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Microsoft Surface Comparison: Don’t Buy The Wrong Laptop or Tablet

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Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Test

If you’re looking for a Microsoft Surface, you might have a problem understanding the differences between the different models.

Fret not, here’s the quickest summary ever:

Surface Laptop Series Summarized

The Surface Laptop series is very similar to a traditional laptop with an attached keyboard.

Surface Laptop Studio: Most powerful, most expensive, has flexible screen configurations.

Surface Laptop Go: Laptop with a focus on portability. Smallest display among the Laptop series at 12”.

Surface Laptop: A laptop with a focus on long battery life and sleekness. Decent performance for everyday use.

Surface Go, Pro Series Summarized

The Surface Go and Pro series are tablets, but they are usually paired with a detachable keyboard, which allows them to function like a laptop. No Surface Go or Pro has an integrated graphics card.

Surface Go: Prioritizes compactness at the cost of performance. It comes with a 10-inch screen, but generally has less RAM, less memory and a weaker processor than its Surface peers. 

Surface Pro (except Pro X and Pro 9 with SQ 3 processor): Powerful Surface tablet with good everyday capabilities.

Surface Pro X and Pro 9 with SQ 3 processor: Comes with the Microsoft SQ-series processor, which is based on the ARM architecture. Not recommended for people seeking a traditional Windows experience because of compatibility issues — scroll to the final section of this article for elaboration.

 
 
 
$399.99$243.00
$399.99$318.99
N/A
Description:

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a 10.5-inch Windows tablet with an optional keyboard cover and optional Surface Pen. It's a great and very portable 2-in-1 device that runs full Windows 11 and has lots of great features. However, it's a couple of years old now - the newest is the Surface Go 4. The Surface Go 2 can be a great buy, however, as long as you can find a great deal.

Description:

The Microsoft Surface Go 3 is a 10.5-inch Windows tablet with an Intel Pentium Gold chipset, 4GB of RAM and at least 64GB of internal storage. You can get it with a good keyboard cover and a fantastic Surface Pen. While we reviewed the predecessors, we never tried the Go 3 ourselves.

Description:

The Microsoft Surface Go 4 is an excellent choice if you're looking for a 10-inch Windows tablet. It offers a pretty display, a high-quality design, an excellent Surface Pen and a good keyboard. The performance is very good, especially for office work, but I can't recommend it as a gaming tablet or for graphic work. It's also a shame that it's quite expensive.

$399.99$243.00
Description:

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a 10.5-inch Windows tablet with an optional keyboard cover and optional Surface Pen. It's a great and very portable 2-in-1 device that runs full Windows 11 and has lots of great features. However, it's a couple of years old now - the newest is the Surface Go 4. The Surface Go 2 can be a great buy, however, as long as you can find a great deal.

$399.99$318.99
Description:

The Microsoft Surface Go 3 is a 10.5-inch Windows tablet with an Intel Pentium Gold chipset, 4GB of RAM and at least 64GB of internal storage. You can get it with a good keyboard cover and a fantastic Surface Pen. While we reviewed the predecessors, we never tried the Go 3 ourselves.

N/A
Description:

The Microsoft Surface Go 4 is an excellent choice if you're looking for a 10-inch Windows tablet. It offers a pretty display, a high-quality design, an excellent Surface Pen and a good keyboard. The performance is very good, especially for office work, but I can't recommend it as a gaming tablet or for graphic work. It's also a shame that it's quite expensive.

02/28/2024 05:23 pm GMT

Surface Pro

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Test
ModelSurface Pro 9
DimensionsSurface Pro 9 (Intel/Wifi):
Length: 11.3”(287 mm)
Width: 8.2” (209 mm)
Height: 0.37” (9.3 mm)

Surface Pro 9 (SQ® 3/5G):
Length: 11.3” (287 mm)
Width: 8.2” (209 mm)
Height: 0.37” (9.3 mm)
DisplaySurface Pro 9 (Intel/Wifi):
Screen: 13” PixelSense™ Flow Display
Resolution: 2880 X 1920 (267 PPI)
Color profile: sRGB and Vivid Refresh rate up to 120Hz (Dynamic refresh rate supported)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio: 1200:1
Adaptive Color
Auto Color Management supported
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
Dolby Vision IQ™ support17
Gorilla® Glass 5

