Review

Surface Pro 7+ review: Iris Xe graphics and 4G LTE make a big difference

Last month, Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 7+, and there were a few surprises included. For example, we all expected it to be called the Surface Pro 8, and then when it wasn't, it wasn't really clear why, being that the Pro 7+ actually has more significant improvements than some other Surface Pro upgrades we've seen.

First of all, there's the spec bump, going from Intel's 10th-gen 'Ice Lake' processors to 11th-gen 'Tiger Lake', meaning that the integrated graphics goes from Iris Plus Graphics to Iris Xe. There's a lot more power there, especially on the graphics side of things. It's more significant of a spec bump than the one that we saw on the Surface Pro 6, and the Pro 6 was only a spec bump.

That's not the only thing that's new though. The Surface Pro 7+ also comes with 4G LTE and removable storage, both features that are found in the Surface Pro X. They're both features that are great for businesses though, offering better security in terms of data and connectivity.

And yes, this PC is aimed squarely at businesses. If you're a consumer buying a Surface Pro in the store, you're going to be getting the Surface Pro 7 with its 10th-gen processors.

Specs

CPU Intel Core i5-1135G7
Graphics Iris Xe
Body 11.5x7.9x0.33in (292x201x8.5mm), 1.75lbs (796g)
Display

Screen: 12.3” PixelSense Display
Resolution: 2736 x 1824 (267 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Touch: 10 point multi-touch

Memory 16GB LPDDR4x RAM
Storage 256GB SSD
Ports 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
3.5mm headphone jack
1 x Surface Connect port (USB 3.2 Gen 2)
Surface Type Cover port
1 x nano SIM (LTE)
Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction
Cameras,
video,
and audio
Windows Hello face authentication camera (front-facing) 
5MP front-facing camera with 1080p full HD video
8MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p full HD video
Dual far-field Studio Mics
1.6W stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos
Battery life Up to 13.5 hours of typical device usage
Connectivity Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible
Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 technology
LTE Advanced with removable SIM and eSIM support
Qualcomm Snapdragon X20 LTE Modem
LTE bands supported: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66
OS Windows 10 Pro
Material Magnesium
Color Platinum
Price $1,649.99


There are a few things to note with the specs here. For one thing, if you want 4G LTE, you have to get the Core i5, without LTE is also offered with a Core i3-1115G4 or Core i7-1165G7. That's also because the Core i7 model has a fan, and the LTE module is placed where the fan would be on the i5 model.

This model is also a bit heavier than the 1.7lb Core i3 or i5 model, and even a tiny bit heavier than the 1.73lb Core i7 model with its fan added in. Another thing to note is that 4G models only go up to 16GB RAM and 256GB of storage, although you can get it with up to 32GB RAM and 1TB of storage if you go Wi-Fi only.

Finally, and this might be important to you, the LTE model ditches microSD expansion, something that's been a staple of the Surface Pro lineup since the beginning. It still comes in the Wi-Fi only model though.

Day one

Design

On the surface (pun intended), the Surface Pro 7+ doesn't have any design changes. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any significant design changes since the Pro 4. The modern Surface Pro was introduced in 2014 with the Pro 3, and then the screen size was increased from 12 to 12.3 inches in the Pro 4, and the chassis was made a bit thinner. The Surface Pro 6 saw the return of the black color, and the Surface Pro 7 finally saw the addition of a USB Type-C port, replacing the old Mini DisplayPort.

Top-down view of Surface Pro 7+ with red keyboard

Indeed, there's no real change there. Microsoft sent me the Platinum color again, and it's still got the chrome Microsoft logo on the back of the kickstand. But when you lift up the kickstand, that's where the actual change is.

Removable storage exposed on Surface Pro 7+

This is the first Intel-powered Surface Pro to have removable storage, something that we've already seen in the Surface Pro X, Surface Laptop 3, and Surface Laptop Go. While you could technically use this to get around Microsoft's exorbitant prices for storage tiers, that's not recommended. This can be a way to replace defective storage, and in fact, Microsoft is now selling replacement SSD kits so IT can swap out the faulty drive right away.

The other key thing that this allows for is destroying sensitive data. Obviously, this PC won't be around forever, and there will come a time when your business recycles it, and you won't want some bad actor getting their hands on it and recovering any data that was stored on the device. Now, you don't have to worry about it.

Open kickstand on Surface Pro 7+ showing SIM slot and removable storage

The panel to access the SSD opens with a SIM tool, but the nano-SIM slot isn't under that panel like it is on the Surface Pro X. Instead, it's on the side, and as mentioned, there's no more microSD card slot. Personally, I'd take a nano-SIM slot any day.

Side view of Surface Pro 7+ showing two USB ports and Surface Connect

Also on the right side are all of the ports that you need, including USB Type-C, USB Type-A, and Surface Connect. Unfortunately, the bad news is that they're all the 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2. While I appreciate that in the USB Type-A port, since so many premium PCs are still using the 5Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 1, I really do wish that Microsoft would start using Thunderbolt 4.

With Thunderbolt 4, you can connect dual 4K monitors or one 8K monitor to a single port, or you can connect an external GPU. When you look at the kind of performance that Intel's 11th-gen processors can deliver, this kind of expandability starts to sound more and more attractive.

