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Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 is formidable but familiar
Microsoft's new flagship tablet sticks to tradition.
If the bulkiness inherent to most conventional laptop PCs has always made them seem like a more brutish answer to the question of what a portable computer can look like, then the Surface Pro 9 will likely serve just as well as an alternative as its predecessors.
How much does the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 cost in Australia?
In Australia, the new Microsoft Surface Pro 9 starts at $1,649. That sum gets you the version of the device with 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a 12th Gen Intel Core processor. More powerful models will cost you more, with the top-of-the-line configuration coming in at $4,149.
For a round-up of how Surface Pro 9 pricing varies from retailer to retailer, check out the table below:
Before you make a decision, be sure to read our recommendation for the specs.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 - Design and features
As with most of Microsoft's house-brand Surface hardware, the star of the show here is the PixelSense display.
The new Surface Pro 9 has a 13-inch screen with the same resolution as the previous model, but in this case, that familiarity is far from a bad thing.
As with the Surface Pro 8, the touch-sensitive panel will play nice with your hands as well as Microsoft's Surface Pen stylus. The bezels are likewise identical, and the similarities don't stop there. Like its predecessor, the Surface Pro 9 is a detachable-style 2-in-1 laptop PC that comes with a built-in kickstand, a set of 2-watt Dolby Audio speakers, a Surface Connect port, a pair of Thunderbolt 4 USB Type-C ports and a 1080p webcam with Windows Hello support.
Credit where it's due, the display on Microsoft's productivity PC is a delight to look at. The IPS panel here is colourful and sharp in all the right ways, though it lacks the pop and contrast that something with an OLED might be able to offer. Casting the conversation in the opposite direction, it's difficult to imagine the Surface Pro 9 without the smooth scrolling afforded by the 120Hz refresh rate.
The Surface Pro 9's biggest draw might be inherited, but the appeal remains largely intact and undiminished.
While most modern laptops boast screens with a response time of less than a second, the exact speed can matter to those who play fast-paced online games as it allows them to react to on-screen events slightly faster. All things considered, this is a relatively minor specification, but it is worth noting as a potential point of difference between models.
The refresh rate measures the speed at which a screen is refreshed per second. Although different to the response time, the value of this specification is somewhat similar. A screen with a higher refresh rate will offer smoother scrolling and animation.
Even by stringent standards of modern laptops and Windows PCs, in particular, the Surface Pro 9 is incredibly and shamelessly iterative. To the eye, the differences between it and last year's model are all but invisible. Well, aside from the departure of the headphone jack anyway.
That said, if you're a fan or like the look of Microsoft's Surface tablets, the Surface Pro 9 does little to mess with the formula and the magic. What's here is as sleek as it is smart. The stereo speakers pack a surprising amount of depth and clarity into the small form factor, though it is distinctly lacking in bass and it's hard to muster too many complaints about a PC that's this easy to slip into your bag and carry around with you.
The SSD inside the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 can be upgraded, but the RAM cannot. You're stuck with the whatever you start with: either 8GB or 16GB.
Those looking at jumping aboard with (or upgrading to) this year's Surface Pro 9 also get the option of ditching an Intel chipset in favour of Microsoft's new flagship ARM processor, the SQ3. This marks something of a departure from tradition by Microsoft. Last time around, Intel was the only option unless you opted for the pricey and premium Surface Pro X.
My review sample ran on an Intel processor, so I can't speak too much to the difference in performance between the two models. However, I've had good experiences with ARM-based Windows PCs in the past so I wouldn't dismiss this alternative out of hand.
The early reviews for the ARM version of this year's Surface Pro 9 I've read elsewhere seem mixed, but if the promise of 5G connectivity, longer battery life and new AI features that make use of a built-in NPU it might be worth considering. Those who opt for Intel will reap the benefits of greater compatibility that comes from keeping with convention, but if your workflow is almost entirely based out of a web browser and you like the sound of the trade-off involved, I could see you getting away with working within the limitations that are involved here.
If you buy a brand-new version of this product, the box will include the following:
- The Microsoft Surface Pro 9
- A Surface Connect charger and power brick
Surface Pro 9 - Performance and battery life
While the visible changes between this year's Microsoft Surface Pro 9 and last year's Surface Pro 8 are largely limited to the introduction of new colours, the excising of the headphone jack and the addition of an ARM-based variant, the under-the-hood tinkering provides a little more fodder for conversation.
The big update here sees the 11th Gen Intel Core chips found in last year's Surface Pro swapped out for their 12th Gen equivalents. This CPU centrepiece comes accompanied by the usual trio of RAM options (8GB, 16GB and 32GB) in a new LPDDR5 flavour.
Those who opt for the SQ3-powered version of the Surface Pro 9 are stuck with slower LPDDR4 memory and lose out on the option of 32GB. Otherwise, both skews of the tablet can be kitted out with either 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of M.2 SSD storage.
