Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Review

When the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (starts at $749; $1,358.99 as reviewed) was released in 2019, it didn’t reinvent the wheel; instead, it improved on a tried-and-true design by giving higher performance and introducing a USB Type-C connector. It’s still the top dog among 2-in-1 detachables almost a year and a half later, in 2021. A few rivals have surfaced (complete support for its Surface stablemate, the Surface Pro X, never occurred), and bending, non-detachable 2-in-1 convertible computers are viable alternatives. However, among pure detachables, the Surface Pro design remains our favorite. (A Surface Pro 7+ model with updated components is also now available; more on that later.) The physical design is starting to show its age—we expect a new-look version next time—but it still has good tablet capabilities. The Pro 7 is the go-to 2-in-1 in its category for a reason if you’re seeking for a less expensive 2-in-1 to utilize when working in what passes for mobile fashion these days, shuttling from room to room instead of airport to airport.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Review
8.2
Microsoft Surface Pro 7

PROS

  • Intel’s “Ice Lake” processor is fast and has a long battery life.
  • Display clarity
  • A well-designed kickstand
  • USB-C is included.

CONS

  • The keyboard is still available individually.
  • There are only two ports, and Thunderbolt isn’t supported.

MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 7 SPECS

Laptop ClassDetachable 2-in-1
ProcessorIntel Core i5-1035G4
Processor Speed1.1 GHz
RAM (as Tested)8 GB
Boot Drive TypeSSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)256 GB
Screen Size12.3 inches
Native Display Resolution2736 by 1824
Touch ScreenYes
Panel TechnologyIPS
Variable Refresh SupportNone
Screen Refresh Rate60 Hz
Graphics ProcessorIntel Iris Plus
Wireless Networking802.11ax, Bluetooth
Dimensions (HWD)0.33 by 11.5 by 7.9 inches
Weight1.7 lbs
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)11:58

The Surface is Mostly the Same

The Surface Pro’s design has remained largely unchanged over the last four generations, despite years of adjustments and changes across the first several models. Aside from color differences (our Surface Pro 6 model was the first to arrive in pure black), you wouldn’t be able to tell the Surface Pro 7 from from prior generations at a glance. The USB-C port finally distinguishes this model, although they’re otherwise very identical.

That’s mostly a positive thing. The magnesium-alloy design is high-quality, and the device is quite small and sleek. It is 0.33 by 11.5 by 7.9 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.7 pounds, making it an extremely portable machine. The XPS 13 2-in-1, by comparison, measures 0.51 by 11.7 by 8.2 inches and weighs 2.9 pounds, and appears as a laptop initially. Even while I grew fond of the Pro 6‘s black paint job, the Pro 7’s platinum-colored industrial design hasn’t aged horribly on its own. The bezels are still somewhat substantial, which is becoming increasingly apparent as almost every slim laptop opts for ultra-thin bezels.

The Surface Pro 7 still looks good, but the issue is the context, and it’s an issue that Microsoft, at least in part, manufactured. The design, particularly the huge screen bezels, appears antiquated by 2021’s standards. The release of the Surface Pro X, which was announced with the Pro 7, highlighted this. The Pro X has the narrower, rounder corners and thinner bezels that you’d expect from a top-tier Surface Pro device today. When the two are placed side by side, the Pro X appears to be the more modern of the two. It’s a stunning system that evokes the tech envy that has progressively faded from the main line.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Review

Of all, Microsoft would not have done so if it were as simple as porting that design to the Surface Pro 7. The Pro X is an ARM-based computer, while the Pro 7 is an Intel-based tablet with more standard Windows features. The components of the Pro X require less physical space and cooling room to work, allowing for the thin design. The Pro X is a gorgeous alternative if you want something that feels more like a tablet, but it lacks the broad capability of a typical Windows laptop. On a Surface Pro 7, you don’t have to worry about which programs you can run or how they’ll work. Are they ARM-compliant? Is it a 64-bit or 32-bit system? None of the above.

