Microsoft Surface Pro 8 review: Great design, but higher cost and lack of bundled accessories hurts

Quick verdict: The Surface Pro 8 gets its most radical design makeover in years, and that's great news in both an aesthetic and productivity sense. What's less brilliant is Microsoft's insistence on never shipping a keyboard with the Surface Pro.

Pros

  • New design adds vital screen space
  • Good battery life
  • Switchable SSD
Cons

  • Keyboard still isn't included
  • Neither is the Slim Surface Pen (and its pricey charger)
  • Older keyboards won't work
  • More expensive than prior Surface Pro models

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For years now, I could predict that Microsoft would have an updated Surface Pro with whatever the latest Intel innards were inside, but that little else would change. Microsoft was happy to play around with other Surface devices in terms of wacky designs or ideas, but the Surface Pro was the little engine that could, as long as it wasn't being asked to change all that much.

The Surface Pro 8 is something different, with Microsoft grabbing a lot of the concepts it's used for other Surface devices and applying them to the Surface Pro world. The end result is a much nicer 2-in-1 device, and easily the most significant Surface Pro update in years.

Some things never change, however, and Microsoft is still grimly sticking to the idea that it can sell a 2-in-1 without the keyboard. Does that make it a 2-in-0? A 1-in-1? I'm not sure, but I am sure that most users would benefit from Microsoft finally just accepting reality and bundling in the type cover.

Design: Owes a lot to the Surface Pro X

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

For years, Microsoft really only tinkered around the edges of the design it adopted for the first generation Microsoft Surface (and the missed-by-precisely-nobody Surface RT). While it was exceptional for its time, that time was nearly a decade ago, which is an eternity in laptop design terms.

It's pleasing then to see that Microsoft's made some big, if rather expected changes for the Microsoft Surface Pro 8. Out goes the dated boxy-and-bezel-heavy design of old in favour of a sleeker look that accentuates the tablet style of the device. It's not a new look, however, because it's essentially Microsoft using the design notes it came up with for the somewhat underpowered Surface Pro X but dropping back into the Intel x86 side of the equation while doing so.

The Surface Pro 8 is also something of an illusionist. If you're familiar with older Surface Pro devices and their feel and heft, when you first pick up the Surface Pro 8, your brain's going to tell you that it's thinner and lighter. The trick here is that it isn't. The Surface Pro 8 measures in at 287x208x9.3mm, while its predecessor, the Surface Pro 7 measures 292x201x8.5 mm. It's heavier too, at 891g compared to the 775-790g of the prior generation. That's some neat magic there, Microsoft.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

However, what you do get is a considerably improved design, because while it has slightly smaller presence, it also has much smaller bezels, allowing Microsoft to put a full 13-inch 2880x1920 120Hz capable display into it, compared to the 12.3" display in older models. More screen real estate is always welcome in a productivity device. The addition of 120Hz is also a nice upgrade, although Microsoft opts for 60Hz as the default. If you want that smoother scrolling, you're going to have to activate it yourself.

Microsoft's shifted the build material of the Surface Pro 8 over to aluminium, available in either platinum or graphite finishes. In classic and slightly annoying Microsoft fashion, you can't quite choose all variants in either colour.

The switch to the Surface Pro X design language does provide one casualty, and that's the presence of USB A type ports. There aren't any to be found, largely I suspect because the rounded sides wouldn't easily support them. You do get dual Thunderbolt 4/USB 4.0 ports for peripheral and external display goodness, but that's your lot aside from the headphone jack.

At the back the iconic kickstand that's been part of the Surface story forever is still present. One neat touch here is that while the Surface Pro 8 presents as a tablet, it's actually possible to access and theoretically change out or upgrade its SSD storage. You'll need a SIM eject tool, and a smaller (and harder to find) M.2 2230 PCIe SSD to make the swap out, but it's at least theoretically possible.

Outside the Surface Charger, that's your lot for what comes by default with the Surface Pro 8, but it's not the complete peripherals story. Microsoft has never sold the Surface Pro line by default with a keyboard, and I've long railed at them for this particular omission. Yes, you can use it just with touch, and I can accept that there are some business cases where that makes sense – but there are thousands more that will make a lot more out of Windows 11 and the Surface Pro 8 with it.

laptop review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

It's an especially silly and jarring omission when you consider that many of the imitator Surface devices from other manufacturers explicitly include a keyboard/mouse cover with their devices.

It's also a little jarring because you could at least opt to use an older Surface Pro keyboard when upgrading prior generations, but that's no longer a possibility. If you were jumping over from the Surface Pro X, that keyboard is compatible, but owners of older Surface keyboards will have to budget an extra $259.95 for the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard, or $429.95 if you want the combination Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with the new Slim Pen 2.

Microsoft supplied me with the new Surface Pro Signature keyboard for the purposes of review, but you mustn't assume it's a standard inclusion. It has a slightly more rigid feel than older Surface Pro keyboards, but the same light weight. As always, it's much better and more convenient to use on a desk than it is a lap.

Microsoft also supplied me with the new Surface Slim Pen 2, which ostensibly looks like the old Surface Slim Pen, but with a few haptic tricks added. More on that below.