In practice, I found that the performance delivered by the Intel Core i7-1255U inside my review unit was more than capable of delivering what I needed in terms of my usual workflows. It handled dozens of tabs in Firefox without missing a beat. All told, I'd put the performance squarely on the border between the top end of everyday performance and the bottom end of the enthusiast bracket.
Essential processors should be able to handle the basics: email, social media and some light web browsing. Gaming or more advanced tasks like image and video editing are likely off the table.
Everyday processors should be able to confidently meet basic performance requirements for most people. Email, social media and web browsing shouldn’t be a hassle, and while they aren’t able to handle graphically-demanding AAA releases, they should be able to run some indie or casual games.
Enthusiast processors should be able to easily exceed the minimum requirements of most users and be powerful enough to handle some AAA gaming, though not at the highest fidelity.
Extreme processors should be able to do anything you can think of. Games should run at high frame rates on the highest possible settings, and multitasking shouldn’t be limited in any significant way.
I could even get away with a little bit of gaming here, though nothing too demanding. Not unless I got creative with the settings and cranked things down to 720p or less. Still, it's better than the alternative if you're more inclined towards less-demanding titles or strategy games like Hearthstone and the like, the Surface Pro 9 reaps the benefits of Intel's recent gains when it comes to integrated graphics.
As for the benchmarks side of things, my testing found that the Surface Pro 9 did a pretty good job of keeping pace with the competition. Across almost every test I threw at the tablet, it'd usually come out within 10% of what a laptop running the same 16GB of RAM and a slightly faster Core i7-1260P processor could do. Unfortunately, all too often, it was 10% in the wrong direction.
The Surface Pro 9 delivers really impressive performance for a tablet of its size and stature, but if you are more inclined towards squeezing every drop of performance out of your PC, the extra thermal headroom that comes with a more traditional form factor may well be worth it and depending on the version of the Surface Pro 9 you're comparing it against, it might even be cheaper.
This familiar shortcoming extends into the battery life side of things as well.
Burned down via video streaming on YouTube, the Surface Pro 9 took six hours and 32 minutes to go from 100% to nil. In context, that result paints a poor picture. It's among the worst results we've encountered when it comes to laptop battery longevity and a fraction of what you can expect from Apple's latest MacBook Air.
Laptop batteries are typically measured in watt-hours (Whr), this unit measures how much power is expended per hour. The more Whr a laptop battery has, the longer the battery life is on paper. However, raw size isn’t everything. It’s not uncommon to find two laptops with the same amount of Whr and very different battery life. There are plenty of other factors that can affect battery life, from software optimisation to how the display has been calibrated.
It’s also worth noting that batteries can only go so big. Most airlines won’t allow you to take any device with a battery larger than 100Whr onboard, so most manufacturers treat that as an unofficial size limit.
Surface Pro 9 vs. Surface Pro 8
To start with, Microsoft's new flagship Surface Pro 9 tablet offers a choice between Intel's latest Core Evo processors and Microsoft's own ARM-based SQ3.
Otherwise, the hardware and design are almost identical across the two skews. Either way, you're getting a 13-inch PixelSense display with a 120Hz refresh rate and Dolby Vision HDR, an improved 1080p camera, stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos and the flexibility that comes with the range's familiar but iconic Surface kickstand.
Microsoft's flagship 2-in-1 is also available in a few extra colours this time around. Previous generations of the hybrid PC have opted for a single shade. Those who opt for this year's crop have the option of either silver (Platinum), blue (Sapphire), green (Forest) or grey (Graphite).
There are few things more annoying than buying a brand-new laptop and discovering it has a bunch of annoying bloatware installed out of the box. Here's what the software situation for the Surface Pro 9 looks like once you've set it up for the first time.
- All the usual Windows and Microsoft apps
Is the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 worth buying?
Microsoft's gambit to run against the grain of what most laptop manufacturers are doing continues to pay off here, though the successes of its latest incarnation are going to be just as familiar as the failures.
If you know what you're doing, have done your research and are happy with the tradeoffs, then the Surface Pro 9 is a definitive mix of mobility and performance. It's a true 2-in-1 that is good enough at everything, but rarely exceptional at any particular thing.
While Microsoft might like to frame its flagship tablets as universal in their appeal, the reality is that only those who know the rules of the game going in are able to really rack up much of a high score.
What spec should I buy?
As far as hybrid PCs go, the Surface Pro 9 is far from cheap. That said, if you're looking to pick one up you'll probably want to make it last.
