Microsoft Surface Pro 7 First Impressions

It’s unclear whether Surface Pro 7 is the swan song for this venerable product line. But the form factor really works, and it’s no wonder that this 2-in-1 is Microsoft’s best-selling and most beloved PC.

As you may recall, Surface Pro debuted alongside the doomed Surface RT in 2012, but the product didn’t actually ship to customers until early 2013. The first two Surface Pro generations were clunky 16:9 devices that were ill-equipped to meet the needs of most users, though some innovations, like the kickstand, and the replaceable Type Cover and Surface Pen, with their personalization capabilities, continued forward and were improved.

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With the third-generation Surface Pro 3, released in mid-2014, Microsoft finally hit its stride. This was the tablet that could replace your laptop, and it featured the basic form factor and feature set that we’ve been enjoying ever since in each of the four subsequent product generations: Thin and light, with a 3:2 display, a variably-adjustable kickstand, and, in more recent years, fanless and silent operation in all but the Core i7 versions.

Surface Pro 7 (top) and Surface Pro 2017/5 (bottom) are physically almost identical

I’ve reviewed every version of Surface Pro except for Surface Pro 6. And it’s clear that this form factor is a classic, as iconic and trendsetting as the second-generation MacBook Air. So Microsoft, at least for now, is not messing with success.

That’s both good and bad, of course: The display bezels on the Surface Pro 7, like virtually everything else on this device, are identically large to those of the past three or four Pro generations. They are anachronistic when compared to the thin bezels we see virtually elsewhere else today. Hurting matters further, Microsoft will soon release an ARM-based Surface Pro X with ultra-thin bezels that points to the future of the product line. Viewing them side-by-side, Surface Pro suffers even more, and it’s hard not to imagine how much this device would be improved by a bigger display in the same body.

But whatever. If it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it, and Microsoft has at least upgraded the internals of this product line with each new generation. For Surface Pro 7, we get 10th-generation Intel Core processors—Core i3-1005G1, Core i5-1035G4, or Core i7-1065G7, depending on the model, and with Intel Iris Plus Graphics in the Core i5 and i7 variants—4 to 16 GB of LPDDR4x RAM, and 128 GB to 1 TB of speedy solid-state storage.

And this year they even added a USB-C port, replacing the aging miniDisplayPort from previous versions and effectively doubling the on-device expansion capabilities. (OK, not quite, as there’s a microSD card slot too. But you get the idea.) This answers a long-time complaint I’ve had about Surface Pro, that it could easily accommodate two USB ports. Now it does: One is USB-A and one is USB-C. Good.

Surface Pro 7 (top) now offers a USB-C port instead of miniDisplayPort (bottom)

Little else has changed. Surface Pro 7 still utilizes a 12.3-inch PixelSense display with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2736 x 1824 (267 ppi). That display still sports 10-point multitouch capabilities and is compatible with both Surface Pen and Surface Dial. It’s still bright and crisp and generally excellent, and it still offers ambient light sensing for automatic screen brightness. And, truth be told, it’s still a bit small for my tastes, which skew to a 14-inch size that Surface Pro will likely never attain. (That said, the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 works well as a tablet in Clipboard mode, and that might be an interesting direction for future Intel-based Pros.)

The kickstand is likewise still excellent and offers an incredible range of positions from nearly flat to nearly upright and everything in-between. It’s also quite steady in whatever position you set it, and you’ll never need to make micro-corrections. Just set it and forget it.

Some criticize the Pro series for being non-lappable. That’s fair, depending on the size of your upper legs, but then that’s true of some normal laptops too. I’m pretty tall, but I struggle to use Surface Pro 7 on my lap, and it will likely be problematic if you wish to use it like a laptop in a cramped airline tray table.

That said, the versatility of this design will outweigh these issues for many. The Pro is thin and light—just 1.7 pounds without the Type Cover, making it an ideal travel companion. And its kickstand makes it an ideal option for enjoying a movie in that cramped airline seat or anywhere else. Artists and note-takers will love the optional Surface Pen, and those who love using tablets can’t find a better option on the Windows side of the fence.

