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Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Review: A Cheap iPad Pro Alternative?

My review shows that the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is a fantastic Windows tablet. However, it has one big downside.

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Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Review

The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is the latest flagship tablet from Microsoft. For the first time, they combine the Intel version and the Surface Pro X in one device – so you can get the Surface Pro 9 with an Intel processor or with an ARM chipset. Just the internal hardware has changed compared to the Pro 8. And that’s why we’ll start this review with exactly that. 

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 on* Amazon

Hardware & Performance

You can get the Surface Pro 9 with a 12th generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor, or with a Microsoft SQ3 ARM chipset that they developed together with Qualcomm. You can choose between 8GB and 32GB of RAM, as well as between a 128GB up to 1TB SSD. While only the ARM version supports 5G, you can quickly and easily swap out the SSD yourself on all of them.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Geekbench 5

My Surface Pro 9 is the cheapest version for 1000 US Dollars or 1299 Euros with the Core i5, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. As you can see, it is not cheap, because I spent 1279 Dollars or 1479 Euros with keyboard and pen. It is interesting that Microsoft has not raised the prices as much as Apple. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro costs 1099 Dollars or 1449 Euros without accessories and 1577 Dollars or 2027 Euros with Magic Keyboard and Pencil.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 3D Mark

Thus, the Surface Pro 9 is cheaper than the iPad Pro. In benchmarks like Geekbench 5 and the 3D Mark Wild Life test, it’s also weaker than the Apple tablet, and noticeably so. At the same time, it’s only slightly more powerful than last year’s Surface Pro 8. So, it’s the fastest Windows tablet on the market, but only by a small margin.

My video render test confirms the benchmarks. It renders a 9-minute 4K video only slightly faster than the Surface Pro 8 in Adobe Premiere Rush. At the same time, the iPad Pro and Air are snappier. The iPad 10 is just as fast.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Premiere Rush

I recommend the Surface Pro 9 more as an office tablet for someone who wants a premium device with Windows. It’s well suited for Microsoft Office including Excel and OneNote, but also Google Chrome and comparable apps. Even with intensive multitasking. Everything runs quickly and smoothly.

Of course, you can also install and use more sophisticated programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Both work well, and yes, even when using the stylus. But for intensive Photoshop work, and even more so if you want to edit videos with Premiere Pro, I recommend choosing at least 16GB of RAM.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Photoshop

Read: The Best Surface Pro Alternatives

If you don’t necessarily want to play Windows games, then I wouldn’t recommend it as a gaming tablet. However, you can still play games on the Surface Pro 9. I tried Apex Legend and it runs smoothly with default settings and 720p resolution. The frame rate is between 30 and 60 FPS.

I also think it’s playable when I turn up the resolution to 1440 x 900 pixels. Then it’s mostly between 25 and 40 FPS, which is only too low for demanding gamers. However, the graphics performance is too weak for a Full HD resolution, because the frame rate often drops below 24 FPS. As usual, the tablet gets very warm when gaming and you can also hear the active fans.

ARM or Intel?

Such games, as well as Adobe Premiere Pro or Rush, work with the Intel version only. Many games and also some traditional Windows programs do not run on the ARM version and this can include drivers.

Others like Google Chrome and Adobe Photoshop run in an emulator and perform much worse as a result. On the ARM version of Windows, the system itself, as well as Microsoft Office and many apps from the Microsoft Store run flawlessly. In general, though, programs you download from the Internet will only run emulated.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Windows 11

I opted for the Intel version because I recently tested a Windows ARM tablet with the Xiaomi Book S 12.4. It is a bit weaker, but the problems are the same. I think it’s a real shame that only the ARM version has 5G. But I think most people who buy a Windows tablet want to use normal Windows 11 and not the ARM version.

Read: The Best Windows Tablets Tested

The ARM version can be interesting if you need 5G, love the Windows interface and the Microsoft apps, but don’t want to install any or almost any traditional Windows programs. For everyone else, I’d recommend the Intel version, because it behaves just like a traditional Windows PC or laptop.

Design & Built Quality

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Design

The Surface Pro 9 looks almost exactly like its predecessor. Microsoft no longer uses magnesium alloy. Instead, the case is completely made of aluminum. I have the green version, but you can also get it in light gray, dark gray and blue. Without accessories, it’s 879g and 9.3mm thin.

You can tell it looks like a typical Microsoft tablet and it’s very well made. On the back, there is a kickstand that you can smoothly extend very far. There is no microSD card slot underneath it anymore – it has been missing completely since the last generation. Instead, you can easily replace the built-in SSD.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 USB C

At the top is the power button, the volume rocker and you can see how elegantly the active fans are hidden in the case. On the left, the Surface Connect port allows you to charge it with the included power adapter. You can also use it to connect accessories like the Surface Dock.

On the other side, we get two USB C 4.0 ports with Thunderbolt 4, which you can also use to charge the tablet. You can connect other docks or hubs, external SSDs, but also external monitors via the USB C 4.0 ports. I often connect a 4K monitor and it works well with the Pro 9.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 External Monitor

It is important to know that the ARM version does not support USB C 4.0, but only USB C 3.2.

On the back is a 10-megapixel camera that can take quite good photos and videos. The 5-megapixel front-facing camera is also good, especially for video chats. There we also get an infrared sensor, thanks to which you can unlock it very quickly and securely with Windows Hello facial recognition. Even in dark rooms.

