Microsoft revealed the latest parts of the Surface series late in 2019. And, as part of that, we got this new Surface Pro. Known as Surface Pro 7, it follows up the Surface Pro 6.

The Pro 7 didn't really make a splash upon its reveal - largely thanks to more exciting new products - because even though it has new hardware under the hood, it's only a soft redesign of the previous model. As such it doesn't feel like a revelatory device.

The Surface Pro X, on the other hand, points towards the future of Surface - but it doesn't (yet) have the performance to match the hardware here.

All that in mind, how does the Surface Pro 7 fare? We've been using one for some weeks to bring you the lowdown.

What's new in the Surface Pro design?

  • Dimensions: 292 x 201 x 8.5mm / Weight: up to 790g
  • Type Cover and Surface Pen available separately
  • Infinite hinge angles up to 165-degrees
  • Colour options: Platinum, Matte Black
  • Unibody magnesium design

The design of the Surface Pro 7 is pretty much identical to the Surface Pro 6, save for a change to the ports on the side - which we'll cover in a bit.

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Again, the size is dictated by the same 12.3-inch PixelSense display, but the bezels remain disappointingly large and this will need to change - probably later in 2020 - to avoid looking dated. After all, this is a premium device. 

That the design has continuity isn't necessarily a bad thing - the Surface kickstand is now pretty iconic, not least because it works well and the tablet is adept at flexing to pretty much all situations instead of typing on your lap or on a thin tray table (need to do that? - get a laptop).

The Surface Pro 7 tablet itself comes in grey or black as usual. The black is probably our choice for the finish; it gets fingerprinty, but the lighter grey option marks more easily. That's not to say it isn't a durable device, however, because the casing tends to be pretty robust device and the kickstand is extremely solid. 

The Surface Pro is certainly one of the most portable fully-fledged PCs you can get, at just shy of 800g - without the Alacantara fabric-clad Type Cover. You will, of course, want to buy a Type Cover to have an actual keyboard, as one isn't included in the box. There are new colour variants, too, the line-up including a darker grey, poppy red (which is what you can see on our fine review model), and dark cobalt.

The Type Cover acts as a really good keyboard, with decent travel on the keys, and not too much flex, so it's worth the investment. And it's not unusual for makers to now segregate parts - that's exactly what Apple does with the iPad Pro

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You can get away without the keyboard, since the Surface Pro 7 is ultimately a tablet and there's only one on screen in Windows 10's Tablet Mode. The choice is yours. Besides, the Type Covers magnetically clip on and come off with ease, depending on what you want to do.

The Surface Pen stylus - also sold separately - is less of an essential, but many will still feel compelled to buy one. And you can get them in various colours to match the new Type Covers, too, as well as grey and black. 

How does the Surface Pro perform?

  • Dual-core Intel Core i3-1005G1, quad-core Intel Core i5-1035G4 and i7-1065G7 options
  • Up to 16GB of RAM; 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB SSDs
  • Intel Iris Plus graphics (UHD Graphics on i3 model)
  • Cited battery life: 10.5 hours per charge

Many aspects of this device are the same as on earlier generations. But, as you'd expect, the core hardware has been updated for this 2020 release with the dual-core Intel Core i3 and quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 options

These are 10th Gen 'Ice Lake' processors, based on Intel's new 10nm production process (unlike the Comet Lake 14nm variants, which are confusingly still called 10th Generation Core) and boast Iris Plus graphics on the Core i5 and i7 models. 

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As such, these are pretty much the best that Intel can currently offer in this type of form factor. Our review model is the Core i7 version with 256GB of RAM. Performance of this top-end system is pretty stunning and we didn't encounter a single slowdown or other processor performance issue in use. In the Geekbench 4.1 general performance test, for example, it scores around the same mark as other big-players on the market, such as the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the iPad Pro. 

Battery life is a little down from last year's eight-ish hours of continuous mixed use, but then we do have the most powerful processor version here. You're looking at around six hours from this unit - but you would probably expect more from the Core i3 or i5 models. If you turn the screen brightness down you can eke it out to over seven hours, but that's your lot.

The 5-megapixel webcam is welcome for relentless video calls, while it supports Windows Hello (as you'd expect it to) so you can log into Windows using just your face. This works brilliantly here, as it does on our regularly-used Surface Laptop 2. There's an 8-megapixel camera on the rear, which is so-so - but then this is a tablet/laptop, so you're not buying it for camera prowess.

What else? The Dolby-enhanced internal speakers are fairly decent and will stand up for a small amount of listening and certainly voice, but naturally they're no substitute for dedicated speakers or headphones. 

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There's also the usual microSD card slot hidden away under the kickstand, which is handy. Surprisingly, though, there's no 4G LTE version as yet - however, the Surface Pro X does have this capability. 