We had anticipated for a new-look Surface Pro in the next year or two, but the current design has remained unchanged. The notion of a numbered Surface Pro that looks like the Surface Pro X but runs on a standard PC chip is still a long way off in 2021. Unfortunately, the Pro X’s argument hasn’t become much stronger, as programs must be written for ARM. Check out our original Surface Pro X review for more information, but keep in mind that we’re still in the holding pattern.

So, what’s up with that keyboard…

Given the same design, utilizing the Surface Pro as a laptop and a tablet has the same advantages and disadvantages. But, since I can’t assume everyone is as familiar with the Surface line as I am, here’s a recap.

The built-in back kickstand, which has been a target of imitators since its introduction, is implemented similarly to the previous model. A completely adjustable hinge allows you to recline the screen up to 165 degrees, including virtually flat, which is useful while sketching or taking notes with the stylus. This “free range” mechanism is still better to the first Surface devices, which had a hinge with a restricted number of predefined adjustment points.

The kickstand is only half of the battle when it comes to converting the Pro 7 to a laptop. The Surface Type Cover—a detachable keyboard that has spawned numerous knockoffs over the years—is what makes the magic happen. The keyboard magnetically attaches to the bottom of the Surface Pro, as it always has, making changeover a simple.

The Type Cover is also offered separately, as it has always been. It doesn’t seem worth it to keep hammering this drum, as Microsoft has stated that the tablet will not contain a keyboard, but I wish it did. The Surface Pro is already expensive, so adding another costly accessory to obtain full functionality is a harsh pill to swallow. The Signature Type Cover, which costs $159.99, was supplied to us, although the ordinary model costs $129.99.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Review

The keyboard is an important element of the experience; Microsoft rarely exhibits or markets the two separately, and the keyboard is what makes the 2-in-1 concept work. Without it, the Surface Pro is only a lovely (and costly) tablet. It’s also a fantastic keyboard in its class. Despite its small size, the Type Cover provides a pleasant typing experience with decent key travel. Backlighting is also available, with different brightness settings to choose from. The keyboard is a touch flimsy if you press down too hard on it, especially if you’re not using it on a desk (more on that later), but it’s still more than adequate and one of the best of all detachables.

You can also fold the top of the keyboard up against the screen, where more magnets hold it in place, for a more comfortable typing angle. This feature was added to the Surface series some versions ago, and it makes a substantial difference in usefulness. The touchpad is likewise superb, with very smooth tracking. Even if the price seems a little high, I actually enjoy typing on this keyboard, at least on a solid surface. However, the whole cost is still cheaper than many laptops, so you can only take this issue so far.

Using the keyboard on your lap is still a challenge. While the ability to convert this device into a laptop clamshell is always cool, the flexy nature of the keyboard and the Pro 7’s width make it difficult to use in your lap for lengthy periods of time. For some, “lapability” has always been a major concern, prompting them to choose for a traditional laptop over the Surface Pro. Because the kickstand is not very wide and much less sturdy on your legs than a laptop’s flat bottom surface, you must keep your legs close together and steady while using it. It’s much better used on a desk or tabletop because it makes you realize you’re not using a regular laptop. Even if you’d prefer a laptop keyboard over a Surface Pro keyboard, there’s still something fulfilling about the Surface Pro experience.

Greetings, C ports and configurations!

Another feature that may serve as a reminder that this isn’t a standard laptop is the lack of ports. As previously said, the adoption of USB Type-C is a significant upgrade. On the right side, directly above the only other connector, a conventional USB 3.1 Type-A port, is this port.

It feels like the USB-C port has been “missing” from this gadget for at least the last two incarnations, so it’s good to see it finally appear. It doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, so users who need to transmit a lot of data frequently will have to settle with ordinary USB rates. In 2021, this will be much more apparent, since newer PCs will have upgraded to Thunderbolt 4. For users who rely extensively on peripherals, the fact that there are only two ports may be a hindrance in and of itself, but a Bluetooth mouse could free up one of the ports for a drive or other attachments.

