Microsoft Surface Pro 9 vs. Surface Pro 8

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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 slew of updates with it, the Surface Pro 9 is a more subtle change from its predecessor.

Its outward appearance being 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.

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Design and connectivity

  • Both: 287 x 208 x 9.3mm / 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 remained essentially the same with the latest generation Surface Pro. Input-output is essentially 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, like on the Surface Pro 8.

Well, that’s true for Intel-based models, at least. Microsoft introduced an ARM-powered 5G model with this generation, which we’ll explore in more depth later in this article. The ARM model features 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, for some reason, ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack. Given that the chassis is otherwise identical in size, we’re not sure why this should be removed, and that’s certainly bad news for fans of wired headphones.

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There are a few new color options this time around, and these are exclusive to Intel-based models. There’s Sapphire, which is a light blue colourway, and Forest, which is a green offering. Both are very nice additions and they add a bit of flavor to the otherwise minimalist design, we’re particularly fond of the Forest option, it looks great.

Screen and cameras

  • Both: 13-inch 3:2 PixelSense Flow display, 2880 x 1920 @ 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 screen update on the Surface Pro 9, but that’s no bad thing, the screen was great on the Surface Pro 8 and it’s essentially making a comeback here. Both offer a 13-inch panel with a convenient 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 it is not needed.

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New is support for Dolby Vision IQ, which uses a sensor to adjust picture settings based on ambient light. How much better it 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 sets the displays apart.

Another thing we noticed is that Microsoft specifies that the Surface Pro 9’s screen is covered with Gorilla Glass 5, which is great for durability. The type of glass used on the Surface Pro 8 wasn’t listed, 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, allowing it to enhance audio and video functions using AI.

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There are a variety of things it allows, most of which center around video conferencing. This ranges from fairly mundane things like blurring the background to simulating eye contact by increasing the pupil position. This could either make conference calls a lot more natural or be quite disturbing, 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 frequently works in shared offices or cafes, this feature could 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 Generation 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 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 bring 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.

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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 mainline 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 intrigued to find out how it performs. Of course, it gets 5G connectivity, which is a huge selling point, along with all of its AI camera upgrades. It should also have better battery life. But, previous ARM-based Surface devices have all suffered from poor software compatibility, massively limiting their appeal. We can only imagine that’s the case here too, but we’d love to be shown otherwise.

Elsewhere, configuration options for storage and RAM 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.

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Battery life is, surprisingly, quoted 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 battery life up to 19 hours.

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Verdict

If we focus on the Intel models, which are likely to be the most popular, then we’ve basically seen a processor upgrade and a few new colors added for 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 complete. For many tasks, the older Surface Pro 8 will be more than enough, and it should get deep discounts now that its successor is out. However, if you know you’re going to be looking to do more intensive tasks, such as video editing, upgrading to a 12th-gen chip is probably going to be worth the extra outlay.

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 that’s 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 improvements could prove to be valuable assets if they work as advertised. In addition, the battery life will be longer, which is not negligible.

Written by Luke Baker.

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