Editors’ Choice is a column dedicated to all the gadgets, gear, and tools we love unapologetically. Every item has been used extensively by Popular Mechanics editors until it’s earned a certain amount of adoration—based on its performance, durability, value, innovation, or a combination of all those traits—that we need to share with the world.
I’ve been a big believer in Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2-in-1 from day one. Just straight off the pitch, they sound like a “no brainer” gadget.
You want a laptop? You want a tablet? Why not put both in one?
Genius! But what’s often a compelling pitch doesn’t always deliver in real life. So I’ve watched steadily as Microsoft worked out the kinks in its most ambitious device. In 2014, it dropped the 16:9 aspect ratio, in 2015 it expanded things with the Surface Book, and in 2017 introduced the more traditional Surface Laptop.
All along, the Surface Pro steadily improved in relative silence until we reached the Surface Pro 7—the best 2-in-1 I’ve ever used.
That might be a weird accolade. After all, how many 2-in-1s does someone use in a single lifetime? Well, turns out a lot. Before hopping over to Popular Mechanics, I spent my days at a gadget blog named Gizmodo where I tested all sorts of stuff, but one of my last assignments was deciphering the dizzying world of 2-in-1s. I had my hands on machines from every conceivable 2-in-1 combo you could imagine.
But some things remain the same. Back then the Surface Pro 4 was the best 2-in-1 for the money, and in 2019 its descendent, the Surface Pro 7, remains the champion. But what’s different this time around is that the Pro 7 feels like Microsoft finally delivered on the promise of the Surface Pro. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion they know they nailed it this time around, which means it’s time to build the Next Big Thing like the Surface Neo and Surface Duo.
With such ambitious tech slated for 2020, it’s uncertain whether the Surface Pro 8 will be a thing (I hope it is), but if not, at least the world got to enjoy the Surface Pro 7.
This year the Pro 7 got a more quiet launch than usual, overshadowed by the arguably more interesting Surface X, Surface Neo, and Surface Duo. It also doesn’t help that Microsoft’s stayed safely in the same design lane with the Surface Pro for the past 5 years (ever since they (thankfully) adopted the 3:2 screen ratio with the Surface Pro 3).
But this year’s Surface Pro upgrade feels like an iteration that stumbles into perfection. For one, it addresses my biggest pet peeve about the Surface Pro by introducing a USB Type-C port that graciously releases its customers from the frustrating hell of a proprietary charging port. Yes, that charing port is still there (for super fast charging) but you can now additionally charge with USB-C if your charger isn’t handy. Thank god.
Then there’s just all around good news in almost every other facet of this device: better graphics, DDR4 RAM, and an improved Intel chip—that last one is a big one. The Core i5 chip performed better than than last year’s chip plus the Core i5 is a fanless design, meaning no noise. Yes, you can upgrade to the more powerful Core i7 that has a fan, but I can’t imagine too many people needing that much power in the day-to-day.
Also the pen has always been a tough sell for me because I’m not a someone who really needs one. But with the Pro 7, I find I’m using it a lot more. Microsoft has worked hard to make the pen more and more welcome on Windows 10 and it feels more naturally than the last time I checked in with the Surface Pro family in 2016.
I’d likely still opt for the Apple Pencil if I wanted primarily a drawing device, but if you want the ultimate work machine—it’s a great tool to have lying around.
With the Surface Pro X and the Surface Neo and Duo on the horizon, the Surface Pro 7 is a bit of a tragic figure. After years of iteration and tweaking, Microsoft’s finally stumbled upon something that’s dangerously buyable.
It’s the first time I’ve felt like I wasn’t fighting the device. Instead, it was just effortlessly working with me. I’d understand if you wanted wait and see how the Surface Pro transforms in 2020 (the pen dock and slimmed bezels on the Pro X would be welcomed additions), and maybe the Neo and Duo is more your style.
But the Surface Pro has come along way to arrive at the Surface Pro 7. It deserves a moment in the sun.