Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 is noteworthy in one particular aspect: You now have a choice between an always-connected version with an Arm processor, or a more powerful 12th-gen Core chip for more traditional use.
Essentially, the single Surface Pro 9 represents the merging of two product lines, with the traditional Surface Pro tablet and the Surface Pro X now transformed as the Surface Pro 9 and Surface Pro 9 with 5G, respectively. And that’s interesting, since the Surface Pro 9’s two different versions continue to significantly differ in both their capabilities and even their feature sets: one for performance, and one for connectivity.
Both versions of the Surface Pro 9 will begin shipping on October 25, starting at $999.99 for the 12th-gen Core (Alder Lake) and $1,299.99 for the Surface Pro 9 with 5G (Arm) version, which uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 chip designed to Microsoft’s specifications, known as the SQ3. The Surface Pro 9 for Business will use even more powerful 12th-gen Core options. Preorders begin today.
It’s fair to say that that the Surface Pro 9 is essentially identical to its predecessor, the Surface Pro 8, with exactly the same physical dimensions (11.3 x 8.2 x 0.37 inches). Microsoft shaved 0.02 pounds off of the chassis weight, however, so both the SQ3 and Core versions weigh in at 1.94 pounds, with a slight variation for the SQ3’s WWAN options. Granted, this makes the Arm-powered version slightly thicker than Microsoft’s Arm-powered Surface Pro X.
A key feature of the Snapdragon architecture is the neural processing unit (NPU). Recall that Microsoft took advantage of this capability in enabling Eye Contact, an AI-powered feature that makes it appear as if your gaze never wavers from the camera during a Teams call. Microsoft implemented this inside the Surface Pro X, and a more full-featured version, known as Windows Studio, ships with the Surface Pro 9’s SQ3 variant.
The default Surface Pro Signature keyboard will continue the Surface Pro X’s design, with a Surface Slim Pen 2 tucked into the keyboard’s charging cradle. The keyboards as well as the Surface Pro 9 chassis will be available in two new colors: Sapphire (blue) and Forest (green) color, as well as traditional Graphite. Platinum will be exclusive to the Surface Pro 9 with 5G. Microsoft didn’t disclose the price of the new keyboards, however.
The new Signature keyboards are made with partially biobased Alcantara material containing at least 12 percent renewable content that is derived from sugarcane waste, Microsoft said. The tablet will also be compatible with with the existing Surface Pro, Surface Pro Signature, Surface Pro X, and Surface Pro X Signature keyboards.
There’s something special, too: “To help us celebrate 10 years of Surface, we’ve partnered with London-based global design house ‘Liberty’ to bring art and technology together to create a special-edition Surface Pro keyboard and laser-etched Surface Pro 9 with an exclusive pattern in a vibrant blue floral inspired by the Windows 11 Bloom—available in select markets, only at Liberty and Microsoft Stores while supplies last,” Microsoft’s chief product officer, Panos Panay, wrote in a blog post.
Internally, Microsoft is now using LPDDR5X (versus the SP8’s LPDDR4X) memory and making all of the SSD options removeable. The Surface Pro 9 with 5G, however, doesn’t quite offer all the same goodies as its Core cousin, with older memory technologies and smaller storage options. It appears Microsoft also finally did away with the 3.5mm headphone jack, replacing it with an external Audio Dock instead.
