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Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G review

BY:

Sangram Rana

MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 9 5G: TWO-MINUTE REVIEW

You can’t review the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G (or any product) in a vacuum. You have to look at it in the context of what has come before, what else is on the market, your experience with the product, and, in our case, our long history with Surface gadgets.

Since Microsoft first made Surface devices ten years ago, this reviewer has been using them. It’s been a journey of mostly (but not always) small changes, many of which made sure that old users wouldn’t be left behind. Even when Microsoft released the Surface Pro X, which broke the rules, it kept the original Surface design going with the Surface Pro 7.

That changed with the Surface Pro 8 from last year. It had the look of the Pro X for the Intel platform and was Microsoft’s first Surface Pro device without a USB-3 port.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 5G goes one step further by putting the Pro brand on an ARM-based system and ending the Pro X line. It also breaks away from the past by getting rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack (a moment of silence, please).

In most cases, this is a good way to do things. Microsoft has almost finished making the Surface Pro X design perfect for a larger group of Pro-grade users. It’s a thin, sturdy Windows tablet with a large screen that gives you all the space and visual performance you need for work, creativity, and entertainment (it’s a nice Netflix screen).

As a 5G system, the Surface Pro 9 5G is ready to keep you connected at home and on the go without the need for a Wi-Fi connection.

The ARM system has some tricks that the Intel model doesn’t have, like eye tracking, gaze correction, noise suppression, and better background blurs that can blur more than one person at once. Most of it went smoothly, but there were some problems, like when our Adobe Creative Cloud Photoshop shut down completely and when Microsoft Edge crashed too often.

Microsoft’s most road-ready Surface Pro will cost a lot. The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G starts at $1,299.99, and that’s without the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard and Slim Pen 2, which we think are important parts of the Surface Pro 5G package and will add another $279.99.

In the end, there are many things to like about the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G, but its inconsistent performance and eye-popping price might keep it off of our Best Laptops list.

MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 9 5G: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

  • How much does it cost?
  • $1,299 / £1,299 Microsoft SQ3 5G Platinum, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD
  • $1,399 Microsoft SQ3 5G Platinum, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
  • $1,599 / £1,599 / AU$2,599 Microsoft SQ3 5G Platinum, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD
  • $1,899 Microsoft SQ3 5G Platinum, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD
  • When is it out? It is available now
  • Where can you get it? Surface Pro 9 went on sale on October 25th in the US, Canada, and China, with additional markets to follow in the coming weeks.

The Surface line from Microsoft has never been what you might call a cheap option. That probably didn’t matter much because Microsoft was leading the PC industry out of the wilderness and into new design and market opportunities. Now, though, things are a little different. Many of the biggest names in PCs are making beautiful convertibles that match or beat what Microsoft has to offer. There is also the cost of living crisis to think about. Who will want to spend almost $1,500 on a laptop?

The Surface Pro 9 starts at $999, £1,099, or AU$1,649 (without the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard and Slim Pen 2, which cost an extra $279). The Surface Pro 9 5G starts at $1,299.99/£1,299. It has mobile connectivity and some cool features that are powered by the brain. In Australia, the Surface Pro 9 5G starts with 16GB of RAM and costs AU$2,599.

That’s a lot to pay for something that might not be that much more useful. It really depends on how much you value always being connected and having some AI features. Plus, this has to be balanced with a subsystem that may or may not fully support your business-class software.

MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 9 5G: DESIGN

  • Aluminum shell that is light
  • Better places for the buttons
  • Two USB-C ports that work quickly
  • No 3.5mm jack for headphones

For people who have used Surface Pro devices for the better part of a decade, the Surface Pro 9 5G (and the Surface Pro 8 before it) is mostly good news and a little bad news.

The good news is that the 13-inch screen is much bigger than, for example, the 12.3-inch screen on the Surface Pro 7. But the Surface Pro series is now bigger and a little bit heavier because of a redesign.

Its aluminium (formerly magnesium) body is 287mm x 209mm x 9.3mm, which is wider and thicker than the Surface Pro 7. (292mm x 201mm x 8.5mm). And it weighs 13 grammes more at 878g.

None of this is especially noticeable, and we think the small increase in size is well worth it for the larger screen.

It looks like the last model and has a kickstand that can be turned smoothly until it’s almost flat against the top half of the convertible. Because the movement is so smooth, it’s easy to find a comfortable position to “lapp” in.

We’re testing the Surface Pro 9 and Pro 9 5G chassis, and the differences between them are small and don’t matter. The Intel model has real vent holes in the ventilation channel that runs around the body, but the SQ3 model, which doesn’t have a fan, only has the channel. Even though there was no sign that our system was overheating, the back of the Surface Pro 9 5G did feel warm to the touch when it was running normally.

Since the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft has changed some of the buttons and ports. There is no longer a 3.5mm headphone jack, which may bother people who bought earbuds or more expensive over-ear headphones that still work with the port.

