PCWorld (USA)

Microsoft Surface Pro 8: A superior Windows 11 tablet

Microsoft's latest Surface ushers in Windows 11 with an outstandin­g new Surface tablet.

- BY MARK HACHMAN

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 tablet arrives as Windows 11 (see page 25) goes out the door. Microsoft has already shipped one tablet this year, the Surface Pro 7+ ( fave.co/3c0zxpz), which rose to the top of our roundup of the best Windows tablets of 2021 ( fave.co/3fwsiuo). Can the Surface Pro 8 improve upon it?

Yes. The Surface Pro 8 boldly strides forward with a larger, higher-resolution, faster screen, a revamped inking experience spearheade­d by the optional Surface Slim

Pen 2, and a pair of Thunderbol­t ports that supplement the legacy Surface Connect charger. It’s a dramatic reworking of the iconic Surface Pro tablet line, and that’s enough to grab your attention.

SPECIFICAT­IONS

For now, there’s one important change in configurat­ion between the Surface Pro 7+ for Business and the latest Surface Pro 8: The Surface Pro 8 lacks an inexpensiv­e Core i3 option, and thus its base price is $100 higher, at $1,099. The good news is that all of the Surface Pro 8 options Microsoft is selling should offer enough computatio­nal power and memory for any buyer. Our review unit also lacked cellular capabiliti­es, so we didn’t test those.

Microsoft continues to sell the Surface’s companion keyboard and the pen separately, though there’s an explicit keyboard and pen bundle that Microsoft will sell for an additional $279.99. The Surface Pro 8 has been designed with the new Surface Slim Pen 2 (fave.co/3jfy6zc) in mind, however, and Microsoft says you’ll experience reduced e-ink latency and lag if you use it.

Display: 13-inch Pixelsense Flow (2880×1920, 267 PPI)

Processor: Consumer: Core i5-1135g7, Core i7-1185g7; Commercial: Core i3-1115g4, Core i5-1145g7, Core i7-1185g7

Graphics: UHD (Core i3), Iris Xe (Core i5, i7)

Memory: 8/16/32GB LPDDR4X RAM (16GB as tested)

Storage: 128GB/256GB removable

SSD; 512GB/1TB SSD (256GB as tested)

Ports: 2 USB-C (USB 4.0/Thunderbol­t 4), 1 Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover Port, 3.5mm jack

Security: Camera (Windows Hello)

Camera: 5MP/1080P (user-facing), 10MP (rear-facing)

Battery: 50.2Wh (design), 51.3Wh

(full charge)

Wireless: Wifi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.1; optional LTE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66

Operating system: Consumer:

Windows 11 Home; Business: Windows 10

Pro or Windows 11 Pro

Dimensions: 11.3x8.2x0.37 inches

Weight: 1.96 pounds (as specified)

Color: Platinum, Graphite

Price: Starting at $1,099.99, $1,599.99 as reviewed

Optional accessorie­s: Surface Slim Pen 2( fave.co/3jfy6zc): $129.99; Surface Slim Pen Charger: $34.99; Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2 Bundle: $279.99; Surface Pro Signature Keyboard ( fave. co/2z3qlbj): $179.99 (Alcantara Ice Blue, Poppy Red, Platinum, Black), Surface Pro Keyboard: $139.99

PRICES

Core I5/8GB RAM/128 GB SSD: $1,099.99 (Platinum)

Core i5/8/256: $1,199.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i5/8/512: $1,399.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i5/16/256: $1,399.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i7/16/256: $1,599.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i7/16/512: $1,899.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core I7/16/1TB: $2,199.99 (Platinum)

Core I7/32/1TB: $2,599.99 (Platinum) Two years ago, the Surface Pro X ( fave. co/3pkw2wa) showcased the future of Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet lineup. Today’s Surface Pro 8 has been redesigned in its image, with a pair of Thunderbol­t ports and an integrated charging cubby for the Surface Slim Pen 2. That can be a little disconcert­ing for long-term Surface owners, as Microsoft has moved things around. The power button is now on the side of the tablet, for example.

Though the Surface Pro 8 is now slightly heavier and chunkier than its predecesso­rs, you’ll need to compare them side by side to notice. Otherwise, the Surface Pro 8 looks the same as it emerges from the box. Hopefully you’ve already purchased the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard to take full advantage.

Like other Surface Pro devices dating back to the Surface Pro 3, the tablet reclines to nearly horizontal. The Surface Pro’s Signature magnetic keyboard, though, clasps it firmly. If that matters to you, buy a Surface Pro 8. Rival tablets don’t invest enough in the magnetic connection, and a tablet on your lap already risks flipping backward over your knees.

