Microsoft's Surface Pro 8 tablet arrives as Windows 11 goes out the door. Microsoft has
already shipped one tablet this year, the Surface Pro 7+, which rose to the top of our
roundup of the best Windows tablets of 2021. Can the Surface
Pro 8 improve upon it?
Yes and no. The Surface Pro 8 boldly strides forward with a
larger, higher resolution, faster screen, a revamped inking
experience spearheaded by the optional Surface Slim Pen 2, and a
pair of Thunderbolt ports that supplement the legacy Surface
Connect charger. It's a dramatic reworking of the iconic Surface
Pro tablet line, and that's enough to grab your attention.
If only we could leave it here. Put simply, we can't be entirely
certain how well the Surface Pro 8 performs because of some wildly
varying results in our performance tests. Battery life varied
wildly, too. We're pretty sure that the Surface Pro 8 represents an
upgrade to the Surface Pro 7+ and Surface Pro 7, but what we've
seen doesn't suggest that it will outperform the competition.
You'll have to look more closely at the intangibles to make your
Microsoft Surface Pro 8 specifications
For now, there's one important change in configuration between
the Surface Pro 7+ for Business and the latest Surface Pro 8: The
Surface Pro 8 lacks an inexpensive Core i3 option, and thus its
base price is $100 higher, at US$1,099 / AU$1,649. The good news is that all of
the Surface Pro 8 options Microsoft is selling should offer enough
computational power and memory for any buyer. Our review unit also
lacked cellular capabilities, so we didn't test those.
Microsoft continues to sell the Surface's companion keyboard and
the pen separately, though there's an explicit keyboard/pen bundle
that Microsoft will sell for an additional $279.99. The Surface Pro
8 has been designed with the new Surface Slim Pen 2 in mind,
however, and Microsoft says you'll experience reduced e-ink
latency/lag if you use it.
- Display: 13-inch PixelSense Flow (2880×1920,
- Processor: Consumer: (Core i5-1135G7, Core
i7-1185G7) Commercial: (Core i3-1115G4, Core i5-1145G7, Core
- Graphics: UHD (Core i3), Iris Xe (Core i5,
- Memory: 8/16/32GB LPDDR4x RAM (16GB as
- Storage: 128GB/256GB removable SSD; 512GB/1TB
SSD (256GB as tested)
- Ports: 2 USB-C (USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4), 1
Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover Port, 3.5mm jack
- Security: Camera (Windows Hello)
- Camera: 5MP/1080p (user-facing), 10MP
- Battery: 50.2Wh (design), 51.3Wh (full
- Wireless: WiFi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.1;
optional LTE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28,
29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66
- Operating system: Consumer: Windows 11 Home;
Business: Windows 10 Pro or Windows 11 Pro
- Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.37in.
- Weight: 1.96lb (as specified)
- Color: Platinum, Graphite
- Price: Starting at US$1,099.99 / AU$1,649, US$1,599.99 / AU$ AU$2,399 as
- Optional accessories: Surface Slim Pen 2: US$129.99 / AU$189.95, Surface Slim Pen Charger: US$34.99 / AU$49.95, Surface Pro
Signature Keyboard w/ Slim Pen 2 Bundle: US$279.99 / AU$429.95, Surface Pro
Signature Keyboard: US$179.99 / AU$259.95.
Microsoft Surface Pro 8
- Core i5/8GB RAM/128 GB SSD: US$1,099.99 / AU$1,649 (Platinum)
- Core i5/8/256: US$1,199.99 / AU$1,799 (Platinum, Graphite)
- Core i5/8/512: US$1,399.99 / AU$2,099 (Platinum, Graphite)
- Core i5/16/256 – US$1,399.99 / AU$2,099 (Platinum, Graphite)
- Core i7/16/256 – US$1,599.99 / AU$2,399 (Platinum, Graphite)
- Core i7/16/512 – US$1,899.99 / AU$2,849 (Platinum, Graphite)
- Core i7/16/1TB – US$2,199.99 / AU$3,299 (Platinum)
Two years ago, the Surface
Pro X showcased the future of Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet
lineup. Today's Surface Pro 8 has been redesigned in its image,
with a pair of Thunderbolt ports and an integrated charging cubby
for the Surface Slim Pen 2. That can be a little disconcerting for
long-term Surface owners, as Microsoft has moved things around. The
power button is now on the side of the tablet, for example.