Surface Pro 9 (SQ® 3/5G):
Screen: 13” PixelSense™ Flow Display
Resolution: 2880 X 1920 (267 PPI)
Color profile: sRGB and Vivid
Dynamic refresh rate up to 120Hz
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio: 1200:1
Adaptive Color
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
Gorilla® Glass 5
MemorySurface Pro 9: 8GB, 16GB, 32GB (LPDDR5 RAM)
Surface Pro 9 with 5G: 8GB or 16GB LPDDR4x RAM
ProcessorSurface Pro 9:
12th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1235U processor
12th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-1255U processor
Options with storage 256 GB and above built on the Intel® Evo™ platform

Surface Pro 9 with 5G:
Microsoft SQ® 3 processor
Neural Processing Unit (NPU)
WeightAbout 1.95lb (880g)
StorageSurface Pro 9: 8GB, 16GB, 32GB (LPDDR5 RAM)
Surface Pro 9 with 5G: 8GB or 16GB LPDDR4x RAM
Surface Pro 9 (Intel/Wifi): Removable drive (SSD) options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Surface Pro 9 (SQ® 3/5G): Removable drive (SSD) options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
GraphicsSurface Pro 9:
12th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1235U processor
12th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-1255U processor
Options with storage 256 GB and above built on the Intel® Evo™ platform

Surface Pro 9 with 5G:
Microsoft SQ® 3 processor
Neural Processing Unit (NPU)
PortsUSB-C® 3.1 (data, DisplayPort and charging)
MicroSDXC card reader
3.5 mm headphone jack
Surface Type Cover port
Surface Connect port
Cameras1080p Full HD front-facing camera
8 MP 1080p Full HD rear-facing camera
Windows Hello face authentication camera

This is a winner. The Surface Pro is a great computer for people who want to buy a one-size-fits-all Windows tablet.

Unlike the Surface Laptop series, you can also use the Surface Pro as a tablet. Making it convenient for watching movies and reading PDFs comfortably.

Trust me, if I weren’t such a sucker for the small size of the Surface Go, I’d already have the Surface Pro. Unlike the Surface Go, the Surface Pro opens apps up much faster because of its stronger hardware.

Best Windows Tablet
Microsoft Surface Pro 9
$1,099.99 $941.00

The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is the best Windows tablet you can buy at the moment. It offers a premium built, newest Intel processors, a pretty 120Hz display, as well as fantastic accessoires with the Slim Pen 2 and Signature Keyboard. Sadly, the battery life is short and not much has changed compared to the Surface Pro 8.

Buy on Amazon Our Review
02/28/2024 05:43 pm GMT

We’ve reviewed the Surface Pro several times now, and it has proven to be a great, capable on-the-go computer due to its compact size and decent hardware. It’ll run Photoshop smoothly and can play games decently.

Note that with the Surface Pro 9, you have the option to buy the SQ-3 version which is an ARM chip. If you want a traditional Windows experience, you should buy the Intel version.

Read More: Surface Pro 9 Review

Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go 2 test
ModelSurface Go 4 for Business
DimensionsLength: 9.65 inch (245 mm)
Width: 6.9 inch (175 mm)
Height: 0.33 inch (8.3 mm)
DisplayTouchscreen: 10.5-inch PixelSense™ Display
Resolution: 1920 x 1280 (220 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio: 1500:1
Color profile: sRGB and Enhanced
Individually color-calibrated display
Touch: 10 point multi-touch
Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3
Memory8GB LPDDR5 RAM
ProcessorIntel® Processor N200
Weight1.15 lbs (521 g)
StorageUFS Drive: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
GraphicsIntel® UHD Graphics
PortsUSB-C® 3.1 (data, DisplayPort and charging)
MicroSDXC card reader
3.5 mm headphone jack
Surface Type Cover port
Surface Connect port
Cameras1080p Full HD front-facing camera
8 MP 1080p Full HD rear-facing camera
Windows Hello face authentication camera

The Surface Go is one of the most compact Windows tablets you can buy from a major manufacturer. 

It’s the closest equivalent to a netbook. Around 2010, there was a class of Windows computers that were specifically meant for very simple tasks, and they were built around Windows 7.

The Surface Go is very similar in terms of what it’s trying to achieve. You can browse the web, play simple games, create documents, play videos, etc.

But try to use Photoshop, watch 4K video or anything else, and you’ll start seeing why you should buy the Surface Pro. A good number of games aren’t playable either, and here’s a list for your reference.

