Surface Pro 7 Review: Better than Surface Pro X (Video)

The Surface Pro 7 is the least exciting device in Microsoft’s lineup this year. The Surface Laptop now comes with a 15-inch model, and the Surface Pro X– an entirely new product line– launched with an exciting new edge-to-edge design powered by Microsoft’s new ARM-based SQ1 CPU.

After the announcement, when people started getting their devices in-hand, the excitement began to wear off. The AMD CPU in the 15-inch Surface Laptop wasn’t the knockout everyone hoped it would be, and Windows 10 on ARM on the Surface Pro X isn’t mature enough for that device to be worthy of the “Pro” name.

Now, the Surface Pro 7 doesn’t seem like such the disappointment everyone initially labeled it. A tried and true design, a robust software ecosystem, and an updated CPU from a mature silicon lineage make the Surface Pro 7 one of the best 2-in-one PCs you can buy.

Surface Pro 7 in standing position

It’s easy to forget about all the novelties that make the Surface Pro so intriguing. Surface Pro 7 still benefits from the past six years of iterations to this form.

Tablet Experience: Beautiful Hardware Without Fluid Software.

Surface Pro 7 is first and foremost a tablet. The tablet is 11½ inches wide and 9 inches tall, making it about the size of a composition notebook. At about 1.7lbs (790g), and 8.5mm thick, it’s neither too heavy or too thick. Some people find it a little too big for comfort; however, I have somewhat larger hands and have no problem holding it like a clipboard.

Also, the Surface Pro 7 has a kickstand, which enables it to stand up all on its own, something most other tablets can’t do without an accessory. It becomes very easy to interact with the tablet when it’s set down on a table at a low angle. I’m able to type surprisingly well on the touch keyboard with the device in this position.

Typing on the Surface pro 7 touch keyboard

The touch keyboard in Windows 10 has benefitted from several major updates in the past few years.

Despite the charming hardware, Windows is still a real nuisance when using the Surface Pro 7 as a tablet. Windows 10 is incredibly finicky and inconsistent with how it responds to input. Stuttering, delayed or unresponsive clicks, and choppy animations are present in all Windows 10 machines. These problems are exacerbated when using a finger as your primary input device. I firmly believe Microsoft needs to improve the reactiveness and reliability of Windows 10’s user interface.

Nonetheless, I use my Surface Pro 7 as a tablet about 60 percent of the time and have no problems getting things done. Access to the entire world of desktop-class hardware and software experiences on a tablet is incredible. Competing hybrid devices like the iPad Pro are still far away from being able to offer all the functionality of a real PC. Until then, the Surface Pro will remain the gold standard of this category.

Laptop Experience

Indeed, the novelty of the Surface Pro would not be complete without the addition of the Type Cover. This accessory is what truly transforms the Surface Pro 7 into a 2-in-one. With the exception of new colors, this year’s Type Covers aren’t any different than last year’s, so you can use whatever version has a color that best fits your taste.

Surface Pro 7 Signature Type Cover

Unfortunately, the new Type Covers don’t have the same hidden compartment for the new Surface Slim Pen like the Surface Pro X Keyboard does.

As for the actual typing experience, it’s also just as good as previous generations of Surface Pro. The Type Cover features a full-sized, black-lit chiclet keyboard with 1.3mm of travel. Like previous models, the Type Cover folds up to a very comfortable typing angle. The keys are relatively quiet and provide satisfying tactile feedback. It’s impressive how good a keyboard Microsoft managed to fit into such a flat cover. Similarly, the Precision glass touchpad feels very nice. It’s among the best on any Windows laptop. Input is instantaneous, and gesture support feels natural.

At the end of the day, the Type Cover is still a cover. It serves its purpose protecting the screen when closed, and when you don’t want it, you can flip it around or under the tablet. The Type Cover recognizes when it’s flipped around, shutting off to prevent unintentional input when being held from behind or pressed against a table. To be honest, though, I find it nicer to remove the keyboard entirely when I want to use it as a tablet. The Type Cover transitions the Surface Pro in and out of being a tablet much more effortlessly than other 2-in-ones with detach mechanisms or 360 hinges. Because I use my Surface Pro as a tablet so much, this is a huge plus for me.

Typing on Surface Pro 7

If you like to push your laptop off the edge of your knees, Surface Pro 7 may not be the best choice for you.

Equally identical to previous generations, the Surface Pro 7 and Type cover are surprisingly stable on the lap. The kickstand prevents the Surface Pro from wobbling side to side and can be opened to a very wide angle on the lap.

Unfortunately, the kickstand can also be restricting. You can’t push the device off the edge of your knees, or else it’ll fall over. As a consequence, you have to use the Surface Pro much closer to your torso when typing on your lap, which is notably less comfortable than any traditional laptop.