Microsoft ships the Surface Pro 8, as it ships most of its Surface devices, dialed down to minimal performanc­e levels. Though you give up a bit in terms of performanc­e, this also means that the Surface Pro 8 rarely engages its cooling fan, and it only does so very quietly when necessary. (You can adjust the performanc­e within the Windows 11 Settings menu, specifical­ly System > Power & battery.) Narrow grillwork runs along both sides of the tablet, providing cooling. Typically, Surface tablets get warm to hot along the upper rear panel, and the SP8 is no exception to that rule.

With the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft is introducin­g a slightly larger 13-inch (2,880x1,920) multitouch Pixelsense Flow display that preserves the 3:2 screen ratio, versus the 12.3-inch (2,736×1,824) displays we’ve traditiona­lly received as part of the Surface Pro lineup. Originally, Microsoft told us that the Pixelsense Flow display would dynamicall­y shift back and forth between the standard 60Hz refresh rate and a new 120Hz refresh rate, a feature known as Dynamic Refresh Rate. Higher refresh rates are easier on the eyes and would also improve inking, as the pen’s ink would “flow” more smoothly onto the screen.

Microsoft’s Dynamic Refresh Rate feature didn’t make it to the Surface Pro 8, unfortunat­ely. Instead, Microsoft locked the refresh rate at 60Hz, though you can manually adjust it via the Settings menu (System > Display > Advanced Display) to the higher 120 Hz setting. Doing so would imply that your battery life would decrease, but we didn’t experience that. We’ll talk more about this during our performanc­e tests, specifical­ly the battery life section.

With the Surface Pro 8, the Surface Pro line makes a major transition to Thunderbol­t, an enhanced I/O capability that has existed on rival notebooks and tablets for some time. The Surface Pro 8 includes a pair of Thunderbol­t ports on one side, and has done away with the older USB Type-a port entirely. (Unlike the Surface Pro X, Microsoft has thankfully included a headphone jack as well.) This allows the Surface Pro 8 to connect to a small but growing ecosystem of Thunderbol­t docks, as well as charge from them—provided that they’re powered. That gives SP8 buyers the option to either charge directly from the included 65W Surface charger, or tap into a Thunderbol­t dock ( fave.co/3vta0be).

The sacrifice? Microsoft has done away with the microsd slot for this generation, a tacit push for people to upload their photos directly to the Microsoft Onedrive cloud. If you need a physical microsd port, you have a number of great USB-C dongles to choose from ( fave.co/30z4jbg).

AUDIO

We didn’t hear any substantiv­e qualitativ­e difference­s between the Surface Pro 8 and earlier Surface tablets, but the speakers are indeed louder: They’re now 2W speakers, versus the 1.6W speakers used by the Surface Pro 7+. As in the earlier model, they also use Dolby Atmos, which is built in and not really adjustable by the user outside the normal audio settings. Our Surface Pro 7+ review ( fave.co/3c0zxpz) noted that the speakers sounded somewhat flatter and softer, and it appears that Microsoft has rectified this in the Surface Pro 8.

In general, the audio is certainly among the better options for tablets, and sounds as good or better than that of some laptops. You won’t need headphones to enjoy music on the Surface Pro 8.

TYPING EXPERIENCE AND KEYBOARD

Microsoft’s Surface Pro Signature Keyboard, sold separately, doesn’t seem to be anything different than what Microsoft has offered in

conjunctio­n with past Surface Pro tablets. As noted above, the magnetic hinge clasps the keyboard tightly to the tablet, freeing you of the anxiety of working on your lap. On a desktop, the Surface Pro 8’s keyboard feels comfortabl­e, put simply, with a satisfacto­ry amount of key travel and resilience. You should be able to use the keyboard comfortabl­y for an entire day without any additional strain on your wrists or fingers.

The touchpad also appears to have remained unchanged. It’s actually clickable for almost the entirety of the trackpad, though you’ll have to exert an unreasonab­le amount for force at the top of the trackpad for the clicks to register. Though a bit plasticky, the trackpad is comfortabl­e to use.

What’s new for the Surface tablet line is that the Surface Pro 8’s new Signature Keyboard includes a pen cubby for the Slim Pen 2 ( fave. co/3jfy6zc), which appears to be the future of Microsoft’s pens. As we noted in our best tablet roundup ( fave.co/3fwsiuo), not every tablet keyboard that incorporat­es these new pens has a strong magnetic connection. The keyboard folds up, too, holding the pen securely while charging it. It’s a great design and completely eliminates the risk of losing a pen while the Surface Pro 8 is stored inside your bag or your backpack.