The best way to do that is the pay for that extra storage and RAM. It'll let you do more of what the Surface Pro 9 is good at and give you more room to breath than the default 128GB allows.
|Display||13-inch PixelSense||13-inch PixelSense|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-1235U||Intel Core i7-1255U|
|RAM||8GB LPDDR5||16GB LPDDR5|
|Storage||128GB SSD||256GB SSD|
How does the Surface Pro 9 compare?
| || |
|Intel Core i7-1260P||14-inch IPS||See it at Acer|
| || |
|Intel Core i5-1240P||14-inches, 2.8K, 90Hz||See it at Mwave|
| || |
|Intel Core i5-1240P||13.3-inches, 2.5K, 90Hz||See it at Lenovo|
| || |
|Intel Core i5-1135G7||12.4-inch PixelSense||See it at Microsoft Store|
| || |
|Intel Core i5-1035G1||12.4-inch PixelSense||See it at Microsoft Store|
| || |
|Apple M1||13-inch Retina display with True Tone||See it at Amazon|
| || |
|Intel Core i5-1135G7||15.6 inches IPS||See it at Amazon|
How we review laptops
Whether you're looking at a mainstream computer brand like Dell or a dedicated gaming brand like MSI, there's an immense number of decisions you'll need to make when purchasing a laptop. If you're not sure where to start, here are a few important features to consider when shopping for your next laptop:
- Screen size and type: Unlike upgradeable components like your GPU, RAM and storage, you're stuck with the display you buy when you purchase a laptop. Is it a comfortable size? Does it offer a wide-viewing angle?
- Resolution: Similarly, you can't change your display's resolution after the fact. 1080p (Full HD) is the bare minimum these days and most laptops worth their price tag aim for 1440p at least (QHD or QuadHD) but you can also opt for 4K if you're willing to spend a little extra.
- Refresh rate: A screen's refresh rate is the measurement of how frequently it changes. If you play fast-paced multiplayer games like Call of Duty, you know that the difference a few milliseconds that a high refresh rate gets you can count for a lot. The higher the refresh rate, the better. Most conventional laptops offer 60Hz to 90Hz but fancier gaming laptops can offer 144Hz, 165Hz or even 240Hz screens.
- Ports and connections: Like your screen, ports will impact your everyday experience with a laptop, particularly if you use it for work. While you can work around this with USB hubs and adapters, a laptop with fewer ports than you need can quickly become a headache.
- Future-proofing: There are no hard and fast rules here but as a general suggestion, you'll want to sure you're laptop has the legs to survive a few years of technology improvements in any way you can. You can overshoot on your desired specs, spending more on a machine that's more powerful than you currently need, or opt for a model or brand that has support for upgrades down the track. Check which features of the machine are upgradeable. The Dell XPS 15, for example, supports additional RAM, while Apple MacBooks do not.
Check out our dedicated laptop buying guide for more suggestions on shopping for the best laptop for your needs.
How we review laptops
Here are the big things we consider when reviewing laptops.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 FAQ
16GB is a good place to start when it comes to RAM, but it's not necessarily going to be the end of the road if your needs are more demanding. It's enough to get by, but it might not be enough for the future or for more performance-oriented users.
If your next laptop doesn't support upgrading your RAM later down the line, it's usually smart to overshoot and aim for 32GB of RAM instead.
Not all RAM is born equal. Size isn't everything. Speed also matters.
If you're looking to find out just how fast the RAM in your laptop is, the quickest way to do so is to identify the type of memory and then Google the standard expected speeds that it should offer. For example, LPDDR5 offers speeds of up to 6400Mbps while DDR4 memory can only rev up to 3200Mbps.
If you want to go one step further and determine whether the RAM in your laptop is delivering the speeds it should be capable of offering, then it might be worth putting the hardware to the test with a benchmarking tool like Novabench.
It's easy to spend too much or too little on your next laptop, but our take is that the best value laptops tend to sit between $1600 and $2200 in terms of price. PCs that occupy this price-point might not be able to outperform more expensive alternatives, but the bump up in quality over cheaper ones is well worth the cost involved.
Simply put, laptops of this price segment tend to sidestep all the compromises of going cheaper while getting most of the performance you'll get from spending more.
These days, there are three types of Intel Core processors found in laptops. The first is the humble Intel Core i5 processor, then there's the middle-of-the-range Intel Core i7 and the poweruser-oriented Intel Core i9.
If you're going purely by the numbers, the Intel Core i9 is going to provide the best results. However, it's also the most demanding in terms of thermal management. A laptop running an Intel Core i9 processor will be faster than one with an Intel Core i7 or Core i5, but it'll also run hotter.
If you're an everyday or more casual user, an Intel Core i5 is probably going to be fast enough for you. If you're more discerning or planning to play a lot of games, then the up-sell to an Intel Core i7 probably makes sense.
While there's no single component responsible when it comes to laptop speed, the part that usually takes the credit is the processor. If you want your next laptop to be a fast one, you'll want to make sure it has a good processor in it.
As with desktop PCs, the processor is only part of the picture however. If your laptop lacks enough RAM or relies on a slower hard drive for file storage, that'll act as a bottleneck on the performance of the machine as a whole.