If Windows 11 has a flagship launch day companion device, it’s the Surface Pro 8. The Surface Pro has always been the lead ship in Microsoft’s PC hardware armada, which has grown in recent years to include budget laptops, ARM-powered hybrids and even a dual-screen phone.
I’ve always liked the Surface line, partly because it’s a rare case of a single company designing both the operating system and hardware, much as Apple does. That allows for a tighter fit between the parts, whereas other Windows PCs are always a compromise between design, operating system and endless internal component options. Apple’s taken this one step further and designed the chip now as well (the M1), although Microsoft has done something similar, with the SQ1, built in partnership with Qualcomm.
- Bigger, better display
- New haptic slim stylus
- Can charge via USB-C
- All-important keyboard still isn’t included in the box
- No 5G options, 4G only for business customers
- Fan can get loud
We’ve been waiting a while for the next Surface Pro. The Surface Pro 7, er, surfaced in 2019. Since then we’ve gotten new versions of the Surface Pro X, Surface Go and Surface Laptop Go, but nothing from the original line, which has become the go-to proof of concept for how to make a Windows-based tablet design work.
The Surface Pro 8 pulls from both the previous Surface Pro and the ambitious Pro X. It keeps the Intel CPU from the Surface Pro 7, but injects the larger 13-inch display from the Pro X, along with that model’s slimmer Surface Pen stylus, now called the Slim Pen 2.
The Surface’s greatest design win, its best-in-class clip-on keyboard now gets a semihidden storage and charging slot for the slim stylus, which was another Surface X feature. The new version 2.0 slim pen adds the capacity for haptic feedback, threatening to buzz and jump in your hand while tapping or sketching.
In a Microsoft demo event a couple of weeks ago, I felt the stylus buzz a bit when selecting different drawing tools in Sketchable, although I didn’t feel anything while actually drawing on the screen. In this final version of the hardware, with a final version of Windows 11, I wasn’t able to get any haptic feedback at first, until I realized I had to press the side button on the stylus to turn the haptics off and on. After that I could again feel brush selection in Sketchable, but that’s about it so far. You can crank the level of haptic feedback up in a menu, but it was still pretty subtle when maxed out.
Read more: Surface Pro 8 vs. Surface Pro 7: Microsoft’s new 2-in-1 is bigger, better
Other key improvements and changes to the Surface Pro 8 include:
- The 13-inch display can display at 120Hz, but it’s not the default
- Two Thunderbolt USB-C ports (but no more USB-A)
- A 4K-capable rear camera
The most common question I’ve gotten from people has been: Can you charge it through the USB-C port? The answer is yes, much like the Surface Go Laptop, Surface Pro X and a few other newer models. Microsoft still includes its proprietary magnetic charger cable and power port, but I’ve never been a fan — it pops out too easily, sits at an awkward angle, and defeats the purpose of most laptops (even MacBooks!) using a universal power solution.
The song remains the same
You know what I’m going to talk about next. It’s been in every single Surface Pro review I’ve written, going all the way back to the first generation. It remains a crime that the Surface Pro 8, which starts at $1,100 (£999, AU$1,649) and goes all the way up to $2,600, still doesn’t include the keyboard cover in the box. A Windows tablet on its own, no matter how well designed, is still a pain to use as a regular PC without it, and nearly every promo shot, TV ad or in-movie product placement I’ve ever seen for the Surface Pro includes the keyboard cover.
That’s fine, you say; how much could it possibly be? The only current option on Microsoft’s website right now is the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2, in black, gray or red, for… $280. You can get the new pen alone for $130. And no, your old Surface Pro 7 keyboard won’t work as the connection has moved.
That makes the cheapest functional Surface Pro $1,380. And that’s for a system with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive. Honestly, paltry specs for the price. A 12-inch 128GB iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard is about $1,450, so it’s not a Microsoft-only issue.
Get your kickstand kicks
The second-best part of the Surface Pro next to the keyboard cover, is the kickstand in the rear. It’s included, fortunately — but don’t think that someone, somewhere hasn’t thought about how to make it a sold-separately extra.
It opens to nearly any angle, stays stiffly where you put it, and is generally great for everything except actually putting it on your lap. Hey, it’s a two-in-one hybrid, not a laptop. In fact, when I recently got to check out the new OLED-screen version of the Nintendo Switch, the part I was most impressed by was the new kickstand on the handheld gaming console, which looks like a direct knockoff of the Surface Pro kickstand.
Performance, if you need it
It’s no secret that most people have more CPU power than they need in their laptops. What are you doing anyway? Email? Social media? Online shopping? You don’t need an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 for that. Yes, art and photo and video apps benefit, but for most people, I’d take more RAM and more storage ahead of a marginally better CPU.
Stay tuned for battery life testing and benchmarks in the near future, once we have more hands-on time with the system.