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No Thunderbolt 3
Type Cover not included
Middling battery life
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is a largely internal hardware refresh over last year’s model, and while this tablet doesn’t win any additional points for innovation, it remains a strong contender for performance and portability focused buyers.
Microsoft discovered a winning niche in between tablet and laptop when they first introduced the Surface Pro. It arguably took until the third generation before it really hit its stride, but the combination of full-blown laptop internals in a highly portable tablet form factor has created plenty of fans. Many of the ways in which the Surface’s form factor excels only become clear when used for a while. The Surface Pro 7 transitions effortlessly from productivity to creativity to entertainment in a way that’s hard to replicate on any other device.
The Surface Pro 7 faithfully continues the winning pedigree of this 2-in-1 series with little altered, save for some upgraded internals and the surprisingly impactful introduction of a USB-C port. Microsoft seems to have made a mantra out of “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.” If you were looking for Microsoft to take a few more risks, you might be better looking into the Surface Pro X, which addresses some of the design concerns with the Pro, like the size of the bezels.
If you were in the market for a Surface Pro 6, but held off on your purchase, the Pro 7 will be an easy, logical recommendation without any real asterisks attached. But given the overall 2-in-1 laptop landscape and the way Microsoft has priced the various SKUs of the Pro 7, is it still the best pick for your money? Let’s take a look.
The design of the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is truly almost identical to the Surface Pro 6. They both share the same 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33-inch dimensions, 12.3-inch display, and 1.7-pound weight (without type cover). The i7 versions of the Surface Pro 7 do actually weigh a hair more at 1.74 pounds to the Pro 6’s 1.73 lbs, so you might want to stop by the gym before picking up this newer model.
The Surface Pro 7 still features the same sturdy, solid build quality that we’ve become used to seeing over the years.
Bad jokes aside, I’m still a fan of the design overall, but I have to say the bezels do stick out and make this look like a somewhat dated device. Microsoft isn’t even wrong to keep them in—the bezels make it possible to comfortably hold the device in tablet mode without covering the screen or accidentally triggering the touchscreen. Despite the clear utility here, I still think it’s worth noting how this affects the appearance, given that the rest of the tech space is quickly moving towards edge-to-edge displays.
The Surface Pro 7 still features the same sturdy, solid build quality that we’ve become used to seeing over the years. A lot of earlier Microsoft tablets and Android tablets suffered from a pervasive off-brand quality that really hurt the overall feeling of owning one. The Surface Pro 7 suffers from none of these problems—this feels like a premium device built to precise standards.
The only other physical difference worth noting is the long-overdue inclusion of a USB-C port, which now lives in the same place on the right of the device previously occupied by a mini DisplayPort. On the one hand, this is great—the Surface Pro 7 finally enters the USB-C dongleverse and gains access to an already-built market of USB-C hubs to expand connectivity options. However, Microsoft regrettably opted for a USB 3.1 port here instead of Thunderbolt 3, limiting the performance to 10Gbps instead of 40Gbps, and missing out on Thunderbolt’s ability to daisy-chain multiple devices to a single port. This might not be a huge deal for everyone, but it’s a painful omission at the Surface Pro 7’s price point.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 offers a simple, minimal unboxing experience. Opening the box, you’ll find the device itself, and underneath, a small receded box for the power cable, and another for the manual. Setting up doesn’t require anything beyond the essential Windows 10 setup steps required when setting up any new device.
If you’ve opted for the Type Cover, simply use the magnetic attachment to snap it into place, and you’re set.
The 12.3-inch, 2736x1824 PixelSense display remains unchanged from last year’s model, but this isn’t really a bad thing. The display is bright and vibrant, and we honestly wouldn’t want more resolution out of such a small display. 267ppi (pixels per inch) is already a great density that makes the Surface Pro 7 look crisp even when it’s right in front of your face.
This display also features fantastic off-angle performance, showing virtually no signs of brightness or contrast drop-off when viewed from the top, bottom, left or right. I couldn’t detect any visible color shift either. This is a great display, and it’s really hard to fault it anywhere.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 that I tested came equipped with a quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor, 16GB of Memory, and 256GB of SSD storage, to the tune of $1,499 without the type cover. I’ll give you a better perspective on how good of a deal these components are for the money in the price section below.