Though the Surface Pro 8 is now slightly heavier and chunkier
than its predecessors, you'll need to compare them side by side to
notice. Otherwise, the Surface Pro 8 looks the same as it emerges
from the box. Hopefully you've already purchased the Surface Pro Signature
Keyboard to take full advantage.
Like other Surface Pro devices dating back to the Surface Pro 3,
the tablet reclines to nearly horizontal. The Surface Pro's
Signature magnetic keyboard, though, clasps it firmly. If that
matters to you, buy a Surface Pro 8. Rival tablets don't invest
enough in the magnetic connection, and a tablet on your lap already
risks flipping backwards over your knees.
On the left-hand side
of the Surface Pro 8 sits the volume rocker and headphone jack.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Microsoft ships the Surface Pro 8, as it ships most of its
Surface devices, dialed down to minimal performance levels. Though
you give up a bit in terms of performance, this also means that the
Surface Pro 8 rarely engages its cooling fan, and it only does so
very quietly when necessary. (You can adjust the performance within
the Windows 11 Settings menu, specifically System > Power
& battery.) Narrow grillwork runs along both sides of the
tablet, providing cooling. Typically, Surface tablets get warm to
hot along the upper rear panel, and the SP8 is no exception.
The color gamut for
the Surface Pro 8, as measured by our Datacolor SpyderX
Mark Hachman / IDG
With the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft is introducing a slightly
larger 13-inch (2,880x 1,920) multitouch PixelSense Flow display
that preserves the 3:2 screen ratio, versus the 12.3-inch
(2736×1824) displays we've traditionally received as part of the
Surface Pro lineup. Originally, Microsoft told us that the
PixelSense Flow display would dynamically shift back and forth
between the standard 60Hz refresh rate and a new 120Hz refresh
rate, a feature known as Dynamic Refresh Rate. Higher refresh rates
are easier on the eyes and would also improve inking, as the pen's
ink would flow more smoothly onto the screen.
Microsoft's Dynamic Refresh Rate feature didn't make it to the
Surface Pro 8, unfortunately. Instead, Microsoft locked the refresh
rate at 60Hz, though you can manually adjust it via the Settings
menu (System > Display > Advanced Display) to the
higher 120 Hz setting. Doing so would imply that your battery life
would decrease, but we didn't experience that. We'll talk more
about this during our performance tests, specifically the battery
On the right-hand side
sits the Surface Connect power port, the two Thunderbolt/USB-C
ports, and the power button.
Mark Hachman / IDG
With the Surface Pro 8, the Surface Pro line makes a major
transition to Thunderbolt, an enhanced I/O capability that has
existed on rival notebooks and tablets for some time. The Surface
Pro 8 includes a pair of Thunderbolt ports on one side, and has
done away with the older USB Type-A port entirely. (Unlike the
Surface Pro X, Microsoft has thankfully included a headphone jack,
as well.) This allows the Surface Pro 8 to connect to a small but
growing ecosystem of Thunderbolt docks, and charge from them too—p
rovided that they're powered. That gives SP8 buyers the option to
either charge directly from the included 65W Surface charger, or
tap into a Thunderbolt dock.
The sacrifice? Microsoft has done away with the microSD slot for
this generation, a tacit push for people to upload their photos
directly to the Microsoft OneDrive cloud. If you need a physical
microSD port, you have a number of great USB-C dongles to choose
We didn't hear any substantive qualitative differences between
the Surface Pro 8 and earlier Surface tablets, but the speakers are
indeed louder: they're now 2W speakers, versus the 1.6W speakers
used by the Surface Pro 7+. Like the earlier model, they also use
Dolby Atmos, which is built in and not really adjustable by the
user outside of the normal audio settings. Our Surface Pro 7+ review noted that the speakers
sounded somewhat flatter and softer, and it appears that Microsoft
has rectified this in the Surface Pro 8.
