Price (RRP): $1249-3749 plus accessories
I want to do a review focusing on what makes the Surface Pro 7 (et al.,) special. Why do people swear by it, not at it, and despite a hefty premium price, buy it in droves? And make no mistake the Surface series is the most successful and iconic Windows-based, portable device, ever made.
Surface Pro 7 has a long heritage since 2012
- Pro 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
- RT, 2 and 3 (and now X – an ARM processor version)
- Laptop 1, 2, 3
- Book 1 and 2
- Studio 1 and 2
- Hub 1, 2, and 3
- Not to mention the upcoming Surface Duo (Dual screen) and Neo (Surface Phone).
Why do we love hybrid tablets?
Aussie research analysts Telsyte found 1.44 million tablets were shipped in 2019 and a total of 3.9M Australians are now using a 2-in-1 (tablet with detachable keyboard) where Windows dominates with 65% market. Surface has most of the Windows market.
What the figures show is an almost complete move to laptops and hybrid tablets over desktop PCs and Macs.
So, what makes Surface 7 so special?
To answer that, let’s start in October 2012 when Microsoft gave birth to the original Surface. It had a 10-inch, 3:2 format, touch screen, mag-alloy body and ran Windows RT which very few people realised means it ran on an ARM processor.
Still, it was the first Windows Surface ‘tablet’. RT stood for ‘Real Time’, not ‘ReTreat’ as many anti-Windows wops called it. It was a bold move by Microsoft to test the waters of the low-cost end of the mostly non-existent Windows tablet market.
I know many owners who were still using it five years later, precisely as Microsoft wanted – as a vehicle for Office productivity and content consumption. I (well my family) had an RT that finally died due to battery issues in 2017 – very well made. It was not the misstep that the wops called it but provided proof-of-concept for the Surface Pro 1 running Windows 8.1 in February 2013.
Surface Pro 1 – 10”, i5-3317U, 4/64 – ahead of its time for 2013!
I was at the launch and was fascinated at the tablet that ‘could replace a laptop’. Of course, you needed to buy (and still do) the keyboard (Type Cover), mouse (the screen was touch) and Stylus (Pen) separately and we journalists had a field day on the inordinate cost of those. Nothing has changed.
But back in 2013, there were no mainstream Windows tablets with USB-A and mini-DisplayPort that could work in a 2-in-1 (tablet or desktop) mode. I will never forget running a Surface and Surface dock with two external monitors, a printer, various USB devices and acting as a network server to several other Surface Pros at the huge conferences we ran at that time. Amazing.
That device was still going strong until its battery died last year. We replaced it with a 10” Surface Go (great handbag/travel size, yes with full-fat Windows and just as much connectivity as the larger 12’’ Surface Pros).
Today I use a Surface Pro 4 (circa October 2015) as my daily drive at my Central Coast home/office, my wife uses a Surface Pro 5 (circa June 2017) as hers and we both use the excellent Kensington SD7000 Surface Pro dock (the only other dock with the Surface Ribbon connector approved for Surface Pro). Both have never missed a beat, and we expect them to last for at least another five years. In a tri-monitor set up, the Surface Pro is hard to beat for productivity.
BTW – I bought each of the kidaults a Surface Pro Book (circa October 2015) as their daily drive.
The Book (now in 13.3 and 15″) has a separate NVIDIA GeForce GTZ 965M GPU, larger screen 13.5” clipboard screen and dual batteries. They need the extra power, battery and GPU for study, games and entertainment and again I expect a great life out of them.
So why did I choose Surface Pro as a daily drive?
- 3.2 format touch screen is vastly better for displaying Office documents – productivity
- An excellent ‘reference’ quality display that is easy on the eye with accurate sRGB colours, brightness and sharpness
- A build quality and mag-alloy chassis that cannot be beaten – mandatory if you travel
- Great cooling so no throttling
- Offers a tablet for travel and a desktop for the office as well as some LTE options
- Regularly updated (as well as Windows)
- A stylus (when I need it) for PowerPoint and Skype
- Can lay back to 160° to a studio style workspace
- Meets my productivity needs for speed
- I can still use the original TypeCovers, stylus and docks
- Windows Hello is a natural way to sign in
But the number one reason is convenience – use it anywhere with that excellent kickstand.