The two USB ports on the system have moved from the side with the Surface Connector power port to the other side of the unit, where they have more room. Microsoft moved the power sleep button from the side to the top of the Surface Pro 9 5G, next to the volume rocker button. This is where it was on all Surface Pros before the Surface Pro 8.

The other difference between the Surface Pro 9 and its 5G version is that the 5G version has antenna cutouts that are about 1.5 inches apart.

The buttons on the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G

The buttons on the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G (Photo by Lance Ulanoff for Future)
Even though the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard Cover and Slim Pen 2 don’t come with the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G, we’re reviewing them as a set. So, we’ll talk about how the tablet, keyboard, and pen all work together. As we said above, the list price for the keyboard and pen together is $279, which is about £294.28 or AU$386.95.

At 10.75 inches wide, the keyboard is almost full-sized. The space between the keys is comfortable, and each key has 1.5mm of travel for a good typing feel. The Alcantara cover makes a comfortable palm rest, and the 4-inch wide touchpad below the keys is easy to reach with your thumb.

With the Surface Pro X, Microsoft changed the way the type cover attaches to make a cleverly hidden spot for the Slim Pen 2. Instead of using strong magnets to stick to one side of the Surface Pro, this pen has its own magnetised charging bed that is hidden when a half-inch of the type cover is pressed against the bottom of the Surface Pro 9 5G screen. The two parts fit together on the Surface Pro 9 5G’s bottom edge, which has a Surface Type Cover port.

To get to the pen, we just pull the keyboard away from the screen and pull it out. It’s always charged and ready to use, and the screen works well with a pen.

Overall, this is a more elegant and secure way to handle the pen.

MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 9 5G: CAMERAS AND AUDIO

  • Great camera for video conferencing
  • Unlock with your face
  • Good-enough rear camera
  • Great mics
  • Good audio

One thing Surface Pro devices have been good at for a long time is video conferencing, in part because they were the first to have front-facing cameras that could record in 1080p. People often told this author how good his video feeds were on Surface Pro 6 and Surface Pro 7. This is also true of the Surface Pro 9 5G.

The front-facing camera is still 1080p and does an even better job of making you a video call pro. If you turn on Windows Studio Effects on this SQ3-based model, the AI keeps you in the frame by shooting wide and then moving the frame to keep you in the picture. It also makes it look like your eyes are still focused on the camera, even if they aren’t, and it gives you better bokeh effects that can keep more than one person in the frame from looking blurry.

Also, it has two far-field microphones, so no one will have trouble hearing you, and the SQ3’s neural engine has special noise-cancelling features to get rid of background noise.

The Windows Hello camera is right next to it, and we recommend setting it up. It is very safe (a picture can’t fool it) and lets you unlock your computer with your face.

The phone has the same 10MP camera as the last model on the back. It makes images that are fine, but nothing special. It can also shoot 4K video, but we’re not sure how often people use their Surface laptops to shoot video while holding them in their hands.

There is also a pair of 2W stereo speakers that support Dolby Atmos and make loud, clear sound. They are good for audio meetings. If you’re not working, you can use the speakers to listen to any action-packed Netflix video.

  • Increasingly classic LCD screen
  • Good for touch and pen
  • 13-inch is the just-right size
  • An excellent, ergonomic pen

Even though Microsoft hasn’t upgraded its PixelSense screen technology to OLED or MicroLED yet, the screen is still one of the best in the business for mobile work and design.

Even though the core tech hasn’t changed, this screen has a high resolution of 2880 x 1920 (267 ppi) and a fast refresh rate of 120Hz. In comparison, the Apple iPad Pro 12.9’s mini-LED-based Liquid Retina XDR display, which can also run at 120Hz, has a resolution of 2732 x 2048 and a pixel density of 264 ppi.

When it comes to brightness and contrast, the Surface Pro 9 5G isn’t as good as the iPad Pro 12.9, which was already mentioned. It can get as bright as 450 nits, while the iPad Pro 12.9 can get as bright as 1,600 nits. Its contrast ratio is 1200:1. (iPad Pro 12.9 promises 1,000,000:1).

The Surface Pro 9 5G might not be the best device for working outside because it isn’t very bright. However, at home or in the office, you probably won’t notice this difference any more than you’ll notice the difference in contrast ratio. Some of these specs might, of course, give creative people pause. Even so, during our testing, drawing, editing, browsing, and working in production apps never got worse.

It’s also nice that you can use both your finger and a pen on the screen.

Surface Slim Pen 2 from Microsoft

We’ve used Surface devices for a long time and are used to tapping the screen to select something. If you want to draw or take notes, the Slim Pen 2 is a great choice.

Not only does it look like black ink is flowing out of the tip of the Slim Pen 2 and onto the screen, but the latest Pen has even more precise haptic feedback that makes it feel like you’re scratching a pencil across real paper.

Close-up of writing on the screen of a Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G

Microsoft tried to get the digitising panel as close as possible to the surface. So, it looks like digital ink is coming out of the tip of the Slim Pen 2. (Image credit: Future)
Other than that change, the Slim Pen 2 is the same as the one that comes with the Surface Pro 8, which is fine with us. We like the design of the drafting pen, which is light, easy to hold, and doesn’t slip out of your hand.

