After a few years of iterative updates, Microsoft significantly revamped its flagship Surface Pro detachable 2-in-1 tablet this week with a sleeker design and more powerful components. The new Surface Pro 8 has a larger screen and full support for the new Surface Slim Pen 2 digital stylus, among other improvements. But if you’re in the market for a premium Windows tablet, choosing the latest Surface Pro 8 might not always be the best decision. The Surface Pro 7 and its business-focused sibling, the Surface Pro 7+, could be better tablets if you’re on the hunt for the latest computing power but don’t plan to take advantage of the improved pen support, higher screen refresh rate, or other new features that the Surface Pro 8 offers.
The Surface Pro 8 hasn’t begun shipping yet, and we haven’t had the opportunity to fully test and review one out of PC Labs. Still, a glance at its specs and other features can tell you a lot about whether you should spring for it or choose the current Surface Pro 7, which is still for sale and likely will continue to be for a while.
Screen and Keyboard Cover Differences
The most obvious difference between the Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro 8 is the latter’s physical redesign. The Pro 8 is the beneficiary of years of design lessons from both the original Surface lineup as well as the sleek Surface Pro X introduced a few years ago. Like the Pro X, the Pro 8 has adopted thin screen bezels, which are all the rage on many consumer-electronics devices these days. That gives it a 13-inch screen in an enclosure that’s essentially the same size and weight as the Surface Pro 7, which has a 12.3-inch screen.
The Surface Pro 8 measures 0.37 by 11.3 by 8.2 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.96 pounds, while the Surface Pro 7 is 0.33 by 11.5 by 7.9 inches and 1.74 pounds. If you’re after the absolute thinnest and lightest Surface Pro, then yes, the Surface Pro 7 takes the cake. But the differences are negligible, and if you’re really wanting to save space and weight, you should consider the entry-level Surface Go 3 instead, which has a much smaller screen and chassis.
Those dimensions are for the Surface Pro tablets themselves, but let’s not forget that these are full-fledged Windows PCs, and you’ll probably want to use a physical keyboard with them at least some of the time. Both offer keyboard covers as optional extras—we’ve long maintained that Microsoft should sell both the Surface Pro and its keyboard as a bundle like Lenovo and Dell do for many of their detachable tablets, but that continues to be a pipe dream.
The main advantage of the Surface Pro 8’s keyboard cover is that it features a magnetic slot to hold the optional Surface Slim Pen 2, which the Surface Pro 7 keyboard cover lacks. So the Surface Pro 8 will be a much better choice if you plan to carry a digital stylus around with you for frequent use.
And that’s not only because of the holder. The Surface Pro 8 also enables the full functionality of the new Slim Pen 2, including haptic feedback that is intended to make writing and drawing on the screen feel more like you’re using an actual pen and paper.
The new Slim Pen 2 will work with the Surface Pro 7, but you’ll lose out on this haptic functionality.
How Do the Pro 8 and Pro 7 CPU Options Differ?
The Surface Pro 8 is the first Microsoft tablet to receive Intel Evo certification, a marketing program that’s intended to help shoppers identify powerful Windows mobile PCs that have long battery life. As a result, its processor options include the latest quad-core CPUs from Intel’s “Tiger Lake” (11th Generation Core) family: the Core i5-1135G7 and Core i7-1185G7. Both use Intel Iris Xe Graphics silicon, built into the processor chip, and if you opt for the Core i7, you can pair it with up to 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.
Yes, these specs mean the Surface Pro 8 is one of the most powerful Windows tablets to date, and the obvious choice if you’re looking to future-proof your tablet computing experience. But the Surface Pro 7’s CPU, memory, and storage options are nothing to sneeze at. The Pro 7 uses older 10th Generation “Ice Lake” processors: the Core i3-1005G1, the Core i5-1035G4, and the Core i7-1065G7. In our testing, we found the Surface Pro 7 to offer plenty of oomph for everyday office tasks, such as browsing email and checking the web.
The Surface Pro 7+ is even more competitive with the Surface Pro 8, since that mid-cycle refresh brought a spec bump to 11th Generation Core processors. They’re not the same exact Intel SKUs as the ones used in the Surface Pro 8, but again we found that the Surface Pro 7+ still offers plenty of computing power for the tasks that it’s most likely to perform.
Note that the Surface Pro 7+ is targeted at business customers, but Microsoft sells both the Pro 7 and the Pro 7+ in its online store.
Will You Notice the Surface Pro 8’s 120Hz Screen?
Besides the physical differences and interior component improvements, there are a few subtle improvements included with the Surface Pro 8 that you might not notice at first glance. For instance, the Pro 8 is the first Surface tablet to come with a screen that refreshes at up to 120Hz, instead of the 60Hz maximum of the Surface Pro 7 and most other Windows devices.
Recommended by Our Editors
Higher-refresh screens have been cropping up on more and more laptops (especially gaming models), tablets, and phones recently, purporting to offer silkier onscreen animations and a more refined visual experience. Some people will easily be able to tell the difference, while others won’t. And Microsoft has said that the Pro 8 will ship with 60Hz mode enabled by default, and you’ll have to make a conscious choice to move up to the higher rate. If you’re willing to skip this feature, the Surface Pro 7 might be a better choice.
The Surface Pro 8 also comes with a slightly improved camera compared with the Surface Pro 7. The latter uses an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with 1080p full HD video capabilities, while the Pro 8 ups the resolution to 10 megapixels with the same 1080p video maximum. Either of these cameras will be superior to the 720p video resolution that many other Windows laptops and tablets are capable of, and in practice you probably won’t notice the difference that the additional megapixels make if you mostly intend to use the Pro 8’s camera for video conferencing.
Finally, the Surface Pro 8 employs two USB Type-C ports, both of which support Thunderbolt 4 speeds. The Surface Pro 7 has one USB-C port and one USB Type-A port, and no support for any version of Thunderbolt. But it also has a microSD card reader, which the Surface Pro 8 lacks. Which I/O complement is better depends on which wired peripherals (if any) you plan to connect. If you’ve got older Type-A USB devices, the Surface Pro 7 will accept them without requiring a dongle. Otherwise, the Surface Pro 8 is probably the better choice for taking advantage of the latest Thunderbolt speeds.
Surface Pro 8: Not the Obvious Choice for Everyone
While the Surface Pro 8 is arguably the most significant hop-up to the Surface lineup in years, it may not be the best choice for everyone.
There are two categories of people who absolutely should stick with the Surface Pro 7 or Surface Pro 7+. The first is folks who already own a Pro 7 device. If that’s you, you’ve got an Editors’ Choice-winning tablet in hand that will remain competitive for at least another year or so. Unless you’re dying to try haptic feedback or gain a 120Hz screen, you can probably sit out an update to the Surface Pro 8.
The other big bunch who should feel no shame about sticking with the Surface Pro 7? Bargain hunters. We’re likely to see significant discounts on the Pro 7 ahead of the Pro 8’s on-sale date, which is scheduled for early next month. If you don’t care about the absolute latest features, you can probably pick up a nicely equipped Core i5-powered Surface Pro 7 or 7+ with a keyboard cover for a substantial discount. In fact, at this writing, the Surface Pro 7 is on sale starting at $650, while the Pro 8’s entry-level model levies a $1,100 asking price. That’s a pretty big money delta for price-sensitive shoppers.
Get Our Best Stories!
Sign up for What’s New Now to get our top stories delivered to your inbox every morning.
Your subscription has been confirmed. Keep an eye on your inbox!