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Hands on: Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review

A refinement – not a revolution

What is a hands on review?
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 merely another improvement in power over the previous generation.
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

Frankly, the new Surface Pro 7 has us scratching our heads. For all intents and purposes, this is a spec update to the previous Surface Pro 6, but with performance enhanced in some ways and practically hamstrung in others.

For

  • 10nm Intel processing
  • USB-C at long last

Against

  • Few, if any, other improvements
  • Major dip in battery life
  • Type Cover and Surface Pen still sold separately

The brand-new Surface Pro 7 from Microsoft is, astonishingly, no longer the company's flagship Surface product. That privilege now belongs to the newfangled, ARM-based Surface Pro X.

Instead, what we have now is allegedly Microsoft's more affordable alternative to that, and it's merely another improvement in power over the previous generation... not much else. Granted a 10 nanometer (nm) Intel processor (CPU) at long last is nothing to sneeze at. However, you won't find much more in terms of improvements in the Surface Pro 7.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

The Surface Pen is still not included in the price.

(Image credit: Future)

Price and availability

The new Surface Pro 7 is released on October 22, though it’s been available for pre-order at the time of writing. Starting at $749 / AU$1,249 (about £600) like before, without the Type Cover and Surface Pen included, this price is par for the course.

That base configuration gets you 4GB of memory (RAM) and a 128GB solid-state drive, with both upgradeable to as much as 16GB and 1TB capacity, respectively.

This pricing, again, is inherited from previous versions, but it's still not a great deal when you're spending upwards of 1,000 bucks or quid to get the full experience with the accessories that are still sold separately.

Image 1 of 10

There's the new inclusion of a USB-C port.

There's the new inclusion of a USB-C port.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 2 of 10

(Image credit: Future)
Image 3 of 10

It also still comes in the same matte black and silver aluminum finishes.

It also still comes in the same matte black and silver aluminum finishes.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 4 of 10

The Type Cover keyboard now offers deeper-feeling travel as well as a bouncier feel.

The Type Cover keyboard now offers deeper-feeling travel as well as a bouncier feel.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 5 of 10

The device still measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches.

The device still measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 6 of 10

The Surface Pro 7 offers native support for WiFi 6 at the silicon level.

The Surface Pro 7 offers native support for WiFi 6 at the silicon level.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 7 of 10

The display still comes in at 12.3 inches on the diagonal with a 2,736 x 1,824 resolution.

The display still comes in at 12.3 inches on the diagonal with a 2,736 x 1,824 resolution.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 8 of 10

The Surface Pen is still not included in the price.

The Surface Pen is still not included in the price.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 9 of 10

The device still measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches.

The device still measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 10 of 10

The device still measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches.

The device still measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches.
(Image credit: Future)

Design and feel

Besides the new inclusion of a USB-C port, it appears that absolutely nothing has changed about the Surface Pro design from last year's Pro 6. The device still measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches (292 x 201 x 8.5mm) and weighs 1.7 pounds (770g). It also still comes in the same matte black and silver aluminum finishes.

The tablet's display still comes in at 12.3 inches on the diagonal with a 2,736 x 1,824 resolution (267 pixels per inch) and 3:2 aspect ratio. It's just as sharp and vibrant as the previous generation, which was already quite attractive.

It appears as if Microsoft has hit the peak of Surface Pro design short of the hot, new Surface Pro X ... or it's just no longer interested in iterating on that form factor. Fresh, 10-nanometer Intel silicon be damned.

While USB-C is finally here on the Surface Pro 7, it's only USB 3.1 and not Thunderbolt 3. So, you are getting the versatility of this new port standard, but without the raw throughput of Intel's iteration on it that Apple has widely adopted.

Microsoft has improved the device's studio microphones for stronger accuracy when using Cortana with your voice, but that's such a minor improvement it's hardly worth mentioning.

We have noticed, however, that the Type Cover keyboard now offers deeper-feeling travel as well as a bouncier feel. It's an upgrade for sure – it might take a bit of adjustment, but only for a few minutes at most.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

The Surface Pro 7 offers native support for WiFi 6 at the silicon level.

(Image credit: Future)

Performance

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't let us run a full suite of benchmarks on the Surface Pro 7, though that doesn't mean we can't take a look at what's inside to get an idea of how it will perform.

The Surface Pro 7 is fitted with Intel Ice Lake processors, spearheaded by the 10nm Intel Core i7-1065G7, and packed with up to 16GB of RAM. That's a considerable amount horsepower for a tablet. This is the kind of device that you can both easily carry around with you and get some serious work done on. 

One thing that is notable here is the inclusion of an Intel Gen 11 Intel Iris graphics processor (GPU). While this won't be available in the entry model – as the Intel Core i3 chip in the cheapest version is limited to Intel UHD graphics – it should deliver some serious improvements. This GPU won't run something like Metro Exodus at max settings. However, you shouldn’t have any issues playing some indie games on the road. 

Another improvement that Ice Lake brings to the Surface Pro 7 is native support for WiFi 6 at the silicon level. We haven't seen many WiFi 6 routers yet, but they're coming, and the inclusion of the tech here means you don't have to worry about your networking being out of date. 

On the downside, the USB-C port is just USB 3.1, which means no Thunderbolt 3 like we were hoping. Yes, you can get a lot of the functionality out of Microsoft's Surface Connect port, but we would have liked to see Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, as there are more and more peripherals and accessories that use its advanced speeds and feeds.

One major proposed change that worries us is a marked decrease in quoted battery life year-on-year. The Surface Pro 6 is rated at 13 hours and 30 minutes with a 14nm Intel CPU, whereas the 10nm Surface Pro 7 promises just 10 hours and 30 minutes on a charge. While the new model certainly charges a helluva lot faster – up to 80% in just an hour – it also lasts for so much less time. Why?

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

For all intents and purposes, this is a spec update to the preceding Surface Pro 6.

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

Frankly, the new Surface Pro 7 has us scratching our heads. For all intents and purposes, this is a spec update to the preceding Surface Pro 6.

We will definitely see a sizeable boost in performance but battery life seems to take a massive hit as well, with little to no explanation. It charges much faster, but how much good is that when the device’s lasting power has dropped 30%?

The Surface Pro 7 is a baffling upgrade to the existing model. It has virtually zero tangible design changes short of a new port, while performance takes a weird turn that's arguably for the worst. We'll save our full judgments for a full review, of course. Still, consider us apprehensive.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.