In contrast to an Apple Pencil 2, Microsoft’s Slim Pen 2 can be used from both ends. The business side is useful for both drawing in Sketchable and writing in Journal. The eraser side is both a button and a digital eraser. There is also a button on the body of the pen that you can use to turn on different features in different apps. It can be used to quickly get to the eye-dropper colour picker in Sketchable, for example.

MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 9 5G: WINDOWS 11

Most of the news about Windows 11 running on the ARM-based SQ3 is good.

The Surface Pro 9 5G from Microsoft is a great place to run Windows 11, which shouldn’t be a surprise since Microsoft makes both the platform and the computers. In general, the 37-year-old OS runs well in this environment. But Windows doesn’t run on an Intel X86 platform, which is a constant reminder.

During regular use, we ran into a few bugs. Some were small, like weird screen glitches, but others made it hard for us to get work done. Microsoft’s Edge browser often crashed and didn’t work well until we restarted our computer. Yes, we did update the OS.

Worse was a bug in Adobe Creative Cloud that keeps Adobe Photoshop CC 2023 from working on the Surface Pro 9 5G. When we looked up the bug on Google, we found that it was a problem that was first seen with the Surface Pro X with ARM. It’s a shame that this problem has somehow spread to the latest Surface Pro 9 from Microsoft, which is based on the SQ3 chip.

Obviously, a creator might not want a thin and light system like the Surface Pro, and you might never run Adobe Photoshop on a Surface Pro 9 5G. But we’ve been doing that for years on Surface Pro devices, and we think it’s reasonable to expect that any system with the name “Pro” should be able to do the same.

These aren’t deal breakers because we were eventually able to fix Edge (it may have been a mid-review Edge update that did it) and there are other ways to edit images, including Windows Photos. Still, it’s a reminder that this isn’t your grandparents’ Windows system with the reliable, always-compatible X86 underneath. On the other hand, ARM compatibility is a thousand times better than it was when Microsoft tried this with one of the first Surface systems and Windows RT.

The Surface Pro 9 5G Amazon App Store

With an ARM-based CPU, you can easily run mobile apps on a desktop platform. You just have to choose from a small list of apps in the Amazon App Store.

Microsoft hasn’t given anyone a clear explanation for why we still can’t get Google Play on its SQ3-based Surface. We have nothing against Amazon’s App Store, which is the same one you’ll find on all of its Fire Tablets, but it is not the full Android Store.

To use these Android apps, you have to run the Windows Subsystem for Android, which has an awkward name. This only needs to be set up once, and then you can go straight to the Amazon App Store for Android apps.

Playing Angry Birds 2 on the Amazon App Store on a Microsoft Surface Pro 5G

Playing Angry Birds 2 on the Amazon App Store on a Microsoft Surface Pro 5G (Image credit: Future)
The App Store takes almost a minute to open, and most of the apps are Candy Crush games. However, we did find a few we liked, like Among Us, Hill Climb Racing 2, and Angry Birds 2.

The way the game works ranges from just okay to good. We heard some audio problems and saw some stuttering (as in, no audio at all).

We did eventually get our games to work well, and Among Us was especially fun to run around in and do tasks in.

For now, being able to run Android apps on Windows is mostly just interesting, but that’s about to change because Google Play Games is finally coming to Windows 11. But it wasn’t done in time for this review.

MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 9 5G: PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY

  • Peppy
  • Good for most laptop-grade tasks
  • All-day battery life

Even though some of the most powerful PC apps don’t work as well as they should, this system works well and doesn’t make you feel like you’re carrying a phone that looks like a PC.

We had many apps and browser tabs open while using a second HD screen and never had a problem with performance.

Benchmark scores, especially on Geekbench, are very close to those of the A16 Bionic, which is Apple’s best mobile chip. As expected, the ARM-based system did worse in almost every test except for battery life, where the Surface Pro 9 5G did better by almost an hour when surfing the web over Wi-Fi. Microsoft says it will take 19 hours. From personal experience, we got almost 16 hours of mixed use out of the battery. As always, the number of miles your battery will last will depend on how you use it.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G is always ready to connect, as the 5G in its name suggests. We didn’t get a pre-paid plan for it, so we couldn’t see how well it worked with 5G. So, we used it with different WiFi networks and by connecting it to our 5G phones. It did well in every situation.

SHOULD YOU BUY A MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 9 5G?

Buy it if…

You demand versatility

This is both a powerful tablet and with the keyboard and pen combo, an excellent ultralight Windows 11 system.

You need all-day battery life

You’ll get at least 10 hours of use (and maybe a lot more) thanks to the power-sipping SQ3 chip

You need constant connectivity

Built-in 5G means that, provided you paid for the network connection, you can connect anywhere there’s a good cell signal and, yes, keep working.

You like to write and draw

If you buy the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G with the Surface Signature Keyboard and Silm Pen 2, you will have an always-ready stylus that will feel as natural as writing on real paper.

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