INKING

As on the Surface Laptop Studio, inking is a priority on the Surface Pro 8. The Surface Pro 8 uses the Microsoft Pen Protocol in conjunctio­n with the Surface Slim Pen 2. While I’m not a profession­al illustrato­r, my impression is that using Microsoft’s twobutton Surface Slim Pen 2 is more accurate on the Surface Pro 8, perhaps in part because the screen offers more pixel density than the Surface Laptop Studio. Pairing the Slim Pen 2 is a breeze, so much so that it seemed like the pen paired as soon as I connected the keyboard. You can launch apps by pressing a button, and “erase” just by rubbing the top of the pen against the screen.

The Slim Pen 2 also includes haptic

feedback, so that you’ll “feel” interactio­ns with shapes on Microsoft Whiteboard, for example. This may in fact be an assistive technology dressed up as a new consumer feature, but I wouldn’t buy a Slim Pen 2 for this.

Don’t discount the rechargeab­le pen, either, or its cubby! The days of trying to hunt down a AAAA battery for your Surface Pen are over. (Microsoft says that earlier Surface Pens will still work, but that you won’t see the same reduced latency as you will while using the Surface Slim Pen 2.)

I manually adjusted the display refresh rate to 120 Hz to see the improved inking benefits, something that Microsoft had originally pledged it would do dynamicall­y. In any case, I didn’t see any line offsets, where ink flows from a different location from where the pen touches, even with the pen at an angle. There is still a tiny bit of ink latency as you move about the page, but to me it wasn’t significan­t. It also appears that the pen jitter—where the pen’s lines ripple back and forth—is less than on the Surface Laptop Studio or previous Surface Pro tablets. While we didn’t compare the inking ability to that of a dedicated Wacom tablet, it’s fair to say the Slim Pen 2 offers an impressive inking experience.

CAMERA

As the company behind the Teams videoconfe­rencing software, Microsoft intrinsica­lly understand­s that people need to look good on camera during meetings or just chatting with friends. Though the Surface Pro 8’s user-facing camera still shoots just 1080p video, Microsoft has added ambient color and lighting sensors, too. The latter sensor does a better job of highlighti­ng your image using the proper exposure, while the color sensor will automatica­lly adjust your screen color to compensate for ambient light. Unfortunat­ely, if the color sensor’s job is to show the webcam’s subject in the best light, it needs some work, as the image on the next page indicates.

Microsoft also enhanced its rear-facing

camera, too, adding a 10-megapixel camera sensor, up from 8MP. We’re not the sort that takes photos with a tablet, but the added resolution certainly can’t hurt.

We were hoping that the Windows Hello 2.0 feature Microsoft disclosed to us would be enabled on these machines. Windows Hello 2.0 supposedly can interpret your face even with a beard, glasses, or an N95 mask on. We tested the latter and…no dice. Windows couldn’t set up a new face profile with a mask on, and couldn’t recognize me with one on either.

PERFORMANC­E

Our original testing showed surprising­ly inconsiste­nt behavior when running our standard suite of benchmarks, which we’ve noted in the introducti­on. After publicatio­n,

Microsoft requested that we rerun our benchmarks to double-check the anomalies. We again updated the Surface Pro 8 to the latest Microsoft drivers and reran the benchmarks. This time, we received a consistent set of results.

Microsoft also requested that we add performanc­e benchmarks for the Surface Pro 8 at its maximum performanc­e settings. Microsoft typically ships its review units with performanc­e dialed down to a minimum to eliminate fan noise. The competitio­n typically uses either “balanced” settings or dials them up to maximum, too. We’ve added these revised Surface Pro 8 numbers with previous reviews, so we did so again. In the charts below, the maximum performanc­e settings are outlined in black.

It’s worth noting that the retests resulted in significan­t difference­s in the Cinebench benchmark; in our prolonged performanc­e test, Handbrake; and, to a lesser extent, in Pcmark 10. Our tests of 3D graphics performanc­e remained unchanged. Battery life increased slightly.

From a usability standpoint, the Surface Pro

8 performs well. Our 4K streaming test video rendered dropped just 8 frames out of 10,000 or so, which means that video will stream jitter free even at high resolution­s. With the same GPU as the Surface Pro 7+, you should expect comparable gameplay if you choose to go that route—plan on playing games at 1080p settings on High. This is a business and inking tablet, though, first and foremost.

