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Surface Pro 9 review: Microsoft's answer to the iPad Pro


The Microsoft Surface Pro is a tablet with so much power that it can also be used as a laptop. The test of the new model reveals a lot of good things, but also something surprising.

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Surface Pro 9 with keyboard: a little tablet, a little notebook

Photo: Matthias Kremp / DER SPIEGEL

In addition to notebooks such as the Surface Laptop 5 (our test here) and the Surface Laptop Studio (our test here), Microsoft offers the tablets of the Surface Pro series as the third category of its mobile computers.

If you will, this is an answer to Apple's iPad Pro: powerful touch computers that you can use with a pen and keyboard like a notebook, but you don't have to.

With the Surface and its Windows 11 operating system, I see clear advantages in using the device with a keyboard.

The prices for a suitable keyboard start at Microsoft at 150 euros, the digital pen Surface Slim Pen 2 costs 130 euros.

If you buy it, you should choose the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard, which is slightly more expensive at 180 euros. It has a recess in which the pen can not only be transported safely, but also charged.

Intel and Microsoft chips

But before that, you have to decide on one of the two very different versions of the Microsoft tablet.

On the one hand, there is the Surface Pro 9 with Intel chips from the Core i5 and Core i7 series.

These models cost from 1299 euros, the top model with i7 chip, 32 gigabytes (GB) of working memory (RAM) and a 1 terabyte SSD is on the price list at 2979 euros.

However, the variants that are more attractive for on the go are the models with Microsoft's SQ3 processor.

It's based on ARM technology, so it's more like smartphone chips than PC processors.

As a result, it is not quite as powerful as the Intel chips, but it is more enduring.

While Microsoft states a battery life of up to 15.5 hours for the Intel variants, the data sheet lists up to 19 hours for the SQ3 version.

I didn't measure this information exactly, but I easily got through a workday with my test device and usually still had enough energy to not have to look for a socket until the afternoon of the following day.

The prices of this variant start at 1548 euros for a model with 8 GB of RAM and a much too small SSD with only 128 GB.

The top version has 16 GB RAM and a 512 GB SSD, it costs 2209 euros.

I had a model with 16 GB RAM and 256 SSD for testing.

5G inside

One reason why the base price for the Surface Pro 9 with the SQ3 chip is higher than for the Intel versions is the integrated 5G wireless modem.

The tablet can be connected to the internet wherever there is a mobile network, regardless of WiFi access.

You have the choice of using either a conventional SIM card or an electronic SIM, i.e. an eSIM, whereby a physical SIM card can be used on the back of the device.

There you will find not only the SIM slot under a magnetically held cover, but also - very unusually - the SSD of the device.

So you could equip the Surface Pro 9 with more storage space yourself.

However, Microsoft restricts that such "customer replaceable units" should be "replaced by a suitably qualified specialist on site".

Any damage caused by working on the device yourself is not covered by the guarantee.

If you get stuck with tinkering, you have to pay for any repairs yourself.

The Thunderbolt Gap

From the outside, the Intel and ARM variants initially appear identical: both have Microsoft's special Surface Connect port, to which the supplied power adapter is plugged.

You can also charge them with power supplies from other suppliers via the two USB-C sockets on the opposite side of the housing.

The Intel versions of the Surface Pro 9 have Thunderbolt technology in these connections, while models with an SQ3 chip really only have USB technology.

My test device was denied the advantages of Thunderbolt, for example it transmits data at a maximum of 10 gigabits per second, while Intel models manage four times as much.

Otherwise, almost all of my additional devices can be easily connected to the Surface Pro 9 via USB-C.

External SSDs, for example, but also special music gadgets.

Only my monitor, which wants to be connected via Thunderbolt, refused its services.

Although the tablet's battery was charged via this connection, the screen itself remained dark.

Just wake up

What I completely incomprehensible are the wake-up times of the Surface Pro 9. While iPads and many notebooks are ready to use almost immediately when you wake them from sleep mode, Microsoft's tablet-laptop hybrid needs what feels like an eternity.

During my tests, I measured times between 16 and 32 seconds after pressing the power button until the start screen appeared.

Far too long for a modern mobile computer.

Otherwise, Microsoft's tablet computer is fast enough for all office tasks.

Before buying the SQ3 variant, however, you should find out whether the software you want to use on it has been optimized for Microsoft's ARM chip.