Side view of Surface Pro 7+ showing 3.5mm audio jack

On the left side at the top is the 3.5mm audio jack, and that means that it's time to talk a bit about port placement, because I'm not a fan. The same goes for the Surface Book. These things are clearly designed to be used as tablets, an odd choice when Windows 10 isn't. Putting ports like a headphone jack at the top means that you have wires dangling while you're trying to use it, and it's a pain point.

Frankly, the same goes for if you're charging via the USB Type-C port, which is the only one I'm willing to use. Naturally, it does ship with a Surface Connect charger, but like all review units that offer USB Type-C charging and ship with a proprietary charger, I just use USB Type-C.

Top view of Surface Pro 7+ showing volume rocker and power button

On the top, there's just a power button and volume rocker. This is another design element that clearly comes from an age when Microsoft thought that people buying this would spend a lot of time holding it in portrait orientation, but it's fine.

Surface Pro 7+ bottom view showing Type Cover port

Finally, on the bottom, we have our Type Cover port, and you can still use any Surface Pro Type Cover (or Touch Cover, for that matter) that's ever existed. If you use a Type Cover that was made for the 16:9 Surface Pro or Pro 2, it certainly won't cover the screen, but the keyboard will still work. Indeed, the Surface Pro 7+ has all of the legacy components that your business needs if it's standardized around Surface, including the same Type Cover port, Surface Connect, and more.

I've spent a lot of time wondering why this is a business PC. Sure, I get that the new business features are awesome, such as removable storage and 4G LTE, which is way more secure than public Wi-Fi. But why not sell it to consumers too, even if it's just the Wi-Fi only model? This is entirely speculation, but it's possible that there's an actual Surface Pro 8 planned that doesn't have some of the legacy components that I described above; it could be a properly redesigned Surface Pro, and it would also explain the off Pro 7+ naming.

Display and audio

As far as this and the keyboard section go, everything is identical to the Surface Pro 7, so if you're familiar with the product, you can skip to the performance section. If not, read on.

Close-up of Surface Pro 7+ screen

Once again, the Surface Pro 7+ has a 12.3-inch 2736x1824 PixelSense display. PixelSense is sort of Microsoft's version of what Apple calls Retina. It has a 267ppi pixel density, which is pretty great, as there's no visible pixelation. In fact, considering how small the screen is, it's pretty high resolution in the world of FHD laptops.

Also, Microsoft is very good at making displays. It's one thing that it always pulls off pretty well. That means that you're getting accurate colors here, something that really comes in handy in photo and video editing work. It's incredibly glossy though, and that actually applies to the entire lineup.

Surface Pro 7+ with Type Cover folded back

It's also got a full 178-degree viewing angle, as any premium laptop display should. That means that no matter where you're looking at it from, there's no visible color distortion.

But also, it's got massive bezels. Indeed, those bezels really haven't changed at all since the Surface Pro 4's introduction in 2015, so if they make the PC look dated, it's because the design is dated. In fact, it's worth noting that much of the Surface lineup has dated designs. The Surface Book was introduced in 2015 alongside the Pro 4, and that hasn't changed either.

Other companies are improving their designs on a yearly basis, often finding new and innovative ways to chop down the bezels a bit more and make the footprint just that little bit smaller.

Surface Pro 7+ tablet on wooden table with red Surface Pen

The top bezel does include both a webcam and an IR camera for Windows Hello. In fact, the new Surface Laptop Go has the smallest top bezel of any Surface, and Microsoft said it had to ditch the IR camera to do it. Also, the webcam is 1080p, something that's still a rarity in portable PCs.

As for audio quality, it's as good as it can get for a tablet like this one. Microsoft puts two speakers in the bezels on both sides of the display, and while they're not particularly loud for media consumption, they do sound good for calls. Naturally, the latter is pretty important these days while people are working from home.

Type Cover

Like I said earlier, the port for the Type Cover is one of very few things that haven't changed over the years, so you can use (almost) any Type Cover or Touch Cover that's existed, unless it was made for the Surface Go or Surface Pro X, which were the only times Microsoft changed the port. I actually threw in the "almost" because the very rare Music Kit doesn't work anymore.

Angled view of Surface Pro 7+ with red keyboard and red pen

Microsoft sent me the black Type Cover, which is the only one that doesn't come with Alcantara fabric, so it's not considered to be a Signature Type Cover. Of course, black is a more subtle cover for businesses.

The keyboard itself is pretty good, and it's improved a lot over the years. In my experience, connectivity used to be a big issue for Surfaces. For example, the keyboard magnetically props up against the bottom bezel, and typing would cause a vibration that temporarily disconnects the keyboard. It was a pain point, and I haven't had that issue at all with this model.

But to be clear, this isn't a laptop keyboard, and doesn't feel like one. You should absolutely take note of this when you purchase this product for your business. If you're going to hand this machine to an employee that's going to just place it on a desk and type on it like it's a laptop, then you should probably be looking at the Surface Laptop. If it's going to be used as a tablet rarely, then you should look at the Surface Book. The Type Cover is meant to be removed so the Surface Pro 7+ can be used as a tablet.

