The following is a write-up about my experience with the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 as an everyday tablet device. What sparked my interest was how feasible it was to use this device as a Tablet and as a Laptop for every day use. This review focuses mainly on how the Surface Pro 8 compares to other tablets out there. If the comparison was against other Laptops, then I think the Surface Pro 8 is clearly not the best choice - it's quite pricey for a laptop, and you can get better hardware while still having good portability.
I'll also preface by saying that each person has different needs, so my views and opinions my not apply to everyone. I tried to keep things brief to make it easier to consume, and hopefully the points below can help you decide if this is a good device for your own needs.
As a Tablet, the Surface actually has a ton of advantages over conventional options out there. It all boils down to the fact that it is a real, complete, Windows OS device. For example, the iPad won't let you setup multiple user accounts, and Android tablets won't let you install productivity apps you're used to on a desktop.
Here are things I personally liked about Surface Pro 8 when comparing it to other tablet devices:
- I can use the WhatsApp desktop app. On other OS you can't really do that without resorting to 3rd party apps, and it's not the easiest thing to configure
- I can use it for development. I've actually used the Surface Pro 8 to develop a simple Android app, from start to finish. That's because Android Studio runs natively on the machine. I even used the emulator, and it worked better than I expected.
- It's the best multi-window experience of the 3 OSs. Although Android and iPad have gotten better, than still miles away from where Windows OS is at
- I can play Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition , natively, and it runs perfectly at 4k on my external monitor
- Best Microsoft Office experience. I actually don't need to use MS Office that much for my work, but if I had too I know it would be available and work great
- The device has 2 Thunderbolt 4 ports, so I could connect a eGPU and play triple-A games like Cyberpunk or Elden Ring if I wanted too. I haven't done this, but have seen videos of people that did it so in my book that's a plus for future versitility of the device
The device itself
The Surface Pro 8 is a well-built device. Sound is quite good and comparable in quality with the iPad. The keyboard construction and attachment, as well as the trackpad feel great. Windows OS is still not has good as macOS when it comes to the trackpad, but as far as Windows devices go this trackpad actually does a great job. The screen resolution is good, it has good brightness, supports 120hz, but does not support HDR and in that sense lacks comparatively to the iPad of the latest Surface Tablets. I don't use the included pen that much, but I'll say I like the fact that it can be easily stored away on the keyboard hinge - so it doesn't bother me to have it with me at all times.
The front camera supports Windows IR for easy login with face recognition, and it works great most of the time.
Battery life is quite good, even with 120hz refresh rate on the screen turned on. I'm able to spend the whole afternoon browsing the web with no issues.
More on software development
On the Surface Pro I installed the Terminal app from Windows store; along with GitHub desktop app, and different IDEs. The key here is that I was able to do these things natively, and with first-party support from these tools. I could have used a remote desktop on the iPad and achieved the same, but then would have to rely on having network connection, paying extra fees for a remote service (in case I'm not running my own machine elsewhere), fiddle with the USB-passthrough, etc. Having this work out-of-the-box was great! 👍
The Bad / Ugly
Most of the downsides stem from the fact that made the device great against other tablets to start with, and that is that Windows OS is not a Tablet OS. And it shows! Many apps are not optimized for being used with your fingers.
- Several apps are not optimized for a Tablet experience. Firefox for example doesn't support any gestures to navigate, like swapping sideways doesn't make it go back in history.
- Common gestures don't work as you'd expected. Many times I saw myself doing a pull-down-to-refresh in different apps just to realize that's not a recognized gesture. Navigation gestures only work in some apps.
- Windows has the Control Panel for some things, and a Settings app with Tablet UI for others. I find this really confusing. There are too many relics from previous Windows versions still living in Windows 11 that makes it seem experience subpar. I have to exhaustively search trough menus to find the settings I'm looking for.
- The apps to draw with the pen are lackluster when comparing it to the iPad, and it seemed to lag at times
- Apps that have not being adapted to Tablet UI sometimes buttons so small it's almost impossible to touch the right button. To make this better I've increased the Display Scale to 225%, and still miss sometimes!
- The device did NOT recognize that my external monitor for HDR, even after drivers were installed.
- The virtual keyboard integration is worse than iPad and Android. Many times apps don't correctly readjust, and the field where you want to type is hidden. Some other times changing fields will hide the keyboard. It's frustrating to say the least.
Surface Pro 8 common problems and solutions
After connecting to an External monitor the device seems laggy
And at times, when connecting the external monitor, it will limit the refresh rate at 26hz, instead of performing 60hz. At first I though because the external monitor was 4k, the Surface was having trouble performing at that resolution, but what was really happening was that the refresh rate was very low and it looked like lag. The fix is to open the laptop lid so that the screen lights up, disconnect and reconnect the screen.
Color looks washed off
Windows 11 is really bad at handling color accuracy when certain options are enabled. I've written a different article about this, it is for another laptop but the issue is the same. https://pedronveloso.com/improve-surface-laptop-3-display/
If you found other common issues and have a solution, let me know and I'll happily add it for others to see.