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Hands-on With the New Microsoft Surface Pro 9: New Colors, New Processors, 5G Option

For the 10th anniversary of the Surface line, Microsoft's added a few new tweaks, colors and connectivity options.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Liberty Edition poised with matching keyboard on a light table surrounded by a complementary backdrop and fake flowers.
Microsoft gets a little flowery with its Surface 9 Pro partnership with Liberty.
Lori Grunin/CNET

Just as October 2021 brought us the Surface Pro 8, now October 2022 brings us the Surface Pro 9. As part of Microsoft's new Surface lineup, unveiled Oct. 12 in a livestream, the new Surface Pro 9 joins the updated Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Studio 2 Plus desktop. 

For most of its decade-long lifespan, the Surface Pro has maintained a consistent look and feel, with only small tweaks to design, functionality and features. The Surface Pro keep doesn't break that chain, instead adding new CPU options and new colors to what I'd call a mature product. 

The biggest overall change is that the Intel-powered Surface Pro and the ARM-powered Surface Pro X are combining into a single product line. The Pro X was a spin-off that looked and felt a lot like the regular Surface Pro, but with a slimmer body and a custom chip called the SQ, which was a collaboration between Microsoft and Qualcomm. Basically it was a slightly custom Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, similar to what you'd find in a phone, and the Pro X was built for mobile broadband use. 

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The first two Surface Pro X generations used chips called the SQ 1 and SQ 2, respectively. Now, the ARM-based version of the new Surface Pro 9 uses a chip called -- you guessed it -- the SQ 3. While the Surface Pro X line was built around always-on connectivity, it was still operating on 4G networks. The new version, called Surface Pro 9 with 5G, finally adds 5G support. 

A closeup of the flower-etched kickstand on the Liberty model of the Surface Pro 9.

The flowery Liberty model has matching etching on the kickstand

Lori Grunin/CNET

The Intel version of the Surface Pro is Wi-Fi only, but adds new 12th-gen Intel processors for better performance. The range of available colors has changed, and now includes Platinum, Graphite, Sapphire and Forest. There's also a limited-edition Liberty blue floral pattern option for both the tablet and the keyboard cover. 

My favorite part of the Surface Pro line has always been its best-in-class clip-on keyboard. The latest version is available in the same new colors, and Microsoft says it's made with "partially biobased Alcantara material containing at least 12% renewable content that is derived from sugarcane waste." Alcantara, which has shown up on many Surface products, is a rugged but soft-touch material similar to suede-like surfaces found in some boats and cars.  

The keyboard-slash-cover of the Surfaced Pro 9 closed showing the Liberty Edition design.

The keyboard-slash-cover of the Liberty Edition also costs extra, and bundles a Slim Pen 2 with it -- $300. It's Alcantara, naturally.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Now that the Surface Pro line has split into two distinct versions (Intel and SQ 3), you'll have to peruse the specs carefully to see which model will work for you. The specs for both, as well as for last year's Surface Pro 8 for comparison, are as follows: 

Surface Pro 8 vs. Surface Pro 9/Pro 9 5G

Surface Pro 8 Surface Pro 9 Surface Pro 9 with 5G
13-inch PixelSense display, 2,880 X 1,920 13-inch PixelSense display, 2,880 X 1,920 13-inch PixelSense display, 2,880 X 1,920
Refresh rate up to 120Hz, Dolby Vision support Refresh rate up to 120Hz, Auto Color Management and Dolby Vision IQ support Refresh rate up to 120Hz
11th-gen Intel Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1185G7 processor 12th-gen Intel Core i5-1235U or Core i7-1255U processor Microsoft SQ 3 processor Neural Processing Unit (NPU)
Intel Iris Xe graphics Intel Iris Xe graphics Microsoft SQ 3 Adreno 8CX Gen 3
8GB, 16GB, 32GB (LPDDR4x RAM) 8GB, 16GB, 32GB (LPDDR5 RAM) 8GB, 16GB (LPDDR4x RAM)
SSD options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
TPM 2.0 chip with BitLocker support TPM 2.0 chip with BitLocker support Enhanced security with Microsoft Pluton
Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.1 Wi-Fi 6E: 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.1 Wi-Fi 6E: 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.1, NanoSIM and eSIM11 support, supports 5G (mmWave or Sub-6, depending on market)
Up to 16 hours of battery life Up to 15.5 hours of battery life Up to 19 hours of battery life
1,080-pixel resolution front camera with Windows Hello face authentication, 10MP rear camera for 4K video 1,080-pixel resolution front camera with Windows Hello face authentication, 10MP rear camera for 4K video 1,080-pixel resolution front camera with Windows Hello face authentication and Windows Studio Effects, 10MP rear camera for 4K video
2 x USB-C (USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4), 3.5mm headphone jack, 1 x Surface Connect port 2 x USB-C (USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4),1 x Surface Connect port 2 x USB-C (USB 3.2); 1 x nano SIM, 1 x Surface Connect port

The main upgrades are to the CPU in both models. The Surface has also lost its 3.5mm headphone jack (the Surface Pro X didn't have one, but the Intel Surfaces did). 

Apart from the limited edition version and the new green/sapphire colors, plus the evaporated headphone jack, this Surface Pro looks and feels like its predecessor. I spent a little time typing on one at a Microsoft demo event, using the Slim Pen 2 stylus and even doing a little cloud-based gaming. I also got to try some of the Studio Effects camera tricks, only available in the 5G version. Better background blurring and the follow-along camera (like Apple's Center Stage) worked well. The eyeball-positioning feature to make it look like you're always staring directly at your webcam didn't seem to do much. 

The new Surface Pro 9 ships on October 25 with prices starting at $1,000 for the 13-inch Intel model and $1,400 for the 5G model.  Keyboard and Slim Pen 2 remain extra cost.