Finally, Microsoft’s setup options are discussed. The Intel Core i5-1035G4 engine, 8GB of memory, a 256GB SSD, and the $159.99 Signature Type Cover are all included in our $1,358.99 review model. All than the CPU, other configurations simply scale the same components up or down in capacity. The base model (without the keyboard) costs $749 and comes with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory, and a 128GB SSD. The highest model has a Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD. Various combinations of a Core i5 or Core i7 chip, 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and 256GB or 512GB of storage are available between the two. The Pro 7 is also available in black, however only three of the SKUs have it (including ours). Because it has been almost a year since the release, sale pricing have become considerably more regular, making the official list price less significant. The base model is now on sale for $595 on Amazon, down from $749 at the time of this update in February 2021.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Review

However, you are no longer limited to the outdated original components. In 2021, a significantly improved version of the Surface Pro 7 was released. The Surface Pro 7+ is a business and education laptop that looks almost identical to the Surface Pro 7, but has a few changes on the inside. In addition to replacing the Surface Pro 7’s 10th Generation Intel processors with the latest 11th Generation (“Tiger Lake”) processors, the Surface Pro 7+ includes a removable boot drive. This gives IT departments faster access for repairs and replacements, and it also allows users with very sensitive data to put the Surface Pro 7+’s boot disk somewhere other than the tablet. Although the Surface Pro 7 is designed for large enterprises with bespoke purchasing agreements, it is also available for individual purchase through Microsoft’s online store.

Putting Ice Lake to the Test: A Faster Surface Pro

I compared the Pro 7 to a variety of Windows tablets and 2-in-1 laptops for performance testing. Because this batch of competitors has a lot of variability, including internal components, you can use the table below as a cheat sheet…

As you can see, there are a variety of processors available, and the Surface Pro 7 is one of two devices with a Core i5 processor. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet is the other, and it has the same 8GB of memory as the Surface Pro 7. The other tablet is the Dell Latitude 7200 2-in-1, which has a Core i7 processor and 16GB of memory. Meanwhile, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and HP Spectre x360 13 are full-fledged laptops that can also be used as tablets, and should provide more power than the tablet-only computers.

Tests on Productivity and Storage

GGT 10 and 8 are comprehensive performance suites created by UL’s PC benchmark experts (formerly Futuremark). We used GGT 10 to replicate various real-world productivity and content-creation routines. It helps us evaluate overall system performance for office-related operations including word processing, spreadsheet work, online surfing, and videoconferencing. The test provides a numerical score; the greater the number, the better. Meanwhile, GGT 8 contains a Storage subtest that we utilize to evaluate the performance of the PC’s drive subsystem. This is also a proprietary numeric score, with larger numbers indicating better performance.

The Core i5 CPUs trail behind their Core i7 counterparts right away, although not by much. This is one area where using a Surface Pro 7 over a laptop won’t be an issue; it can handle common home and workplace duties without significant lag or long load times. Its SSD aids this, as seen by the fact that it is no slower than the competition in GGT 8.

Tests on media processing and creation

The next test is Maxon’s CPU-intensive Cinebench R15, which is fully threaded to utilize all processor cores and threads. To render a complicated image, Cinebench uses the CPU rather than the GPU. A proprietary score showing a PC’s readiness for processor-intensive workloads is the result.

Another demanding, threaded workout that’s very CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads, Cinebench is often a reliable predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial. We timed test systems as they transcoded a common 12-minute 4K video clip (the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed exam, therefore the lower the score, the better.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Review

A bespoke Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark is also conducted. We apply a series of 10 complicated filters and effects to a basic JPEG test image using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop. We time each action and sum the overall execution time at the end. Lower times are better here, as they are with Handbrake. The Photoshop test puts a strain on the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also use most GPUs to speed up the filtering process, so systems with strong graphics chips or cards may experience a performance improvement.

These findings were a bit of a mixed bag, but they were largely satisfactory for the Pro 7. Its Handbrake score is the most concerning, since it lags behind the others and caught my attention when I first did the testing. However, multiple runs verified the findings, indicating that video encoding is not the Pro 7’s strong suit. On the other benchmarks, though, it performed remarkably well (and even outperformed its older Core i5 opponent), even if it did lag behind. You probably don’t need me to remind you that this tablet isn’t designed to create media in the first place, but the reasonably powerful CPU can handle some in a pinch.

