Microsoft Surface Pro 8 – a whole new device with Thunderbolt 4 (review)

Let’s face it – the Surface Pro range has not significantly changed since its inception. The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 may look like its predecessors, but it has come into the 21st Century with a 100% new hybrid tablet.

To say I am excited about the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 is an understatement. I have been using the Surface Pro series since its launch in 2013. Back then, it was leading edge with a 3:2 ratio screen that was terrific for office productivity; Windows 8; an excellent kickstand for tablet; and a detachable keyboard for hybrid laptop forms.

But as time marched on, Surface eschewed simple things like the latest Intel generation processors, USB-C (first seen in the SP6) and docking options were limited to what the Surface Connect Ribbon could support. I started lusting after better tech because Surface Pro was outdated.

Well, the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 has it all – 11th Gen Intel Evo processors, larger 13″ touch screen, Thunderbolt/USB-C 4.0 and 3.2/Gen 2 and even a removable SSD. It firmly regains its place as the premier hybrid that can do it all. All is right with the computing world again.

 Microsoft Surface Pro 8

WebsiteProduct Page
Price
Ram/SSD
i5/8/128/256GB $1649/1799
i5/16/256/512GB $2099/TBA
i7/16/256/512/1TB $2399/2849/3299
Special prices for students
ColoursPlatinum and Graphite depends on the model
 Microsoft Store and Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, The Good Guys, and other major retailers
WarrantyOne year ACL with optional 2/3/4 Accidental Damage coverage
Country of OriginChina
CompanyMicrosoft is an American multinational technology company with headquarters in Redmond, Washington. It develops, manufactures, licenses, supports, and sells computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers, and related services
MoreCyberShack Microsoft news and reviews

Brief specs – Welcome back to the future!

  • 13″, 2880 x 1920, 120Hz, 3.2:2 PixelSense screen with Dolby Vision and narrow bezels
  • Intel Core i5-1135G7 or i7-1185G7
  • Up to 32GB RAM and a removable 128/256GB SSD (Fixed 512GB or 1TB)
  • 2 x Thunderbolt 4 ports (also USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 and USB-C 4.0 compatible)
  • Surface Connect Ribbon port and new Surface Type cover port
  • 3.5mm 4-pole combo earphone/mic
  • Windows Hello 5MP 1080p front and 10MP 4K rear camera
  • Stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos downmix
  • Wi-Fi 6 AC and BT 5.1
  • 50Wh battery for up to 16 hours
  • 287mm x 208mm x 9.3mm x 891g (plus keyboard and slim pen 290g)
  • Type Cover from $259.95, and with Slim Pen 2 $429.95. Pen only $189.95

The key takeaways here are a larger screen in the same sized body, 2 x Thunderbolt 4 (40Gbps each) with upstream power charge, and it retains the Surface Connect (10Gbps) for power and some expansion.

First impression – It is a Surface Pro only sexier

Narrow bezels to fit a larger 13″ screen, looks brighter, new anodised aluminium case with more rounded edges, but otherwise, it is a Surface Pro. Except it is not.

Where the previous generations have kept the same size, this is marginally different. I noticed because it won’t fit my excellent, beautifully designed Kensington SD7000 Surface Pro Dock. No matter, as that was limited to 2x4K @30fps monitors. If you want to expand this correctly, you will need a Thunderbolt dock.

We recommend the Plugable range as they use the latest Intel Titan Thunderbolt Chipset and have models ranging from 60-100W (you only need the 60W version). These have two video ports and additional Thunderbolt/USB-C downstream ports.

Screen – a 13″ beauty

The screen is an LG made LP129WT212166, IPS 10-point touch. It is 2880×1920, 267ppi, 16.7m colour, 120Hz (adaptive from 30-120Hz), 450 nit brightness, and 3:2 ratio width (274mm) and height (183mm).

Microsoft calls this PixelSense, and it is a Calibrated panel. It can decode Dolby Vision Content (processed by the Intel Xe GPU) and downmixed the screen’s HDR capabilities. It has an Ambient Colour Sensor that adjusts both brightness and colour for the surrounding ambient light (like Apple True Tone). This works very well – it is not just a sensor.

It also supports 10-point touch (many laptops are 4-point), Microsoft Pen Protocol (MPP or NTrig) and its Tactile Signals for the Surface Slim Pen 2.

Tests: Exceed

  • 75% DCI-P3 (movies Vivid setting)
  • 105% sRGB (sRGB setting)
  • Delta E 2.7 (<4 is good)
  • Average 460 nits (500 peak)
  • 1300:1 contrast

In summary, a nice, bright, super responsive screen that, as always, is a pleasure to use for extended periods.