Still an Excellent Display

Whatever angle you set your screen to, you’ll be more than pleased with the excellent quality of the 12.3-inch PixelSense display found on the Surface Pro 7. Sure, it’s not edge-to-edge like on the new Surface Pro X, but I think it’s more than enough for most people. The colors are excellent, black’s are deep, and the screen can get reasonably bright.

The Surface Pro 7 ships with two custom display color profiles out of the box, ‘sRGB’ and ‘Enhanced’. A toggle in Action Center switches between these two color profiles and gives you a little bit more control over the appearance of the display. I think that anyone using their Surface Pro for visual arts should stick to the sRGB profile for a more accurate representation of their work.

Surface pro 7 drawing surface pen

Touch-optimized apps like Concepts (Microsoft Store) are really what make drawing on the Surface Pro enjoyable.

Inking & Digital Art:

When choosing a pen for the Surface Pro 7, you should try to pick a model designed for the Surface Pro 7. Initially, I tried drawing on my Pro 7 with one of the older clip models of the Surface Pen and wondered why it felt so disjointed. After picking up one of the newest models with tilt support, all these problems went away.

Inking appears to be the priority behind the design of the Surface Pen. I love note-taking with the Surface Pro. As I mentioned before, the Surface Pro 7 is about the size of a composition notebook, making it the perfect size for writing. Because of the kickstand, you can even write directly onto the screen in the upright position, and the screen will stay put.

Surface Pen breadth of input as demonstrated in OneNote

All of these lines were created with the same tool- without modified properties- by holding the pen at different angles and pressures.

One of the best apps for inking is OneNote, whose pencil tool lets you access the breadth of input capabilities of the Surface Pen. The pen can detect up to 4096 points of pressure, recognizes tilt, angle, and even has a functional eraser at the top. The button on the side of the pen acts as a right-click button, so you can use the pen in place of a mouse when using more compact desktop apps for more precise input.

In addition to inking, there’s nothing that stops you from using the pen for digital art. The precise capabilities of the pen paired with the desktop-class software options make the Surface Pro a compelling choice for digital artists. It’s not as well-suited as more dedicated devices from the likes of Wacom and Apple, but it will certainly get the job done.

I draw digitally for fun, and I find the Surface Pro more convenient for this than having an external or secondary tablet. Because it’s built right into my primary PC, it’s almost always with me. With apps like Concepts, I can very quickly unlock my device, create a new file, and start hammering out quick sketches. Apps like these are what make drawing on the Surface Pro enjoyable.

Once I’ve finished sketching one app, it’s easy to transfer that file to other more powerful apps like Autodesk Sketchbook or Adobe Photoshop. The file management of Windows on the Surface Pro is superior to that of iPadOS devices like the iPad Pro. It’s just a lot easier to take a complicated project from start to finish on Windows.

Concepts and Sketchbook window side by side

It’s a lot easier to multitask and manage multiple files in Windows.

On the downside, like with a lot of things, Windows can sometimes test your patience when drawing on this device. Things can get glitchy, as it just isn’t as well optimized for tasks like these. A lot of drawing apps tend to make my Surface Pro 7 quite warm when drawing. It isn’t uncomfortable, but it reduces battery life significantly.

Okay Battery Life, Very Fast Charging

Perhaps the biggest issue with the Surface Pro 7 is battery life. Microsoft advertises 10.5 hours of battery life with the Surface Pro 7, which is worryingly less than the 13.5 advertised for last year’s model. I’m only able to get around 5 or 6 hours of regular use with my Surface Pro 7, a window that narrows dramatically when using any high-performance app.

Surface Pro 7 battery taskbar flyout

You can control how your PC manages it’s power with the performance slider in the taskbar battery fly-out.

Surface Pro 7 is like the city car of computers when it comes to battery life. It doesn’t have very good range, but if you spend most of your time at home, at school, and in the office, it isn’t that big of a problem. The Surface Pro 7 can charge especially quickly with its new fast charging capabilities. With the included charger, the Surface Pro 7’s battery will charge up to 80% in an hour.

Another really good update to this year’s Surface lineup is with ‘Instant On’. Basically, with technology from the new 10th generation Intel processors, the Surface Pro 7 won’t hibernate closing it for several hours like previous models. I can close the cover on my Surface Pro 7 overnight, open it the next day, and it’ll turn on as if it never went to sleep. Contrary to what you might expect, this feature doesn’t drain the battery at all.

