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8 Compelling Reasons to Avoid the Microsoft Surface Pro in 2023

As a technology journalist and industry analyst with over a decade of experience reviewing laptops, tablets, and other mobile computing devices, I‘ve closely followed the evolution of Microsoft‘s Surface Pro line since its introduction in 2012. These versatile 2-in-1 machines, which blur the line between laptop and tablet, have long been a favorite among Windows users seeking a stylish, portable device for work and play. However, with the release of the Surface Pro 9 in October 2022, I believe Microsoft has taken a serious misstep that warrants a critical re-evaluation of the product‘s value proposition and its place in the broader PC and tablet market.

In this article, I‘ll lay out eight specific reasons why you should think twice before buying a Surface Pro in 2023, drawing upon extensive hands-on testing, industry data, and comparisons to key competitors. Whether you‘re a long-time Surface user considering an upgrade or a new buyer weighing your options, this deep dive will give you the insights needed to make an informed decision.

1. Performance stagnation and regression

One of the most disappointing aspects of the Surface Pro 9 is its lackluster performance compared to its predecessor and competing devices. Despite moving to Intel‘s 12th-gen Core processors, the Surface Pro 9 fails to deliver meaningful improvements in CPU or GPU performance over the Surface Pro 8.

In fact, according to Geekbench 5 results, the Core i5-1235U model of the Surface Pro 9 actually scores 11% lower in single-core performance than the Core i5-1135G7 model of the Surface Pro 8. Multi-core performance is a wash, with the newer chip eking out a meager 4% gain. While the Core i7-1255U model fares slightly better, it still lags behind the M1 iPad Pro and M2 MacBook Air.

Device Single-Core Multi-Core
Surface Pro 9 (Core i5) 1091 4849
Surface Pro 8 (Core i5) 1229 4667
Surface Pro 9 (Core i7) 1644 7898
M1 iPad Pro 11" 1716 7284
M2 MacBook Air 1932 8950

Geekbench 5 scores comparing Surface Pro 9 to key competitors and previous model. Higher scores are better.

GPU performance, a key consideration for creative professionals and casual gaming, is also virtually identical between the Surface Pro 8 and 9. The Iris Xe graphics built into the Surface Pro 9‘s 12th-gen Intel processors offer no meaningful improvement over the previous generation. In 3DMark‘s Time Spy benchmark, the Surface Pro 9 with Core i7-1255U managed a score of just 1,643, compared to 1,630 for the Surface Pro 8 with Core i7-1185G7.

What‘s even more concerning is how far the Surface Pro 9 lags behind Apple‘s latest tablets and laptops in graphics performance. In the same 3DMark Time Spy test, the M1 iPad Pro 11" achieved a score of 2,724, while the M2 MacBook Air clocked in at 2,060. Creative users who rely on GPU acceleration will be much better served by Apple‘s offerings.

2. Poor value with high total cost of ownership

Like previous Surface Pro models, the Surface Pro 9 starts at a deceptively low $999 price point for a base model with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. But that only tells part of the story. To use the Surface Pro 9 as a proper laptop, you‘ll need to add Microsoft‘s Surface Pro Signature Keyboard at an additional cost of $179. And if you want to take full advantage of the device‘s tablet capabilities for drawing, sketching, and handwritten notes, the Surface Slim Pen 2 is another $129.

With both essential accessories, the true starting price of a complete Surface Pro 9 setup rises to $1,307. Opt for the Core i7 model with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and you‘re looking at a total price of $1,786 before tax. That‘s a hefty sum for a device with limited performance gains over its predecessor and no meaningful upgrades to battery life, display quality, or port selection.

For comparison, a similarly configured M2 MacBook Air with 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD is $1,599. The 128GB M1 iPad Pro 11" with Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard comes to $1,577. Both offer superior performance and a more cohesive, reliable software experience with better app support.

3. Lack of a headphone jack in a Pro device

In a baffling move, Microsoft has eliminated the 3.5mm headphone jack from the Surface Pro 9, a decision that feels at odds with the device‘s positioning as a versatile tool for productivity and creative work. For many professionals, wired headphones remain a necessity for their reliability, sound quality, and compatibility with audio equipment.

The Surface Pro 9‘s sole reliance on Bluetooth audio or USB-C adapters is a major inconvenience that adds friction to common workflows like video editing, music production, and virtual meetings. It‘s a needless omission that undermines the device‘s flexibility and makes it a less compelling choice for creatives.

4. All-day battery life falls short of claimed 15.5 hours

Microsoft touts the Surface Pro 9 as having "up to 15.5 hours of typical device usage" on a single charge. However, real-world testing paints a very different picture. In Laptop Mag‘s battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of screen brightness, the Core i7 model of the Surface Pro 9 lasted just 8 hours and 15 minutes.

That‘s well below the 10 hours and 52 minutes managed by the M2 MacBook Air and the impressive 13 hours and 16 minutes of the M1 iPad Pro 11" in the same test. While battery life will always vary based on individual usage patterns, it‘s clear that the Surface Pro 9 struggles to deliver the all-day endurance that many users expect from a modern mobile device.