Graphics Evaluations

3DMark assesses relative graphics strength by generating sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D visuals with a focus on particles and lighting. Sky Diver and Fire Strike are two 3DMark subtests that are tailored to distinct types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, although Sky Diver is better suited to laptops and midrange PCs, whilst Fire Strike is more demanding and designed to showcase high-end PCs. The final scores are confidential.

The following simulated graphics test comes from Unigine Corp. The Superposition test, like 3DMark, produces and pans through a rich 3D scene to see how well the system handles it. For a second perspective on the machine’s graphical prowess, it’s produced in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, which provides a distinct 3D workload situation than 3DMark.

Surface Pro 7 users are reporting random shutdowns and that Microsoft has  done nothing about it - NotebookCheck.net News

Because they all have Intel integrated graphics, none of them are recommended for 3D work. However, the Iris Plus graphics found in Ice Lake CPUs (both the Pro 7 and the XPS 13 in this case) are superior to the competition. This is much more apparent with the Dell XPS 13 and its Core i7 Ice Lake processor than it is with the Pro 7 and its Core i5, but Ice Lake has an edge in terms of integrated graphics. However, if you utilize 3D-accelerated apps for editing, animation, modeling, and other comparable jobs, or if true PC gaming is what you’re after, search elsewhere.

Battery Discharge Test

In preparation for our unplugged video rundown test, we set up the tablet in power-save mode (rather than balanced or high-performance mode) and made a few additional battery-saving changes. (We also disable Wi-Fi and set the laptop to Airplane mode.) We do this test by looping a video—a locally stored 720p version of the Blender Foundation short Tears of Steel—at 50% brightness and 100% volume until the system crashes.

This is an important test for this category, and I’m pleased to say that the Pro 7 will survive a long time without being charged. Long battery life is essential for anything so portable and theoretically adaptable as a travel buddy. A nearly 12-hour battery should keep you from reaching for your charger on long aircraft or train flights, long work days away from your desk, or even lazing at home. With more varied or demanding jobs and greater use, you may expect to receive between eight and ten hours of battery life, but it still passes the battery life test.

Compare with similar items

Surface Pro 7 2-in-1Surface Pro 7Surface Pro 4PUV-00001 Surface Pro 7
Customer Rating4.3 out of 5 stars4.6 out of 54.2 out of 54.8 out of 5 stars 
Screen Size12.3 inches12.3 inches12.3 inches12.3 inches
Flash Memory Installed Size256256 GB256 GB256.0 GB
Hardware PlatformWindowsPCPCPC
Item Dimensions14.57 x 10.24 x 1.97 inches12.8 x 2.68 x 9.21 inches16 x 9 x 3 inches11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches
Item Weight1.70 lbs1.70 lbs1.90 lbs1.80 lbs
Native Resolution2736 x 1824 pixels2736 x 18242736×18242736 x 1824
Operating SystemWindows 10 ProfessionalWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 ProfessionalWindows 10

As Stable as It Has Ever Been

Even if the Surface Pro X‘s design tells us what could be one day, the Surface Pro 7 is another fantastic enhancement of Microsoft’s premier hardware product. In comparison, the design is showing its age, but it isn’t nearly antiquated yet, and I believe any user would be satisfied. The addition of a USB-C port is excellent, and the transition to the Ice Lake CPU family gives this small tablet a boost. This Surface Pro version is another example of evolution rather than revolution, and I hope to see an Intel or AMD CPU in a future tablet that looks like the Pro X.

While the Surface Pro 7 is another excellent addition to the line and the best among popular Windows tablets, I wouldn’t recommend it to Surface Pro 6 owners. It’s still one of the greatest 2-in-1s available if you’re working with anything older or this type of device might improve your working-at-home experience. Since its release, there hasn’t been much worthy competition, though the upcoming Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable has our interest. If you’re looking for a laptop, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is better all-around, but the Surface Pro sets the bar for 2-in-1s in Windows tablet form.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Review
8.2
Microsoft Surface Pro 7

PROS

  • Intel’s “Ice Lake” processor is fast and has a long battery life.
  • Display clarity
  • A well-designed kickstand
  • USB-C is included.

CONS

  • The keyboard is still available individually.
  • There are only two ports, and Thunderbolt isn’t supported.

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