The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 is gorgeous, fresh, and finally a real update to the stale-looking Surface Pro line. And as usual, you'll pay heavily for that.Key Features SpecificationsPros Cons Buy This ProductMicrosoft Surface Pro 8Shop at Microsoft
For the last few years, it was starting to look as though Microsoft had run out of ideas on how to actually improve the Surface Pro line, beyond tinkering around with the interior. My 2015 Surface Pro 4 looked functionally identical to the 2019 Surface Pro 7, complete with ultra-thick bezels around the screen. Though we were all excited when the Surface Pro X came out three years ago, its flashy new design concealed a fatal flaw: running on an ARM processor rather than Intel made it struggle to deal with common applications.
In the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft has finally combined the best of both worlds. The eye-catching Pro X design has been combined with an Intel processor (i5, in my case, although i7 is also an option). A number of other internal configurations are available, but O opted for 8GB of RAM and 256GB storage.
This amount of RAM for general purposes is completely fine. My primary uses are web browsing with many tabs, word processing, and other office-based tasks, with the odd application such as Signal Desktop or Zoom thrown in.
Although many will urge 16GB on the grounds of "future-proofing", I spent around five years using a Surface Pro 4 with just 4GB. It too was capable of handling all the usual tasks without issue. Unless you regularly run intensive applications, you're unlikely to need the upgraded RAM.
This review will encompass the Surface Slim Pen 2 and Signature Keyboard as well. A box for just the Surface Pro 8 itself would contain nothing but a charger and the bare tablet, which is practically useless without at least the keyboard. The fact that Microsoft doesn't bundle the keyboard in—and has even, incredibly, stopped bundling in the pen—is probably one of the biggest downsides to the package.
The design is the biggest change to the Surface Pro 8. Almost immediately, you can tell that the screen's edges are more rounded than previous iterations of the laptop, making it easier on the hand when you're holding it in tablet form. Bezels are much, much slimmer. They're still pretty chunky at the top and bottom of the screen, but the latter at least is concealed when the keyboard is attached. (More on the keyboard and pen later). In fact, the slimmer bezels allow for a larger screen, which, at 13 inches, is almost an inch bigger than the previous model, while keeping the device footprints almost identical.
One downside, however, is that the Pro 8 is noticeably thicker and heavier than older versions, including its closest ancestor, the Surface Pro X. The body is now made from shiny, slippery aluminum instead of matte magnesium alloy. This reportedly makes it easier for the paint to attach to black versions of the Pro 8, as the black paint scratched off relatively easily on the Pro 7. Unfortunately, it makes for a weighty gloss.
Related: Surface Pro X (2020) Review: Almost There, Microsoft
Crucial parts of the design have stayed the same. You still have the snap-out kickstand in the back which helps it balance on a flat surface. It performs poorly on non-flat surfaces—"capability" is near zero, and very uncomfortable—but on a table, the keyboard doesn't bounce too much. Most of the time, you can forget it's bouncing at all unless you specifically look for it.
The keyboard is also still attached via magnetic snaps at the bottom of the tablet. It's easy to remove and replace, taking the device from laptop to tablet and back again. Using this extensively as a tablet would be difficult, due to the weight, but you can rest it on your lap or a table when making handwritten notes.
The laptop comes with Windows 11 installed. Set-up is easy and intuitive; everything looks sharp and clear on the 2880 x 1920 screen. One big change is that removing the keyboard no longer puts the device into an annoying "Tablet Mode". Instead, things become subtly calibrated for the tablet form factor, such as wider-spaced icons on the taskbar.
In terms of performance, I have no complaints. Since I got it in October, the Pro 8 experience overall has been fast and smooth. The clarity of Windows 11 complements the device's sleek design very well. Battery life as usual falls far below Microsoft's claims, but you can get about 7 hours of solid use before you need to start reaching for the charger. It also charges back up swiftly.
The right-hand side boasts two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 above the proprietary charging Surface Connect port. The left has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Nobody uses their laptop for taking photographs, but should you need to quickly scan a document, there's a 10MP rear camera and a 5MP front camera. That's enough to make you look nice and clear on your Zoom calls.
As for upgrading, you can upgrade the SSD storage, but definitely not the RAM, which is soldered on.
You can get two different versions of the keyboard: a simple Surface Pro Keyboard (which used to be called the Type Cover), and the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard. The basic version still provides backlit keys, a good touchpad, and an excellent typing experience, but it comes with no extra frills. This is the one to buy if you aren't interested in getting the Slim Pen as well. Typing is relatively loud and clicky, but I actually find the crisp sound of the keys very satisfying.
The real excitement can be found from the Signature version. It's made of Alcantara, a synthetic suede billed by Microsoft as "luxurious"—though it just feels a bit weird and rubbery to me. A range of color options are available, although bear in mind that things look darker in real life than they do on the Microsoft store. My "ice blue" option, for example, actually looks closer to dark gray.
Typing is a little quieter on the Signature Keyboard. More importantly, this version features a built-in charging port for the rechargeable Surface Slim Pen. It's located in the fold of material just next to the magnetic tablet attachment, so it's hidden in daily use. This is a much better storage solution than in previous Surface Pros, where the pen magnetically attached to the side of the laptop and constantly threatened to slip off during travel.
Beware, though, that Alcantara material is notoriously prone to staining. After a mere few months, my own keyboard has developed an inexplicable and unsightly dark patch at the bottom, despite the fact I've never spilled or dropped anything on it.
To get meaningful use out of the Surface Pro 8, you do need to buy a keyboard, but you can take or leave the pen: it no longer comes bundled with the tablet as it used to, which is unfortunate in terms of value for money but good if you don't need one. The latest pen offering from Microsoft is the Surface Slim Pen 2 (which only comes in black).
It can initially take some getting used to. As the name suggests, it's oddly flat, which might be unexpected if you're used to the classic cylindrical shapes of previous Surface Pens. This lets it fit easily into the keyboard charging port, but it also means extended writing can get mildly uncomfortable. My primary use however is for highlighting PDFs, with occasional note-taking, and it excels at that. There's no lag, it can sense different pressure values, numerous apps support inking—what's not to like?
The most interesting feature about the Slim Pen 2 is its capacity for tactile feedback, which means it vibrates in your hand when you write. Normally, writing on glass screens feels terrible because of the smooth surface. The tactile feedback certainly doesn't come anywhere close to imitating paper, but it does improve the writing experience tremendously. Right now this feature is only compatible with the Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio.
If you're looking for the highest-quality Windows laptop out there, you can't do much better than this. Unlike the Pro X, whose subpar performance made it difficult to recommend, the Pro 8 has excellent functionality wrapped in a stylish shell.
Of course, you'll also pay a premium for that combination: there will be a lot of other laptops which are, in raw terms, better value for money. But no other device can imitate the ease with which the Surface Pro switches between self-contained tablet and a full-bodied laptop.
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Namera previously wrote for Book Riot and now covers entertainment technology for MUO, particularly relating to reading. She graduated with an English degree and is currently in law school. Hobbies include listening to true crime podcasts, reviewing books, and petting her cat Tiggy.MoreFrom Namera Tanjeem
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