What I am not so enamoured with
- Until now one USB-A and mini-DisplayPort means you need to invest in the Surface Dock ($299) or Kensington Dock ($499) BUT the new Surface Pro 7 has a USB-C port at the expense of the mini-DisplayPort – it should have had Thunderbolt 3 with the 10th gen Intel processor
- And Windows ‘privacy’ needs a lot of work – use ShutUp10 – what Windows should have had in the first place
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 – the best Surface Pro ever designed by Microsoft?
Well, duh. I am continually amused when Apple CEO Tim Cook invariably stands up and says, “This is the best iPhone, iPad, MacBook, watch, pod, … that Apple has ever made”. In fact, there are over 1 billion references to this well-worn cliché on the web. Well – you could not expect Cook to tell it like it is, “We have managed to reduce cost, increase prices, and recycle all our old tech, so our ARPU (Average Revenue Per EWE – sheep) allows us to make even more money.”
I have scoured the web and Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella does not appear to make such self-serving and well-crafted statements. In fact, I learnt that he has been voted the best boss in the US, having turned around flailing and failing Microsoft since 2014. BTW: Tim Cook does not get a look in on the top 10 list (OK, he is at #12).
In the 2019 US Top 100 companies’ reputation list Microsoft is at #31, Samsung #52, Intel #58, Dell #66, HP #67, IBM #98 with Apple nowhere to be found.
And in the FAANG (TrustRadius 2019 reputation ratings) we see Facebook at (5%) trust, Amazon (25%), Apple (27%), Netflix (?) and Google (29%). All have all taken a massive nosedive in the past year with 43% saying they don’t trust any with privacy or ethics.
So yes, this is the best Surface ever made – Microsoft would not be stupid enough to make a worse one!
According to JB Hi-Fi and Sydney Microsoft Store staff, the simple answer to why people are buying Surface is
- First time buyers – reputation over price is everything. Once they are interested, they stop looking at anything else
- For repeat buyers – Microsoft has done a consistently excellent job, more so that the companies that have multiple niche market sub-brands that confuse the market. They are Surface devotees.
Surface Pro 7
We probably could have cut and pasted our Surface Pro 6 review and updated it with USB-C, but that would not be fair. Surface Pro 6 was a repeat of the Surface Pro 5 with a later processor and a trendy new matte black anodised finish. In fact, Microsoft still sells the Pro 5 and 6.
Our reviews now use FAIL, PASS or EXCEED for our paradigms in category headings.
Size – EXCEED
The same 292mm x 201mm x 8.5mm but a tad heavier (775-790g plus keyboard) – it smaller than an A4 sheet.
Display – EXCEED
The same 12.3-inch 2,736 x 1,824, 267pi PixelSense, Gorilla Glass covered screen.
We tested it to 400nits, .3nits black, 1300:1 contrast and 6457K colour temperature – that is close to perfect for this type of screen.
It is very close to 100% sRGB, 69% DCI-P3 and has a Delta E of .3 (below 4 is good).
It has Enhanced and standard sRGB modes. Enhanced adds a certain ‘pop’ or saturation. I don’t mind that for movies.
3:2 means that 16:9 movie content has largish black top and bottom ‘letterbox’ style bars. Movie colours are natural. It does not have HDR. Off-angle viewing is excellent.
Processor – EXCEED
10nm Intel 10th-gen CPUs- i3-1005G1, i5-1035G4, i7- 1065G7
Microsoft state that Surface Pro 7 is a significant update in speed from Surface Pro 6 (8th Gen Intel Core) – up to 2.3x times faster
What we like is that for the right user, the i3 offers a lower entry price point for not much downside.
Passmark (CPU – higher is better) – and sorry these figures do not support Microsoft’s claim of 2.3x faster than the Surface Pro 6.
|i7- 1065G7||Pro 7||2574||10838|
|Ryzen 7-3780U||Laptop 3/15||1990||8427|
Graphics – PASS (i3) EXCEED (i5/i7)
Intel UHD (on i3) and Iris Plus (on i5/i7). Note that the Iris Plus drivers for Windows are not complete yet and we expect that the Compute Score will reach over 10,000.