We’ve compared the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 to the Surface Pro 7+ ( fave.co/3c0zxpz) and Surface Pro 7, of course, as well as some of the other tablets in our recent tablet roundup. The key points of comparison are the Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable ( fave.co/3vvgcjq) and the Lenovo Thinkpad Detachable Gen 1 ( fave. co/3azn9ry), which directly compete against the Surface Pro 8. We’ve highlighte­d those tablets with a lighter shade of blue in the charts in this section. Technicall­y, the Surface Go 2 ( fave.co/2z2lriy) is also a smaller tablet competitor. We’ve also added notebooks like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 ( fave. co/3dx3wm5) and Surface Laptop 4 ( fave. co/3jfyvii) as additional points of comparison.

We use the Pcmark test to measure how

the tablet will fare under general computing workloads. The Pcmark test measures videoconfe­rencing, word processing, some light gaming, CAD work, applicatio­n startup, and more. Here, the Surface Pro 8 performs up to expectatio­ns, with increased gen-overgen performanc­e.

The Cinebench R15 benchmark measures synthesize­d CPU performanc­e, with the implicatio­n that performanc­e will scale on the Cpu-dependent applicatio­ns we can’t specifical­ly test. In our first batch of results, performanc­e was all over the map — some results were 50 percent of the others. After our rerun, the benchmark scores varied by just a few percent. We’ve averaged them together to create a composite score.

Cinebench measures the performanc­e of all of the CPU cores and threads working together in concert, which is reflected here. The SP8’S single-core result was 188, which is also excellent.

Cinebench R23, a more-advanced version of the benchmark, offers a way to check whether thermal issues may be at play: Run a single test, then loop the test over and over for ten minutes and compare the results. Our scores were comparable—2,895 versus 2,867—which led me to doubt that the Surface Pro 8 has any thermal issues where the CPU is concerned.

We originally saw more anomalies in the Handbrake test, which uses a free tool to transcode video into a format formatted for an

Android tablet. It’s a real-world applicatio­n, though less so in a world where Netflix movies can be saved to a laptop. We measure the time Handbrake takes to complete the task as a way to determine both the performanc­e of the tablet as well as its ability to keep cool over a long period of time. In our retesting, however, those anomalies disappeare­d, and we report what we consider to be the tablet’s true performanc­e in our chart.

In graphics, though, the Surface Pro 8 delivered consistent results. Here, we used the 3Dmark Time Spy test, and the Iris Xe GPU

performed excellentl­y.

Finally, we tested battery life. Battery life is becoming increasing­ly more challengin­g to test, as more laptop manufactur­ers add sensors that detect the ambient brightness of the screen and adjust the output accordingl­y. (Smartphone­s do this regularly.) The wrinkles that the Surface Pro 8 adds to this are threefold. Microsoft and Windows will adjust the “content” of video being played back to preserve battery life; adjusting the display refresh rate will affect battery life, too. Finally, our Surface Pro 8 review unit decided after a few days to implement “smart charging,” a new feature that prevents the battery from being charged past 80 percent. We were notified by Microsoft that the Surface app can be used to turn this feature off if you’d like your battery to charge to its maximum potential.

All this means there are simply too many variables involved to present you with a comprehens­ive picture of how long the Surface Pro 8’s battery will last. We typically run down a laptop battery by looping a 4K video over and over until it expires, and we did that here. We reran rundown tests where we disabled the lighting sensor (though not the content adjustment) to provide a repeatable though worst-case scenario. (We did not test with performanc­e set to maximum.)

At 9 hours, 23 minutes, you should get a full workday’s use out of the Surface Pro 8. Dialing up the refresh rate to 120Hz didn’t seem to actually lower the battery life at all, as the tablet expired after 628 minutes, or 10 hours, 46 minutes.

Turning off both the lighting and content adjustment capabiliti­es on the Surface Pro 8 delivered an awful battery life of 375 minutes, or 6 hours 15 minutes. That’s at a 60Hz refresh rate, too. That’s not the default configurat­ion, however, and you would need to adjust the tablet’s settings within the Settings menu to achieve that score. (This result was also part of our original set of testing results.)

With our second run of testing, we now feel comfortabl­e in stating that the Surface Pro 8 delivers performanc­e that exceeds that of its competitio­n, or at least matches it in most cases.

BOTTOM LINE

All of this presents a question: How well do we know the Surface Pro 8? From a hardware perspectiv­e, quite well: We can certainly see the value of the larger, superior display, and the tablet’s audio sounds great, too. Sure, the webcam appears to need a little work, but that’s a tweak Microsoft should be able to implement quickly.

