Microsoft's redesigned Surface Pro 8 sets the new bar for Windows tablets

Microsoft's Surface Pro 7+ is a best-in-class Windows tablet, and the new Surface Pro 8 includes several welcome improvements.
  • Mark Hachman (PC World (US online))
  • 23 September, 2021 02:00

Microsoft announced three new Surface tablets on Wednesday, including a larger, more powerful Surface Pro 8, a new Surface Go 3 that boasts options for a faster Intel Core i3 processor, and an updated Surface Pro X.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 boasts Thunderbolt ports for the first time, integrated LTE, Slim Pen integrated storage and charging, as well as a new display that can run at up to 120Hz.

The new updates to Microsoft’s tablet lineup are on par with what we expected from this Surface launch, with Windows 11 looming on October 5, though Microsoft’s quick pace of recent tablet introductions means that there’s not as much of a performance gap as with prior generations.

Surface Pro 8

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 will go on sale today, and ship on October 5. Prices will begin at $1,100, and go up to $2,600 for consumers.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7+ for Business tops our list of the best Windows tablets, as did 2020’s Surface Pro 7 for consumers. Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 8 improves over both, inside and out. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7+ and the new Surface Pro 8 both use Intel’s 11th-gen Core chips, though the Surface Pro 8 boasts more powerful processor options -- topping out at a Core i7-1185G7, versus the Core i7-1165G7 found on the Surface Pro 7+. Naturally, the Surface Pro 8 includes options to run Windows 11, too.

However, the new Surface Pro 8 is arguably defined more by its external features, a welcome update to a Surface Pro lineup that has remained somewhat static in its look and feel for several years. Interestingly, Microsoft disclosed that the Surface Pro 8 is part of Intel’s Evo platform, reserved for special, intensive collaboration between Intel’s engineers and the laptop manufacturer.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8, with the pen cubby exposed.

Here, Microsoft is introducing a slightly larger 13-inch (2,880x 1,920) multitouch "PixelSense Flow" display that preserves the 3:2 screen ratio, versus the 12.3-inch (2736x1824) displays we’ve traditionally expected as part of the Surface Pro line-up.

Microsoft says the screen will run up to 120Hz, a first for the Surface tablets, designed around the new Dynamic Refresh Rate technology that Microsoft implemented for smoother e-ink experiences.

The Surface Pro 8’s display is up to 12.5 per cent brighter (versus what, we don’t know) with an ambient sensor that will detect both external lighting and colour to adjust the display accordingly. Finally, Microsoft has added Dolby Vision HDR support, not surprising given the AutoHDR feature that’s arriving with Windows 11.

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 8 also includes a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports, indicative of how its Surface Pro X tablet has influenced the design of the Surface line-up.

As it did during the transition between USB-A and USB-C ports, Microsoft is treading lightly here. In addition to the two Thunderbolt 4 ports, the Surface Pro 8 tablet still includes a Surface Connect port.

This will presumably allow the Surface Pro 8 to charge itself either via the included 65W Surface charger, or via a more conventional USB-C charger -- Microsoft said that you’ll be able to quick-charge your Surface Pro 8 to 80 percent in “just over an hour," with a total of 16 hours of available battery life. The addition of Thunderbolt 4 also means that users will have a choice between the pricey Surface Dock and the broader ecosystem of Thunderbolt docks, as well.

Physically, the Surface Pro 8 is surprisingly a bit smaller than its predecessor, even with the larger screen -- that likely means that the bezels have shrunk significantly. But at 1.96 pounds, it's also slightly heavier. Black isn’t a colour option this time around, with Platinum and Graphite as the available choices.

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro Signature Keyboards now include a pen cubby, another way in which the Surface Pro X paved the way for the Surface Pro 8. Here, Microsoft’s cubby hides and charges the new Surface Slim Pen 2 (sold separately). The pen has haptic motor inside that simulates the way in which real pens interact with paper.

The Surface Slim Pen 2 will also offer greater precision and lower latency when inking compared with its predecessor, the Surface Slim Pen, Microsoft said, sensing up to 4,096 levels of pressure.

Microsoft didn’t reveal key details, such as the charging time and battery life of the Slim Pen 2. However, Microsoft did say that the new haptic experiences will only be available with the Surface Pro 8 and its stunning new Surface Laptop Studio.

Microsoft Surface Slim Pen 2 Mark Hachman / IDG

A closeup of the Surface Slim Pen 2.

We do know, however, that the new Surface Pro Signature Keyboards will still be sold separately, as well as the Slim Pen 2. You’ll still have the option to use older Surface Pro Type Covers with the new Surface Pro 8, but you obviously won’t be able to take advantage of the new pen cubby or charging features with those.

