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Microsoft has dropped the prices of its Surface Pro 7 line in recent months. The cheapest Surface Pro 7 tablet + keyboard kit is now available for just $599 (which also means prices are dropping elsewhere).
This is the latest*, greatest Surface, and with over seven iterations of the Surface 2-in-1 PC line, that means it should be a highly advanced device worth the high price. So is it worth it in 2021 for such a low price? I have been using the Surface Pro 7 i5/8GB/256GB with keyboard and Surface Pen for the past few days, and in this article I will share my thoughts about it with you.
Coincidentally, one of the first PCs I tested for UltrabookReview was the Surface 3. Its hard to believe that the Surface comes with 2GB of RAM and an Atom processor given todays technology requirements, but in 2015 that was almost enough to run most basic Windows 8.1 tasks. I ended up selling the Surface 3 mostly because of the meager 2GB of RAM, which made almost every task unnecessarily tedious, but I loved that it was so portable and light. Since then, there have been so many generations of Surface 2-in-1s that I thought it was time to revisit Microsofts Surface lineup and see how it performs.
My first impression of the Surface Pro 7 hasnt changed much. Visually, it looks very similar to all of its predecessors. Although it has a USB-C port (no, still no Thunderbolt 3 because of Microsoft) and a Windows Hello infrared camera + fingerprint scanner (on the keyboard), the edges are still the same size, making the Pro 7 look rather dated compared to the ARM-powered Surface Pro X. But inside, the Surface Pro 7 is powered by a 10th-generation Intel Ice Lake 10nm i5-1035G4 processor. It comes with a third-generation Iris Plus GPU integration, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB SSD. With these improvements, has Microsoft succeeded in creating the perfect ultraportable computing device?
Unfortunately, they have not made as much progress as I had hoped. This is not a full review, so I will try to discuss the main pros and cons in a reasonable way. On the plus side, the Surface Pro 7 has a nice QHD+ screen, is light, and typing on the keyboard is still excellent. The Windows Hello IR works very well and had no problems with my standard office workload of Vivaldi, Slack, Discord and Word. The i5 Ice Lake and 8GB of RAM are perfect for this workload. As for tablet mode, the Surface Pen is a great piece of technology that attaches magnetically to the side of the tablet and integrates very well with Microsofts Office suite. Allows you to add, draw, or otherwise trace markers on documents, adding the markers as an overlay for compatibility purposes. I havent used it, I just made notes in Word like I always do, but its cool. Finally, you can now type with your finger on the onscreen keyboard keys in Windows, which is almost as functional as typing with your thumb on your phone. Overall, the Surface Pro 7 is more usable in tablet mode than ever before (but it still lags far behind in PC mode).
So now we can talk about whats not cool. For starters, the Surface Pro 7 in sunlight, apparently :
After using the Surface Pro 7 outdoors for about 30 minutes, it started getting dirty and unresponsive. I tried closing the browser, but it didnt respond to typing, even though it kept playing music and letting me type. After about 4 minutes, it went out and gave me the above temperature warning. I felt the tablet, and it was really hot - but why? The shelf is silver, but the large front panels are black. Maybe thats why? I never had any problems with my black carbon fiber XPS 15 on the outside. Then I remembered that the Surface Pro 7 is fanless….. is. Yeah, it could work. So, okay, dont use your tablet outside in the sun, I guess.
But theres a much bigger problem with the Surface Pro 7: battery life, or lack thereof. Although I asked for advice on Reddit and set up everything I could, I could barely work with Firefox, Word, Slack and Teams for more than 4 hours. Less than half a days work. Yet Microsoft has the audacity to claim 8 to 10.5 hours on its website. But if you look closely at his claims:
1] Battery life; Surface Pro 7 : Up to 10.5 hours of battery life in normal Surface device usage. Tested by Microsoft in September 2019 with software benchmarks and Intel® Core™ i5 benchmarks, 256GB, 8GB RAM. The tests consisted of a full battery discharge with a mixture of active use and modern standby mode.
Up to 10.5 hours with a mix of active use and modern standby mode. Maybe Microsoft will let the device be in standby for 5.5 hours and then in active mode for another 5 hours? Very bold, boys. Unfortunately, this is not a new problem for the Surface Pro line. Web searches of the Surface Pro 7s battery life show that poor battery life has been an issue for the Pro line, and the Pro 7 seems to offer worse battery life than its predecessors (anecdotally, at least). I shudder at the thought of how poorly the i7 will perform.
I tried to optimize everything I could, debating with Windows, working at a slightly lower resolution so the iGPU didnt have to work as hard, switching from Vivaldi to Firefox for mobile, and abandoning non-essential apps like Discord. I tried tinkering too, but unfortunately Intel/Microsoft took that away from us with Ice Lake on SP7. You cannot disable Modern Standby or configure additional power options from Windows Update 2004. If I let it run at full idle, I can get up to 10 hours of SoT, but once I start using it, that number keeps dropping. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not be working on this project for more than half a day.
Yes, I could carry a power brick or a smaller USB-C charger, but what good is a 2-in-1 if youre not connected? Honest marketing copy for the Surface Pro 7 should have read:
Battery life and external overheating are by far my biggest annoyances, but there are a few other annoyances I should mention for those considering trying a 2-in-1 like the Surface for the first time. Using the Surface Pro on a laptop in laptop mode has always been very uncomfortable, and that hasnt changed over time. The fact that the 2-in-1 form factor requires so much depth defines Road Warriors target audience. However, it is better than before to flip the keyboard under the surface to connect to the on-screen keyboard/touchpad, now we can swipe from one key to another instead of pecking.
Speaking of the keyboard, the fingerprint sensor is rather slow and annoying to use, and while its better than nothing, the functionality reminds me of the old scratched fingerprint sensors from 2010.
Ice Lakes performance is adequate for the basic loads that can be used, but on the rare occasions when sustained performance is required (such as when running a large number of installations), it slows down considerably.
Finally, I honestly think 12.3 inches is a little small these days. I wish someday there would be a more professional Surface Pro that brings back active cooling, gives us a 14 inch screen and has a battery life of over 8 hours. If so, I might do a different setup for the JV. For now, it will be available on eBay.
What do you think of the Surface Pro series? Do you have a Surface Pro 7 and swear by it, or have you had the same problem as me? Let us know in the comments.
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frequently asked questions
Is the Surface Pro 7 i5 fanless?
Fanless Surface Pro 7? Answer: … The Surface Pro 7 models with Intel Core i3-1005G1 and Core i5-1035G4 do not have a fan (passive cooling), while the Surface Pro 7 with Intel Core i7-1065G7 always has a fan (active cooling).
How many years will Surface Pro 7 last?
Should I buy the Surface Pro 7?
The bright screen, sumptuous performance, and excellent keyboard option make the Surface Pro 7 one of the best laptops you can buy if you want a detachable laptop. … However, if youre looking for a solid, detachable device with good performance and features, you should check out our full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 7.
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