Surface Pro 7+ with Brydge keyboard

I'd like to give a shout-out to Brydge, even though I don't always give call-outs to third-party peripherals in reviews. Brydge is known for making keyboards for tablets and making them feel more like laptops, and the Brydge 12.3 Pro+ is actually the first third-party keyboard that's Designed for Surface.

As you can see in the image, it slides into two clamps on the keyboard and they have a tight hinge. It feels like a proper laptop to use. It does connect via Bluetooth though, so you're giving up that direct connection that you get with the Type Cover.

Of course, a Surface Pro doesn't actually come with a keyboard, so you can buy Microsoft's, Brydge's, or someone else's. You can choose any keyboard that you want.

Performance and battery life

The Surface Pro 7+ comes with Intel's new 11th-generation processors, and that means that it comes with Iris Xe graphics. It's actually pretty phenomenal. With 10th-gen, Intel finally started to get serious about its integrated graphics with Iris Plus, and then it doubled down with Iris Xe.

When you look at a tablet that's a third of an inch thick and weighs in at 1.75 pounds, you probably wouldn't expect it to pack much of a punch, and indeed, it sure didn't back in 2015. But today, I'm truly amazed when I see these PCs in tiny form factors that can do things that I'd have needed dedicated graphics for just a couple of years ago. Intel wasn't lying when it said that you can do FHD gaming on Iris Xe.

Intel's naming is a bit different than it was with Ice Lake though. The G number is for graphics power, but it meant something different. With 10th-gen and Iris Plus, G7 meant it has Iris Plus with 64 execution units (EUs), G4 meant it had 48 EUs, and G1 meant it had UHD Graphics with 32 EUs. In other words, the Core i7-1065G7 and Core i5-1035G7 had the same graphics, which was great news for products like the Surface Laptop 3 where the only difference was CPU power.

Surface Pro 7+ with red Type Cover and red Surface Pen

With 11th-gen and Iris Xe, the Core i7-1165G7 and Core i5-1135G7 both have Iris Xe, but despite both being called 'G7', the former has 96 EUs while the latter has 80 EUs. It's just something to be aware of when choosing between the two options.

Battery life isn't particularly impressive, which isn't surprising for a Surface like this. I found that it gets around five hours of real-world use, and that really just includes working through the browser while having various apps open like Slack, Skype, and OneNote. This was with the brightness around 30% and the power slider at one notch above battery saver. You might be able to stretch it to six hours, but anything beyond that, you'll have to be doing something that really doesn't use much battery like local video playback.

But let's talk about cellular connectivity, which is awesome. The nice thing is that if you pull this thing out of your bag and fire it up, it's connected to the internet right away. You don't have to worry about handing over your email address to use the Wi-Fi in Starbucks and ending up on their mailing list, and you don't have to hunt down the Wi-Fi password in the airport lounge. You're just connected, and it's a delightful feature.

It's also a security feature. You don't have to worry about connecting to public Wi-Fi networks that are often insecure; moreover, you don't have to worry about your employees doing it.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, PCMark 10, Geekbench, and Cinebench.

Surface Pro 7+
Core i5-1135G7
Surface Pro 7
Core i5-1035G4
Razer Book 13
Core i7-1165G7
PCMark 8: Home 3,521 3,376 4,370
PCMark 8: Creative 4,192 3,749 4,796
PCMark 8: Work 3,403 3,339 4,047
PCMark 10 3,963 4,030 4,897
Geekbench 5 1,358 / 5,246 1,425 / 4,143
Cinebench 1,235 / 2,854 1,426 / 3,837


As you can see, there are some big improvements coming from the Core i5 in the Pro 7 to the one in the Pro 7+. Honestly, it doesn't make sense to me that consumers still have to get the Ice Lake processor if they want a Surface Pro.

Conclusion

One of my biggest issues with the Surface Pro is that it still hangs onto all of that legacy stuff. It's still got the massive bezels, and it still has the Surface Connect port instead of going all-in on USB Type-C. But of course, these things are exactly what businesses want. They want the old chargers they have lying around to work in the new model, and they want their Type Covers to work so they don't have to buy new ones. It all makes sense for a business audience.

Front view of the Surface Pro 7+ with red keyboard and red pen

Of course, there's no excuse for not having Thunderbolt 4, something that you'll find in any other premium portable PC. If you wanted to connect dual 4K displays to this, you'd probably have to use the USB Type-C port for one and the Surface Connect port with a dock for the other. And just imagine being able to connect an external GPU; after taking this to work, you'd be able to bring it home and with a single cable, connect it to a ton of power that turns it into a gaming rig.

But at least you do get Iris Xe graphics with this, which is quite nice. Indeed, the boost in power from the previous generation is pretty awesome. Intel is seeing some competition these days, and it's absolutely leading to us getting better products.

I also love cellular connectivity, as it's one of my favorite features in any device. Frankly, in 2021, I just think all things should be able to connect to the internet at all times. Removable storage is excellent too, as it's yet another security feature for businesses.

If you want to check it out, you can find it on Microsoft.com here.

 

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