Finally, there a few other subtle bonuses: Cellular connectivity appears on the majority of the Surface Pro 8 models, though there’s still a Wi-Fi only option on the low end of Surface Pro 8 commercial offerings. Inside the Surface Pro 8 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon X20 LTE modem, supporting both removable SIM and eSIMs. Microsoft doesn’t list a SIM slot among its port selection, however, so it’s possible only eSIMs will be supported. 

Microsoft's Surface cameras have been beefed up too, with a more powerful 10 megapixel rear camera. Interestingly, Microsoft has taken the user-facing camera and has added sensors that adjust for exposure and colour.

In other words, the display will now expose your camera during a Teams call properly, lighting your face to best advantage. The Surface Pro 8 also includes a colour sensor that will adjust the display's colour to compensate for the ambient light, a nifty touch.

Microsoft doesn’t appear to have made many other changes to the Surface Pro 8 hardware, especially in terms of memory and storage—though only the low-end 128GB and 256GB SSDs are removeable. We’ve included what we know of the Surface Pro 8 specifications, below. Feel free to review our Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ review from 2021 and our Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review from 2020 for additional detail.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 specifications

  • Display: 13-inch PixelSense Flow (2880x1920, 267 PPI)
  • Processor: Consumer: (Core i5-1135G7, Core i7-1185G7) Commercial: (Core i3-1115G4, Core i5-1145G7, Core i7-1185G7)
  • Graphics: UHD (Core i3), Iris Xe (Core i5, i7)
  • Memory: 8/16/32GB LPDDR4x RAM
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB removable SSD; 512GB/1TB
  • Ports: 2 USB-C (USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4), 1 Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover Port, 3.5mm jack
  • Security: Camera (Windows Hello)
  • Camera: 5MP/1080p (user-facing), 10MP (rear-facing)
  • Battery: “Up to 16 hours of battery life”
  • Wireless: WiFi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.1; LTE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66
  • Operating system: Consumer: Windows 11 Home; Business: Windows 10 Pro or Windows 11 Pro
  • Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.37in.
  • Weight: 1.96lb
  • Color: Platinum, Graphite
  • Price: Starting at $1,099.99
  • Optional accessories: Surface Pro Signature Keyboard, Surface Slim Pen 2

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 prices

  • Core i5/8GB RAM/128 GB SSD: $1,099.99 USD (Platinum)
  • Core i5/8/256: $1,199.99 (Platinum, Graphite)
  • Core i5/8/512: $1,399.99 (Platinum, Graphite)
  • Core i5/16/256 - $1,399.99 (Platinum, Graphite)
  • Core i7/16/256 - $1,599.99 (Platinum, Graphite)
  • Core i7/16/512 - $1,899.99 (Platinum, Graphite)
  • Core i7/16/1TB - $2,199.99 (Platinum)
  • Core i7/32/1TB - $2,599.99 (Platinum)

Microsoft Surface Go 3

The most noteworthy feature of the new Surface Go 3 is its updated processor, which now includes a quad-core 10th-gen Core i3 in addition to a dual-core 10th-gen Pentium Gold 6500Y processor.

If you’re willing to risk owning a Windows tablet with just 4GB of RAM (we wouldn’t) then prices will start at $399.99 and go up from there. Otherwise, the Pentium Gold model with 8GB of memory is $549.99. You can preorder today, with delivery on Oct. 5.

Microsoft Surface Go 3 Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft’s Surface Go 3 now has a more powerful processor option: a 10th-gen Core chip.

Interestingly, Microsoft’s LTE options now extend down to the minimum configurations, too, rather than remaining a premium offering. Microsoft executives said that had been a customer request for the Go 3, which is now seen as a PC for individuals within a family, rather than sharing a family PC. There’s a new 256GB storage option. But Windows 10 S -- sorry, Windows 11 S -- is still the default consumer OS.

Otherwise, the Surface Go 3 appears to be largely unchanged from its predecessor, the Surface Go 2 -- an otherwise nifty little tablet that still had some price/performance issues in its previous generation.