 CPU/GPU/RAM/SSD

  • i5-1135G7 Intel Evo 10nm, 2.4-4.2Ghz, with Intel Iris Xe graphics 80 execution units. Geekbench 5 single/multicore 1252/4208
  • i7-1185G7 3-4.8Ghz (as reviewed) Intel Xe 96 execution units. Geekbench 5 single/multicore 1347/5299

You will find these in every Intel Evo based PC, and they all perform similarly. Evo essentially means balancing performance and battery life (12-28W TPD). Intel nailed this combo of on-chip features:

  • Wi-Fi 6 AX (2400Mbps full-duplex VHT160)
  • BT 5.1
  • Realtek sound processing supporting Dolby Atmos
  • 2 x Thunderbolt 4 channels (ports)
  • Support for Dual-Channel LPDDR4X-4267 (supplied) or DDR4-3200

Remember, this has a low-power draw, so it is not like a desktop processor with almost unlimited power and cooling. It will handle most games at low to medium frame rates.

Here is a collection of benchmarks for the i5 and i7.

SSD – M2.2230

Our review unit uses a KIOXIA KBG40ZNS256G BG4A PCIe 3.0×4 NVMe 1.3 SSD. It is accessible via a small hatch on the back. This SSD reaches mid-tier speeds of 2200/1400Mbps sequential read/write. Our test was 2326/1576.33.

Caveat: we have not tested this user upgradability. The SSD is a 96-layer BiCS Flash using 3D Toshiba designed controller and firmware. As Windows 11 registers to a machine ID, you should be able to replace this with any brand of M2.2230 SSD and install a Windows 11 ISO image and it will automatically activate.

Battery – up to 15 hours but more like 9

 Like any laptop battery, it depends on what apps you use and how you use it. For example, some programs are battery and memory hogs. The best word to describe the Surface Pro 8 battery life is ‘variable’.

Typical office use tests over three weeks week ranged from nine hours (60Hz screen) to six hours (120Hz).

We tried a video loop, 150 nits, aeroplane mode and got 11 hours. PC Mark Office use was 9 hours and 4 minutes.

The Surface Connect charger (Ribbon) outputs 15V/4/60W and will fill the 50W battery in about 1.5 hours. The unit is also 60W PPS upstream chargeable via Thunderbolt. We found that it tended to charge slightly slower at 454-50W (not an issue).

Ports

While we have covered this, remember that it has 2 x 40Gbps full duplex Thunderbolt 4 ports. These are fully backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 3, USB-C 4.0 (20Gbps), USB-C 3.1/3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps), USB-C 3.1/3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps) and USB-A 3.0 (480Mbps half-duplex)

To attain these speeds, you need a suitable cable. For example, a USB-A to USB-C cable is usually USB 2.0 or 480Mbps half-duplex (20MBps) and won’t carry more than 10W. An unmarked USB-C to USB-C cable will be 5Gbps, with a maximum of 5V/3A/15W. You need to look for rated cables like the Aussie Zeus-X Pro that supports 20V/5A/100W upstream 10Gbps, ALT DP (video and audio stream) and 4K@60Hz.

Thunderbolt cables are market 3 or 4 and have a maximum length of .5m (passive) or 2m (active). You can read more at our USB and Thunderbolt cables made easy.

We tested with a Plugable TB3 dock, and it supports 2 x 4K@60Hz plus the internal screen and one other monitor over Micracast or USB-C – a total of four displays.

Oh, and don’t forget the hidden USB-A 3.0 5V/1A/5W port in the charger brick. It is convenient for data and charge.

Sound – Exceed

It has 2 x 2W stereo forward-firing speakers, a Realtek High Definition Audio SST (Intel) 16-bit/48kHz (fixed rate) sound sub-system. It will decode Dolby Atmos metadata and downmix to the micro-speakers. Ther is an analogue out 3.5mm four-pole earphone/mic port that is perfect to drive AUX-IN sound devices.

You can select Dolby Atmos for the built-in speakers or headphones – not both. Don’t be confused about Dolby Atmos – is it not. There is no 3D spatial sound, but the sound stage is perhaps a little wider than expected.

We tested using the Dolby Atmos for speakers, and the sound was superb. The maximum volume is 80dB (loud enough), and mid-bass kicks in at 65Hz, ramping up instantly to 120Hz, where it is flat to nearly 10kHz. This is an almost perfect neutral sound signature with loads of well-controlled bass and treble. This is practically unheard of in laptop computers. You can read more in our guide How to tell if you have good music (sound signature is the key).

