Surface Pro 7 review: Microsoft's king of the 2-in-1s retains its crown

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

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Last year, I reviewed the Surface Pro 6 and concluded that "an already exceptional 2-in-1 gets even better." That is the same story this year for the Surface Pro 7, and while that may sound monotonous, it reinforces just how crucial and intriguing the Surface Pro is after seven generations.

Now, with the latest iteration going on sale October 22, 2019, the Surface Pro 7 has become one of my favorite PCs despite all the great choices on the market. The new Intel 10th-Gen processor, Iris Plus graphics, and Intel Wi-Fi 6 go a long way. Oh, there's also that nifty USB Type-C universal port.

Here's why the Surface Pro 7 earns a near-perfect rating.

Just the important stuff

Surface Pro 7 what's new for 2019

Surface Pro 7

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

The Surface Pro 7 looks exactly like the Surface Pro 6 and Pro 5, but that betrays all the small – but not immaterial – internal changes, which include:

  • USB Type-C 3.1 port (replaces Mini DisplayPort).
  • Wi-Fi 6, 802.11ax compatible.
  • Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 technology.
  • Change from Marvel to Intel wireless.
  • Instant On (never hibernates).
  • 10th-Gen Intel processors (10nm "Ice Lake").
  • Iris Plus graphics.
  • DDR4 RAM.
  • Surface Connect+ with fast charge.
  • Dual far-field Studio Mics.
  • New color Type Covers (poppy red and ice blue).

The new banner feature is USB Type-C, which replaces the aging Mini DisplayPort. Microsoft is finally making this change across its entire Surface line, including Surface Book 2, Surface Pro X, Surface Studio 2, and Surface Laptop 3.

While this Type-C port is not Thunderbolt 3, it can power dual 4K displays (60Hz), act as a charging port, use hubs, and transfer data. It's now a universal port, and it is quite powerful even if it can't power an external GPU (eGPU).

For those looking for more specifics, the Surface Pro 7's Type-C port supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10GB/s) and DisplayPort 1.4. That also means it can accept high-capacity Type-C wall chargers ranging from simple smartphone ones at 5 watts and up to at least 65 watts while using fast charge. The laptop can likely utilize even 100W Type-C chargers, although those are rarer, and it is not clear if the Surface Pro 7 will utilize that extra power. At the very least, it means you can use a 65-watt Type-C charger and get similar benefits as the Surface Connect+ one.

Surface Pro 7 Type-C

Source: Windows CentralThe new Type-C port sits above the USB Type-A and Surface Connect+ on the right side of the Surface Pro 7. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The switch from a Marvel wireless chipset to Intel is also noteworthy. Microsoft has been using Marvel for the last six generations of the Surface Pro, and while it has improved over time, it also caused some headaches for many users. By switching to the latest Intel chip (AX201), the Surface Pro 7 now supports 2.4Ghz, 5Ghz (160Mhz) and Wi-Fi 6, making it ready for the future.

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CategorySurface Pro 7
Operating systemWindows 10 Home
Display12.3 inch Pixelsense, 3:2 aspect ratio, 2736x1824 (267 PPI)
Processor10th Gen Intel Core i3-1005G1
10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G4
10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7
Memory4GB LPDDR4x
8GB LPDDR4x
16GB LPDDR4x
Storage128GB SSD
256GB SSD
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
Rear camera8MP autofocus (1080p)
Front camera5MP (1080p)
SecurityWindows Hello face authentication camera
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi 6
PortsOne USB-C
One USB-A
One microSDXC
One Surface Connect+
Surface Keyboard connector
3.5mm headphone jack
BatteryUp to 10.5 hours
Size11.5" x 7.9" x 0.33" (292 mm x 201 mm x 8.5 mm)
Weighti3, i5: 1.70 lb (775 g)
i7: 1.74 lb (790 g)
ColorsPlatinum
Black

The change to 10th-Gen Intel processors is expected but not to be overlooked. As demonstrated in our benchmarks, this is a significant improvement in performance that we have not seen in some time. The same goes for the new Intel Iris Plus, which offers a modest boost for graphics of last year's Intel UHD 620.

Surface Pro 7 charger

Source: Windows CentralThe included 65W charger for Surface Pro 7 is the same as prrevious years. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft also added "fast charge" to the Surface Connect port (now called Surface Connect+). It uses the same 65-watt charger as previous Surface Pros, but it can now charge the battery quicker.

A feature that was briefly glossed over by Microsoft is the new "Instant On" ability, thanks to a combination of that Intel 10th-Gen processor and some tweaking Microsoft has done. The Surface Pro 7 never enters hibernation like every other Windows PC or Surface before it. Instead, it is always in instant standby, so there is never any waiting for it to engage when you open the Surface Type cover. Whether you leave the Surface Pro 7 for two minutes or seven hours, it will always be ready to use, similar to how Qualcomm ARM PCs behave. This change is an extraordinary feature that makes the Surface Pro 7 similar to how an Apple iPad Pro operates.

