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Happy birthday Microsoft Surface: 8 years old and still innovating

Surface Pro 7 vs Surface Pro X
Surface Pro 7 vs Surface Pro X (Image credit: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft launched its first Surface device eight years ago.
  • The Surface lineup pushed computing form factors and inspired many devices.
  • The Surface family now includes 2-in-1s, laptops, desktops, enterprise hubs, and a folding phone.

Microsoft unveiled the Surface lineup eight years ago. The big-bezelled original Surface devices launched with Windows 8 and came in a then at the time new form factor, a convertible 2-in-1. Since the initial Surface launch, Microsoft has refined the Surface 2-in-1 concept through 7 iterations, multiple size spinoffs, and the Surface family expanded to other device categories.

More than pen support, flipping around, or kickstands, the Surface lineup has always been about innovation. Microsoft's Surface family strives to push stagnant categories forward. The greatest influence of the Surface lineup is likely the influx of 2-in-1s that are now on the market. Once a novel idea, convertibles are now commonplace, and just about every major manufacturer has at least dipped their foot into the form factor.

Surface Pro 3

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Memes really do come true, which was evidenced by Apple's shift to have iPads become more and more like computers. In just a few short years, Apple shifted from the infamous "What's a computer" ad to its "Your next a computer is not a computer" ad. That shift is a microcosm of the push by Microsoft's Surface line. 2-in-1s haven't replaced laptops — and were probably never meant to — but they've become a viable category on their own.

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Microsoft has also greatly expanded the Surface lineup. Since the early days of the Surface Pro and Surface RT, we've seen Microsoft release the Surface Book, Surface Laptop, Surface Studio, and Surface Go lines. While some pushed boundaries more than others, such as the Surface Book detaching its screen from its base, they all innovated in some way and drove manufacturers to step up their game.

Project Andromeda: The secret history of Windows on Surface Duo

Surface Duo 2020

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft has also ventured into new categories and architectures to showcase how things can work. The Surface Pro X runs on a Snapdragon processor, and the Surface Duo delivers a dual-screen Android experience based on productivity.

Not every Surface device has been a success, but the family as a whole has grown rapidly over eight years, and people look forward to Microsoft's major events announcing more devices each year.

What's your favorite Surface device? Let us know in the comments below.

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.