In general, the audio is certainly among the better options for
tablets, and sounds as good or better than some laptops. You won't
need headphones to enjoy music on the Surface Pro 8.
experience and keyboard
Microsoft's Surface Pro Signature Keyboard, sold separately,
doesn't seem to be anything different than what Microsoft has
offered in conjunction with past Surface Pro tablets. As noted
above, the magnetic hinge clasps the keyboard tightly to the
tablet, freeing you of the anxiety of working on your lap. On a
desktop, the Surface Pro 8's keyboard feels comfortable, put
simply, with a satisfactory amount of key travel and resilience.
You should be able to the use the keyboard comfortably for an
entire day without any additional strain on your wrists or
The Signature Keyboard
connects to the tablet, and provides a lightweight, comfortable
Mark Hachman / IDG
The touchpad also appears to have remained unchanged. It's
actually clickable for almost the entirety of the trackpad, though
you'll have to exert an unreasonable amount for force at the top of
the trackpad for the clicks to register. Though a bit plasticky,
the trackpad is comfortable to use.
What's new for the Surface tablet line is that the Surface Pro
8's new Signature Keyboard includes a pen cubby for the Slim Pen 2,
which appears to be the future of Microsoft's pens. As we noted in
tablet roundup, not every tablet keyboard that incorporates
these new pens has a strong magnetic connection. The keyboard folds
up, too, holding the pen securely while charging it. It's a great
design and completely eliminates the risk of losing a pen while the
Surface Pro 8 is stored inside your bag or backpack.
Like the Surface Laptop Studio, inking is a priority on the
Surface Pro 8. The Surface Pro 8 uses the Microsoft Pen Protocol in
conjunction with the Surface Slim Pen 2. While I'm not a
professional illustrator, my impression is that using Microsoft's
two-button Surface Slim Pen 2 is more accurate on the Surface Pro
8, perhaps in part because the screen offers more pixel density
than the Surface Laptop Studio. Pairing the Slim Pen 2 is a breeze,
so much that it seemed like the pen paired as soon as I connected
the keyboard. You can launch apps by pressing a button, and erase
just by rubbing the top of the pen against the screen.
The Slim Pen 2 also includes haptic feedback, so that you'll
feel interactions with shapes on Microsoft Whiteboard, for example.
This may in fact be an assistive technology dressed up as a new
consumer feature, but I wouldn't buy a Slim Pen 2 for this.
The Surface Slim Pen 2
(sold separately) sits neatly in its dedicated charging cubby.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Don't discount the rechargeable pen, either, or its cubby! The
days of trying to hunt down a AAAA battery for your Surface Pen are
over. (Microsoft says that earlier Surface Pens will still work,
but that you won't see the same reduced latency as you will while
using the Surface Slim Pen 2.
I manually adjusted the display refresh rate to 120 Hz to see
the improved inking benefits, something that Microsoft had
originally pledged that it would do dynamically. In any case, I
didn't see any line offsets, where ink flows from a different
location from where the pen touches, even with the pen at an angle.
There is still a tiny bit of ink latency as you move about the
page, but, to me, it wasn't significant. It also appears that the
the pen jitter—where the pen's lines ripple back and forth—is less
than the Surface Laptop Studio or previous Surface Pro tablets.
While we didn't compare the inking ability to a dedicated Wacom
tablet, it's fair to say that the Slim Pen 2 offers an impressive
This is what we found
when we tested the Surface Pro 8 to determine the ink jitter, or
how well the pen tracked our movements. We created these lines by
drawing in the tablet with a straight edge. They should be
perfectly straight, but there's still a slight wiggle or rippling
effect while drawing slowly. In all, however, it's pretty good.