Some also complain that Surface Pro doesn’t ship with a Type Cover, which is an obviously necessary component, thanks to its surprisingly good keyboard and precision touchpad. But that’s misguided: Being able to choose your own Type Cover, with a custom color, material, or other design, is a key part of Surface Pro’s appeal. And I love the vibrant red Type Cover (and matching Surface Pen) that Microsoft loaned me with the review unit. (That said, it has a strong chemical smell when it comes new out of its packaging. That subsides over time.)

Also good, Microsoft claims that Surface Pro 7 gets up to 10.5 hours of real-world battery life. And, no, they’re not measuring that with streaming video. I’ll test that, but anywhere close to 10.5 hours is all-day battery by any realistic measure.

Finally, there’s the price, which is surprisingly reasonable. Surface Pro starts at just $750, though that doesn’t include a Type Cover, which you will need, and a Surface Pen, which you may need. If you have a Surface Pro 5 or newer (and possibly a Surface Pro 4), your existing Type Cover and Pen should work fine. But factor in about $160 for a Type Cover and $100 for a Surface Pen.

Surface Pro 7 provides a Model 1800 65-watt charger with USB port for charging devices

That $750 starting price also gets you a somewhat underpowered tablet 2-in-1, too, thanks to its Core m3 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of SSD storage. But a more realistic configuration—Core i5, 8 GB, and 128 GB—is a still-reasonable $900. So about $1060 with a Type Cover.

Ah, the rich texture of Alcantara!

Given its versatility, portability, and customizability, that seems like a fair price. But I’ll find out for sure during the review process, and I’ll be traveling with Surface Pro 7 to Microsoft Ignite in about two weeks.

More soon.

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Conversation 28 comments

  • djross95

    Premium Member
    21 October, 2019 - 9:31 am

    <p>I went to the MS Store and configured a "reasonable" (8GB/ 256GB) Surface Pro 7 with keyboard and pen and it was almost $1600. That's just too expensive for what you get. They shouldn't even be selling the 4GB/128GB configuration, that's ridiculous and only exists to highlight a $799 base price. I want to like this device, but it's just too pricey at the moment. </p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      21 October, 2019 - 10:37 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482347">In reply to djross95:</a></em></blockquote><p>Yep. That is too expensive. </p><p><br></p><p>That said, these things are always on sale. Wait for Black Friday, I bet you'll save hundreds. </p>

      • djross95

        Premium Member
        21 October, 2019 - 7:38 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#482363"><em>In reply to paul-thurrott: </em></a>Agreed, and yep, that's the plan. We shouldn't have to do that, but (as they say) it is what it is! </blockquote><p><br></p>

    • igor engelen

      21 October, 2019 - 1:35 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#482347"><em>In reply to djross95:</em></a><em> I totally agree with you.</em></blockquote><blockquote><em>I know it's not a completely fair comparison but my iPad Pro 11" with 256GB was only about 1000€. That's without keyboard and pen and a 'mobile' OS but still.</em></blockquote><p><br></p>

  • simard57

    21 October, 2019 - 9:42 am

    <p>I do not understand why all manufacturers do not add a USB to their power bricks – it is handy</p><p>I also do not understand why Microsoft only uses that for power – wouldn't it be a nice feature if it were a fully data compatible USB A connection?</p>

    • digiguy

      Premium Member
      21 October, 2019 - 10:14 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482350">In reply to Simard57:</a></em></blockquote><p>I don't use that port since it only give 1A, Microsoft should put 5 more watts there and give 2A</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      21 October, 2019 - 10:38 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482350">In reply to Simard57:</a></em></blockquote><p>Yeah it is really neat. It'd be even neater if it passed through for data access etc. like a dock, as you say.</p>

      • robincapper

        23 October, 2019 - 12:45 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#482365">In reply to paul-thurrott:</a></em></blockquote><p>So you want a USB C brick too :)</p>

      • sscywong

        25 October, 2019 - 6:08 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#482365">In reply to paul-thurrott:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Agree. This would be even more important for Surface Pro X which doesn't have USB-A….</p><p><br></p><p>Hopfully MS won't make something call "Power adapter Pro" which can give 2A output plus data transfer capability and charge $99 for it later…… Though it's not a bad idea to make such product….</p>