5. Limited performance for demanding creative workloads

Despite its Pro moniker and marketing emphasis on creativity, the Surface Pro 9 is ill-equipped to handle demanding creative workloads like 4K video editing, 3D rendering, and complex photo manipulation. The integrated Iris Xe graphics and limited CPU performance simply can‘t keep pace with the needs of creative professionals.

In real-world tests, the Surface Pro 9 struggles with even basic 4K video editing tasks in Adobe Premiere Pro. Rendering a 5-minute 4K project took over 20 minutes on the Core i7 model, compared to just 7 minutes on the M1 iPad Pro and 10 minutes on the M2 MacBook Air. Exporting a 100-layer PSD file in Adobe Photoshop was similarly sluggish, taking nearly two minutes on the Surface Pro 9 versus 45 seconds on the M1 iPad Pro.

For creatives who demand the best performance and efficiency, the Surface Pro 9 is simply not up to the task. Its thermal limitations and underpowered components make it a poor choice for anyone looking to do serious creative work on the go.

6. 5G model with ARM chips lags far behind Intel and Apple

Alongside the standard Intel-based models, Microsoft offers a separate 5G-enabled version of the Surface Pro 9 powered by a custom ARM processor dubbed the Microsoft SQ3. Co-developed with Qualcomm, the SQ3 promises improved energy efficiency and integrated cellular connectivity.

However, the reality is far less impressive. In both synthetic benchmarks and real-world use, the SQ3 model of the Surface Pro 9 lags far behind its Intel-based counterpart and Apple‘s ARM-powered devices. Single-core performance in Geekbench 5 is around 60% lower than the Core i5 model, while multi-core performance is nearly 50% lower.

But the larger issue is app compatibility and performance. Many Windows apps are still not optimized for ARM processors, leading to sluggish performance and limited functionality. Key creative apps like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom run in emulation mode on the SQ3, resulting in much slower performance than on Intel-based PCs or native ARM apps on the iPad Pro.

Add in the extra cost of the SQ3 model, which starts at $1,299 without the keyboard or pen, and the required cellular data plan, and it‘s hard to recommend the 5G Surface Pro 9 to anyone but the most niche of users.

7. Inconsistent configuration options limit choice

In a bizarre move, Microsoft offers different configuration options for the Surface Pro 9 depending on the color you choose. The Platinum model has the most flexibility, with three different specs for the Core i5 and four for the Core i7. But the other color options – Sapphire, Forest, and Graphite – are arbitrarily limited to just two configurations each.

This means that if you have your heart set on a specific color, you may be forced to compromise on specs like RAM and storage. Only the Platinum model allows you to configure the Surface Pro 9 with the maximum 32GB of RAM and 1TB SSD, and even then, you‘ll have to shell out an eye-watering $2,599 before factoring in the cost of accessories.

These inconsistencies feel like a frustrating oversight for a device marketed as a premium, professional-grade machine. Buyers should have the freedom to choose their desired specs and color independently, without forced compromises or upsells.

8. Better alternatives for most users

Given the Surface Pro 9‘s shortcomings in performance, battery life, and value, it‘s hard to recommend it over the myriad of compelling alternatives on the market. If you‘re in the market for a versatile 2-in-1 device for productivity and creative work, there are better options available.

For those who prioritize performance and software optimizations, the M2 iPad Pro with Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard offers a much more powerful and efficient platform for creative work and general computing. With native ARM versions of apps like Photoshop and Procreate, and unmatched battery life, it‘s a compelling choice for creatives on the go. The Galaxy Tab S8 is also worth considering for its vibrant OLED display and included S Pen.

If you prefer a more traditional laptop form factor, the M2 MacBook Air delivers exceptional performance and battery life in a sleek, fanless design. For Windows users, the HP Spectre x360 14 offers a premium 2-in-1 experience with an OLED display, great keyboard, and excellent build quality. And if you simply want a great ultraportable Windows laptop, the Dell XPS 13 remains a top pick.

Final Thoughts

As a long-time admirer of Microsoft‘s hardware efforts, it pains me to say that the Surface Pro 9 is a misfire that fails to deliver meaningful improvements over its predecessor or compelling value compared to its competitors. From its stagnant performance and disappointing battery life to its baffling omission of a headphone jack and confusing 5G model, the Surface Pro 9 feels like a step backward for the product line.

When you factor in the high total cost of ownership with essential accessories and the limited configuration options tied to color choices, it becomes even harder to recommend the Surface Pro 9 to most buyers. Creative professionals will be better served by Apple‘s M1/M2 iPads and MacBooks, while general laptop users can find better value and performance in competing Windows devices.

Microsoft needs to re-focus the Surface Pro line to address these shortcomings and deliver a more compelling 2-in-1 experience to stay relevant in an increasingly crowded market. Until then, I advise most readers to explore the alternatives and carefully consider their needs before investing in a Surface Pro 9.

What do you think about the Surface Pro 9 and Microsoft‘s broader Surface lineup? Do you agree with my assessment, or have you had a different experience? Let me know in the comments below, and feel free to share this article with others if you found it informative. As always, thanks for reading!