Mark Hachman / IDG
As the company behind the Teams videoconferencing software,
Microsoft intrinsically understands that people need to look good
on camera during meetings or just chatting with friends. Though the
Surface Pro 8's user-facing camera still shoots just 1080p video,
Microsoft has added ambient color and lighting sensors, too. The
latter sensor does a better job of highlighting your image using
the proper exposure, while the color sensor will automatically
adjust the color of your screen to compensate for the ambient
Unfortunately, if the color sensor's job is to show the webcam's
subject in the best light, it needs some work as the image below
I'm Irish on my
mother's side, but I certainly haven't been this sunburned in a
while. This isn't color-accurate where my skin tone is concerned!
Mark Hachman / IDG
Microsoft also enhanced its rear-facing camera, too, adding a
10Mpixel camera sensor, up from 8MP. We're not the sort that takes
photos with a tablet, but the added resolution certainly can't
We were hoping that the Windows Hello 2.0 feature that Microsoft
disclosed to us would be enabled on these machines. Windows Hello
2.0 supposedly can interpret your face even with a beard, glasses,
or an N95 mask on. We tested the latter and…no dice. Windows
couldn't set up a new face profile with a mask on, and couldn't
recognize me with one on, either.
From a performance standpoint, the Surface Pro 8 is somewhat
baffling. In places, our benchmarks show it to be faster than the
Surface Pro 7+, but in others performance is drastically reduced.
Under certain conditions, our results aren't consistent; in others,
they are. Right now, our working theory is that the Surface Pro 8's
cooling isn't quite up to snuff, given that the fan sounds like it
hardly ever turns on. Otherwise, this may demonstrate some early
bugs that Microsoft has yet to work out.
From a usability standpoint, however, the Surface Pro 8 performs
well. Our 4K streaming test video rendered dropped just 8 frames
out of 10,000 or so, which means that video will stream jitter free
even at high resolutions. With the same GPU as the Surface Pro 7+,
you should expect comparable gameplay if you choose to go that
route—plan on playing games at 1080p settings on High. This is a
business and inking tablet, though, first and foremost.
We've compared the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 to the Surface Pro 7+ and Surface Pro 7, of course, as
well as some of the other tablets in our recent tablet roundup. The
key points of comparison are the Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable and the Lenovo ThinkPad Detachable Gen 1, which
directly compete against the Surface Pro 8. We've highlighted those
tablets with a lighter shade of blue in the charts in this section.
Technically, the Surface Go 2 is also a smaller tablet
competitor. We've also added notebooks like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Laptop 4 as additional points of
We use the PCMark test to measure how the tablet will fare under
general computing workloads. The test measures videoconferencing,
word processing, some light gaming, CAD work, application startup,
and more. Here, the Suface Pro 8 performs up to expectations, with
increased gen-over-gen performance.
The Surface Pro 8
improves upon the Surface Pro 7+, but not enough to overcome the
competition. The SP8's higher-resolution screen may play a role
Mark Hachman / IDG
It's the Cinebench R15 test, however, where things started to go
off the rails. The Cinebench R15 test measures the CPU's
performance, either running just a single processing thread or all
of the cores/threads at once. You could almost call the benchmark
iconic at this point, as it's been used to test desktop PCs, gaming
PCs, workstations, and more.
In the multicore tests, the Surface Pro 8 began by recording a
score of 867, nicely above the 776 score that the Surface Pro 7+
recorded. But then the scores kept decreasing: 732, 723, 453, 449,
and so on. The last five benchmarks we ran were about half the
performance of the Surface Pro 7+. I never run the tests in
succession, either: I interject cooling down periods of usually 12
minutes or more, and I ran the tests at different times of the day,
in an air-conditioned environment. I reported my results to
Microsoft and asked for comment, but didn't hear back by press
time. In all, our scores ranged from a low of 453 to a high of 867,
which is crazy. Single-core scores varied from 149 to 185, for an
average of 163, which is also lower than the Surface Pro 7+.
Even at the maximum
score of 732 that the Surface Pro 8 recorded wouldn't put it above
Mark Hachman / IDG
Cinebench R23, a more advanced version of the benchmark, offers
a way to check whether thermal issues are at fault: run a single
test, then loop the test over and over for ten minutes and compare
the results. But the scores were comparable—2,895 versus 2,867—w
hich led me to doubt whether that was the case.