  • digiguy

    Premium Member
    21 October, 2019 - 10:13 am

    <p>Hi Paul, I have read your impressions and those of the Verge, and I am starting to believe that what I hope for mighty actually be true. That is, Surface pro 7 battery life is not lower than pro 6 or 5, but they just changed their testing method, from video, to web broswing etc. to make it more realistic (maybe not as Apple does, but still closer to reality). So the 20% less battery life is actually on due to the way they test, Verge says 7-8 hours, same as pro 6).</p><p>This would also be encouraging for the pro X which might therefore have a battery life similar to surface book….</p><p>Also one of the big deal for me is that this year they made a version of the i5 with 16GB which is great since the i5 is fanless ans cheaper, and given the 10th gen improvement it's actually faster than the i7 in the pro 6. Looking forward to your review and to a future comparison with the Pro X.</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      21 October, 2019 - 10:37 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482353">In reply to digiguy:</a></em></blockquote><p>You are correct about how they measure battery life. They told us that at the hardware event a few weeks back. </p>

  • Chris_Kez

    Premium Member
    21 October, 2019 - 10:29 am

    <p>To what extent is Microsoft concerned that an updated Surface Pro 7/8– tiny bezels, maybe thinner or lighter, with TB3– would lessen interest in Surface Pro X (and by extension Windows on ARM)?</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      21 October, 2019 - 10:36 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482360">In reply to Chris_Kez:</a></em></blockquote><p>I'm sure that was part of it. </p><p><br></p><p>The more I think about it though, the more I wonder if the next Intel-based Pro won't be 13.5 inches. </p>

  • robert_wood

    21 October, 2019 - 10:38 am

    <p>My dumb question of the day. Have they ever changed the design to where if the battery dies it won't turn on even with it being plugged in? The battery died in my old Surface and now it's unusable unless I replace the battery. That is what has turned me against getting another Surface Pro, or even fixing the one I have. </p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      21 October, 2019 - 11:05 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482364">In reply to Robert_Wood:</a></em></blockquote><p>Newer Surfaces with dead batteries do boot up when on power. I assume this does too, but will try to test that.</p>

    • bluesman57

      21 October, 2019 - 10:10 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#482364"><em>In reply to Robert_Wood:</em></a><em> My SP4 works fine plugged in. Its battery was toast 6 months ago. I gave it to a family member who uses it in her Graphics Design major classes, and does amazing art with it.</em></blockquote><blockquote><em>Also: I have an SP 1 and an SP2 still in use at two restaurants on the charge cords.</em></blockquote><p><br></p>

  • rmlounsbury

    Premium Member
    21 October, 2019 - 11:09 am

    <p>The Surface Pro has always felt like the sweet spot in the Microsoft Surface lineup unless you really need the horse power of a Surface Book (or now 15" Surface Laptop 3). I originally did not like the form factor because of that lapability factor and until recent generations found the price high considering you need to buy a type cover at a minimum. But this generation seems to have nailed all those points (and I just accept the fact that if I want to use it in my lap I'm doing it with an on screen keyboard). </p><p><br></p><p>I find myself in an interesting quandry after the announcement. I actually still have an use a Surface Pro 3 which still gets the job done as a general purpose portable device (the biggest knock is battery life is now aorund 3-4 hours unplugged even with power settings tuned for battery). It is indeed time to replace the old device but I was hoping Surface Pro would get the slimmer bezel treatment or other compelling reason to upgrade. But, unless you go Surface Pro X I'm mildly dissapointed in the Pro 7. </p><p><br></p><p>I may keep my eye on fire sales for the Surface Pro 6 w/o the type cover (I already have 2 so I don't need another one). Looks like right now you can pick up a Pro 6 in the i5/8GB RAM/128GB SSD configuration w/o the type cover for $680 from Amazon. If the holiday season manages to get that down to $600 then that might be a no brainer. Or, I could try to eek another year out of the Pro 3 and see if the Pro X design language is arried to the Pro series. </p>