Overall, using the Surface Pro 7 was a very snappy, responsive experience. It’s easy to underestimate a device that looks like a tablet, but Microsoft put components that will go toe-to-toe with nearly any 13-inch productivity laptop on the market.
The Surface Pro 7 transitions effortlessly from productivity to creativity to entertainment in a way that’s hard to replicate on any other device.
This became evident during our PCMark 10 benchmark tests, where the Surface scored 4,491 overall, and a 6963 in the productivity section specifically. These are really encouraging results for such a portable device.
Despite a lack of a dedicated graphics card, the 10th Gen Intel i7 features some graphical improvements onboard that make the Surface Pro 7 capable of some light gaming as well, so long as you take the resolution down a few notches from the display’s native resolution. I managed to get through a game of Slay the Spire without any noticeable slowdowns or laggy moments.
This is all wonderful and encouraging, but it only speaks to the significantly more expensive option that I tested. If you spring for the base model with an Intel Core i3, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, you’re going to have a very different experience.
Now is as good a time as any to exercise my rights as a card-carrying tech reviewer and drag Microsoft for not including the Type Cover with the Surface Pro 7. Everyone and their uncle has already yelled at Microsoft about this so I don’t know how to spell it out in a way that makes a difference, but here goes: a keyboard is not an optional accessory for the Surface Pro, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Without the type cover, this isn’t a 2-in-1 laptop, it’s a tablet, and tablets don’t cost $2,299 (the Surface Pro 7’s priciest configuration).
Not including the Type Cover in the price is disingenuous. It’s a sneaky way to make it seem like it costs $150 less. The Surface Pen? Sure, don’t include it with the device. Not everyone uses a stylus or likes to draw on their Surface, but a keyboard is an essential function of a product that likes to dress up like a laptop in its marketing materials.
Having aired my grievances, it’s only right that I now share that the Surface Pro 7 is a wonderfully capable productivity laptop when paired with the Type Cover. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but this paper-thin wafer of a keyboard cover is actually easier and more natural to type on than plenty of full-fledged big boy business laptops. Sure, you’re going to get a bit of flex if you use a lot of force when you type, but the keys give just the right amount of feedback to make them conducive to fast, responsive typing. The touchpad is similarly well-designed, giving a satisfying click that doesn’t require too much or too little force.
A keyboard is not an optional accessory for the Surface Pro, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.
Productivity is at times helped and hurt by the design of the hinge and Type Cover. Being able to remove the keyboard and exercise all 165 degrees of articulation supported by the hinge is super useful for planes, trains, and other such moments where you’re either using the stylus, or just doing more reading than typing. On the other hand, it’s somewhat detrimental to not have a monolithic device when you want to just pick the device up by the keyboard and move it onto your lap.
The final criticism we have with this design is that you can’t lean the device downward, at a negative angle. This means those of you who work remotely can’t enjoy those moments in the morning when you rest the device on your lap while still lying down in bed and catch up on emails. Or maybe you’re at a hotel trying to catch up on Netflix and the only place to rest your Surface is above your eye line. I know these are suspiciously specific examples, but my point is that there are circumstances where being able to face your screen downward instead of upward is useful, and you don’t get that with the Surface Pro 7.
The speakers on the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 are nothing to get too excited about. The sound is plenty detailed and loud, but suffers from a somewhat predictable lack of bass. There doesn’t seem to be any noticeable improvements between generations in the 1.6W stereo speakers. That said, we’ve heard worse sound out of larger and most expensive laptops, so we can’t dock Microsoft too many points here.
The Wi-Fi 6, 802.11ax compatible wireless supported by the Surface Pro 7 performed admirably—I didn’t notice any drop-outs, signal strength issues, or other slow-downs that occasionally plague laptops. Wi-Fi 6 compatibility should prove useful in the future as networking infrastructure grows to support it, providing pivotal advancements like orthogonal frequency division multiple access and multi-user multiple input, multiple output (multi-user MIMO). Those technologies are about as much fun to read up on as you might guess by saying them out loud, but suffice it to say they help make Wi-Fi faster, even when a lot of people are using it in a crowded area.