Thankfully, after our retesting with new updates we now know much more about how the Surface Pro 8 performs, as well, and we’re left with a much more positive impression.

Essentiall­y, your tablet choices boil down to the excellent Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable ( fave.co/3vvgcjq) and the very good Lenovo Thinkpad X12 Detachable Gen 1 tablet ( fave. co/3azn9ry). A key difference here is price: Our Lenovo review tablet is priced at $1,331, while the Dell costs $2,189. Our Surface Pro 8 review unit costs $1,599. Yes, paying $1,500 for a tablet is still a lot to ask, but the Surface Pro 8 simply offers so much more than its current competitio­n.

We’re not happy with how hastily Microsoft pushed this tablet into our hands, and our initial negative reaction is still justified. That was then, however. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 now offers leading-edge performanc­e at a competitiv­e price, plus a top-notch screen and inking experience. We think that the Surface Pro 8 is simply the best Windows tablet on the market right now.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 PROS

• Superior screen: larger, higher-res, higher refresh

rate.

• Inking is a pleasure.

• Good audio, with louder speakers. New optional

Type Cover integrates pen well.

CONS

• Webcam might need some tweaking. • Pen and keyboard still cost extra.

BOTTOM LINE

The Surface Pro 8 offers an excellent upgrade to Microsoft’s tablet lineup, with superior performanc­e, inking, and audio, providing very good value for the money.

$999

 ?? ??
 ?? ?? On the left-hand side of the Surface Pro 8 sits the volume rocker and headphone jack.
On the left-hand side of the Surface Pro 8 sits the volume rocker and headphone jack.
 ?? ?? The color gamut for the Surface Pro 8, as measured by our Datacolor Spyderx colorimete­r.
The color gamut for the Surface Pro 8, as measured by our Datacolor Spyderx colorimete­r.
 ?? ?? On the right-hand side sits the Surface Connect power port, the two Thunderbol­t/usb-c ports, and the power button.
On the right-hand side sits the Surface Connect power port, the two Thunderbol­t/usb-c ports, and the power button.
 ?? ?? The Signature Keyboard connects to the tablet and provides a lightweigh­t, comfortabl­e typing experience.
The Signature Keyboard connects to the tablet and provides a lightweigh­t, comfortabl­e typing experience.
 ?? ?? The Surface Slim Pen 2 (sold separately) sits neatly in its dedicated charging cubby.
The Surface Slim Pen 2 (sold separately) sits neatly in its dedicated charging cubby.
 ?? ?? This is what we found when we tested the Surface Pro 8 to determine the ink jitter, or how well the pen tracked our movements. We created these lines by drawing in the tablet with a straight edge. They should be perfectly straight, but there’s still a slight wiggle or rippling effect while drawing slowly. In all, however, it’s pretty good.
This is what we found when we tested the Surface Pro 8 to determine the ink jitter, or how well the pen tracked our movements. We created these lines by drawing in the tablet with a straight edge. They should be perfectly straight, but there’s still a slight wiggle or rippling effect while drawing slowly. In all, however, it’s pretty good.
 ?? ?? I’m Irish on my mother’s side, but I certainly haven’t been this “sunburned” in a while. This isn’t color accurate where my skin tone is concerned!
I’m Irish on my mother’s side, but I certainly haven’t been this “sunburned” in a while. This isn’t color accurate where my skin tone is concerned!
 ?? ?? At default settings, the Surface Pro 8’s performanc­e in our everyday Pcmark 10 benchmark falls just under that of its tablet competitio­n. If you choose to dial up performanc­e, your results will increase as well.
At default settings, the Surface Pro 8’s performanc­e in our everyday Pcmark 10 benchmark falls just under that of its tablet competitio­n. If you choose to dial up performanc­e, your results will increase as well.
 ?? ?? The Surface Pro 8’s CPU performanc­e is excellent under our revised testing results.
The Surface Pro 8’s CPU performanc­e is excellent under our revised testing results.
 ?? ?? Only the Surface Laptop 4 outperform­ed the Surface Pro 8 in our Handbrake tests.
Only the Surface Laptop 4 outperform­ed the Surface Pro 8 in our Handbrake tests.
 ?? ?? Microsoft may be running the Iris Xe at a higher clock rate to achieve increased performanc­e, but it’s paying off.
Microsoft may be running the Iris Xe at a higher clock rate to achieve increased performanc­e, but it’s paying off.
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States