Programs for which this does not apply have to be fooled by the software into thinking they are running on Intel hardware, which eats up a lot of performance.

The test programs Cinebench and 3DMark, for example, have to be processed in this way.

The result is extremely low performance values.

The forgotten camera

Weird: After a Windows update (KB5020044), my test device forgot that it had speakers, a microphone and a camera.

That's why the registration via face recognition - Microsoft calls it "Hello" - no longer worked was still tolerable.

The fact that Microsoft's chat software teams became unusable at the same time is not.

Neither uninstalling and reinstalling drivers in the device manager nor uninstalling the Windows update in question could make the "forgotten" hardware usable again.

At the same time, the two USB ports also failed to work with almost every power adapter I connected them to to charge the battery.

So I had to pull Microsoft's charger out of the box, because the battery's charge level was now seven percent.

With that kind of power, I could at least activate my contingency plan for such situations: a full computer reset and Windows reinstallation.

After that everything worked again.

I don't want to make it a habit though.


๐Ÿ‘ Runs fanless

๐Ÿ‘ Very good battery life

๐Ÿ‘ Built-in 5G module

๐Ÿ‘Ž No Thunderbolt

๐Ÿ‘Ž Weaker power supply than Intel version

If you often want or have to work with office software under Windows on the go, the Surface Pro 9 is the right choice, especially in the tested version with Microsoft's SQ3 chip.

Provided you have a mobile phone contract, you are always online with it, and you can sometimes go a few hours longer without a power outlet.

The screen is great and can be operated well with the mouse, fingers or stylus.

Microsoft's Surface keyboard allows fast typing, but unfortunately it always clatters a bit.

Before you buy, however, it is important to check whether the software you are using has been adapted for ARM chips.

With some business software, this should be an exclusion criterion.

Some systems that administrators use to integrate computers into their company's IT environment also do not work on the model with a Microsoft chip.

In such cases, you should choose a Surface Pro 9 with an Intel processor - and pack the power adapter for when you're on the go.

Background: Product tests in the Netzwelt department

Expand areaWhich products are reported on in the Netzwelt section?

We decide for ourselves which products we report on in the Netzwelt and which we test or not. We do not receive any money or other consideration from the manufacturer for any of the test reports.

It can happen for various reasons that we do not report on products even though we have corresponding test products.

Open areaWhere do the test products come from?

We usually get test devices and review copies of games from the manufacturer free of charge for a certain period of time, sometimes even before the official release.

This allows our test reports to appear in time or close to the release of the product.

We only test pre-release versions or devices from pre-series production in special cases.

As a rule, we wait until we can get test devices or game versions that are identical to the retail versions.

If they are already available in stores or online, in some cases we purchase products at our own expense.

Expand areaMay the Netzwelt editors keep the products?

As a rule, test devices are returned to the manufacturers after the end of the test.

The exceptions are review copies of games and long-term loans: For example, we have game consoles and smartphones in the editorial office that we are allowed to use for a long time.

For example, we can report on software updates, new accessories and new games or make long-term judgments.

For example, review copies are often collected at the end of a year and sold at a company flea market, with the proceeds being donated to charitable causes.

Some of them are also donated directly to charitable organizations.

AreaCan the Netzwelt editors be invited by companies to travel?expand

DER SPIEGEL always bears the costs for trips to events, regardless of whether they take place in Germany or abroad. This also applies if, for example, a company takes over the travel planning due to short-term appointments.

Events to which we travel at our own expense include the Ifa, CES, E3 and Gamescom trade fairs, developer events such as Google i/O, WWDC and Build and events from companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft or Nintendo.

At conferences such as the Chaos Communication Congress or the re:publica, we usually get free press tickets, like other press representatives, because we report on the conference and are not traditional participants.

SectionWhat's up with the affiliate ads in some articles?expand

Since December 2016, some Netzwelt articles have contained so-called affiliate ads that contain so-called links to online shops.

If a user visits one of these shops via such a link and makes an online purchase there, DER SPIEGEL receives a share of the sales in the form of a commission, but never the author individually.

This commission is paid by the retailer, not the manufacturer of the product.

The ads appear in articles regardless of whether a product test is positive or negative.

You can find a detailed explanation of affiliate links by clicking on this link.

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-12-13

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