• Portability
  • LTE connectivity
  • Battery life
  • Price


  • Random performance hiccups
  • It’s heavy like a dedicated tablet

For the past few years here on ZDNet, I’ve written about how I spend a lot of time working with my iPad Pro. It’s my ideal work machine for writing, sorting through my inbox, and jumping between Slack or Discord.

But even though the iPad has been a major part of my workflow for the past 10 years, I’m getting tired of using overpowered hardware with software that has yet to live up to its potential. And while early attempts at Stage Manager combined with an external display showed a lot of promise, Apple has since removed key features — like external monitor support — due to bugs and performance issues. I remain confused about the future of the iPad.

Earlier this year I embarked on a mission to try out various devices, mainly Windows laptops, in an attempt to find something to replace my iPad Pro. The Surface Laptop Studio it’s fast, powerful, and a joy to use, but it lacks LTE and is bulky compared to the iPad Pro. I have used a Surface Pro X off and on since launch and the form factor is perfect, but the lack of full support for Microsoft’s slow transition to ARM from third-party apps results in poor performance.

As part of my journey I tested a Surface Pro 8 with LTE. While you won’t find it listed on the main Microsoft Surface Store, the company does make an LTE version of the Surface Pro 8. To find it, though, you’ll have to look at the business version of the Microsoft Store. In fact, it’s even called the Surface Pro 8 for business. You can order the business model from one of the retailers listed by Microsoft this pageinclusive Verizon Wirelessor directly from Microsoft Business.

A new look surface…sort of


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

When Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 8 in September 2021, it unveiled a completely new design for the Surface Pro range. Well, it wasn’t exactly new; it’s actually the same overall design of the Surface Pro X. Putting the Pro X next to the Pro 8, the only noticeable difference is that the Pro 8 is thicker than the Pro X. Otherwise, they look identical.

The Pro 8’s PixelSense display has up to a 120Hz refresh rate, is responsive to touch, and can be used with the Surface Pen.

The built-in stand has the traditional Surface-like ability to change the viewing angle of the Pro 8’s display, including placing it almost flat on a table – a position that’s perfect for drawing or writing with Slim pen 2.

On the right side of the Pro 8’s case is a Surface Connect port and two Thunderbolt 4 ports for connecting external displays, hard drives or using any USB-C accessory. Just above the Pro 8’s only two ports is the power button. On the left side of the case there is a 3.5mm headphone jack and volume up/down buttons.

Above the display you’ll find a 5-megapixel camera along with all the facial recognition hardware needed to use Windows Hello to unlock the Pro 8 or sign into apps.


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

When you open the stand, you’ll find a small hole in the lower left corner of the Pro 8’s case. You’ll need to use a SIM card tool or a paper clip to press into the small opening to remove the cover. Below that is the Pro 8’s SSD – which you can swap out and replace yourself – along with the SIM card slot.

You don’t need to use a physical SIM card thanks to the Pro 8’s eSIM support, but since I frequently switch between the Pro X and iPad Pro, I already had a dedicated SIM card with a data-only plan attached to it.

Also: eSIM vs SIM: What’s the difference?

Included in the box is the Pro 8 and a charger that uses the Surface Connect port. If you don’t feel like carrying the included charger, you can use the USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 port to charge the tablet.

What you won’t find in the box is any kind of stylus or keyboard. Instead, you’ll need to purchase them separately. If you’re a longtime Surface user, I have some bad news: previous Surface keyboards won’t work on the Pro 8.

You have three different options to equip your new tablet with a keyboard, turning it into a 2-in-1. You can take $179 Surface Pro Signature Keyboardon $199 Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with Fingerprint Reader (currently on sale for $169), or get the $279 combo set at a Signed Surface Pro Keyboard with Slim Pen 2.

I already had the combo set, so that’s what I used during my testing.

No matter which keyboard you choose, they all have a Surface Slim Pen 2 slot above the keyboard. When folded, the pen rests on the bottom panel of the Pro 8. Wirelessly charges the pen so it’s always ready to use.

Overall, I like the design of the Pro 8. I actually found myself using it as a tablet more than the iPad Pro, simply because the kickstand is built into the case. There is no other cover or case that I have to manage. It’s fantastic.

But can it replace the iPad Pro?


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Inside the Surface Pro 8 I tested is an 11th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. It ran Windows 11 Pro out of the box.

LTE options range in price from $1,349 for an Intel Core i5, 8GB of memory, and 128GB of storage to the build I tested, which normally sells for $1,849 but is currently on sale for $1,599. Again, these prices do not include a keyboard.