What's the Surface Pro's screen like?

  • 12.3-inch 'PixelSense' LCD display
  • 2736 x 1824 resolution
  • 400 nits brightness
  • 3:2 aspect ratio
  • 10 point touch

High-end Surface devices have always excelled with their displays and this model is no exception. As we mentioned, the 12.3-inch PixelSense display remains the same. It's still pixel dense, with a whopping 267 pixels-per-inch, and as such is pin sharp.

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Colours really punch, too, though the Surface range is no longer the exception but the norm for many high-res laptop displays. Much of the vibrancy is thanks to the brightness level, although the glossy surface still isn't great for using in sunlight. An OLED display next time would be dreamy.

The touch screen is also highly responsive, with no lag. Whisper it quietly, but Windows 10 is actually a pretty good touch computing interface these days. It's still a bit of a mess and is confusing for first-timers - but Microsoft has had plenty of practice with touch on Windows now; it was developing the much-maligned Windows 8 a decade ago. Windows 10 apps, including key third-party apps such as Google Chrome, are now so much better with touch on Windows.

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The inking experience with the Surface Pen is also extremely easy to master and smooth to boot. There are specific apps that take advantage, the experience is made really worthwhile in note-taking and sketching apps such as OneNote or Drawboard PDF. 

Does the Surface Pro have Thunderbolt?

  • 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, 1x 3.5mm jack, 1x microSD reader
  • No Thunderbolt connection
  • Surface Connect

Thankfully the Surface Pro now has a single USB-C port instead of mini DisplayPort as per the Microsoft Surface Pro 6, a change which has also come to the Surface Laptop 3 as well. A full-size USB-A port remains too, which is handy. Coincidentally, the Surface Pro X has two USB-C ports.

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Even without Thunderbolt the Surface Pro 7 will still drive some impressive display hardware, notably dual 4K displays at 60hz if you want. For most users, that will be more than enough. 

Despite the change to the more modern port, there's no Thunderbolt 3 for fast data transfer, which is surprising. A leaked Microsoft presentation blamed the absence of Thunderbolt 3 as down to security concerns, but that doesn't seem to be shared by other vendors who happily use it. The USB 4.0 standard due out late this year includes Thunderbolt, so Microsoft will be forced to adopt it eventually. 

However, charging is still via Microsoft's proprietary Surface Connect port. There is no argument for it instead of charging over USB-C in our opinion, even given the continuity with older Surface devices. 

In a discussion with Surface head Panos Panay last September, we asked why Microsoft persisted with the port and we were told about the virtues of backwards compatibility with other products as well as the ease of use of the magnetic connector. "I think our customers love Surface Connect. In fact, I know they do" he said.

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While Microsoft might still push Surface Connect, it's fast becoming a lone voice. The market is moving to USB-C for data, display and (fast) charging.

The Surface Dock peripheral which does use Surface Connect is now out of date since it doesn't use USB-C. We're expecting that to be refreshed in 2020 but, after all, you can use any USB-C dock. We can't see how Surface Connect will last beyond 2021, in any case - even if Microsoft manages to drag it out for another year in 2020. 

Verdict

The Surface is still the best Windows 2-in-1 around, but it remains ahead due to the lack of highly recommendable options from rivals.

By all accounts, Surface devices are selling well, but we think it needs a design refresh. As we mentioned, we still love the approach - especially the robust shell and kickstand - but the bezels around the display are now too large in context to today's market. The addition of USB-C is very welcome though.

Performance has been given a welcome and necessary boost, even if it seems to have been at the cost of a little battery life - perhaps no surprise with the Intel Core i7 on test here.

The display, too, remains one of the best around - even if it is no longer the exception but the norm. It certainly doesn't offer enough for an upgrader from the last two or three generations of Surface Pro. It still offers a lot more than the so-so Surface Go and unproven Surface Pro X with its patchy ARM-based performance. 

Overall, the Surface Pro remains the best Windows tablet option around, even if it needs a little bit more love in future to keep ahead of other options. 

Also consider

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iPad Pro (2020)

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The iPad Pro has had a recent refresh, but this is still the same design that's been in use since 2018. New this time is a beefed-up rear camera setup and more power, with the A13X processor. It's still the biggest rival to the Surface Pro, even if it's a completely different proposition due to different operating system and workflow. With Apple's increased protestations that the iPad Pro is a laptop replacement, it's an inevitable comparison. 

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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

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Probably our favourite convertible laptop, the XPS 13 360-degree folding model makes a good case for forgetting about the tablet-only design and instead getting a clamshell that can do it all. It's an understated if good-looking laptop that can pretty much do it all and it now has 10th generation Intel Core processors as well (it complies with the new Project Athena spec for Intel-powered ultraportable laptops).