Microsoft’s evolution of versatility and performance

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 is the next 2-in-1 from the long-standing premium brand that places a clear focus on Microsoft’s vision of modern computing. I spent time with the Pro 9 to find out Redmond’s latest thoughts on tablet space.

The Surface Pro 9 is Microsoft’s latest 2-in-1 and the third to use the design language introduced with the Surface Pro X. Thanks to the magnesium body you have a light device, but not so light that it feels fragile.

The Pro 9 uses a reduced bezel size, which allows the 12.3-inch display to dominate the device. Once again, Microsoft has opted for a 3:2 ratio screen, which is much better for “work” on the go than the 16:9 screens found in more leisure-oriented computers. You still have the legendary kickstand to adjust the display to the best position for use, and support for the Surface Pen and the detachable Surface Keyboard. Both remain additional purchases, so the Surface Pro 9’s hefty price tag is – once again – a thorn in its tail if you need the full experience.

The Surface Pro 9 series consists of two devices. While the Surface line has always offered different tiers of Intel processors, the Surface Pro 9 also offers an ARM-based version; We have both the sequel to the Surface Pro 8 and the Surface Pro X.

My test device is the Intel-based version. This is more suited to tasks that require additional processing power – video and media editing come to mind as well as complex legacy x86 applications. The ARM-based version is geared towards being a highly mobile device with longer battery life and better connectivity. Practically, the Intel-based Pro 9 I’m reviewing can consistently hit the seven-hour mark for battery life in my mixed use in the real world.

Notably, the ARM-based version is the only version with 5G connectivity, although it tops out with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage… the Intel models go all the way up to 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage on the Core i7 model.

How does the Surface Pro 9 work in everyday life?

The touchscreen is impressive and with a resolution of 2736 x 1824 pixels there is a lot of information on the screen. This is particularly noticeable when running Office-based apps. I’m all for putting as much information on the screen as possible, especially on web pages, and again, the wide display allows for that.

I’d also like to highlight Microsoft’s use of tiling multiple app windows and the “preset” configurations that you can quickly switch to. While a lot of the UI furniture is yet to be displayed, the larger screen means you don’t miss out on as much information compared to smaller displays with a 16:9 ratio screen.

As a device for consuming content, the Pro 9 is excellent (if pricey). Due to its light weight and long battery life, there is great confidence that the machine will keep going in your hand once you grab it and go. Where it starts to get awkward is with content creation. Because with the best will in the world, using your fingers to touch and the onscreen keyboard to type isn’t quick or brisk. It’s handy in short bursts, but trying to use the bare Surface Pro 9 when creativity is flowing fast isn’t pretty.

Microsoft didn’t ship a keyboard or Surface Pen with the review unit, and I did my best to just look at the Pro 9, but I’ll be honest… after two weeks I gave in and popped the Surface Keyboard and Slim Pen from my older Surface Pro X to the Pro 9. At least a certain backward compatibility is offered.

The Surface Pro line was an evolutionary line. There have rarely been massive jumps in supply; everything was a slight improvement over previous models. Record the inclusion of 5G connectivity in the ARM-based model. That builds on the Pro X’s 4G LTE, which then transitioned to the Surface Pro 8. Both the Surface Pen and the accuracy of the touchscreen have improved over time, with more precision added to the screen and more features like pressure sensitivity of the pen and a faster inking experience thanks to the hardware.

There must be some first steps to begin this journey. For the Surface Pro 9, I’d argue that bringing ARM into the main Pro line is the big step forward and everything else is a result of aggressively applying Moore’s Law.

The Surface Pro 9 has the very best definition of the word. It has everything you would expect from a tablet computer – from a large and responsive screen, to being light weight and easy portability, to secondary features that provide consumers with a good quality of life.

In my opinion, Microsoft is pushing the limits with the ARM-powered version of the Surface Pro 9. Not only does it offer the advantages of ARM in terms of battery life and portability, but it also includes improved video calling software with AI that enables improved audio and image quality.

Would it have been nice if this was added to the Intel version? Yes, but it’s far from a deal-breaker.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro is a versatile line that has worked hard to establish the Windows-based tablet as a viable option for many. However, the two biggest problems – which are inextricably linked – remain. The Surface Pro 9 is an expensive option. You pay a premium to opt for a 2-in-1 over a regular laptop. And if you want the full potential of the 2-in-1, you’ll have to pay even more for the keyboard and pen.

What you get is a powerful, lightweight, and portable computer. The physical design feels reliable and premium; in use it is comfortable to use and responsive; and with the Microsoft name and the longevity of the Surface Pro brand, there’s a sense of comfort and reliability around the product.

Now read my review of Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio, the transformative laptop with high-end performance…

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