After using as Surface Pro 9 5G for 6 weeks as my daily device, this blog is my hands-on review of, IMO, an “almost” perfect device for working from “almost” anywhere!
Surface Pro 9 5G is a super thin, every bit premium, two-in-one device that continues to improve over the previous iterations. It has superb battery life and fast, always-on data with support for 5G sim and e-sim.
The Surface Pro 9 5G (SQ3)
The Surface Pro 9 range is beautifully designed, and is the first model of Surface device to come with the option of super-fast 5G support built in. Note that the Surface Pro 9 comes in two variants. The Intel version (without 5G) and the SQ3 [ARM-64] version which features built in 5G chipset along with a new NPU chip which adds additional uniqueness to the device (more on that later).
|What I loved about it||What liked less!|
|✔️ Great battery life and fast 5G connectivity||❌ Windows on ARM still needs stability improvements|
|✔️ Premium build quality||❌ Feature differences between Intel and SQ3 (ARM) models is confusing|
|✔️ Best-in-class kickstand, keyboard and pen / inking experience||❌ Not all colour options available across the range|
|✔️ NPU – provides advanced AI powered camera and voice call features||❌Still need to buy keyboard separately,|
|✔️ Full HD webcam|
|✔️ Supports USB-C charging|
Overall look, feel and use
The Surface Pro 9 5G is every bit gorgeous in design and feel as previous Surface devices and looks almost identical to its sister the Surface Pro 9 (Intel version). Both are premium in every way, and feature the impressively thin, aluminium case, 13-inch 120Hz PixelSense display, and perfectly designed (optional) type-covers keyboard which now also houses the (also optional) Surface Slim Pen 2. Both models feature the built-in kickstand, which lets you prop up the screen on a table and adjust is smoothly to any viewing or working angle.
The Surface Pro 9 5G claims to have a 21-hour battery life, positioning it as the ideal choice for remote users who need a slim, sleek device without the need to carry a power supply and use clunky, unsecure coffee shop internet hotpots. This device is simply perfect for that [almost].
In my experience, the battery life was simply the best of any Surface I have ever used. Even in video calls all day and with multiple apps running, a mix of wireless and cellular (5G) usage I still have close to a third battery remaining after a 10-hour day here, there, and everywhere.
On the Surface 🤣 – outside of the internal upgrades and battery, the Surface Pro 9 is almost identical to the Surface Pro 8 and hardly distinguishable from even the older Surface Pro 7. The Surface Pro range works though – so I see no reason to make drastic changes.
Connectivity without boundaries
The Surface Pro 9’s built-in 5G connectivity support both eSIM and physical nano sim card.
I used a physical sim (which can be easily fitted into the Surface Pro 9’s expansion area under the kickstand). My 02 SIM was recognised within about fifteen seconds and being 5G enabled was giving speeds of close to 80Mbps down and 12 Mbps which was rather good. As you can see from the image above, it is also easily to swap out the SSD with a Microsoft supported SSD should you need to in the future.
The ability to have 5G available whenever I needed it is certainly something I could get used too as I didn’t have to worry about trying to join an access point in a café or customer office or tether my mobile phone (not that that is hard to do, but the process is just more seamless and slicker).
Surface Pro 9 5G – AI through its’ Neural Processing Unit
One of the new features in Windows 11 that is bought to life with the Surface Pro 9 5G is new AI enhanced video and audio enhancements known as Windows Studio Effects. Surface Pro 9 5G’s front-facing camera it’s enhanced and assisted by the NPU, that powers feature such as automatic framing, hardware-based background blurring and sustained eye contact during video calls all of which work much better than the native teams (software) experience – the automatic framing super smooth. These features work across any video app too as it happens at hardware as you can see in the example below.
Note: These new AI features are only available with the Surface Pro 9 5G (which runs ARM) – which means the Intel version of Surface Pro 9 cannot take advantage of these features. While Intel’s 12th-gen CPUs are powerful, they don’t have an NPU built-in.
If you do have the 5G Pro 9 (or another OEM device with an NPU) you can access the setting from the Setting App in Windows 11.
Surface Pro 9 with 5G starts at £1,089 (ex VAT) which gets you the entry level device with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD – though another £50 gets you the 16GB / 256GB version. Remember – you also need to add the type of cover keyboard and Surface Slim Pen.
Surface Pro 9 5G generally works out around £100 more than the Pro9 Intel based devices, but bear in mind the Pro 9 5G has, well, built in 5G connectivity. I would say, however, with the current “in-perfections” with Windows 11 on ARM (which is mainly due to lack of apps natively compiled for ARM-64) and that the performance of the Intel chipsets is better than that of the ARM based device, I had hoped that the Pro 9 5G would be cheaper than the intel version.
Changes in port and button layout.
Microsoft has moved the buttons and ports around a little from the previous generations of Surface Pro. For example, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack (which may annoy some). The two USB-C have also moved from the same side as the Surface Connector port to the opposite side, which gives them more space (this is the same as the Surface Pro X). They have also moved the power/sleep and volume rocker from sides of the device to the top of the Surface Pro 9 5G in line with other Surface devices including the Surface Book and Laptop.
“Optional” Keyboard and Pen
For me, the “optional” Typecover keyboard and Slim Pen are a necessity to get the best from a Surface Pro device such as the Surface Pro 9 5G.