Keyboard/trackpad/kickstand and Slim Pen 2 – not for War and Peace

Alas, the keyboard/trackpad and Slim Pen are optional extras and not backwards compatible. The keyboard has a different connector to earlier SPs, and the Slim Pen supports Tactile Signals.

The review keyboard is Alcantara covered (felt/suede effect) over a new carbon fibre frame – it is pretty hard wearing. The keyboard throw is 1.4mm, and the 30g pressure is relatively light. It is a good keyboard for travel, but it does not address the characteristic Surface deck bounce.

The trackpad will go from top right to about 25mm above the bottom left of the screen. It is pretty good, but you may prefer a mouse for productivity.

The kickstand is infinitely adjustable from 0-165°.

The test unit has the $189.95 Slim Pen 2 and dock that induction charges (optional external USB-A charger is $49.95). It is flat like a builder’s pencil, surprisingly comfortable. Tactile signals mean haptic feedback when you use natural gestures. It also features 4069 pressure levels and Zero force inking.

Cameras/mics – above average

  • 5.0MP front-facing fixed focus camera with 1080p video
  • 10.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p and 4k video
  • Dual far-field Studio Mics

The front camera supports Windows Hello IR login. It is quick and works well in low-light. Photo quality (stills) varies from 3.7MP in 16:9 to 4.4MP in 3:2. Video quality is a maximum of 1080po@30fps. It produces clear, natural-looking videos for video conferences, albeit its position is not flattering to double chins!

The rear camera varies from 8.9MP 16:9 to 10.3MP in 4:3. Video is a maximum of 2160P@30fps, but it lacks any stabilisation. 1080p@30fps is perfect with natural colour and good detail. There is a Pro mode if you want to play with the settings.

Mics are ‘studio’ quality and good to about three metres away. They record in stereo as well.

Missing

  • MicroSD slot

Windows 11

We won’t go into this apart to say it is not all that different to Windows 10 and has a low learning curve – perhaps more macOS’ish.

  • Centred (or left) Start menu
  • New snap groups and desktop enhancements
  • Smart docking/undocking with external monitors
  • Chat with Microsoft Teams
  • Redesigned Microsoft Store
  • Widgets for photos, meeting reminders, to-do lists, news, weather, and more
  • Auto HDR
  • DirectX 12 Ultimate with DirectStorage for faster game loading
  • Xbox Game Pass
  • Redesigned Photos app
  • Updated Snipping Tool
  • New Clock app with Focus Sessions

Cybershack’s view – The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 is what I have been waiting for

Having lusted over the HP x360 Spectre, Lenovo x360 Yoga and other Thunderbolt 4 Intel Evo ultra-lights (all of which are excellent), the thought of all these features in an 869g tablet puts it well ahead of the pack.

But remember, it is Intel Evo and Windows 11 platform – somewhat of a commodity, so you have a lot of choices. Your decision comes down to what works best for what you can afford.

Why do I like the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 so much?

  • 3.2 format touch screen is better for displaying Office documents – productivity
  • Supports four screens, including 4K@60Hz
  • 2 x Thunderbolt 4 ports and a hidden USB-A port
  • Replaceable SSD
  • An excellent ‘reference’ quality display that is easy on the eye with accurate sRGB colours, brightness, sharpness and auto adjustment
  • A terrific build quality – mandatory if you travel
  • Great cooling, so no perceptible throttling
  • Offers a tablet for travel and a desktop for the office
  • Regularly updated (as well as Windows 11)
  • A stylus (option if I need it) for PowerPoint and Windows Ink
  • Can lay back to 165° for a studio-style workspace
  • Meets my productivity needs for speed
  • Windows Hello is a natural way to sign in
  • The i5 version is more than enough for office productivity
  • Terrific sound for a tablet
  • The full-fat Windows version of an iPad Pro offers me way more functionality than I can’t get with iOS (or Android).

What don’t I like?

  • It won’t fit my Kensington Surface Pro 7 (and earlier) dock
  • We don’t comment on price, but it is more expensive than the Surface Pro 7. Value, however, you get in spades
  • Optional keyboard and pen knocks the price up
  • Demand has been so strong it is hard to get many models
  • I don’t have one (yet)!

Microsoft Surfce Pro 8

From $1699 to $3299
9.2

Features

9.0/10

Value

8.0/10

Performance

9.0/10

Usability

10.0/10

Design

10.0/10

Pros

  • Beautiful 3:2 display
  • Tonnes of horsepower even in the i5 version
  • 2 x Thunderbolt 4 ports for expansion
  • Great webcam
  • Surface Pro has finally caught up to its competitors

Cons

  • Battey life is variable – count on 9-10 hours
  • Accessories like keyboard and pen are expensive
  • It is all expensive but offers better value than ever


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