Surface Pro 9 basic features
- Display: 13-inch PixelSense Flow (2880×1920, 267 PPI) up to 120Hz with dynamic refresh rate
- Processor: Surface Pro 9 (consumer): 12th-gen Core i5-1235U, Core i7-1255U; Surface Pro 9 for Business: Core i5-1245U, Core i7-1265U; Surface Pro 9 with 5G: Microsoft SQ3
- Graphics: Surface Pro 9: Iris Xe (Core i5, i7); Surface Pro 9 with 5G: SQ3 Adreno 8CX Gen 3
- Memory: Surface Pro 9: 8/16/32GB LPDDR5 RAM; Surface Pro 9 with 5G: 8/16GB LPDDR4X RAM
- Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB removable SSD; Surface Pro 9 with 5G: 128GB/256GB/512GB removeable SSD
- Ports: 2 USB-C (USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4), 1 Surface Connect port, Surface Keyboard Port
- Security: Camera (Windows Hello)
- Camera: Surface Pro 9: undisclosed/1080p (user-facing), 10MP/1080p and 4K video (rear-facing); Surface Pro 9 with 5G: same, but with Windows Studio Effects
- Battery: Surface Pro 9: 15.5 hours; Surface Pro 9 with 5G: 19 hours
- Wireless: Both: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.1; Surface Pro 9 with 5G: see below
- Operating system: Consumer, both Surface Pro 9 versions: Windows 11 Home; Business, Surface Pro 9: Windows 10 Pro or Windows 11 Pro; Surface Pro 9 with 5G: Windows 11 Pro
- Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.37 inches
- Weight: Surface Pro 9: 1.94 pounds; Surface Pro 9 with 5G: 1.95 pounds (mmWave); 1.94 pounds (Sub6)
- Color: Platinum, Graphite, Sapphire, Forest, Liberty (limited supplies)
- Price: Surface Pro 9 (consumer): $999 to $2,599.99, depending on configuration; Surface Pro 9 with 5G (consumer): $1,299.99 to $1,899.99; Surface Pro 9 for Business: $1,099.99 to $2,699.99; Surface Pro 9 with 5G for Business: $1,399.99 to undisclosed
- Optional accessories: Surface Slim Pen 2: $97 on sale at Amazon; Surface Pro Signature Keyboard: on sale at Amazon for $149.99
How to choose which Surface Pro 9 to buy
The Surface Pro 9 variants do have a few tradeoffs. For one, Intel’s new 12th-gen Alder Lake chips dramatically outperform their predecessors, the 11th-gen Core chips, while a footnote attached to the Surface Pro 9 with 5G notes that the tablet “will not install some games and CAD software, and some third-party drivers or antivirus software,” due to the Arm chip inside—games with OpenGL 1.2 or above or with anti-cheat software, essentially. Remember, too, that the Thread Director software included in Windows 11 (not Windows 10, commercial users) has been tuned for Intel’s Alder Lake architecture.
If it matters, the Core version is an Intel Evo design; the Arm version, not surprisingly, is not. The Surface Pro 9 also supports Dolby Vision IQ, an HDR technology; the Surface Pro 9 with 5G does not. While both devices are secured-core PCs for protection against firmware attacks, only the Surface Pro 9 with 5G uses Microsoft’s Pluton security block. (We discussed the likely reasons for this disparate approach in a previous article.)
Still, the Surface Pro 9 with 5G is the only Surface Pro 9 that offers 5G, and it also offers a moderate improvement in battery life. There are quite a number of different LTE and 5G options that Microsoft will offer, which we’ve included below for those who are interested.
Also, while Microsoft touted its “Windows Studio effects” as a feature for Windows 11’s 2022 Update (22H2), that feature never showed up in the real world. Now we know why: It will depend on the SQ3’s NPU. It looks like the Surface Pro 9 with 5G will offer Automatic Framing (a software-based zoom to “frame” your face in the center of the screen, if possible; the aforementioned Eye Contact feature; Voice Focus, which uses AI to filter out background noise; and Portrait Background Blur. The latter, of course, is used within Zoom and Microsoft Teams already, though it’s a feature of the app, not Windows.
Interestingly, Microsoft tells PCWorld that these features require 15 TOPS, or trillions of operations per second. Only the SQ3 or the related Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 can deliver this AI performance, Microsoft says.
Microsoft is also saying that the new camera includes a “4-degree tilt,” but it’s not quite clear whether this is a physical feature or the leeway the camera has with Automatic Framing.
Microsoft also included a lengthy list of the various pricing options associated with the various Surface Pro 9 models—which, when you start factoring in the various options for the consumer models versus the Surface Pro 9 for Business, as well as the SQ3 versus Core, can get quite lengthy. It appears that Microsoft hasn’t settled on a few of its high-end prices, either.
We’ll have more on the Surface Pro 9 when and if we can get our hands on a review unit.