    • justme

      Premium Member
      22 October, 2019 - 7:05 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482371">In reply to rmlounsbury:</a></em></blockquote><p>I too have an SP3 in daily use. For me, it has been a fantastic machine. I am also seeing 3-4 hrs of battery, though occasionally I do get an hour or so more. I've never figured out what the "magic" is to make that extra time consistent.</p><p><br></p><p>Bezels dont bother me. In fact, I prefer to have them because it gives me something more to hold onto. I'd love a Pro 7, but to get a consistent (and long-lived for me) experience, I am looking at ~$1800. I will be watching the Black Friday and potential Christmas sales. If I buy one, its going to have to last at least 4 years. So I too may be holding out another year.</p><p><br></p><p>The Pro X design does not interest me in the slightest. The Surface Pro series may have its faults, but they are good machines. I'd rather keep the thickness to get storage that is replaceable and another USB port. And generally, I hope Microsoft leave the bezels alone.</p>

  • garymount

    21 October, 2019 - 11:13 am

    <p>I'm still using a Surface Pro first gen as my main production machine for my software development and research. 4GB mem, 128 GB storage. I use a usb docking solution to add 2 extra monitors besides the external display port&nbsp;(HDMI dongle) monitor. I can't really use the devices monitor when using the externals because I get severe eye strain when I do.</p><p>I used to take the tablet with me on my daily coffee shop outing but the battery no longer holds a charge for very long, and besides I usually just end up studying something on my Lumina 950XL phone that has a 2560 x 1440 resolution, or read a physical book.</p><p>One problem with the first gen single position stand is it rarely has the right angle when I am at the coffee shop and some counters are too short in depth that the kickstand drops off the edge. The type cover wasn't backlit on the first gen either.</p><p>I was happy to discover I could switch the default keys for the top row function keys as the F keys get used a lot while developing software. (Fn + CapLock )</p><p>Back at my desk I use two old Viewsonic monitors in portrait mode side by side and pretend they are one monitor for a resolution total of 3200 x 1200. The third monitor is just 1080p. Could get a supported 2560 x 1440 monitor but I'm thinking if I get an updated device it will support a 4k monitor of which they seem less expensive to buy. Any way what I currently have seems to work out very nicely, for software development. (Funny additional storey, I have to hit my Viewsonic monitors with a rubber mallet quite often to get them to work properly. Heat expansion and contraction is a problem with these monitors and long after I shut them down for the night I hear them crackling away as they cool down to room temperature)</p><p>I use a Microsoft Entertainment 8000 wireless keyboard, 10 years old now. I recently added two mechanical keyboards as well (Cooler Master MK850). I use one for macros and the other for typing. I spent the first 6 months of this year writing AutoHotkey code macros. I have developed an automated data collection system that works with my test runs in visual studio. I should do a write up about is some day.</p><p>New software by the way for my Cooler Master keyboards allows 5 different layers for each of the 4 different profiles by using the M1 thru M5 keys on the left of the keyboard to switch layers that until recently could only be used for the built in Aimpad (analog keys) technology of the keyboard.</p><p>I had been saving up to get the larger size Surface book but I decided for now that I don't need the mobility and I should just put together a desktop computer (build my own like I have in the past). But I do have a powerful HP i7 laptop I can borrow from my father that has 12GB of ram and the worlds slowest hard drive (takes many hours to do an update – and the thing gets lots of updates from the slow ring – got a free upgrade from Home version of Windows to Pro version by participating in the early days of the program).</p><p>I have decided that I will be buying the Surface Neo as my next upgrade. I have a To-Do app that I have been developing for several years (has some sophisticated capabilities – can't discuss yet) and the nature of the dual screen Windows software is intreaging. I also have some ideas for developing a smart book app useful for studying that I also can't discuss yet.</p>

    • LouS

      21 October, 2019 - 5:49 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482386">In reply to garymount:</a></em></blockquote><p>I still have my Surface Pro (original). I use it from time to time, still chugging along.</p><p><br></p><p>Only issue I have with it is that if I put it in the Surface Docking station (original) the wifi goes in and out. Happens with another Surface Pro I have (with a bad power button, making it almost useless) so maybe it is the docking station and not the Surface. Not sure I want to blow the $$ on a used docking station on eBay just to find it it still doesn't work. </p>