Graphics, Gaming, & Advanced Productivity

In contrast, one thing that will drain the Surface Pro 7’s battery is gaming. Just for fun, I cranked up my Surface Pro 7 to maximum performance at 100% brightness and played around in Minecraft Java Edition to see how quickly I could drain the battery. After 1 hour and 44 minutes of full load, I took the battery from one hundred to zero percent. To be fair, I think the same can be done with just about any laptop if you tried.

minecraft surface pro 7

The Surface Pro 7 is perfectly capable of light gaming, although it’s definitely not designed for it.

In my opinion, a PC cannot be considered competent for gaming unless it has a dedicated graphics card of some kind. Microsoft does offer a laptop with dedicated graphics in the Surface Book 2; however, the industry as a whole has yet to figure out how to shrink that kind of hardware into a more compact package.

Nonetheless, the i7 Surface Pro 7 (The model I have) is the most capable Surface Pro there has ever been for light gaming. The improved performance is thanks to the Intel Iris Plus graphics integrated into Intel’s 10th generation i7 1065g7 CPU. The Iris plus graphics are in both the i7 and i5 CPU models in the Surface Pro 7; however, they’re clocked slightly higher on the i7 model. The inclusion of a fan also keeps the i7 model running at higher clock speeds for longer.

Surface Pro 7 Video Editing

Unlike Surface Pro X, you can run any desktop app on the Surface Pro 7.

Without a doubt, Surface Pro 7 delivers exceptional performance in most advanced applications. Advanced apps like PowerPoint and Photoshop run incredibly well. I actually edited the Surface Pro 7 unboxing, review, and Windows 10 November Update videos on my Surface Pro 7.

Ports & Connectors

All around, the Surface Pro 7 has a great selection of ports and connectors. Just like last year, the Surface Pro 7 has a Micro-SD card slot and a full-sized USB-A 3.1 port. With these connectors, I’m able to use all of my existing USB-A and Micro-SD devices without having to carry around adaptors. Again, sometimes it’s just easier to plug and play than deal with pairing and unpairing wireless accessories.

view of Surface pro 7 ports

The USB-C port on Surface Pro 7 is not Thunderbolt-3 compatable.

In addition to this, the Surface Pro 7 is the first in its lineup to feature a USB-C port. Though it’s not Thunderbolt-3 compatible, it’s a lot more useful than the mini-DisplayPort that was in its place previously. With this new connector, the Surface Pro 7 is now compatible with most Type-C devices in the convoluted USB-C ecosystem. This includes things like USB-C docks and chargers that comply with the appropriate USB Power Delivery protocols (up to 60 watts).

Surface pro 7 USB Microphone

It’s easy to forget how many USB-A devices I still regularly use. I don’t think I could part with it just yet.

Likewise, the Surface Connect port can still connect to the Surface Dock, another powerful, yet aging device that expands the connectivity of the Surface Pro. You can’t get Thunderbolt-3 out of the Surface Dock either, but you can use it for Ethernet, external 4k 60 displays, or whatever other USB-A devices you might have docked at your desk.

The Best Microphones on any Surface Pro

One thing that truly shocked me was the new microphone array on the Surface Pro 7. Though these new ‘Studio Mics’ won’t be replacing my Blue USB Microphone any time soon, they’re by far the best microphones on any Surface Pro to date. You see, the Surface Pro has this unfortunate situation where the microphones have to be on the tablet right up next to the fan. On previous Surfaces, the fan noise would be incredibly obnoxious to anyone listening to sound recorded by the built-in microphone.

In contrast, the Surface Pro 7’s microphone array does an incredibly good job actively canceling out unwanted noise. Now, I can join video calls without having to worry about bothering people on the other end with background noise.

Reparability and the Future

Of all the Surface Pro 7’s design update omissions, serviceability is the most disappointing. The SSD on the Surface Pro 7 is soldered onto the motherboard, inside of a tablet that is sealed shut. With this, when the SSD dies, the whole device goes with it. Seeing that so many companies now are producing laptops which aren’t serviceable, it’s annoying that Microsoft– now one of the players reversing this trend– would omit this from one of their top products.

Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro 3

Surface Pro 7 is a major upgrade from older models like the Surface Pro 3.

I don’t think the prospect of a Surface Pro 8 with the design of the Surface Pro X is enough to dismiss the Pro 7 as an option for most people. Sure, it would be nice, but we can’t actually be sure that Microsoft is going to do this next year. There’s always going to be a next-year product, so it doesn’t make sense to continue waiting perpetually. If you’ve never owned a Surface before, or are upgrading from an older generation, then you’ll be more than satisfied with what the Surface Pro 7 has to offer today.

In the end, the Surface Pro 7 is a very mature machine which is competent for most of your computing needs. If you’re attracted to the novelty of a tablet that can replace your laptop, but needs a real PC that’s capable of running all your favorite software, then the Surface Pro 7 would be an excellent choice.

Share This
Further reading: , , , ,