Microsoft Signature Keyboard

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Test

You can buy the black Surface Pro Keyboard for 150 Euros and a somewhat higher-quality Surface Pro Signature Keyboard for 180 Euros. The latter is available in blue, light gray, black, red and green. These are the exact same keyboards that are compatible with the Pro 8 and Pro X. The Type Covers of the predecessors no longer work.

I got the green Signature Keyboard. These are made of an Alcantara material that feels quite premium. It connects magnetically to the tablet, so when folded it protects the display. There’s room at the top for the Slim Pen 2, which charges while it sits inside.

Read: The Best Tablets With Keyboards Tested

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Signature Keyboard

As usual, the keyboard is very well implemented. Since we have such a large display here, the keyboard can be nice and large, making it comfortable. There is a backlight built in. I consider it to be the best tablet keyboard available. Too bad it only works with the Surface.

The touchpad is made of glass and is relatively large for a tablet keyboard. It’s a good one that works flawlessly and, of course, handles Windows 11’s multitouch gestures well.

Display & Speakers

The Surface Pro 9 has a 13-inch display that Microsoft calls the PixelSense Flow screen. It has an aspect ratio of 3:2, which is very good for office work. The resolution is nice and high at 2880 x 1920 pixels and everything looks sharp. I also like that it supports 120Hz, which makes animations and drawing with the Slim Pen 2 look very smooth.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Signature Keyboard

Overall, it’s a very good display with good color reproduction, high contrast and wide viewing angles. It’s fully laminated, of course. At 450 nits, it’s pretty bright for a Windows tablet, but just a bit darker than an iPad Air. Still, I was able to work well with it outdoors.

If you’re specifically looking for an entertainment tablet, I’d rather choose one with Android or a cheaper iPad for cost reasons. But if you want, you can watch Netflix or YouTube with the Pro 9 thanks to the good display. The two speakers on the sides of the display are surprisingly good. Not as good as on the iPad Pro, but definitely good enough to watch movies.

Microsoft Slim Pen 2

You can get the Surface Pro 9 with the Slim Pen 2, which you can buy for 130 Dollars or Euros. It’s important to note here that the Slim Pen 2 alone won’t work with the tablet, as you’ll need to charge it somehow. This is either done via the keyboard cover, which I recommend anyway, or via a separate charger. That one you’ve got to buy extra.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Slim Pen 2

Alternatively, it’s also compatible with the first Slim Pen and the Surface Pen. So, if you have a predecessor, you can use exactly the same pens on the Pro 9.

The Slim Pen 2 is newer and a bit better. You can draw better with it, you no longer must change batteries, and it gives haptic feedback. There’s a vibration motor built into the pen that only vibrates very gently, but that makes it feel more like you’re writing on paper sometimes. At least that’s the idea behind it.

Especially with OneNote, the Surface Pro 9 is great for writing down handwritten notes. That is exactly what the Slim Pen 2 seems to be made for. Thanks to the 120Hz display, the pen responds very quickly and the digital ink appears almost immediately. I have also used the pen in Adobe Photoshop and that works great.

Ultimately, the Pro 9 is a good choice if you want to use an active pen. However, this was already the case with the predecessor, there are no changes here.

Battery life

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Battery Life

In my battery test, the Pro 9 got a runtime of a rather weak 4.5 hours. For this, a YouTube HD video always runs at maximum brightness in the Chrome browser and at 120Hz in an endless loop. It’s possible to get over 6 hours with office work, but only with 60Hz and when you reduce the display brightness.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Review: Final Verdict

My conclusion is clear, the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is an excellent tablet and in my opinion the best Windows tablet at the moment. It offers the latest Intel processors, a very high-quality design, a good display, as well as a great keyboard and pen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9

It’s especially interesting if you want to use Windows 11 and are looking for a high-quality tablet, especially for office tasks. Sure, Photoshop and other demanding programs run as well. But the more you want to use such apps, it makes sense to choose the more expensive models with better hardware.

I wouldn’t buy the ARM version and I think it’s only interesting for a very small target group. If I’m going to choose Windows, I want 100% traditional Windows. Otherwise, I would rather go for an iPad or Android tablet.

If you already have the Surface Pro 8, then there’s no point in upgrading, because they’re almost the same tablet. And if you find a good offer for the Pro 8, I would also take the savings and go for the Pro 8.

The most exciting alternative is of course the new Apple iPad Pro with the M2 chipset, which I also just tested. In fact, the processor performance is clearly superior to the Pro 9. If you don’t need Windows, be sure to check out my review of it. Apple has improved a lot in recent years, so it’s a very interesting choice even for Pro users.


10

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Review
Review: 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.
Positive
  • Premium design
  • Great 120Hz display
  • Newest Intel CPUs
  • Facial recognition
  • Slim Pen 2
  • Great keyboard
  • Up-to-Date software
Negative
  • Short battery life
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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Steven Bickle

    December 27, 2022 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks for the review. I have a small criticism on the battery life testing method. For a fair test of battery life, the screen brightness should be set to a set brightness in nits or tested with automatic brightness control in a room with a consistent brightness. The display can use a very significant portion of a tablet’s battery life and many devices maximum brightness is very low compared with an iPad for example. I realise that this is a common test for reviewers because it is simple but it’s isn’t consistent.

  2. Jamal Shuja

    January 15, 2023 at 4:03 pm

    How can the surface be a cheap alternative to the ipad when the ipad isn’t a CPU.

  3. Pingback: Best Tablets With Large Screens | 2023 Edition • MyNextTablet

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