The upgrade to DDR4 RAM (up from DDR3), improved dual "Studio Mics" for Skype or calls on Microsoft Teams, and adding two new colors to the Surface Type Cover line are minor tweaks, but still positive ones.

Looks the same but that's OK

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 design

Surface Pro 7

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

The overall design for the new Surface Pro 7 is the same as the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Pro 5. Colors for the Surface Pro's chassis are still matte black, which was introduced last year, or the traditional platinum color.

The power and volume keys are located on the top left of the Surface Pro. The Type-C, Type-A, and Surface Connect+ ports are located on the right side while the optional Surface Pen can magnetically stick to the left side.

Interestingly, the new Surface Pro X, which is made from the ground up for Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx, steals the design thunder from the Surface Pro. It's rumored Microsoft will bring similar design changes to the Pro line in late 2020. While thinner bezels would have been lovely for the Surface Pro, it's tough to be upset with its design, which works well even in 2019.

Great but could be better

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 display

Surface Pro 7 display

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

Of all the changes to the Surface Pro 7, the lack of any to the display – especially when compared to other PCs – is the biggest frustration. It's still a superb screen and enjoyable to use, but Microsoft is falling behind the competition, not leading. The display is effectively the same as Surface Pro 6. Some enhancements in power consumption and minor tweaks likely have occurred, but there are no apparent differences.

You should not overlook the Surface Pro 7... it's the best yet.

The 12.3-inch LCD screen supports a resolution of 2736 x 1824 (267 PPI) with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Microsoft still offers two presets for the color gamut, including sRGB for color accuracy (photo editing) and "enhanced," which brings punchier colors and more contrast ideal for movies or regular usage.

Our brightness measurements pegged the Surface Pro 7's max output (100 percent) at 410 nits, while its minimum (zero percent) is barely visible at 2.8 nits. While good, the Surface Pro is beginning to fall behind competitors, who are achieving 500+ nits of brightness. That also translates into the lack of HDR400 (where 500 nits are needed) and the lack of Dolby Vision certification, something that is more mainstream.

Surface Pro 7

Source: Windows CentralWIth USB Type-C, you can now use portable displays like the Lenovo ThinkVision. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Color accuracy is a decent 98 percent for sRGB, 73 percent for AdobeRGB, and 72 percent for DCI-P3. While those are good results, they are below that of something like the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which achieved 100 percent sRGB coverage with AdobeRGB at 76 percent and DCI-P3 at 81 percent.

The Surface Pro 7's display is also still glossy with no anti-glare layer. Companies like HP, Dell, and Lenovo are investing heavily in anti-glare technology. The tech keeps the benefits of glossy displays, such as accurate color reproduction and wide color gamut, while also reducing reflectivity. That ability helps to lessen eye fatigue, and unfortunately, Microsoft has nothing to contribute here.

Another trend that Microsoft is missing out on is the push towards OLED displays. However, many users prefer the more natural look of LCD, making that more a subjective and personal critique.

New colors

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 pen inking

Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pen

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

If you want to use digital ink on the Surface Pro, you need to shell out an extra $99 for the Surface Pen (opens in new tab) (although there are cheaper alternatives.

For 2019, there are two new colors for the Surface Pen that match the new Type Covers (opens in new tab): poppy red and ice blue.

There is nothing new with the Surface Pen this year, so those who are upgrading can easily use their current Surface Pen and Surface Type Covers, saving $260.

The pen still has the same 4,096 levels of pressure, supports tilt, rotation, and Bluetooth. Activation force – the amount of pressure required before the pen activates – is nine grams. Microsoft also maintains just 2.1 milliseconds of inking latency from last year's model due to the inking co-processor that's part of the Surface Pro 7 display. That co-processor connects the GPU to the screen's digitizer and helps speed up pen calculations.

Best Surface Pen and Surface Slim Pen Alternatives in 2019

Microsoft has steadily improved both the firmware for Surface Pen and made better apps with more significant support, such as Microsoft To Do, OneNote, and Sticky Notes 3.0.

Microsoft also has a new Surface Slim Pen designed for the Surface Pro X. While that pen works with the Surface Pro, it doesn't seem to make much sense to spend the extra cash for it over the regular Surface Pen. The changes are mostly in the design.

So fast its instant

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Type Cover, Windows Hello, and resume

Surface Pro 7

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

Typing on the Surface Pro 7 is still just as excellent as it has been for the last few years. The keys are three-stage backlit with 1.3mm of travel.

The new Type Covers don't have any new features or improvements. The trackpad, which uses Microsoft Precision drivers, is the same physical size as last year's and still works wonderfully considering the size restrictions.

Following the Type Covers from Surface Pro 5 and Surface Pro 6, the Pro 7's new Type Cover also had dedicated keys for changing the display brightness.

Everything you need to know about Alcantara

The new Type Covers also feature the Alcantara cloth material, making them extra comfy. Retail price is $160 and is not included with the Surface Pro, making it an additional but necessary purchase for most people. For those looking to save some money or who prefer a black cover with no Alcantara, Microsoft still sells that Type Cover for $130 (opens in new tab).

