 model that really caught our attention. Historically, ARM-based Surface devices have been grouped together as the Surface Pro X, and this is the first time we’ve seen one in the main line of the Surface Pro lineup.
From what we can tell, it looks like the SQ 3 platform is basically a rebranded Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 chipset, and we’re curious to find out how it performs. Of course, it gets 5G connectivity, which is a big selling point along with all its AI camera upgrades. It should also have better battery life. But previous ARM-based Surface devices have all suffered from poor software compatibility, greatly limiting their appeal. We can only imagine that’s the case here as well, but we’d love to be shown otherwise.
Elsewhere, storage and RAM configuration options remain the same as the Surface Pro 8. The SQ 3 model gets a slightly smaller range, with up to 512GB of storage and up to 16GB of RAM.
Battery life is surprisingly listed as half an hour shorter on the newer Intel models, which is a little disappointing to see, but maybe that’s just a more conservative estimate. The SQ 3 version, on the other hand, should last longer on a charge, with a battery life of up to 19 hours.
If we focus on the Intel models, which are likely to be the most popular, then we basically have a processor upgrade and a few new colors added to this generation of Surface Pro. So current users probably won’t feel the urge to upgrade unless they’re at the limit of their processing power.
For those looking to buy their first Surface Pro device, it depends on the tasks they need to perform. For many tasks, the older Surface Pro 8 will be more than enough, and it should be deeply discounted now that its successor is out. However, if you know you’ll be doing more intensive tasks, such as video editing, upgrading to a 12th generation chip will probably be worth the extra expense.
The ARM-based model, meanwhile, is a very different proposition. Its integration into the main Surface Pro range may confuse less sophisticated consumers who will expect the same experience as that offered by Intel-based models with the addition of 5G connectivity. It’s unlikely to be the case, but we can’t wait to see how it performs in the real world.
In any case, the ARM model has its own advantages beyond 5G. The AI video and audio enhancements could prove to be valuable assets if they work as advertised. In addition, the battery life will be longer, which is not insignificant.
Written by Luke Baker.