The beauty of the Surface Go is how compact it is. I bring it with me almost everywhere because I can easily put it in my bag. It’s lightweight and has a decent battery life for on-the-go work.

At the time of writing, individuals can still buy the Surface Go 3 from Microsoft. Its cheapest model is $439 which makes it a very affordable Microsoft tablet. Budget an extra $100 for the official keyboard. The Surface Go 4 is currently only available from Microsoft’s Small Business website and starts at $579.

Read More: Surface Go 4 vs Surface Go 3

Surface Pro X

Dimensions11.3” x 8.2” x 0.28” (287 mm x 208 mm x 7.3 mm)
DisplayScreen: 13” PixelSense™ Display
Resolution: 2880×1920 (267 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Touch: 10 point multi-touch
Memory8GB or 16GB LPDDR4x RAM
ProcessorMicrosoft SQ® 1
Microsoft SQ® 2
Weight1.7 lb (774g)
StorageRemovable solid-state drive (SSD) options: 128, 256, or 512GB
GraphicsMicrosoft SQ® 1 Adreno™ 685 GPU
Microsoft SQ® 2 Adreno™ 690 GPU
Ports2 x USB-C®
1 x Surface Connect port
Surface Keyboard port
1 x nano SIM
Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction*
Cameras5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p full HD video
10.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD and 4k video

Microsoft is back again with an ARM-powered computer. However, this system really isn’t most ideal for everyone.

Let me ask you: have you ever used a Windows app on your Android phone (which probably has an ARM chip)?

Now there’s your problem!

The benefit of using an ARM processor over an Intel chip comes down to longer battery life due to its higher energy efficiency. Despite having a pretty big screen, it still manages to get 13 hours of battery life which is pretty amazing.

An ARM chip is a bit different from an Intel processor. So, some software might not run at all, such as Adobe’s software like Photoshop, Lightroom and other software in the Creative Cloud suite.

You might be able to run those software through an emulator that bridges the gap between the ARM chip and an intel chip.

Which leads to the question… why not just buy another Surface model with an Intel chip? Especially considering the prices are neck-and-neck.

Read: Our Microsoft Surface Pro X Review

Surface Laptop Studio

DimensionsLength: 12.72”
Width: 9.06”
Height: 0.86”
DisplayTouchscreen: 14.4” PixelSense™ Flow Display
Resolution: 2400 x 1600 (200 PPI) 
Refresh rate: up to 120Hz 
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio: 1500:1
Color profile: sRGB and Vivid
Individually color-calibrated display
VESA DisplayHDR 400 certified
Dolby Vision IQ 11 support
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
Corning Gorilla Glass 5 display
Memory16GB, 32GB or 64GB LPDDR5x RAM
Processor13th Gen Intel Core™ i7-13700H Processor
Built on the Intel Evo™ platform
Intel Gen3 Movidius 3700VC VPU AI Accelerator
WeightIntel Iris Xe graphics model: 4.18 lbs

NVIDIA® graphics models: 4.37 lbs
StorageRemovable solid-state drive (Gen 4 SSD) options: 512GB, 1TB or 2TB
GraphicsNVIDIA GeForce RTX™ 4050 Laptop GPU with 6GB GDDR6 vRAM
2130 MHz boost clock speed, 80W maximum graphics power
NVIDIA GeForce RTX™ 4060 Laptop GPU with 8GB GDDR6 vRAM
2010 MHz boost clock speed, 80W maximum graphics power
NVIDIA RTX™ 2000 Ada Generation Laptop GPU with 8GB GDDR6 vRAM
2115 MHz boost clock speed, 80W maximum graphics power
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Ports2 x USB-C with USB4/ Thunderbolt™ 4 (with DisplayPort and Power Delivery)
USB-A 3.1
MicroSDXC card reader
3.5 mm headphone jack 
Surface Connect port
CamerasFull HD front-facing Studio camera
1080p Full HD camera with wide field of view
Windows Studio Effects with Auto Framing, Eye Contact, and Background Blur
Windows Hello 2.0 face authentication camera

The Surface Laptop Studio is blazingly powerful which also explains why its price starts at $1,999.99 and can go over $3,000.

Not only will you have the latest 13th-generation Intel processor on all models, but you can upgrade and get the Nvidia RTX 4050, 4060 or 2000 Ada graphics chips.

You also get an Intel Movidius neural processing unit that’s meant to enhance AI processing speed.