Geekbench 5.0 OpenCL (higher is better)
RAM – PASS
A pet hate is RAM soldered to the motherboard – it is not upgradeable.
The new Surface Pro 7 has faster LPDDR4x in 4GB (for i3 only), 8 and 16GB (Pro 6 was LPDDR3).
Five years ago, 4GB was excessive – today it’s the minimum you need for reasonable Windows performance. So, my advice is if the i3 processor is all you need that 4GB is fine. Otherwise buy the i5, 8GB/128GB i5 and use the micro-SDXC slot to add 200/400GB (or more) for around $50/90.
SSD – PASS
128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of storage.
The 256GB (tested) is PCIe NVMe 3.0 x 4 lanes. It is an HFB1M8MO331C0MR 256 – an M.2 2230 made by Toshiba/Kioxia. But M.2 2230 from SK Hynix is also used. We understand that this may be upgradeable but cannot confirm – it was soldered in on the Surface 6.
Crystal Disk Mark (Higher is better)
|Device||Read MBps||Write MBps|
Surface Pro 7|
256GB M.2 2230
|Surface Pro 6 (soldered)||1,632||814|
|Surface Pro 5 (soldered)||847||801|
Surface Laptop 3|
Used similar M.2 2230
What this means is a slightly faster boot over the Surface Pro 6
Ports – USB-C but what generation? PASS
We have tested and yes it is USB-C Gen 3.1 Gen 2 or 10Gbps and PD 3.0. You can read more about our USB standards for Dummies here.
Using a Surface Dock (Ribbon connector admittedly a few years old but with updated firmware), the maximum it supports is 2 x [email protected] We could only get it to run 1 x [email protected] – 2 x [email protected] was not stable
Using an OWC USB-C Travel Dock, it supports one [email protected]
Using a Kensington USB-C SD4500P with 90W power, it supports 2 x [email protected]
We will try to clear this up but take any reference to dual [email protected] support as suspect. If anything, it may be that it is Gen 2 but supports the DP1.4 standard and cables and monitor support are scarce.
The USB-A port is 3.0 Gen 1 (5Gbps) and supports 5V/2A (not PD).
It also has a Surface Connector that is for power (65W) and data (5Gbps), a Type Cover pogo pin port, and it still has a 3.5mm combo audio.
Stylus – N Trig – PASS
We can’t find any difference between the Surface 6 Pen – it has 4096 pressure levels, tilt sensing, .1mm precision and extremely low latency for the pen on paper feel.
Now I own pens for all my Surfaces (is that Surfi?) and while they are excellent at what they do (draw, annotation etc), I guess that as occasional user Windows Ink app works for me. There are 35 other apps (many free or freemium) that if the artistic urge ever bites I will be sure to try out.
Other Surface Pro 7 features (over Surface Pro 6)
- Better dual far-field mics – they now work across the room, but I never call Cortana or Alexa
- Magnetometer added (that is a digital compass to aid GPS)
Comms – EXCEED
- Wi-Fi AX 2 x 2 MIMO (Was Wi-Fi AC)
- BT 5.0 (was BT 4.2)
It gets 1.2Gbps at 2 meters from our reference NETGEAR AX12 router.
Battery – PASS
MS estimates that it will have 10.5 hours ‘typical device usage’ against the Surface Pro 6 of 13.5 hours local video playback (not a fair comparison)
Tests (in the short time we had for a review these are at best estimates)
- 8.5 hours of battery life in light usage (Office, Wi-Fi, browsing)
- 3.5 hours 100% load
- 6 hours 1080p video loop, 50% screen and aeroplane mode
The 60W power supply with a USB-A (5V/1A 5W) supports Fast Charge (0-80% in just over one hour). We found that it took just over two hours to fill. The battery settings (power versus battery life) were accurate, and we could have eked a little more time out.
