Surface Pro 9 review The Windows alternative to MacBook.

Surface Pro 9 review The Windows alternative to MacBook.

Microsoft Unveils Surface Pro 9: A Familiar yet Impressive Upgrade

Earlier this month, Microsoft marked the 10-year anniversary of its Surface product line with the launch of a new series of Surface hardware. The Surface Pro 9, in particular, has garnered attention for its combination of Windows-on-Arm and Intel-based platforms within the same sleek design. While the Surface Pro 9 may not have delivered a knockout punch in 2022, it still sets the stage for an exciting 2023 for Microsoft hardware.

A Familiar Design with Subtle Improvements

The Surface Pro 9 retains the same 3:2, 13-inch PixelSense Flow Display found in its predecessor, the Surface Pro 8. The aluminium and brushed metal design has also been preserved, with some subtle improvements such as relocating the volume rocker and power button to the top of the device and enhancing the ventilation channels for better cooling. The review unit we tested came in a stunning new Sapphire colorway, which blends sky blue and silver tones to create a clean and attractive aesthetic.

One notable disappointment is the omission of the keyboard in the package. Although the Surface Slim Pen 2 and Signature Keyboard are sold separately, they are essential accessories for enjoying the optimal Surface Pro experience. Microsoft’s keyboard and pen are highly regarded for their responsiveness, tactile feedback, and ease of use. However, the additional cost of these accessories, coupled with the starting price of $999 for the Intel Core i5, 128GB model, makes the complete Surface Pro 9 setup a pricy investment.

Impressive Display and Performance

The Surface Pro 9 boasts a 13-inch PixelSense Flow Display with outstanding color accuracy, making it suitable for tasks such as photo editing. With the same 120Hz refresh rate as its predecessor, animations are smooth to the touch and the eyes. Although the default setting for the display is 60Hz, users can adjust it to 120Hz or take advantage of the Dynamic Refresh Rate feature in Windows 11, which automatically adjusts the refresh rate based on tasks.

In terms of ports and connectivity, the Surface Pro 9 offers two USB-C ports (4.0 Thunderbolt on the Intel model, 3.2 on the 5G model), a Surface Connect port for charging or a Surface Dock, a nano SIM card slot on the 5G variant, and a removable socket for the SSD. It’s worth noting that the Intel version with Thunderbolt 4 support is more suitable for power users requiring connectivity to office workstations.

Intel or Arm: Choosing the Right Configuration

The decision to opt for the Intel or Arm variant of the Surface Pro 9 depends on individual requirements and use cases. The Intel models are designed for those who seek top-tier computing power, allowing for tasks such as connecting to a 4K monitor or utilizing external GPUs. On the other hand, the Arm-based SQ3 variant incorporates Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 chip, providing 5G connectivity and improved battery life, particularly suitable for digital nomads.

During performance testing, the Intel Core i7 model with 16GB RAM handled a standard workflow flawlessly, including online content management, research, fact-checking, and even photo editing on Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. The device’s front-facing camera also impressed, offering sharp focus and natural-looking video calls, thanks to its downward angle that prevents the “nose-deep” effect typically associated with laptop cameras.

Battery Life and Final Thoughts

Although we weren’t able to test the endurance of the SQ3 model, the Intel-based Surface Pro 9 delivered a respectable six hours of battery life per charge under intensive usage. Considering the inclusion of the 120Hz refresh rate and brightness set to 65%, this is a solid performance. However, it should be noted that the increased value proposition comes with a higher price tag, especially when factoring in the cost of essential accessories.

While the Surface Pro 9 does not push the envelope in terms of innovation, it still deserves recognition as a reliable and powerful device. However, given the competitive landscape of the PC market, the cost of necessary accessories, and the dominance of Apple’s M1 and M2-powered laptops in the $1,400 price range, it may be difficult for Microsoft to attract customers who are seeking a truly transformative computing experience.

For those considering alternatives to the Surface Pro 9, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5, Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2022), and Dell XPS 13 9305 are worth exploring as they offer comparable features and performance.

In conclusion, while the Surface Pro 9 is not a groundbreaking release, it remains a solid contender in the two-in-one PC market and will surely find its place in our year-end rankings. Microsoft has delivered a refined and powerful device that will appeal to users seeking a reliable and versatile computing experience.