The keyboard is full-sized, with comfortable spacing between the keys and 1.5mm of travel on a per-key basis for a satisfying typing experience. The Alcantara cover on the keyboard provides a nice level of comfort when typing, the 4-inch-wide touchpad is nicely positioned and in each reach.
The new type-cover, which was first available on the original Surface Pro X, features built-in storage for the Slim Pen which is a positive change to having a pen magnetically stuck to the side of the device like the previous generation of Surface Pro devices (Pro 3 to Pro 7 range). What’s more the Surface Slim pen automatically charges (no more AAAA batteries) when docked on the keyboard.
To reveal the pen, we just pull the keyboard away from the screen and pluck out the Pen. It’s always fully charged and ready to use with a pen-friendly display.
Overall, this is a more elegant and secure way to manage the pen.
Audio, Sound and Cameras
Surface Pro 9 features dual far-field microphones, which means no one will have any trouble hearing you, while the SQ3’s neural engine brings special background noise-canceling capabilities.
Speaker-wise, you get a pair of 2W Dolby Atmos-supporting stereo speakers that provide a clear and crisp sound with no distortion even at high-volume. The speakers are good for everything from video call meeting audio, to watching films in HD on the crisp 120Hz screen.
At the back of the device is a ten-mega pixel camera which is capable of capturing superior quality images and can also record in 4K.
As with all Surface Devices (except the Laptop Go), you also get Windows Hello Camera, which can be used with Windows Hello and Windows Hello for Business for biometric (MFA) authentication – meaning in short, you can unlock and logon to your device with your face which is highly secure and much better than using passwords.
Display, Touch and Ink
The screen (which follows the usual 2:3 display ration) is vivid and offers dynamic 120Hz refresh and a high resolution of 2880 x 1920 (267 ppi).
Brightness is good for most light conditions with a max brightness of 450 nits and a contrast ratio of 1200:1. This is good but not super bright and other devixes such as iPad Pro do have better. That said, it was fine for my use and I never had any brightness issues which I just left on Windows auto-brightness.
Surface of course, also benefits of being both a touch- and incredible ink/pen screen.
Inking on Surface Pro 9 felt super natural – and when taking notes in OneNote really felt like ink was flowing out of the nib of the Slim Pen 2 and onto the digitial notebook. The latest Surface Slim Pen 2 is the most precise yet and also includes haptic feedback to make it feel as if you’re scratching a pencil across real paper. The Pen is lightweight, comfortable to hold, and never slips from your grip when holding it or writing.
What I love about the Surface Pen experience is that they use both ends of the pen – you get the inking nib and then a digital eraser on the other end, which is both a button and a digital eraser. There’s also a button along the pen body that you can use to activate various features in a number of apps which can be configured by the user – In OneNote, for instance, it can be used to quickly access the eye-dropper colour picker.
Battery and Power Consumption
If battery life and versatility is top of list for your next Windows 11 device, Surface Pro 9 5G does an awesome job.
Microsoft claim “up to 19 hours”, but in my experience I got well over a full day of use. By that I mean I managed a full day of use (starting at home, in the office, client meeting, coffee shop) and then still had 29% battery in the morning which was enough for email on the train and my first meeting before I had to connect it to my portable USB Charger.
Beware of the buts…..
Microsoft’s vision on a creating an ultra-thin, ARM-powered Surface are great, but the vision is not yet a full reality. Don’t get me wrong – this is nothing like the original attempt (if you remember or bought a Surface RT back in 2012). The Pro 9 5 is a great device and runs Windows 11 brilliantly, but there are some practical issues. If you’re at all interested in a new Surface, buy the Intel model and get a hotspot on the side.
I love the Surface Pro 5G, but there are a few things that stop me giving this a 10/10. Some of these are niggles, some of them should attract a cheaper price and some might put you off. Then again – these are my opinions and I welcome yours.
The names can be confusing
Microsoft now has a single product line running on two very different chip designs – one built on Intel’s x86 hardware and another built on Microsoft’s custom SQ3 ARM system-on-a-chip (which is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3). This can be confusing for buyers.
Performance and app compatibility needs to be understood
Of course, the Intel-powered Surface Pro 9 can run all the modern and legacy Windows apps you need.
The ARM/SQ3 model, however, can run a fewer set of apps natively (those that are ARM native apps) – whereas all other x86 apps need to run in an x86 emulated mode which naturally leads to slower performance. Windows 11 does fully supports x64 emulation, so the Pro 9 with 5G can pretty much run any x86 apps, but that doesn’t cover many games.
Microsoft claim that performance between the Intel and ARM / SQ3 models should be comparable which they are with native ARM apps, but there is occasional lag with older apps (especially those that are 32bit x86 apps. Microsoft Edge is super quick as a browser (doesn’t use Chrome) being built for Windows 11 and becuase it’s a native ARM app. For SQ3 to really shine it needs more developer support for ARM with native apps..
Do not use the ARM version if you are a gamer.
Buy the Intel version if you want to run/play most games. Since most games aren’t optimised for ARM, they simply will not run well. Advice is…if you are a gamer, you need to stick to the Intel versions or you’ll be disappointed in the performance lag.