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(Pocket-lint) - When Microsoft revealed the Surface Pro 8 at its online event on 22 September 2021 - presented by an almost-tearful-with-excitement Panos Panay, Microsoft's Chief Product Officer - it was clear this device is no small update over its Surface Pro 7 predecessor. 

Indeed, the Surface Pro 8 features a new screen, new hardware, new accessories - just about new everything. There are certainly similarities to the older Surface Pro 7 - it hasn't forgotten its design heritage, that's for sure - so how do the two products differ and should you be considering an upgrade?

What's the same?

  • Screen maintains 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Both retain the 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Both use Surface Connect & Type Cover ports

While the Surface Pro 8 maintains a similar product footprint and the same screen aspect ratio, pretty much every key aspect has otherwise changed for the better compared to the Pro 7.

Both devices still use the Surface Connect port for power - we'd much rather it was simply another USB-C port for versatility - and the Type Cover port remains for adding a keyboard (albeit a new one for the Pro 8).

Other than the 3.5mm headphone jack still being included - a pleasant surprise - and the 'Platinum' finish still being the standard, that's pretty much where the similarities end.

What's different?

Display

  • Surface Pro 8: 13-inch PixelSense Flow Display
    • 2880 x 1920 resolution (267ppi), 120Hz refresh, Dolby Vision HDR support
  • Surface Pro 8: 12.3-inch PixelSense Display
    • 2736 x 1824 resolution (267ppi), 60Hz refresh

The newer Surface Pro ekes out a little more screen real-estate than its predecessor, upping the diagonal measurement from 12.3-inch to 13-inch. That's effectively been accomplished by reducing the side bezels, meaning a more screen-centric design for the Pro 8. Happily the resolution scales to deliver identical pixels per inch density, so you're getting identical visual fidelity on both the screens despite the size increase.

The Pro 8's screen brings other of-the-moment upgrades too: there's a variable refresh rate, at up to 120Hz, meaning it can cycle at double the frames per second compared to the Pro 7. That will make for smoother visuals where needed, but as it's adaptive it may also aid with battery life - keeping a low refresh rate for more static, document-based content, for example.

It would also appear that the Pro 8's screen is capable of a higher maximum brightness, on account of Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) support, although Microsoft's technical specification doesn't make any specific mention of this - so it's possible the two panels are equally bright, except that the newer product has the relevant Dolby licence.

Design

  • Surface Pro 8: 287 x 208 x 9.3mm / 889g
  • Surface Pro 7: 292 x 201 x 8.5mm  / 775g
  • Surface Pro 8: 2x USB-C (Thunderbolt 4)
  • Surface Pro 8: 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A

From a physical standpoint the newer Surface Pro 8 is a tiny bit larger than its predecessor - although you'd barely notice, as it's a few millimetres (or fractions thereof) here and there. The slight increase means a little more weight, by over 100g, so a touch more to the scales.

Elsewhere it's ports that are the biggest change. The Pro 8 has dropped the larger-scale USB-A port, replacing it with an additional smaller-scale USB-C. The Pro 8 also supports Thunderbolt 4 speeds, which has been eternally lacking from the Surface Pro line-up prior to this release. That's a step forward that we've long been requesting.

Power

  • Surface Pro 8: 11th Gen Intel Core CPU options
    • Quad core: i5-1135G7 or i7-1185G7
  • Surface Pro 7: 10th Gen Intel Core CPU options
    • Dual core: i3-1005G1 / Quad core: i5-1035G4, i7-1065G7
  • Surface Pro 8: 8GB RAM min / Surface Pro 7: 4GB RAM min / Both: 16GB max
  • Surface Pro 8: Up to 16 hours battery life / Surface Pro 7: Up to 10.5 hours

The Surface Pro series hasn't ever offered discrete graphics and that doesn't change for the Pro 8 - you'll need to look for the Surface Laptop Studio, coming 2022, for Nvidia RTX support.

What the Surface Pro 8 does do, however, is amp up the CPU options. There's the inevitable move from 10th Gen in the Pro 7 to 11th Gen in the Pro 8. But gone is the entry-level Core i3, with the starting point now a quad-core i5 processor with a minimum of 8GB RAM. It's earning its "Pro" name all the more - but that will mean a larger price tag, too.

The Pro 8 also gets the Intel Evo badge, which is like a stamp of approval confirming that the device can surpass certain thresholds for performance and battery life. And the newer model certainly claims big on the battery life: Microsoft suggests it can deliver up to 16 hours, which is a big increase on the 10.5 hours of the Pro 7 (note: we typically achieved seven hours from the Pro 7, so a 25 per cent less than claimed result would seem a fair bet - but 12 hours from the Pro 8 would be stellar).

Accessories

  • Surface Pro 8 introduces 'Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2' (£249 / $279.99)
  • Surface Pro 7 sells Type Cover and Surface Pen individually
  • Neither includes pen or stylus in the box

Another significant change for the Surface Pro 8 is the introduction of a new keyboard cover, called the Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2, which also includes a new stylus, along with its own nook in which to stow and charge it. It's a great idea bundling the two accessories into one, much neater than the separate Type Cover and Pen of the earlier Pro 7.

Software

  • Surface Pro 8: Windows 11
  • Surface Pro 7: Windows 10

With the Windows 11 operating system (OS) launch just around the corner, it's natural that the latest Microsoft hardware will also feature it straight out of the box. This should bring some app-based benefits when, for example, using the new Slim Pen 2. Pro 7 users will likely be able to upgrade to the newer OS on their older hardware.

That new Slim Pen 2 also has dedicated haptic feedback that sounds really interesting, able to emulate a real pen-or-brush-on paper sensation, as is the claim.

Conclusion

  • Surface Pro 8: from £999 / $1,099
  • Surface Pro 7: now from £639 / $649.99

The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 is a real step-up for the series, delivering more screen thanks to less bezel, more power, faster connectivity, more battery life promise, and a rethought optional keyboard and stylus offering. It looks all-round smarter.

However, the Pro 8 is all-round more expensive, too, with the starting price significantly up compared to its predecessor. Potentially well worth it, unless the older model's cut-price is a temptation too difficult to ignore.

We'd still like to see the charging port drop Microsoft's Surface Connect port though, as an extra USB port would be altogether more versatile. 

If you're upgrading then it's also worth noting that the minor diference in size between the Pro 7 and Pro 8 products will make compatibility with older Type Covers implausible for the newer generation (despite sharing the same Type Cover port type).

Writing by Mike Lowe. Editing by Britta O'Boyle. Originally published on 23 September 2021.