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Microsoft surface pro 8 review: The best Windows tablet just got better

The brand’s answer to the 12.9in iPad pro is an outstanding tablet upgrade

Steve Hogarty
Thursday 01 January 1970 01:00
<p>The type cover is sold separately, but is an essential accessory </p>

The type cover is sold separately, but is an essential accessory

Microsoft has played it safe with the design of the surface pro for a few generations now, but with the surface pro 8 it’s been bold enough to make some significant improvements to its class-leading two-in-one.

To get you up to speed: the surface pro line is a range of powerful, portable tablets running full-fat Windows. So unlike its nearest rivals the iPad pro and the Samsung Galaxy tab, which can only offer dedicated iOS and Android apps, with the surface you can use all of the same applications and programs you might use on your desktop PC at home.

The surface pro 8 doesn’t come with the keyboard type cover accessory (£159, Amazon.co.uk), but we really can’t imagine using one without it. As a pure tablet it’s pretty heavy and unwieldy when held with one hand, and because it runs on Windows – which makes plenty of concessions to touch controls, but is a desktop OS at heart – you inevitably feel like you’re missing out on practical features without a physical keyboard to type on.

The surface pro 8 is a great tablet, but a better laptop. Keep that in mind as you read our review – most of our testing took place while using the keyboard attachment.

If you can’t stomach dropping £159 on an official cover, you can also pair a regular old Bluetooth keyboard and mouse with the surface pro 8. If you’ve recently switched to hybrid working or hot-desking, it’s the perfect device for moving seamlessly between home, the office, and different workstations. The newly introduced thunderbolt 4 USB-C port makes connecting the tablet to multiple monitors a breeze too.

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How we tested

We swapped out our main laptop for a surface pro 8 for several weeks, chucking our daily routine at it, writing articles in Google Docs, churning through dozens of Chrome tabs, holding Zoom meetings with colleagues and editing and recording audio files in Adobe Creative Suite.

Microsoft surface pro 8: From £829.95, Amazon.co.uk

Surface pro 8 specifications vary. Microsoft provided the following configuration to IndyBest for review.

  • CPU: Intel Core i7
  • Graphics: Integrated Iris Xe
  • RAM: 16GB
  • Screen: 120Hz, 13in, 2,880 x 1,920
  • Storage: 256GB
  • Pros: Beautiful display, excellent battery life, powerful specs
  • Cons: Keyboard sold separately

Design

The design of the surface pro 8 lightly tweaks what came before, and brings this tablet closer in line with the design of the surface pro x. The edges are more rounded and comfortable to grip. The sturdy kickstand makes a return, offering a full range of angles to prop up the tablet. Stand it up tall for watching entertainment at your desk, or drop it down low to use as a drawing pad with the stylus – called the slim pen 2 and sold separately (£119, Microsoft.com).

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The bezels are a little thinner this year, but not so thin as to cause any problems when holding it in tablet mode. Overall, the metal chassis feels refined and well-machined, and with the Alcantara signature keyboard attachment, the entire package looks professional and feels premium.

Display and audio

One big improvement to the surface pro 8 is the screen’s faster refresh rate, which at the time of testing is switched off by default. The new 13in screen can run at either 60Hz or 120Hz – double the refresh rate of the surface pro 7 – which creates a subtly smoother effect when things are moving around on-screen.

Scrolling feels buttery, more natural and silky, at the expense of a trivial amount of battery life. This improved refresh rate also makes the stylus feel more responsive too, the faster response times cementing the illusion that your strokes are flowing out of the pen tip as you write. Once you bump things up to 120Hz, it’s difficult to go back.

The thinner bezels make more room for screen real estate. The crisp, high-resolution display is 11 per cent larger, with deep contrast making it great for watching entertainment and a taller, 3:2 ratio suited to productivity. TrueTone-style automatic colour adjustment tweaks the brightness and warmth of the screen on the fly, depending on the ambient light of the room you’re in.

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We’re also impressed by the speakers, which manage to squeeze a surprising amount of bass out of a relatively thin chassis, without distortion or muddiness. Vocal tones are clear too, which when coupled with the 1080p front-facing camera makes for a very polished Zoom experience.

Performance and battery life

Here’s where the surface pro 8 really departs from older models. Under the hood, Microsoft has given the specs a considerable boost, while also expanding the battery life so that the tablet reliably lasts a full working day with near-constant use. Whereas the surface pro 7 would be running on fumes by lunchtime, it’s possible to leave your charging brick at home and not suffer battery anxiety. Those USB-C ports can also be used for charging, if you’re caught short.

The 11th-generation core i7 CPU in the configuration we tested is powerful enough to tackle intensive workloads, even managing to handle photo and video editing. The integrated Iris Xe GPU won’t be running many AAA games, but there’s more than enough performance here for light gaming and video streaming. The surface pro 8 also meets the new Intel Evo standard, meaning it boots up in less than a second. Snappy facial recognition can detect your mug and zip you to your desktop in the time it takes to push the power button.

Accessories

Sold separately, the slim pen 2 has been upgraded to coincide with the surface pro 8’s launch. It now features haptic feedback: subtle vibrations as you drag the tip of the pen along the screen to simulate the sensation of drawing on paper. When not in use it can be popped into a foldaway groove between the typing cover and the screen, which doubles as a wireless charging dock. Like the typing cover, it’s a premium accessory with a price tag to match. If you want to transform the surface pro 8 into a graphics tablet, it will set you back £119 (Microsoft.com).

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The surface pro signature keyboard (£159, Microsoft.com) is an essential purchase, however. Like the slim pen 2, the design has been tweaked since the surface pro 7, meaning your old surface pro keyboard won’t work here if you have one. Typing on this carbon fibre board is a joy. Keys have a deceptively deep travel despite the thinness of the cover, and there’s a comfortable bounciness to its construction.

The verdict: Microsoft surface pro 8

The surface pro 8 is the best 2-in-1 Windows device you can buy. Running the latest operating system out of the box, and with no funky bloatware or pre-installed third-party apps to clutter things up, it’s the purest expression of Windows 11 you’ll find.

Illustrators, designers and various creative types will enjoy the wealth of options the slim pen 2 brings. The stylus transforms this tablet into a full-featured and versatile graphics slate that can be used anywhere. Anyone splitting their time between home and the office recently will appreciate the addition of Thunderbolt ports, the all-day battery life, sharp webcam and vivid, luscious screen for watching TV shows on the commute home.

But all of this goodness comes at a price. The surface pro 8 starts at £999 without the type cover, which puts it shoulder to shoulder with the 12.9in iPad pro. For Windows users in search of a beautifully designed hybrid however, there’s no comparison.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8

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