Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ : A giant leap in graphics performance
PCWorld|April 2021
It’s the most potent upgrade the Surface Pro line has offered in years.
MARK HACHMAN

By naming this Windows tablet the Surface Pro 7+, Microsoft mistakenly implies that it’s some sort of minor upgrade from the Surface Pro 7. Nothing could be further from the truth: We rarely see such massive upgrades in CPU and GPU horsepower, as well as battery life. It also offers an LTE option and an absolutely dead-silent, fanless chassis.

Sure, a few decisions made us scratch our heads. Why do we have to choose between an integrated microSD slot or the LTE option? Thunderbolt still isn’t here, either. But even these flaws really can’t mar an exciting leap in performance. This is the best Surface Pro of several generations, and for the moment the best Windows tablet on the market, too.

SPECS AND FEATURES

As we look at the Surface Pro 7+ specs, note that at press time, the only retail source we could find was Microsoft’s own online store. Incidentally, spelling the name as either “Surface Pro 7+” or “Surface Pro 7 Plus” works, but the full name is Surface Pro 7+ for Business. It ships with Windows 10 Pro, which offers more management and security features than the Home version.

Unlike with past Surface Pro devices, where the base model was often inadequate, every Surface Pro 7+ configuration available is solid. While the $900 Core i3/8GB/128GB version is a bit tight on storage space, at least it doesn’t skimp on RAM.

Display: 12.3-inch multitouch PixelSense display (2736x1824)

Processor: Intel Core i3-1115G4/Core i5-1135G7 (as tested)/Core I7-1165G7

Graphics: UHD (Core i3), Iris Xe (Core i5/i7 as tested)

Memory: 8GB, 16GB LPDDR4x (Wi-Fi, LTE as tested); 32GB LPDDR4x (Wi-Fi)

Storage: 128GB/256GB (Wi-Fi, LTE); 512GB/1TB (Wi-Fi)

Ports: 1 USB-C, 1 USB-A, 1 Surface Connector, 1 Type Cover, microSDXC (Wi-Fi) or 1 nanoSIM (LTE), 3.5mm headphone jack

Security: Camera (Windows Hello)

Camera: 5MP/1080p (user-facing), 8MP (rear-facing)

Battery: 50.4Wh (claimed), 48.9Wh (actual)

Wireless: WiFi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.0; Qualcomm X20 modem (LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66)

Operating system: Windows 10 Pro

Dimensions: 11.5x7.9x0.33 inches

Weight: 1.7 pounds (Core i3/i5 with Wi-Fi) to 1.73 pounds (Core i5, LTE).

Color: Platinum, Matte Black

Price: From $900 at Microsoft (go.pcworld.com/m900), $1,650 as tested

Optional accessories: Surface Pro Signature Type Cover ($160 on Amazon [go. pcworld.com/scvr]) Surface Pen ($64 on microsoft.com [go.pcworld.com/srfp])

DESIGN

Microsoft’s Surface Pro lineup of Windows tablets has remained largely unchanged since the Surface Pro 3 (go.pcworld.com/ sfp3). It’s a 12-inch Windows tablet with a sturdy kickstand that reclines almost flat. Microsoft has always taken pride in the design of the Surface Pro’s hinge, and it’s justified—it enables triple duty as a tablet, drawing pad, and something close to a traditional clamshell laptop.

Microsoft manufactured the Surface Pro 7+ out of what it calls a “unibody magnesium design with hidden perimeter venting.” The unibody construction gives the tablet structural strength, while the magnesium serves as a passive heat pipe to the outside world, bolstered by the tiny vents cut into the periphery of the chassis. Both the Core i3 and Core i5 models are entirely fanless designs, which absolutely depend on these passive heat distribution methods. As our performance tests reveal, such superb improvements without the distraction of a fan are truly worth applauding.

The Surface Pro 7+ display is as bright and beautiful as ever, offering both Enhanced and sRGB color modes. Microsoft continues the Surface tradition of carving out rather substantial bezels around the display—about 1.5 centimeters to the sides in landscape mode, and about 1.2 cm at top and bottom. Aesthetically, they grow uglier each year as laptop display bezels continue to shrink. But they’re still handy when the Surface Pro 7+ is actually used as a tablet, so you can grasp it without accidentally triggering something.

Every time I test a Surface tablet, I realize once again just how convenient it can be to tote a tablet, clicking out the kickstand to watch a video on a bedspread, lap, or side table. If I weren’t so worried about gunking up the display, I might have even brought it into the kitchen.

Microsoft representatives told me the display was made thinner to accommodate a larger, 50.4-watt-hour battery. (Windows reported that the battery was somewhat smaller than Microsoft’s claims, at 48.9 Wh.) Microsoft rates the display at 400 nits, according to a company representative.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has stuck fast to its rapidly aging port choices. The integrated USB-A can be used with a keyboard or wired mouse. Microsoft still uses the legacy Surface Connector as either a charging port or a connection to the Surface Dock 2 (go. pcworld.com/sfd2).

The Surface Connector was once far ahead of its time, but it now lags somewhat behind. The USB-C port accommodates the vast ecosystem of USB-C hubs (go.pcworld. com/uhbs), but it isn’t Thunderbolt capable, a feature more laptops include these days. Any monitor output must route through the Surface Connector to the Surface Dock 2—which, like a Thunderbolt 3 dock, drives two 4K displays at 60Hz apiece. Still, it’s a proprietary solution that locks you into the Surface ecosystem.

Behind the kickstand, there are two changes. The LTE options ship with a small cubby to insert a nanoSIM, and that appears to be at the exclusion of the microSDXC slot, which is reserved for Wi-Fi–only models. (You can eject the nanoSIM cubby using a SIM ejector tool, though you have to insert it deeper than you might expect before it unlatches.) That’s a change from past Surface Pro tablets. In the Surface Pro (2017) (go. pcworld.com/17sf), Microsoft placed the LTE microSIM slot alongside the microSDXC slot, allowing you to have both.

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