Now here is the good bit. Using the Moshi Pro-Geo USB-C 65W charger with USB PD 3.0 ($129 at JB Hi-Fi), it filled the battery in under 1.5 hours. And using the OWC USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 travel dock (OWCTCDK5P2SG $104.99 at MacFixit Au ) with up to 100W pass-through power was a perfect accompaniment for the Surface Pro 7.
Camera – PASS (same as Surface Pro 6)
- 5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p full HD video
- 8.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p full HD video
Windows Hello facial recognition uses the infrared camera next to the webcam. It seems a lot faster – flip down the Type Cover, and it is almost instant-on.
Keyboard – PASS
The new Surface Pro Signature Type Cover has 1.3mm of key travel and 50g actuation – a little less than the Surface Pro 5/6 (which also fits). It is one of the better portable keyboards although there is a little flex (keyboard bounce) for my liking
Sound – PASS but lagging
Same as Surface Pro 6 and 5 – 2x 1.6W stereo ‘Omnisonic’ speakers with Dolby Audio Premium.
Dolby Audio Premium is in the Realtek Audio Console and defaults to 16-bit/48000Hz. The only issue is that this is quieter than the Surface 6 – about 72dB versus 84dB. Sound signature wise the Surface Pro 7 is mid-centric, and the Pro 6 is Bright Vocal (courtesy of Dolby Audio Premium).
- Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – none
- Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – none
- High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – gently building to 200Hzone
- Low-mid: 200-400Hz – flat
- Mid: 400-1000Hz – flat
- High-mid: 1-2kHz – flat
- Low-treble: 2-4kHz – flat
- Treble:4-6kHz – declining from 5kHz
- High Treble: 6-10kHz – declining
- Dog whistle: 10-20kHz – drop off the cliff at 10kHz
This is mid-centric for clear voice/Skype (bass recessed, mid boosted, treble recessed). Now that is not too bad – not for movies or music.
But the lack of an EQ in the Microsoft Store to at least try to get more bass or treble is puzzling.
Fortunately, BT 5.0 SBC codec provides reasonably volume to BT speakers and our reference Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones.
With many other Ultrabook’s offering 80dB and full EQ control its time Microsoft paid attention to this.
Build – EXCEED in most respects
- Unibody magnesium-alloy design with hidden perimeter venting
- Colours: Platinum, Matte Black
- RAM soldered to the motherboard – FAIL
- Kickstand with a full-friction hinge to 160°
You cannot fault the precision build and quality materials, although our friends at iFixit may believe otherwise.
- $1249 – i3, 4/128
- $1499 – i5, 8/128
- $1999 – i5, 8/256
- $2349 – i5, 16/256
- $2499 – i7, 16/256
- $3149 – i7, 16, 512GB
- $3749 – i7 16/1TB
- Signature Type Cover for a full keyboard experience $249.95
- Type Cover $199.95
- Type cover with fingerprint $249.95
- Pen for on-screen notetaking and drawing $139.95
- Arc Mouse $119.95
- Surface Dock $299.95
- Kensington Surface Pro Dock (review here) $499
- Spare 44W power supply $125
- Wireless Display Adaptor (Wi-Fi Direct) $99.95
- Surface Dial for on-screen and off-screen interaction $149.95
- ANC Headphones (review here) $499.95
GadgetGuy’s take – Surface Pro 7 has evolved – still best in class, but what is next?
Surface Pro 7 is evolution, not revolution. I love Surface Pro, but I now feel sorry for it in comparison to the next generation Intel Project Athena 2-in-ones, x360 5-in-ones, and laptops.
Samsung is pitting its Galaxy Book 2 challenging the Surface Pro X (ARM) and Athena based Galaxy Book Ion and Flex.
So, in many ways, I see the current Surface Pro 7 as the end of the line. Perhaps not in shape or basic design cues but it needs to catch up with current technology.
Still, we need to ask the fundamental reason Microsoft makes Surface. Microsoft execs have repeatedly said that it isn’t in the business of selling hardware simply for its own sake. It invests in making its own hardware in the name of expanding the Windows ecosystem by creating new device categories. It then encourages its Windows partners to do better.
The Surface started the Windows tablet category. It has that first to market advantage that if it is careful, it will be able to build on.
And yes, I am a Surface devotee.