Surface Pro 11 review: Microsoft’s big Arm leap almost pays off

<span>Top-end tablet’s new OLED screen is stunning, but comes at a very high cost.</span><span>Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian</span>
Top-end tablet’s new OLED screen is stunning, but comes at a very high cost.Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Microsoft’s latest Surface tablet promises to be a generational upgrade that goes beyond just being faster, quieter and more efficient – all down to a change in the type of processor at its heart.

The Surface Pro 11 is not the first Microsoft machine to swap traditional Intel or AMD PC processors for Arm-based chips, similar to those in your smartphone or Apple’s recent Macs and iPads. But it is by far the most successful, leaving even recent editions such as the 2020 Surface Pro X and last year’s Surface Pro 9 5G in the dust.

At the centre of the change is a set of dramatically improved Qualcomm Snapdragon X chips powering a new line of “Copilot+ PCs” from a swath of different manufacturers, of which the Surface Pro 11 is one of Microsoft’s. But their switch to Arm chips brings with it compromises on software and accessories that could be deal breakers for some.

Beyond the new chips Microsoft has stuck with the winning formula of its predecessors including an excellent built-in kickstand, a quality aluminium frame, great speakers and fast Windows Hello face recognition. The new 13in OLED screen on the high-end model is the star of the show – one of the best on a PC or laptop, which makes watching HDR movies a treat.

But it is not, and never has been, a cheap PC. The new model starts at £1,049 (€1,199/$999/A$1,899) with an LCD screen and Snapdragon X Plus chip, but that does not include a keyboard, the cheapest of which costs £140 (€160/$140/A$240). The higher-end tablet with new OLED screen and faster Snapdragon X Elite chip – as tested – costs from £1,549 (€1,799/$1,499/A$2,699), making it a pricey proposition.

Without a keyboard the Surface Pro works OK as a tablet, but it isn’t as touch-friendly or good for media consumption as an iPad. In reality, the detachable keyboard is essential to get the most out of the Surface as a laptop. Microsoft has a few options to choose from, including a new top-of-the-line £339 (€410/$350/A$600) Flex keyboard. It has new and improved haptic trackpad similar to high-end laptops and, unlike the cheaper options, it can be used detached from the tablet via Bluetooth for greater flexibility. The Flex is great, but £340 is a lot for a keyboard.


  • Screen: 13in LCD or OLED 2880x1920 (267 PPI) 120Hz

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon X Plus or X Elite

  • RAM: 16 or 32GB

  • Storage: 256, 512GB or 1TB

  • Graphics: Qualcomm Adreno

  • Operating system: Windows 11 Home

  • Camera: 10.5MP rear, 12.2MP front-facing, Windows Hello

  • Connectivity: Wifi 7, Bluetooth 5.4, 2x USB-4, Surface Connect

  • Dimensions: 287 x 209 x 9.3 mm

  • Weight: 895g (without keyboard)

Snapdragon power

The switch to the Arm-based Snapdragon X Elite has two big benefits over the x86-based Intel chips from predecessors: efficiency and performance.

Tests put its performance around a similar level to the current top-Intel laptop chips and similar to Apple’s M3 in the MacBook Air, which is a massive leap over previous Arm chips in Surface devices.

For the most part the Surface feels rapid and responsive in day-to-day use and the fans can be heard only when really pushed when gaming, so it is effectively silent for most of the time.

Working battery life is similar to the Intel-powered Surface Pro 9, lasting about 8 hours of working using a mix of browsing, writing and chat apps. It is solid enough for a day of work but not much more, which was a little disappointing. The battery life fares better compared with Intel versions under heavier workloads, however, so those who do lots of creative work should get longer out of it than the equivalent Intel machine.

App compatibility

There is one significant potential problem, however. While many apps have already been updated to run on Arm systems, Windows software is traditionally written for x86 PC chips. This means some apps require a translation system to run on the chip of the new Surface.