That’s three dedicated chips in the Laptop Studio, but to be fair, the use for the Movidius AI chip is still limited.

The Surface Laptop Studio folds in a unique way. Imagine having a Surface Pro but your kickstand is mounted on a base where the keyboard is.

This gives you two points of rotation. You can adjust the screen as you would a normal laptop. This gives you the traditional “L” shape laptop. However, you can also use the kickstand to bring the screen closer to you, hence giving you a triangular shape.

Surface Laptop

ModelSurface Laptop 5
DimensionsSurface Laptop 5 13.5”:
Length: 12.1” (308 mm)
Width: 8.8” (223 mm)
Height: .57” (14.5 mm)

​​​​Surface Laptop 5 15”:
Length: 13.4” (340 mm)
Width: 9.6” (244 mm)
Height: .58” (14.7 mm)
DisplaySurface Laptop 5 13.5”:
Screen: 13.5” PixelSense™ Display
Resolution: 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio 1300:1
Color profile: sRGB, and Vivid
Individually color-calibrated display
Dolby Vision IQ™ support
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
Gorilla® Glass 3 display on laptop with Alcantara® palm rest
Gorilla® Glass 5 display on laptop with metal palm rest

Surface Laptop 5 15”:
Screen: 15” PixelSense™ Display
Resolution: 2496 x 1664 (201 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio 1300:1
Color profile: sRGB, and Vivid
Individually color-calibrated display
Dolby Vision IQ™ support
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
Gorilla® Glass 5
MemorySurface Laptop 5 13.5”
8GB, 16GB LPDDR5x RAM
Removable solid-state drive (SSD) options: 256GB, 512GB

Surface Laptop 5 15”
8GB, 16GB, or 32GB LPDDR5x RAM
Removable solid-state drive (SSD) options: 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB
ProcessorSurface Laptop 5 13.5”:
12th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1235U processor
12th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-1255U processor
Built on the Intel® Evo™ platform

Surface Laptop 5 15”:
12th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-1255U processor
Built on the Intel® Evo™ platform
Weight2.86lbs (1.297kg) for 13.5″; 3.44lbs (1.545kg) for 15″.
StorageRemovable solid-state drive (SSD) options: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB (on the 15″ only)
GraphicsIntel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Ports1 x USB-C® with USB 4.0/Thunderbolt™ 4
1 x USB-A 3.1
3.5mm headphone jack
1 x Surface Connect port
CamerasWindows Hello Face Authentication camera
720p HD front facing camera

If you want a plain old laptop, then the Surface Laptop might fit the bill.

The Surface Laptop is great because has great specs and a nice 13.5″ or 15″ screen, making it a good desktop replacement. It has a great design and is highly portable, weighing in at 2.86 lbs (1.297 kg) for the lightest model. Plus, battery life is quoted at 17-18 hours, which is pretty incredible, even if in real-world usage, you only get half to three-quarters of that.

However, when you buy a Surface Laptop, you might be thinking, “Why don’t I look at other manufacturers?”

If you look at specs only, you might be able to get a better deal elsewhere, while Microsoft’s products are great, they command a premium. The Surface Laptop has huge competition because it’s basically just a laptop. There are a bunch of manufacturers out there who make a very similar product, such as Dell’s XPS range with a focus on portability.

FeatureCheapest Dell XPS 13Cheapest Microsoft Surface Laptop
Price$599 on discount, $799 regular$799 on discount, $999 regular
Processor12th Gen Intel Core i5-1230U12th Gen Intel® Core™ i5
RAM8GB8GB
Storage256GB SSD256GB SSD
Display13.4″ 13.5″
DimensionsHeight : 0.55 in. (13.99 mm)
Width: 11.63 in. (295.4 mm)
Depth: 7.86 in. (199.4 mm)
Height: 0.86”
Width: 12.72”
Depth: 9.06”
Min. weight2.59lb (1.17kg)2.86lbs (1.297kg)

The starting price for the 15″ is $1,099, but you do not get a dedicated graphics card. If you want to play new games and render videos, then you might consider spending that money on a gaming PC instead. At $1,000, you can get an entry-level Nvidia or AMD Radeon graphics card. Of course, with gaming PCs, portability and battery life aren’t the biggest priorities.

