Microsoft announced its new line of Surface Devices in November, and I was able to pick up the Surface Laptop Studio, the Surface Pro 8, and the Surface Duo to insert into my workflows. I have been using the Surface Pro 8 and Windows 11 combo while traveling for a few weeks now.
The Surface Pro represents the tablet experience of Windows, and, arguably so, the tablet experience on Windows 10 lacked in many ways. With that being said, the new design of the Surface Pro alongside the release of Windows 11 seeks to improve the PC tablet experience. Let’s unpack my experience with the new Surface Pro 8 and Windows 11.
A slimmer and sleeker Surface Pro design
Every Surface device that I have used has felt and looked premium. Since Microsoft has always produced premium Surface designs, there has been a slower pace of significant design changes from generation to generation. The Surface Book took this criticism the most of the Surface devices since it has not had a design change outside of ports since its inception in 2015. While Microsoft should not fix what isn’t broken, PC technology moves very quickly.
With that being said, the Surface Pro 8 was due for a redesign. The new design is much slimmer, similar to the Surface Pro X, the ARM-based Surface Pro. The Surface Pro 8 has more rounded edges that lead to a lip where the kickstand is. On the top side are vents that wrap around the top of the device. It still has an all-metal design, and the metal kickstand can rotate 180 degrees.
The Surface Pro 8 has new ports, with two Thunderbolt 4 ports, the Surface Connect port, a headphone jack, and the Surface Type cover port at the bottom of the device. It is easy to think of the Surface Pro 8’s ports as subliminal compared to other 2-in-1 laptops and computers that run Windows. For a tablet, this device has plenty of ports. From an alternative perspective, the Surface Pro 8 has one more Thunderbolt 4 port, headphone jack, and docking port over its Apple equivalent, the iPad Pro.
Although there is a good chance, you will be carrying around a dongle with a USB Type-A, HDMI, and other peripherals, the port selection on the Surface Pro 8 is what I would expect out of a tablet.
Display and bezels
Alongside the slimmer design, the Surface Pro 8 has thinner bezels that make for a larger display in a similar footprint to the Surface Pro 7. It has a 13-inch PixelSense Flow display with a 2880x 1920 resolution. The most significant improvement of the display is its 120Hz refresh rate that pairs well with Windows 11 for a smooth experience. It makes using the Surface Slim Pen much more enjoyable. Since the larger display is in a slimmer footprint, the display’s bezels are more practical and reasonable. I can hold the device in my hand without worrying about unintentional touches.
My only complaint would be with the Surface Type Cover that magnetically connects to the bottom bezel. The horizontal bezels of the device are more significant than the vertical bezels to leave room for the camera at the top and the Type Cover at the bottom. It lifts the Type Cover to an angle, but it meets the inner edge of the bezel where the screens look as though it is hiding underneath the Type Cover. This concern is nit-picky, but it truly shows when typing on unorthodox surfaces like the lap or using touch on the taskbar. Overall, the new Surface Pro 8 display is very responsive and is excellent for tasks like blasting emails, working in Office 365 apps, or watching a movie.
The internals and battery
The Surface Pro 8 comes with your pick of a quad-core 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1135G7, 8GB of memory, and 128GB of native storage and scales to an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-1185G7, 32GB of memory, and 1TB of storage. The 11th Gen Intel Core processors are built off of Intel’s Evo Platform. From my experience using the Surface Pro 8, I notice that it is exceptionally quicker and more efficient than its predecessor. Although I rarely use a device for more than a few hours, it holds a charge for a full day easily when I often put the device in a sleep state. The Wake Instantly feature of the Intel Evo is very convenient and ideal for hybrid workflows.
A part of the Intel Evo platform is performance and efficiency that translates to real-world use. The Surface Pro 8 is not a device that we should expect to handle heavy tasks like video editing or gaming on AAA titles, but rather productivity loads like Office apps, web browsing, streaming, and email. I was able to run the esports game Rocket League on the device at 120Hz, and it was able to run it without lag. The machine did get a bit warm to the touch, and there was noticeable throttling. Rocket League is a good test for gaming on the Surface Pro 8 since it is a reasonably demanding game, and about the most demanding game, you would want to run on something like the Surface Pro 8.
The Surface Slim Pen 2 pairs well with the Surface Pro 8 and the Surface Laptop Studio. It has a custom G6 processor that provides tactile signals for a better pen and paper feel. The Surface Slim Pen 2 on the Surface Pro 8 was one of the best stylus experiences on a tablet. I could feel the resistance of the pen immediately, and its ability to mimic pen and paper was impressive. However, I see this feature varying from person to person because the act of writing is subjective. Some people write more aggressively than others, and it is always a matter of personal presence. I turned the intensity in the settings, and it felt better for me.
The battery of the Surface Pro 8 was also exceptional, thanks to it being built on the Intel Evo Platform. As I mentioned before, I was able to get a good battery and not have to hug an outlet. If you go on Microsoft’s website, Microsoft will tell you how it tested the battery life of its devices to get to the recorded 16 hours of battery life. Having the exact criteria for how Microsoft got its estimates helps with testing and what to expect. I commend Microsoft and other companies who do the same for setting the right expectations. With that being said, the default for the Surface Pro 8 is 60Hz, and in my usage, I cranked it up to 120Hz and was unable to get 16 hours of battery life. No worries since it was expected to go down with the uptick of refresh rate. I could still hit the double digits hours in battery life with much of that time spent in standby/sleep mode. I was able to get around six hours of productivity use and eight hours of standby/sleep time.
Using Windows 11
I had high expectations for Windows 11 on the Surface Pro 8 as a tablet OS. The tablet experience on Windows 11 is a significant improvement from Windows 10. I had high expectations for Windows 11 because it was built to address the presence of more hybrid workflows. In many cases, the tablet PC is the optimal choice for hybrid workflows because of the need for versatility and mobility. The Surface Pro line is an ultra-mobile PC and versatile in its tablet design. The question then becomes, does the Surface Pro 8 with Windows 11 meet the needs of a hybrid workflow?
I believe the Surface Pro 8 with Windows 11 does meet the needs of a hybrid workflow, and I think my reasoning for that is pretty simple. The Windows OS is coming from the direction of a desktop operating system towards a mobile OS. Where Windows 10 lacks mobile OS capabilities, Windows 11 makes up for new gestures and touch-friendly adoption. It successfully can integrate touch as a primary input. Let me explain why.
The new UI change takes into account multi-touch with gestures and larger icons. The start menu is more like mobile OS because the content is more spaced out, and the navigation is easier to follow. In the same sense, it has held onto the keyboard and mouse as primary inputs. Microsoft can provide both options, the classic keyboard and mouse and the mobile touch input, without either input affecting the other. Although it is not as efficient, I find typing on the screen a good experience.
For the most part, Microsoft has integrated touch input and keyboard and mouse effectively. I think this is a challenging endeavor that no one has been able to figure out. I say this with the opinion that touch typing is not a practical input for touch devices and, practically speaking, is inefficient.
I had high hopes for the Surface Pro 8 going into its launch. The slimmer and sleeker design brings a lot of new features, including using the new 11th Gen Intel Core processors, a better 120Hz display, and is one of the first of Microsoft’s devices to launch with Windows 11. The Surface Pro 8 Microsoft showed us that you could get a great tablet PC experience on the new Windows 11 OS.
The Surface Pro 8 is a simple device that I believe realizes the potential for tablet PCs. The Surface Pro 8 and Window 11 will be an excellent combination for users living in an era of hybrid work. Nice work, Microsoft.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.