The Surface Pro 9 with 5G has convinced me that Windows 11 isn’t half bad at being a touchscreen operating system, but it’s let down by Microsoft’s persistence to stick to an annoying form factor and a confusing approach to performance.
If you’re unfamiliar with how Microsoft markets the machines in its ‘Surface’ division, those lacking ‘laptop’ in the title are primarily tablets running Windows (11 these days, but 10 previously). In the past, I’ve reviewed the Surface Laptop Studio (one of my favourite laptops of 2022) and the Surface Laptop Go 2 (a pretty reasonable and cheap laptop), but this is my first time with a Surface that’s mainly a tablet.
For these tablet-oriented Surface computers, supportive keyboards are sold separately. Although, most of my time with this machine has been spent with a keyboard attached. I originally expected to hate dealing with Windows 11 as a touchscreen-first operating system… But I actually really like it. The only struggle was trying to treat this thing like a tablet when so much of the Windows operating system still relies on a keyboard and mouse.
Despite the ‘Pro’ suffix, the Surface Pro 9 with 5G isn’t really for professionals in the same way that the Surface Pro 9 is (a different machine, more on that later). Though it’s reasonably capable of what most laptop and tablet users would want (including some super light gaming, word processing, browsing and social media), it’s not a tremendously powerful thing (and, obviously, it’s quite small). That being said, it does offer 5G connectivity, in case you’re after a fast, on-the-go computer.
And this makes it a quite confusing piece of tech. Its closest competitor, the iPad Pro, is such a good tablet that it’s actually a pretty terrific work machine as well. The Surface Pro 9 with 5G, while it’s just as capable, lacks the vast amount of apps with touchscreen optimisation.
So, through no fault of its own, this is a tablet that largely can’t help but be a laptop. With that in mind, unfortunately, we must talk about the stand.
Please rethink the stand
The stand sucks. Forever, for as long as I must say it, for as long as Windows is providing a Surface that is (inherently) a laptop first and touchscreen second, the stand sucks.
The Surface series of tablets can’t stand up on their own when connected to the integrated keyboard. Microsoft sells (attachable) keyboards with trackpads, with a stand on the back of the device propping the screen up.
This means that the screen must always be at a tilt when using it at a table, and you must be careful when picking it up, otherwise, the screen will fall out from behind and you risk damaging the device.
The iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tabs get away with it because they’re tablets with keyboard and mouse support. The Surface series fails at it because, at the end of the day, Microsoft wants its users to be using this thing as a computer, not a tablet. Which, make no mistake, that’s what it is, and that’s how customers are using it; it’s just that we’re still entertaining a silly idea that they need this stand.
But there is a solution: have future keyboards hold up the screen and anchor it. I think the best example comes from HP with the X2. This laptop is, functionally, a tablet, but the keyboard slots into the screen in a way that lets you pick the full device up with the keyboard. It’s a solid device without the need for a back stand.
I’m sure there are a lot of people that don’t mind this functionality, as it’s meant to complement the focus on the touchscreen, but to me that’s where it all falls apart.
In my mind, the touchscreen features of Windows 10/11 work so well because icons are big and floaty, perfect for inaccurate fingertips, but just as a secondary feature. The main features (keyboard with the precision of a trackpad) still reign supreme, well into the Surface Pro’s 9th generation.
Keep in mind that the tablet we have reviewed is also available with either an i5 or an i7, and we’ve got the model without either. The Microsoft SQ3 processor takes their place, and the Microsoft SQ3 Adreno 8CX Gen 3 GPU replaces Intel’s Iris Xe integrated graphics.
While Microsoft claims that the Intel models of this device are best for “professional software and local gaming”, the SQ3 model is best for “go-anywhere productivity, cloud gaming, and AI-enabled enhanced camera effects”.
Translation: it’s an iPad competitor instead of being a tremendously powerful laptop. Although the SQ3 model ships with 5G capability (whereas the Intel model doesn’t), this idea of cloud reliance doesn’t fly so well in Australia (especially while 5G is still spotty and especially for cloud gaming). In my opinion, Microsoft should have marketed the Intel and SQ3 models separately, as they are indeed different devices, but unfortunately, that’s not what they’ve done. In short: if you’re interested in this device, you’d probably be better off going with an Intel model.
Microsoft’s tiny app store is a shadow of what’s on offer from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store, and although you don’t need to rely on Microsoft’s app store (and while Amazon’s Android app store is getting Windows 11 support over time), browser-downloaded apps are rarely supported for tablet use. All of this said, all the processors available from Microsoft would likely be capable of day-to-day productivity use.
On Cinebench, the Surface Pro 9 with 5G reported a score of 3,279 on the multi-core test (16th place) and 590 in the single-core test. These are some of the lowest scores we’ve ever clocked on Cinebench in our testing, with even the Surface Laptop Go 2 punching well above it.
In Geekbench, the compute test was inoperable (likely because this hardware is unoptimised for the benchmark), the laptop scored 1,120 in the single-core test and 5,674 in the multi-core test. Again, not terrific scores.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t run either of our standard graphics tests (the benchmarks for Forza Horizon 5 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 2022), but there are no surprises here. This tablet isn’t built to be a gaming laptop, and if you open the Xbox app on this device, it’ll only let you game via the cloud.
On the bright side, the screen is really nice. A 2880 x 1920 screen with touchscreen capability, watching Disney+ shows on this thing was an absolute treat.
Speaking of, the laptop went considerably well in our battery test (it’s also worth noting that Microsoft reports higher battery life in the SQ3 model over the Intel models). Playing Avengers: Endgame via Disney+ over Wi-Fi in a Chrome browser, the tablet was reduced from 100 per cent battery to 86 per cent in the first hour, 71 per cent in the second and 59 per cent in the third. Not too bad at all, and one of the best results we’ve seen in this test.
Despite this, I’m not underwhelmed by the performance on offer in this device. In our Chrome tab test, the 16GB of RAM in the Surface Laptop Pro 9 with 5G held up against 25 concurrent YouTube tabs, before starting to stutter and ultimately freeze between 26 and 28. That’s about the result we expected.
Should you buy the Surface Laptop Pro 9 with 5G
At $2,599 through Microsoft, the Surface Laptop Pro 9 with 5G is an incredibly tough sell. Its performance is lacking in ways that I know the cheaper Intel variants wouldn’t and although it offers a pretty reasonable tablet experience, it’s not $2,599 worth of grunt, nor is it worth spending that much on a tablet with 5G connectivity.
If you’re after a tablet, you’d probably be best looking at Android devices or iPads, as touchscreen apps on Windows aren’t in tremendous supply, however, this laptop faired reasonably well at the basics. The battery was also very satisfying and the shape is really nice.
Is it beautiful? Absolutely. Is it worth the money? Perhaps not this model, but an Intel model likely is.
I would likely recommend buying the $1,649 12th gen Intel Core i5 model instead, as it comes with a processor that fairs reasonably well and Intel’s nice integrated Iris Xe graphics. Besides, spending nearly $1,000 less frees you up to buy Microsoft’s $260 Surface Pro keyboard.