Microsoft Surface Pro 8 performance: 11th Gen Intel chugs along nicely

laptop review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The Surface Pro 8 runs on 11th Generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors with between 8GB RAM/128GB of storage and 16GB RAM/1TB storage for consumers in Australia. Microsoft makes the Surface Pro 8 with up to 32GB of RAM in the US, but it seems like we can't order those models Down Under. The unit supplied for review was the Core i7-1185G7 model with 16GB RAM and 256GB of storage, which would cost you $2,399.

Storage aside, that's essentially the top-level configuration for consumers in Australia, and one that should give a fair balance between power and portability, just like any other 2-in-1 device. Here's how the Surface Pro 8 compared against other ultraportable options across a range of popular benchmarks:

While it's not leading the pack, it's certainly competitive for straight line CPU performance, and typically a little lower for GPU performance. In theory, you could drop an external Thunderbolt-connected GPU to the Surface Pro 8 to boost its performance upwards as needed – although that wasn't a test I ran during my review period.

The Surface Pro 8 also supports a new generation of Surface Pen, which is (again) an accessory that isn't included but that Microsoft supplied for review.

I've got more time for that argument, given that not everyone has particular artistic talent or a desire to take handwritten notes. While you can still do the same selection and drawing tasks as with Surface Pens of old, the new feature is haptic feedback while you sketch or draw, to give more of the friction feel of a real pencil.

It's kind of creepy the first time the pen vibrates at you, because it's quite subtle, and rather nicely done. It's still not the same as actual writing on physical paper, but I can appreciate that artistic types might find it feeds their muse nicely.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

I've often been told I have the artistic talent of Picasso, and that's undeniably true. Problem is, I've got the artistic talent of Picasso now, and not so much the talent he had when he was alive. So while others might use the Surface Pro to create digital masterworks, I drew a picture of a rainbow cat and some fish, badly. You may now judge me.

If you do have need of a stylus, the Surface Slim Pen costs $189.95 by itself, and that's not including a charger accessory that will sting you for an additional $49.95.


Microsoft Surface Pro 8 battery: All-day battery life is entirely feasible and charging is easy

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Microsoft's claim for the Surface Pro 8 is a rather vague "up to 16 hours of typical device usage", which certainly isn't the boldest claim for a 2-in-1 or ultralight device I've hit in recent times. The advantage with not pumping up the hype is that you've got more modest claims to meet… as long as you can meet them. To its credit, Microsoft is extremely transparent about its test parameters.

There are so many ways to drain a laptop's battery that no all-in single battery score could possibly cover all use cases. To give some kind of indicative picture, I ran the Surface Pro 8 through PC Marks' Gaming test to give a more brutal picture, and then looped a 1080p video full screen to battery exhaustion point. Video processing is lightweight by current processor standards, so this is more of a test of screen brightness and battery sapping, but also light usage. Here's how the Surface Pro 8 compared across those 2 tests, with all timing in minutes:

Using the Surface Pro 8 as a straight-up writing and researching machine for my own purposes tended more towards the video score, with 8-10 hours easily achievable in what are basic office productivity tasks at 60Hz. If you do want that 120Hz goodness, it's going to cost you in battery terms no doubt.

The Surface Pro 8 supports Microsoft's supplied Surface charger through the Surface Connect port, but it'll also charge up over USB C through either Thunderbolt port. Before you get fancy ideas about even faster charging (or electrocution) you can't use both at once.


Should you buy the Microsoft Surface Pro 8?

  • Buy it if you're upgrading from a much older Surface and can bear the stiff accessories cost.
  • Don't buy it if you're only coming from a Surface Pro 7 or don't want to spend a lot on a keyboard that should come as standard.

Microsoft has long positioned the Surface Pro line as something of a reference design for the rest of the industry. It doesn't want to compete with the likes of Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus and others, because they're far more valuable as Windows 11 licence partners anyway.

That's long meant that Surface Pro was an aspirational brand with pricing to match. That's absolutely true for the Surface Pro 8, which starts at a hefty price premium over the Surface Pro 7. You do get a much better designed device with a superior screen, and if your wallet can stand it, a great pen and adaptable keyboard cover, although it's becoming ever more irksome that Microsoft doesn't supply this as standard.

And if you're looking for more Surface reviews, we've also tested the Microsoft Surface Go 3.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder


Microsoft Surface Pro 8 pricing and availability


How we tested

The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 was tested over a 1-week period, including intensive battery testing, application and benchmark testing and daily usage for productivity tests. The author does not even pretend to have any artistic talent worth mentioning, but several indecipherable scribbles that might pass as "art" were produced using the Surface Slim Pen 2. The author has been working as a technology journalist for more than 22 years and has reviewed every Surface Pro model to date, as well as the rest of the Surface range and a plethora of 2-in-1 devices as well.


Specifications

Microsoft Surface Pro 8

General

Processor Family
Intel Core i5/i7
Processor Model
Core i5-1135G7 | Core i7-1185G7
Processor Cores
i5, i7
RAM
32GB
RAM options
8GB, 16GB, 32GB (LPDDR4x RAM)

Display


Features

Operating System
Windows 11 Home
USB-C Ports
2
Bluetooth
v 5.1
Wi-Fi
WiFi 6: 802.11ax
Webcam
Windows Hello face authentication
Touchscreen
Yes

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