Microsoft Surface Go 3 specifications

  • Display: 10.5-inch (1920x1280, 220 ppi), 3:2 aspect ratio PixelSense display with 10-point touch; Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Processor: Intel Pentium Gold 6500Y/Core i3-10100Y
  • Graphics: UHD 615
  • Memory: 4GB or 8GB RAM
  • Storage: 64GB eMMC/128GB-256GB SSD
  • Ports: USB-C, Surface Connect, microSD, 3.5mm jack, optional nanoSIM tray
  • Camera: 5MP (1080p) user-facing, Windows Hello; 8MP (1080p) rear-facing, with autofocus
  • Battery: up to 11 hours of use
  • Wireless: 802.11 ax (Wi-Fi 6); Bluetooth 5.0; Qualcomm LTE Advanced X16 modem
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home in S mode (consumer); Windows 10 Pro (commercial channels)
  • Dimensions (inches): 9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches (8.3mm)
  • Weights (per Microsoft): 1.2 pounds with Wi-Fi, 1.22 with LTE (not counting Type Cover)
  • Color: Silver
  • Optional accessories: Surface Go 2 Signature Type Cover in Platinum ($130), Black ($100), Poppy Red ($130), and Ice Blue ($130); Surface Pen ($100 for Ice Blue or Poppy Red), Microsoft USB-C Travel Hub ($100)
  • Price: $399.99 and up

Microsoft Surface Go 3 prices

  • Pentium Gold/4GB RAM/64GB SSD, WiFi: $399.99
  • Pentium Gold/8GB/128GB, WiFi: $549.00
  • Core i3/8GB/128GB, WiFi: $629.99
  • Pentium Gold/4GB/64GB, LTE: $499.99
  • Core i3/8GB/128GB, LTE: $729.99

Microsoft Surface Pro X

Microsoft’s Surface Pro X tablet has been left largely unchanged since its launch in 2019 and the somewhat middling review of the Surface Pro X we handed out later. Since then, it’s been updated with a faster SQ2 processor in 2020.

Now, in late 2021, Microsoft is adding a Wi-Fi only option to its former LTE lineup. Microsoft would also like you to know that Windows 11 on ARM includes 64-bit X86 emulation by default now, so Windows emulation problems on Arm chips should hopefully go away, mostly. We’re told that some apps still won’t work because of incompatible graphics drivers.

We’ve included the specifications of the Surface Pro X below, followed by the new prices. The Surface Pro X can be preordered today and will ship on October 5.

Microsoft Surface Pro X specifications

  • Display: 13-inch (2880x1920) PixelSense display, multi-touch
  • Processor: Microsoft SQ1 or SQ2
  • Graphics: Microsoft SQ1 Adreno 685/SQ 2 Adreno 690
  • Memory: 8GB/16GB LPDDR4x RAM
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB SSD
  • Ports: 2 USB-C, 1 Surface Connect, 1 optional nanoSIM, Surface keyboard connector
  • Camera: 5MP/1080p (user facing); 10MP autofocus with 1080p/4K video options
  • Battery: up to 15 hours of use
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi5/802.11ac; Bluetooth 5; Snapdragon X24 LTE modem with nanoSIM or eSIM
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home onArm
  • Dimensions (inches): 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.28 in.
  • Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Color: Black, Platinum
  • Optional accessories: Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen Bundle ($270)
  • Price: $899.99 on up

Surface Pro X pricing

  • SQ1/8GB/128GB SSD, WiFi: $899.99 USD (Platinum)
  • SQ1/8GB/128GB, LTE: $999.99 USD (Black)
  • SQ1/8GB/256GB, WiFi: $1,099.99 USD (Platinum)
  • SQ1/8GB/256GB, LTE: $1,249.99 USD (Black)
  • SQ2/16GB/256GB, WiFi: $1,299.99 USD (Platinum)
  • SQ2/16GB/256GB, LTE: $1,449.99 USD (Platinum, Black)
  • SQ2/16GB/512GB, WiFi: $1,499.99 USD (Platinum)
  • SQ2/16GB/512GB LTE: $1,649.99 USD (Platinum, Black)

Accessory pricing

Microsoft also provided prices for its various accessories, including the new Surface Slim Pen 2, a standalone Slim Pen 2 charger, the new Signature Keyboards, and more. A new Ocean Plastic Mouse is made of 20 percent plastic that Microsoft and its partners reclaimed from the ocean -- not oceangoing plastic like some competitors use, but actual plastic reclaimed from the ocean.

Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft’s Ocean Plastic Mouse has an interesting sand/soapy texture.

  • Surface Slim Pen 2: $129.99
  • Surface Slim Pen Charger: $34.99
  • Surface Pro Signature Keyboard w/ Slim Pen 2 Bundle: $279.99
  • Surface Pro Signature Keyboard: $179.99 (Alcantara Ice Blue, Poppy Red, Platinum, Black)
  • Surface Pro Keyboard: $139.99
  • Surface Go Signature Type Cover: $129.99 (Alcantara Ice Blue, Poppy Red, Platinum)
  • Surface Go Type Cover: $99.99 (Black microfiber)
  • Ocean Plastic Mouse: $24.99