I didn't think I'd care much for the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 prior to its announcement. Sure, I gave the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 a positive review, but 2022's model didn't seem all that different from its predecessor. A 5G version powered by the new Microsoft SQ3 processor appeared interesting, but overall, I didn't think this new 2-in-1 would be worth getting if you already owned the latest model.
I've since changed my mind after the Microsoft Surface event, where I got to go hands-on with the Surface Pro 9. Based on Microsoft revealed and my own experience, some of the Neural Processing Unit (NPU) features seem like they could be game changers. It’s one of the reasons I’m now excited about the ARM 5G Surface Pro 9 model.
This one is a no-brainer, 5G connectivity is something that people who are always on the move will appreciate. Many places have Wi-Fi but it may not always be reliable. You could use your phone as a mobile hotspot if you need to connect online, but that’s an added step that can sometimes be frustrating.
I’ll be able to get more work done when I’m out and about with a stable 5G connection. This is especially true now that COVID restrictions have eased and I’ll likely do a lot more traveling for work and for personal enjoyment. Trying to connect my laptop to the internet while outdoors is almost always a headache. With 5G, I'll hopefully have an easier time getting work done.
Lastly, as sister site Laptop Mag notes in its best 5G laptops” piece, you’re essentially future-proofing yourself with a 5G capable laptop since 5G has the potential to last a decade. That fact certainly makes the Surface Pro 9 with 5G more appealing.
Exclusive AI-powered neural processing unit (NPU) features
We expected the Surface Pro 9 to pack a 12th gen Intel Core processor. Rumors suggested there would be an ARM version that would effectively replace the Surface Pro X line, which ran on the SQ chip developed by Microsoft and Qualcomm. This rumor turned out accurate as the 5G Surface Pro 9 does indeed run on the new Microsoft SQ3 processor. Beyond 5G, this CPU offers some AI-driven features which are exclusive to this model.
As demonstrated during the Microsoft Surface event, the SQ3’s NPU has advanced audio and video features that should make video conferencing with others a smoother experience.
For example, the Voice Focus feature will eliminate background noise when someone is speaking. We saw (or heard) how this feature can shut out loud noises such as those produced by a leaf blower. That seems like a pretty extreme example. But if Voice Focus can tune out things like barking dogs, screaming children or blaring televisions, it’ll be a success for me.
New Windows Design Camera improvements will also make conferencing with others more palatable. The feature can do standard things like blur one’s background or track a subject as they move. Thanks to the Eye Contact feature, it will appear as if you or whoever is on the call is looking at the front-facing camera. Talking with others in a video chat always feels weird since you aren’t making direct eye contact. This feature should remedy that issue.
The Intel version of the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 should be more performant than its predecessor thanks to its current-gen Alder Lake CPU. While that might be enough for that model to earn a spot in our best 2-in-1 laptops and best laptops lists, I can’t say I’m overly excited about the Intel version. Other than a new processor and some minor design tweaks, it’s not a massive update to last year’s iteration.
On the other hand, the 5G edition of the Surface Pro 9 with its Microsoft SQ3 processor could make it one of the best Windows laptops. 5G connectivity will allow me to work from almost anywhere, while the NPU-enabled features should enhance video conferencing with my team, friends and family.
Of course, I’ll have to test the 5G Surface Pro 9 myself to see how well (or not) these new features function in the real world. We expect to review the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 close to its launch on October 25. Be sure to return to Tom’s Guide for our full Surface Pro review.