We saw more anomalies in the Handbrake test, which uses a free
tool to transcode video into a format formatted for an Android
tablet. It's a real-world application, though less so in a world
where Netflix movies can be saved to a laptop. We measure the time
Handbrake takes to complete the task as a way to determine both the
performance of the tablet as well as its ability to keep cool over
a long period of time. As before, I ran several tests, cooling the
tablet down and not running them back to back. Performance began at
2,773 seconds, then to 3,191 seconds, and then several runs of
4,300 seconds or so. As with the Cinebench test, it's difficult to
say what the true performance of the tablet is, including whether
some software or firmware glitch is limiting the Surface Pro 8's
Here, though, the
Surface Pro 8 surpasses the Dell and Lenovo tablets, though it
underperforms its predecessor.
Mark Hachman / IDG
In graphics, though, the Surface Pro 8 delivered consistent
results. Here, we used the 3DMark Time Spy test, and the Iris Xe
GPU performed excellently.
We were impressed by
the Surface Pro 7+ and its graphics prowess, and here the Surface
Pro 8 continues to deliver.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Finally, we tested battery life. Battery life is becoming
increasingly more challenging to test, as more laptop manufacturers
add sensors that detect the ambient brightness of the screen and
adjust the output accordingly. (Smartphones do this regularly.) The
wrinkles that the Surface Pro 8 adds to this are threefold.
Microsoft and Windows will adjust the content of video being played
back, to preserve battery life; adjusting the display refresh rate
will affect battery life, too. Finally, our Surface Pro 8 review
unit decided after a few days to implement smart charging, a new
feature that prevents the battery from being charged past 80
percent. That's great—if there was a control to turn it off. We
couldn't find one.
All this means that there were simply too many variables to
present you with a comprehensive picture of how long the Surface
Pro 8's battery will last. We typically run down a laptop battery
by looping a 4K video over and over until it expires, and we did
that here. What we have are a pair of rundown tests where we
disabled the lighting sensor (though not the content adjustment) to
provide a repeatable though worst-case scenario. It's not
fantastic, but at 8 hours 49 minutes you should get a full
workday's use out of it. We recorded scores of 610 minutes and 447
minutes on a full charge, which we've averaged to generate a score.
Dialing up the refresh rate to 120Hz didn't seem to actually lower
the battery life at all, as the tablet expired after 628
A number of tablets
are clustered fairly tightly together in terms of battery life.
Keep in mind that we artificially hobbled the Surface Pro 8
somewhat by turning off its adaptive brightness controls. We're
pretty sure that the Surface Pro 8 will perform better than this in
the real world.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Turning off both the lighting and content adjustment
capabilities on the Surface Pro 8 delivered an awful battery life
of 375 minutes, or 6 hours 15 minutes. That's at a 60Hz refresh
rate, too. That's not the default configuration, however, and you
would need to adjust the tablet's settings within the Settings menu
to achieve that score.
All of the variables present a problem. The wonky numbers
Microsoft's Surface Pro 8 generated makes us suspicious that
there's something else going on: some interaction with Windows 11,
early firmware/drivers going haywire, something. If it's
not a deeper issue, Microsoft should eventually deliver drivers
that allow us to present a more confident assessment of the Surface
Pro 8's capabilities. But right now, its performance and battery
life still remains somewhat of an open question.
All of this presents a question: how well do we know the Surface
Pro 8? From a hardware perspective, quite well: we can certainly
see the value of the larger, superior display, and the tablet's
audio sounds great, too. Sure, the webcam appears to need a little
work, but that's a tweak it should be able to implement
The question that we can't answer is whether or not we're seeing
a discrepancy in our particular benchmark software, or a driver
issue, or Windows 11. Is the performance and battery life
really this bad? We suspect not, but we can't say that for
certain, either. We love what Microsoft has set out to do with the
Surface Pro 8, but we'd be remiss if we recommended the tablet
based on our findings right now.