Surface Pro 8 review: The best Surface for people who love the Surface


Microsoft needed three tries to get the Surface Pro right. The 2nd- and 3rd-generation models both improved aggressively on the first model’s small screen and mediocre battery life, arriving at something that was laptop-y enough to fill in for a laptop but tablet-y enough to be unique.

And then, things just sort of… stood still. Some of the ports changed over the years—late 2019’s Surface Pro 7 finally got USB-C—but the basic design and accessory compatibility have been exactly the same in every mainline Surface Pro between 2014 and now.

Five generations’ worth of accessory interoperability is laudable and useful in some cases, especially if you’re using multiple generations of Surface Pro tablets in a business and you need to be able to swap parts quickly. But some elements of the Surface Pro 3 design have been showing their age in the last couple of generations—Thunderbolt and/or USB-C ports accomplish nearly everything that the proprietary Surface Connect port is trying to do, and other laptops, tablets, and convertibles had been shrinking their display bezels for a few years to increase screen size.

Which brings us to the Surface Pro 8. The template here remains the same as it has been since the first time Microsoft got the Surface right: a decent-sized screen, the guts of an adequate Ultrabook, and a kickstand and detachable keyboard cover with solid pen support. But Microsoft has finally refined the device in important ways, including some that we’ve seen first in other Surface devices. If you have an older Surface and are wanting to upgrade or you want to buy a Surface to replace the laptop you have now, this is the place to start.

What’s new?

A refreshed design

Microsoft has modeled the Surface Pro 8 on the design of the ARM-based Surface Pro X—the two tablets can even share keyboard covers. The Pro 8 is 0.1 inch (or 2 millimeters) thicker than the Pro X to make room for the additional cooling hardware that an Intel processor requires. But you’d need to have the two devices next to each other to really spot the difference.

Compared to the Surface Pro 7 and the previous Surface design, the Pro 8 is near-identical in dimensions, but it swaps the 12.3-inch, 2736×1824 screen for a 13-inch, 2880×1920 panel with the same 267 PPI pixel density and the Surface lineup’s characteristic 3:2 aspect ratio. The bezels all around the display are slimmer to allow for the bigger screen without increasing the size—the same design trick we’ve seen in just about every phone, tablet, and laptop in the last few years.

The Pro 8’s bezels are comparable to the iPad Pro’s on the left and right of the screen, but they’re also thicker on the top and bottom (assume I’m always talking about the Pro 8 in landscape mode unless I say otherwise). This presumably leaves room for the webcam and IR Windows Hello camera above the screen while also allowing space for the keyboard to rest against the screen without blocking the display.

Also new to the Pro 8 is a 120 Hz refresh rate, but out of the box the tablet still uses the more typical 60 Hz refresh rate. That’s probably a decision made to conserve the tablet’s battery life, which remains OK but not great compared to laptops with similar performance. Microsoft also supports an Apple-esque adaptive color-tinting feature called Adaptive Color, which, like Apple’s True Tone, adapts the Surface’s color temperature to the ambient light where you are.

The only bad thing I can say about the screen is that, unlike Apple’s iPad Pros or MacBook Pros, the Surface Pro 8 still doesn’t support the DCI-P3 color gamut. The display covers 99.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut and has a respectable 1211:1 contrast ratio and 433 nit maximum brightness, but its DCI-P3 coverage is an average-ish 82.9 percent, according to our i1 Display Studio colorimeter.

New ports and accessories

The new Surface Slim Pen 2.

Andrew Cunningham

The Surface Pro 7 finally added a USB-C port back in 2019, which didn’t totally replace the proprietary Surface Connect port but did at least allow the tablet to be used with USB-C chargers and monitors that support USB power delivery. The Surface Pro 8 replaces the USB-C port and the old Surface’s USB-A port with a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports, which offer faster data-transfer speeds for Thunderbolt accessories and allow for external GPU support while maintaining compatibility with USB-C things. The Surface Connect port stays on, with all the same capabilities as before.

The loss of the USB-A port might still be a little frustrating to people with an abundance of legacy accessories. On the other hand, I think it’s a tradeoff worth making to be able to connect a pair of monitors to the Surface without needing to rely on an expensive dock or some kind of DisplayPort daisy-chaining. At any rate, the MacBook lineup, Dell’s XPS 13 and 15, and other laptops have already set the all-USB-C precedent. The loss of the microSD card reader is more irritating—you’ll need to rely on an external dongle or, if you’re using a camera, your camera’s USB port to get data off of SD cards.

The Pro 8 uses the same keyboard cover as the Surface Pro X—it’s pretty much the same as the old Type Cover but with room for the Surface Slim Pen or Slim Pen 2 in it. The trackpad is definitely smaller than in laptops like the XPS 13 9310, but it’s as big as it needs to be, and it still feels accurate. The backlit chiclet keyboard looks and feels good, too. But as with all of Microsoft’s Type Covers, there’s some flex in the keyboard deck that you don’t get on a regular laptop with a sturdier base (Lenovo’s ThinkPad X12 Detachable still has the most stable-feeling keyboard cover I’ve used with a Surface-like PC).

The Surface’s Slim Pen 2 is just a mild improvement over the first-generation Slim Pen. It moves the button from the narrow edge of the pen to the wider, flatter edge. And when used with newer Surface devices, including the Pro 8, Laptop Studio, and Laptop 4, it has a nifty haptic feedback feature that makes it vibrate subtly, like a real pencil or pen would if you dragged it across paper.

I’m not an artist, but for an artist’s take on these devices, I always check Brad Colbow’s YouTube channel. He has years’ worth of videos on Surface Pro, iPad, and other pencil-compatible devices, and I trust what he has to say about each tablet’s utility for people who do lots of drawing and inking with their tablets. Colbow’s problem with the Surface lineup—and one that the Pro 8 and the new pen don’t fix—is its use of the Microsoft Pen Protocol.

Compared to the iPads and tablets with Wacom digitizers, Colbow says that MPP pens are great at palm rejection, which makes them good writing tools. But they’re prone to drawing somewhat wobbly lines, which can make them more difficult to use for fine line work. I can definitely recreate this wavy-line effect on the Surface Pro 8 with the new pen if I’m not drawing quickly, though you don’t notice it if you’re writing or doing work involving quicker strokes. If you already use a Surface and you’re fine with the Pen’s performance, then the Pro 8 will continue to work just fine for you. But the newer devices don’t address complaints that people have had about past versions.



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Written by bourbiza

bourbiza is an entertainment reporter for iltuoiphone News and is based in Los Angeles.

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