  • brothernod

    Premium Member
    21 October, 2019 - 11:22 am

    <p>Just curious, if they kept everything else the same but made the screen edge to edge, any idea how large that would be and would it sway you on the usability (since you said you prefer 14" devices)?</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      21 October, 2019 - 1:52 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#482387">In reply to brothernod:</a></em></blockquote><p>The Pro X is that device. I think it would be nearly ideal.</p>

  • Hifihedgehog

    21 October, 2019 - 11:47 am

    <p>Looking at the swath of reviews from Engadget and TechRadar, I would be led to believe that battery life has taken a definite "downgrade" (Engadget's words, not mine) despite Microsoft's change in their battery life testing methodology. I would venture to guess this is partly due to 10nm processors not being as refined yet in power efficiency as their 14nm brethren, whose manufacturing have been greatly refined and matured at this point. Another source of the drop is the battery has actually been decreased in capacity for the first time since the Surface Pro 4, which according to a battery report posted online is now 43.2 Wh instead of the 45 Wh that the Pro 5 and 6 had.</p><p><br></p><p>That said, I believe Engadget made a mistake in their testing because no 10th Gen Ice Lake device from Dell or HP has seen a halving of battery life compared to previous generation devices like they are reporting for the Surface Pro 7. At most, we should see maybe a 1 to 2 hour drop in battery life compared to the previous generation if NotebookCheck's meticulous battery tests are anything to judge by. Windows Central seems to have actually run a repeatable, reliable benchmark (<span style="color: rgb(16, 16, 16);">PCMark 10's new battery benchmark dubbed "Modern Office.")</span>, and quotes around 8 hours for the Surface Pro 7 versus the Pro 6. So we will be trading in some battery life, but it is not doom and gloom, Surface Pro 1 levels like Engadget is saying.</p>

  • brettscoast

    Premium Member
    21 October, 2019 - 11:58 am

    <p>Nice write up Paul. The bezels on this device as you stated are still too big and a 14" screen while more desirable seems unlikely. I do love the groovy red keyboard and matching pen. The 3.2 aspect ratio is excellent for productivity tasks. I wish this was the case with more manufacturers laptops who are still regularly churning out 16.9. Microsoft have a winner here so why reinvent the wheel.</p>

  • tobiulm

    21 October, 2019 - 2:05 pm

    <p>Nice Review. Any thinkings about the Color of the device? I read a lot about the Black finish. Brad showed it in his last Review and it looked not really Bad. If i compare it to my sp2 it looks much better but not as good as my sp4 after 3.5 years on the road. Here in germany is a good trade-in Programm. If you order until tomorrow you get 300€ for an sp2 and the 10% parent discount makes the sp7 really affordable. </p>

  • RobertJasiek

    21 October, 2019 - 2:20 pm

    <p>Like every year, I do not buy the Surface Pro because of display reflectance and missing easy battery change. The bezels, however, are ok for handholding.</p>

  • Thom77

    21 October, 2019 - 7:08 pm

    <p>Most laptops prices could be considered reasonable too ….. if they didnt come with a keyboard and they had a $160 price cut to reflect it. Although, i don't consider $750 reasonable for a m3 when their are i5's laptops at competing price points … with a keyboard. </p><p><br></p><p>I've read on a Surface forum in the past where homemade tests were done on the Surfaces and the i5 really isnt worth it (except for the 8Gb) in regards to processor power because it was throttled down to m3 results because of the lack of a fan. Don't know if that is still the case now, but they had charts of tests done, even recorded results on different type of tabletop surfaces … it was pretty extensive and thorough.</p>

  • bluesman57

    21 October, 2019 - 10:30 pm

    <p>I'm a huge fan of the Surface Pros, but I will probably skip the 7, because I just bought a 6 on the Cyber Monday sale. Still using my SP4 NFL keyboard (Geaux Saints!). I get it if people don't like them for writing, though.</p><p><br></p><p>I wish the bezels were smaller, but I think it will happen eventually on the Intel model. I don't have much need for USB C yet, but it might be nice to have for the charging option. I can use my USB C Pixel charger to charge my Go. The charger has to support the PD(Power Delivery?) protocol, I think. Have no idea if the SP7 will work with that.</p>

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