Read: Our Beginners Guide To Using A Windows Tablet

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

ModelSurface Laptop Go 3
DimensionsLength: 10.95”
Width: 8.12”
Height: 0.62”
DisplayTouchscreen: 12.4” PixelSense™ Display
Resolution: 1536 x 1024 (148 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio: 1000:1
Color profile: sRGB and Enhanced
Individually color-calibrated display
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
CorningFootnote® GorillaFootnote® Glass 3
Memory8GB or 16GB LPDDR5 RAM
Processor12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U Processor
Weight2.49 lbs
StorageRemovable solid-state drive (SSD) options: 256GB
GraphicsIntel® Iris® Xe Graphics
PortsUSB-C 3.2 (data, DisplayPort and charging)
USB-A 3.1
3.5 mm headphone jack
Surface Connect port
Cameras720p HD front-facing camera

It’s an ultraportable laptop, weighing in at 2.49 lbs (1.1 kg) and with a small 12.4-inch screen.

The Surface Laptop Go 3 has a few important upgrades compared to its predecessor, such as getting rid of the 4GB RAM configuration. That really sucks in today’s use — I know first-hand because I am typing this on a 4GB Surface. It also has a useful fingerprint sensor, which I’d rather have over facial recognition logins (it’s slow and finicky).

My thoughts here aren’t too far off from what I wrote about the Surface Laptop. It faces steep competition from other brands. In fact, the first thing I wondered is… what do I get if I bought a Surface Go tablet instead?

Let’s take a look.

FeatureSurface Go 3 (top-tier)Surface Laptop Go 3 (base model)
Price$629 on discount, $729 regular (prices quoted with $100 keyboard add-on)$699 discounted, $799 regular
ProcessorIntel Core i3Intel Core i5
RAM8GB8GB
Storage128GB SSD256GB SSD
Display10.5″ at 1920×1280 pixels13.5″ with 1536 x 1024 pixels
Dimensions9.65” x 6.9” x 0.33” (245 mm x 175 mm x 8.3 mm) keyboard excludedLength: 10.95”
Width: 8.12”
Height: 0.62”
Weight1.2lb (544g) keyboard excluded2.49 lbs (1.1kg)

I conclude that you get much less bang for buck in terms of specifications with the Surface Go 3. A weaker processor and less storage come to mind immediately. And $100 for the official keyboard makes me scream — that’s about a quarter of the value of the base-model Surface Go 3.

However, the Surface Go 3 wins in terms of its portability, being lighter and smaller. Plus, you can use it as a tablet by detaching the keyboard. It also has a higher resolution screen than the Surface Laptop Go 3.

What is the Surface Pen and Should You Buy It?

Microsoft Surface Go 2 with Surface Pen

When you buy a Surface Pro or Go tablet, you will be asked if you want to buy the keyboard. You should be able to judge whether you need a keyboard, so I’ll leave that to you.

However, another accessory that you might be considering is the Surface Pen. The Surface Pen really comes to life when you have apps that accompany and enhance the experience of using a pen.

Some features that are immediately obvious are painting, drawing or Photoshop editing, when you need to be able to use pen pressure to adjust the stroke and opacity of your drawing tool. I enjoyed using the Surface Pen on the Surface’s display because I could see exactly where I was drawing on. It’s much more intuitive than using an off-screen graphics tablet, which I use on my main computer. That took a bit of training.

Notetaking apps are also particularly helpful because they allow you to have an endless supply of paper on your Surface. No more piles of notebooks! I found it useful when learning to write a new alphabet or Chinese/Japanese characters. Practicing penmanship takes a lot of paper.

Unfortunately, I believe the downside involves how weird it is to write on glass. Take a pencil and write on your window, because that’s how it feels. To be fair, the Surface Slim Pen 2 has haptic feedback which can help mimic the feeling of writing on paper — as long as your app and Surface support it.

ARM vs Intel Processors

Microsoft’s moves into integrating ARM processors again might spur your curiosity on why Microsoft would create a product that seems so niche.

Microsoft has a whole page explaining the pros and cons. Here are the main points, summarized.

  • Always be connected to the internet with a cellular signal
  • Better battery life because of better power efficiency (in other words, no plugging in during a typical work or school day)
  • Turn on instantly

And here’s why you shouldn’t get an ARM-based Surface.

  • Drivers for hardware, games and apps will only work if designed for a Windows 11 ARM-based device.
  • Driver incompatibility means some devices, games and apps might not work.
  • Apps that might not work include Windows Fax and Scan, apps that customize Windows such as assistive tech, cloud storage apps, and antivirus software.

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