Other specs include Wi-Fi 6 support, Bluetooth 5.1 and up to 14 hours of battery life, down from 16 hours for the Wi-Fi-only model.

One of the first things I did after setting up the Pro 8 was to enable the 120Hz refresh rate, up from the standard 60Hz. I was able to notice a difference while scrolling or playing casual games, but overall I’m not sure it’s completely necessary on the Pro 8. Yes, it helps, but it also comes at a cost to battery life.

I still haven’t come close to the 14 hour estimate, even when using the Pro 8 on Wi-Fi only. However, the Pro 8’s battery lasted as long as my iPad Pro’s battery, which is typically an 8-hour day, plus or minus an hour.

One thing that surprised me after using the Pro X and iPad Pro and switching to the Pro 8 is the fact that the Pro 8 still has a fan in it. I guess the Pro 8 is much thicker than the Pro X to have room for a cooling system. The fan is not very loud, but it works a lot, especially when I have the Pro 8 connected to an external monitor.


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Speaking of which, I had the Pro 8 connected to a monitor for most of my testing. Thanks to the addition of Thunderbolt 4 support, I was able to use every Thunderbolt 4 port I had on hand – including Belkin’s Pro Thunderbolt 4 Dockwhich has enough ports for my use.

Being able to connect a tablet to an external display and have it actually work properly is a huge boost to my productivity. I was able to open apps like Slack and iCloud email on the Pro 8’s screen while writing in iA Writer on the larger external monitor with multiple Edge tabs open.

When I work on my iPad Pro connected to a monitor, everything on the iPad screen is mirrored on the larger display. There are some apps that use Apple’s rudimentary API for external displays, but it’s not great.

Also, I have a lot of workarounds for doing certain tasks on the iPad. For example, to post content to ZDNet, I often have to remotely access my MacBook Pro and use Chrome to add images to a story, otherwise the content management system throws errors. Honestly, this is a Safari issue that exists on the Mac as well. However, I can use the real version of Chrome on the Mac, not a skinned version of the WebKit rendering engine that Apple forces developers to use on the iPhone and iPad. This means that Edge, Chrome, Brave and the like are essentially just skinned versions of Safari.

I understand that the Pro 8 runs a full Windows 11 operating system while the iPad Pro runs a mobile operating system in iPadOS, but the devices are relatively the same size and target the same type of users. Even the prices are close enough that the comparison is justified.

The total price of the Surface Pro 8 with LTE along with the Signature Slim Pen Keyboard Cover is $2,128. iPad Pro with 5G, 16 GB of memory, 1 TB of storage, Apple Magic Keyboard with trackpad and Apple Pencil costs $2,449.

There are still many things the iPad Pro does better


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

I admit that up until this point I’ve been writing something of a love letter to the Surface Pro 8. But that’s because it really deserves it. It’s a fantastic 2-in-1 that I really enjoy using, but there are some areas where the iPad Pro is just a better device for me.

I prefer to use Apple’s Mail app along with my personal iCloud+ domain as opposed to Thunderbird or the iCloud website to access my email. Me too love typing on the iPad because there are far fewer distractions with one app open and visible. I need to experiment more with using Windows apps in full screen and focus assist to recreate a similar Windows experience. It’s also a better tablet thanks to an interface that’s designed for touch first.

Another thing I like about my iPad Pro is that its performance is reliable and consistent. When using the Pro 8 with multiple apps open, there will be a slight lag or pause before an app appears after it has sometimes been minimized. It was not specific to any application; I often experienced it with Thunderbird, Discord and Slack.

Bottom row

After the Surface Pro 8 sat on the shelf for a few months, I went back to using it as my primary device. Again, I enjoy using multiple windows for multitasking without having to worry about additional workarounds and still have complete and utter portability.

So, iPad or Surface Pro 8? With so much uncertainty about the future of iPadOS, I’m not as confident as I once was about the future of Apple’s high-end tablets. However, Apple continues to make the best tablet-specific devices you can buy.

If you’re wondering whether to go for the Surface Pro 8 or the iPad Pro, I’ll say this: you can’t go wrong with either device, as long as you know what you’re getting into. The iPad Pro can do a lot of things, but only a few things really well. That being said, the Surface Pro 8 can do a lot of things really well, but it also has its fair share of hiccups and issues.

At the end of the day, though, you get a full PC in the Surface Pro 8, and currently 80% of one in the iPad Pro.

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