28 Comments
  • Happy Birthday! Now hurry up with 10X! :p
  • Wow 8 years and my original surface pro is still hanging on in there with my day to day usage.
  • My Original Surface RT is still working
  • Wow still usable huh
  • Yup still boots up, There's not a whole lot you can do with it but it still works
  • Recycled mine years ago. Even after a factory reset it took minutes to boot and even longer to open IE. Whoever signed off on that machine should be shot.
  • My favorite Surface is the Surface Duo. I currently own the Surface Go 2, Surface Pro 7, Surface Book 2 and Surface Duo. I would love to have a Surface Studio 2 with the GTX 1070.
  • Happy Birthday! I remember being impressed with the tablet interface of W8 when playing around with it in electronics stores. That did not translate well into daily usage unfortunately. And we never really did get a real Windows tablet interface. But Surface still changed the conversation and made personal computing much better. I now have a device (these days an SP7) that allows me to be truly paperless, but also works like a real laptop when I need it to and also a desktop when docked. Surface's massive flexibility greatly changed how I worked. Even today, with Apple and Samsung's best efforts to turn the mobile OS tablet into a productivity machine, I would still say to most people who do anything beyond the lightest of computing (quoting Satya Nadella): Get a real computer. And to students who want the good jobs of the future I say: You'll need a real computer to run the necessary software. Touch-first OSes are designed for convenience on the go, not serious productivity tasks. Touch and pen support should add to the computing experience, not detract or distract.
  • Good comment, well said. My reaction to the W8 tablet interface was exactly the opposite of yours; it is best said it was instantaneous not love at first sight and then it went downhill from there. On the other hand my reaction to first generation Surface devices was instantaneous computer **** though I couldn't get my wallet to open up until the SP 3. There was something really perfect about the SP 3 and I think the 3:2 aspect ratio was the critical change. That was the first PC I got all lathered up over and secretly I looked down my nose at all the Apple peeps while slurping up WiFi and caffeine at my local coffee shop. I am such a tool, right? Since then we have seen some seriously good work out of the Surface team with the Surface Pro X and Surface Duo lighting up my brain like the original Surface Devices. There is something intangible about this line of hardware that make them a joy to use. Part of my enjoyment of these devices comes for the maturation of Windows 10 and Office 365. Back in the early years of Surface, Microsoft hadn't built their really excellent cloud environment. OneDrive over the years has proven to be indispensable and with ubiquitous access either through a hotspot or embedded LTE with now have something approximating a portable office/desktop that is not much bigger than a sheet of paper. That you can remove the keyboard and have an excellent web surfacing or streaming media box - that is just excellent. Your point about the delta between an mobile OS and full blown, multi tasking OS with a proper file system cannot be underestimated. I tired using a Samsung tablet a few years back like I use a Surface Pro - what a disaster. That was the equivalent of a Las Vegas quickie marriage that ended in annulment a few days later; it is still something I don't like talking about to this day, especially the bar tab. The short version for me has been Surface PCs started out a little rough and once that was sorted out I can't see myself not owning a Surface box in the future. They have this uncanny knack of getting out the way and become an extension of your life. The next few years hold much promise with ARM based devices and 5G connectivity looking to be significant.
  • Great point about Office and OneDrive. I would add OneNote and also all the mobile apps. Things have changed a lot in only a few years. It's not just these Surface products, it's the whole ecosystem.
  • My experience with respect to OneNote and the mobile apps aligns with yours. Though not a perfect experience yet, Your Phone should be included here too. At first I didn't grasp the importance of the mobile apps nor how large the app catalog would become. The mobile apps turned out to be something of guerilla war that got Microsoft back into the mobile game which of course ended up with the company scrapping Windows for Android on the Surface Duo. Another instance of "I never saw that coming." So yes, the whole eco system of frictionless core software experiences needed great hardware to become fully surfaced. The excellent work of the Surface team over last 8 years did exactly that and reenergized the PC hardware universe. In 8 short years they built up a rather complete eco system of hardware from scratch. The next decade for the Surface team and Microsoft more generally is looking to one of their best.
  • I started with a pro 3 which I loved. But right now I have a pro X as my main computer and a Go 2 with the m3 as my knock around the house tablet. I love them both. Since I have the pen and keyboard for the ProX i just got the Go 2 as a tablet with no pen or keyboard since I do all my work on the X. I thought about a Duo, but honestly I answer the phone and texts on the go 2 when I'm home so don't really need a duo.
  • I like my Surface Go's convenience and portability, even though I am going to sell it for something more powerful, I still appreciate its premium design and how it represents Microsoft's "vanilla" vision of Windows (as opposed to buying bloatware-ridden laptops from third-party manufacturers). If Microsoft offered a battery-replacement program for Surface devices, I would be more inclined to buy another one, since those things inevitably fail, and you cannot easily swap it out like on a conventional laptop (even ultrabooks have screws you can remove).
  • MS need focus more on the quality of the "modern" Apps, still sucks, waaay behind Apple's.
    ^_^
  • I have Pro 3, Pro 4, and Laptop 2. my Pro 3 went to Qatar on deployment. the Audio went out of it. Dealing with MS trying to get it replaced while deployed was a challenge which ended this way: sent to pro3 to MS and then they shipped a replacement Pro3 to my wife, which she the mailed it to me. all because MS wouldn't deal with USPS which was the only way to ship things to and from the overseas base (APO). MS will only ship UPS/Fedex. the Pro 3 has 20H2 on it and is going strong.
  • Agreed the service is the weak spot. Therefore I buy from shops with good return policy's/rep in case something happens with the device (much faster in handling issues too).
  • Surface RT with touch cover and free Office was an incredible product.
  • Said no one ever.
  • I knew a person with a doctorate in a biology field who supported herself quite well by editing and reviewing technical articles with a Surface RT. She loved that device which refutes your blanket assertion that literally "no one ever" found it to be an incredible product.
  • Snark aside, you have to remember that other pen-enabled tablet devices were even more limited, specifically, the Samsung Galaxy Note devices (the tablets, not the phones). I can see how someone buying an RT might have loved it even if it was crippled by bad software support.
  • I still use a Surface Pro 1 as a secondary device. Well made and battery life is ok if I limit the cpu a bit in windows power plan. It is quite heavy though. I think I will upgrade to a Go 2 / Go clone after in a year.
  • And in these 8 years, they still don't understand the fundamental requirements of business. By not including Thunderbolt ports on any Surface device, they are incompatible with every docking station out in the wild in the corporate world. Proprietary docking ports was a bad choice, and it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Microsoft wants to force you to buy overpriced, proprietary docking stations. I hope they change their mind, because the Surface Pro is the ideal form factor for me, but I can't buy one because of poor port selection.
  • "seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel.", sure there is, each usb iteration makes thunderbolt more pointless. Besides, the bulk of the docks are compatible with usb-c found on the pro 7. And why not just buy a HP / Dell / Thinkpad Surface pro clone, those have thunderbolt ports.
  • My fav is the Duo. Would love a Studio though.
  • I bought a Surface RT the first week. Went from RT->Surface Pro->Nokia 2520->Surface Pro 3->5->6
    They're great devices, and outside of the RT, all have been eminently more usable than the iPad lineup, of which I've had a few. I traded in the SP3 for the 5 when the MSFT Store had a trade-in program. I will seriously miss the physical stores. I still use the original docking station with my SP6, and I much prefer it to the newer style. I haven't seen any need for Thunderbolt. I'm glad that SP7 finally has a USB-C connection. If they make a SP8 with USB-C, that has better battery life than the SP7, and still allows use with the dock, I'll pick that up. If there are two things the Surface Pro line missed, 1) is that it's not a "perfect" laptop replacement. Typing for any length of time on the type covers just doesn't work. 2) Is the lack of LTE radios across the lineup. The SP5, which offered a LTE version, was initially available only through business reps, and then order only at a non-competitive price. The Surface Pro X might be the answer, but again it's very expensive for a "RT" device.
  • Next up for improvements on the Surface I would like to see drawing/art-specific pen improvements. No more jagged lines when you take your time to form a line and no more misalignment between the pen tip and the point where ink hits the digital surface in the drawing area when tilted. This has been an issue ever since SP4 and it's an N-trig pen protocol thing AFAIK. Surface pen is perfect for writing, but artists will find the device+pen combination inaccurate to the point where it hinders productivity rather than enhances it.
  • I'd always wanted a Surface Pro since I saw the first one. I finally managed to get my hands on the Surface Pro (2017) and for the first time, was truly delighted with the purchase. It's perfect for me.
  • I have an Ipad, which is now starting to show its age. So I've switched to using my Surface Go as my go-to tablet - and I love it. OK, so it's not as fast as the Ipad, nor are there as many apps, but so far there has been nothing I need to do on it that I can't. And I haven't switched on my laptop for two weeks!