Surface Pro 7 and Windows Hello

Source: Windows CentralWindows Hello, instant-on, and dual Studio Mics for the Surface Pro 7. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Windows Hello facial recognition is still present thanks to the 8MP (1080p) front-facing camera and sensors. That system is now flanked by two microphone holes for what Microsoft is referring to as Studio Mics. Those mics give a considerable improvement for video teleconferencing.

The Surface Pro 7 also includes a world-facing 5MP (1080p) camera ideal for whiteboard and OneNote use. Both it and the front-facing camera are some of the best on any PC on the market.

Windows Hello activation is now even speedier than last year's model. These small details are what separate Surface Pro from everything else on the market. By the time you drop the Type Cover and open Windows Hello, Surface Pro 7 will have already logged you in even after hours of nonuse. It's a fantastic experience and easily the fastest system I have tried.

A massive performance boost

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 benchmarks and battery

Surface Pro 7 battery

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

Microsoft is one of the first to adopt Intel's new 10nm 10th-Gen Core U-series processors. There's always a lot of hype around new Intel products, but the 10th Gen series delivers on that excitement. A Surface Pro 7 with a fanless Core i5-1035G4 will beat last year's Surface Pro 6 with an actively cooled Core i7- 8650U processor. That's an astonishing result.

Both Geekbench 4, Geekbench 5, and PCMark 10 show that Intel's 10th Gen series brings a serious performance boost. The fact you can now buy a fanless Core i5 Surface Pro and get more performance than last year's Core i7 – all for a lower price – is a massive win for consumers.

Geekbench 5

Geekbench 5.0 (CPU) (Higher is better)

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DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Surface Pro 7i5-1035G41,1914,441
Surface Pro 7i7-1065G71,2054,852
Surface Pro 6i7-8650U1,1133,519
Surface Pro 6i5-8250U9043,440
Surface Laptop 3 13.5i5-1035G71,1774,413
Surface Laptop 3Ryzen 57692,720
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390i7-1065G71,2093,571
Dell XPS 15 7590i9-9980HK1,1767,624

Geekbench 4

Geekbench 4.0 (CPU) (higher is better)

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DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Surface Pro 7i5-1035G45,24517,350
Surface Pro 6i7-8650U5,03713,864
Surface Pro 6i5-8250U4,28714,031
Surface Pro 5i5-7300U4,3028,482
Surface Pro 5i7-7660U4,5139,346
Surface Pro 4i5-6300U3,3196,950
Surface Laptop 3 13.5i5-1035G75,26517,345
Surface Laptop 3 15Ryzen-53,98512,079
Surface Laptop 2i5-8250U4,20313,233
Surface Laptopi5-7200U3,7257,523
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390i7-1065G75,45919,097
Razer Blade Stealthi7-8565U5,13916,339
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1i7-8665U5,46915,800
HP Spectre x360 13ti7-8565U5,05614,767
Lenovo Yoga C930i7-8550U4,78715,028

PCMark

PCMark 10

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DeviceScore
Surface Pro 7 i53,992
Surface Pro 6 i73,644
Surface Pro 6 i53,501
Surface Laptop 3 154,006
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 73904,427
Dell XPS 15 75905,521
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 73904,427
Dell Inspiron 13 7390 2-in-13,764
HP Pavilion x360 143,558
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s3,468

GPU

Geekbench 5.0 OpenCL (higher is better)

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DeviceGPUCompute score
Surface Pro 7Iris Plus7,613
Surface Pro 6Intel UHD 6205,396
Surface Laptop 3 15Vega 911,334
Surface Laptop 3 13.5Iris Plus9,811
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390Iris Plus10,406
Dell Inspiron 13 7390 2-in-1Intel HD5,632
Dell Precision 3541NVIDIA Quadro P62012,469

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (Higher is better)

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DeviceReadWrite
Surface Pro 72,040 MB/s809 MB/s
Surface Pro 61,632 MB/s814 MB/s
Surface Pro 5847MB/s801 MB/s
Surface Laptop 3 152,028 MB/s806 MB/s
Surface Laptop 3 13.52,338 MB/s1,583 MB/s
Surface Laptop 21,509 MB/s811 MB/s
Surface Laptop486 MB/s244 MB/s
Surface Book1,018 MB/s967 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 73902,400 MB/s1,228 MB/s
Huawei MateBook X Pro (new)3,416 MB/s2,779 MB/s
HP Spectre x360 13t3,085 MB/s1,182 MB/s
LG gram 14 2-in-1558.1 MB/s523.1 MB/s

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While I didn't get a chance to test the new Intel Core i7-1065G7, I can imagine it is the fastest 15-watt chip around.

Thermals – even on this passively cooled Core i5 – are excellent. During a 25-minute benchmark, the system was merely warm at 91 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees C). Those numbers could go up in a more heated room or during the summer, but in most office environments, those results should hold.