If you’re comparing the Surface Pro 7 to similarly priced laptops, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The Pro 7 comes with a 5MP 1080P front-facing camera and an 8MP 1080P rear-facing camera, both of which are an upgrade from the average laptop webcam. This made for a much crisper videoconferencing experience overall, and certainly didn’t hurt the Windows Hello log-in speed, which was lightning quick in my tests.
The Surface Pro 7 averaged around 8 hours of mixed-use including web browsing and productivity. This is not the most impressive amount of battery life in a small-format laptop today, and will require more diligent charging. Things didn’t get better in our high-stress endurance test using the aptly named Battery Eater Pro, where the Surface Pro 7 managed 2 hours and 10 minutes before kicking the bucket.
I wouldn’t consider these results to be deal-breaking for everyone, but they aren’t winning Microsoft any additional points. Perhaps they are more forgivable given the portable nature of the device, but we would still love to see a bit more battery life.
The Surface Pro 7 features a very vanilla Windows 10 experience—not too surprising in a product coming directly from Microsoft. If Microsoft were any other company though, I have to imagine that they would develop some kind of proprietary software to complement the Surface Pen or other unique features of the device. Honestly though, given how poorly that tends to go for most companies, I don’t really blame them for the omission.
Microsoft isn’t going to find many new fans it didn’t already have with the introduction the Surface Pro 7, but they’ve done what’s necessary to keep the Surface Pro line in the game.
At an MSRP of $1,499 in the configuration I tested ($1,629 with Type Cover, $1,729 with Type Cover and Surface Pen) the Surface Pro 7 isn’t the best deal out there. You can technically buy the base model with an Intel Core i3, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage for only $749, but honestly, that’s not even a lot of storage and memory for a high-end smartphone today, let alone a 2-in-1 laptop.
I wouldn’t recommend going for a model with less than 256GB of storage personally—I just find that it eventually becomes burdensome to be stuck with 128GB of storage at some point, even when managed diligently. If you really truly only intend to use this device for note-taking, web-browsing, and streaming, you might be able to squeeze by, but I’d still caution against it.
The cheapest model with 256GB of storage comes with the Intel Core i5 and 8GB of memory for a total of $1,329 with the Type Cover, and I’d consider this the earnest entry point where the Surface Pro 7 starts to makes sense as a primary personal computer. And at this price, however, the Surface Pro 7 is competing with a lot of very capable laptops, and potential buyers will need to really consider whether they value the unique form factor and flexibility offered by this 2-in-1 enough to choose it over the competition.
For $1,299, you can get the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 in an equivalent configuration to the Surface Pro 7’s $1,329 configuration (with Type Cover). Both of these devices come equipped with Intel 10th Gen Core i5 processors, 8GB of memory, and 256GB of SSD storage. So which of these is going to be best?
The Surface Pro 7 wins out on overall portability and flexibility, mostly due to the detachability of the Type Cover. Microsoft also has an advantage on display resolution, coming standard with a 2736x1824 display versus the XPS 13’s default 1920x1200 display. You do have the option to upgrade to a 3840x2400 UHD display, but it will set you back an additional $300.
Dell’s XPS 13 wins out on, well, being a laptop. Many people like the solidness of a laptop, and the ability to handle the device by the keyboard alone. The XPS 13 also has a much more modern looking edge-to-edge display, ditching the fat bezels in favor of more screen real estate. In addition, Dell’s offering also comes with two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, which offer far more connectivity options and throughput than the Surface Pro 7.
Overall it’s going to depend on what you value more, the flexibility of the Surface Pro 7 or the utility of the XPS 13. The XPS 13 does offer more overall value for your money, though.
Enough to keep in the game.
Microsoft isn’t going to find many new fans it didn’t already have with the introduction the Surface Pro 7, but they’ve done what’s necessary to keep the Surface Pro line in the game. It’s a common-sense upgrade for older Surface Pro fans due for a refresh, and still the king of the unique niche that Microsoft created for itself. It may not be the most uncomplicated recommendation, but it’s definitely the right device for some.