Apps that need this translation system run much slower than those that have been updated. Performance is generally acceptable for programs such as the notetaking app Evernote, which does not have an Arm-compatible version. But heavier programs such as Valve’s gaming platform Steam are noticeably slow.

There are also Windows apps and games that simply refuse to run. If you don’t need them, it won’t be a problem, but the big sticking point for me is that Google Drive’s desktop software will not run on the Surface Pro 11 at all. To resolve this problem, Google will need to update its software for Windows on Arm, or I will need to change my file syncing service.

Outside those who rely on older software, most will find most apps work smoothly on Arm. Of the 14 non-Microsoft apps I regularly use only five did not have Arm versions and only Google Drive refused to actually run. The same can be said for using accessories such as printers with most things connecting and working with built-in drivers in Windows. But those devices that need special drivers to be installed likely won’t work unless the manufacturer has written Arm-compatible versions.

AI tools

The Surface Pro 11 also has a handful of Microsoft’s new AI tools that are exclusive to Copilot+ PCs. It has instant access to Microsoft’s AI chatbot Copilot, but the bot is confined to a web app so basically gives you the same experience you would get by using it in the browser on any system. It also lacks the controversial “Recall” feature that has been delayed pending privacy concerns.

The live captions system works like it does on most smartphones for videos and calls, with automatic translation if needed, though the accuracy of the captions is variable. The webcam also has new effects that can be applied for video calls. The automatic panning and scanning feature works well, but the portrait lighting and blur are not the best, and most video call services have something similar baked in already, making them less than revolutionary.

More interesting is the Cocreator system in Paint, which jazzes up your drawing with a text prompt to give it a bit of direction, such as a theme or description of the object you’re trying to draw. A slider allows you to manually adjust how much creative licence the AI is allowed. With a bit of practice you can turn a crude outline of something into a fully formed art piece. The AI works locally, making it very fast, but it requires an internet connection to operate because it checks against a list of banned subjects in an attempt to prevent abuse.


The tablet is generally repairable, with a service guide available and a removable SSD. The out-of-warranty service fee for battery replacement is £467.10 and screen is £622.80 when repaired by Microsoft. The tablet was awarded an eight out of 10 for repairability by the specialists iFixit.

The tablet contains 72% recycled material including aluminium and rare earth metals. Microsoft operates recycling schemes for old machines. It also publishes a company-wide sustainability report and a breakdown of each product’s environmental impact.


The Microsoft Surface Pro 11 starts at £1,049 (€1,199/$999/A$1,899) with a Snapdragon X Plus and LCD screen. The Snapdragon X Elite version with OLED screen costs from £1,549 (€1,799/$1,499/A$2,699).

Keyboard options start at £139.99 (€159.99/$139.99/A$239.95) stretching to £339 (€409.99/$349.99/A$599.95) for the new Flex keyboard.


The Surface Pro 11 sets a new standard for an Arm-based Windows tablets. It is thin, light, quiet and very powerful. But how great it is rests entirely on which apps you use.

If all the software and accessories you need are already updated to run on the new Snapdragon X chip, then you will have an excellent experience. But if that one program or device you rely on is only compatible with traditional x86 Intel or AMD systems, then your road may be rocky or entirely blocked.

The performance may be excellent, but the promised battery life gains have not materialised. The Surface may last an eight-hour work day, but that is disappointingly similar to its Intel predecessors and cannot match the best that last double that.

The new OLED screen is excellent in the high-end model, as is the new Flex keyboard. But the price to get them is very high indeed. You can get a lot of PC or Mac elsewhere for the best part of £1,900.

I’m not fully convinced that Arm chips are the future for all Windows PCs, but for thin and light devices the benefits are very clear. The AI part of Microsoft’s Copilot+ PC initiative doesn’t live up to the hype, however, and is not a reason to buy one over an Intel or AMD machine for now.

Pros: fantastic 120Hz OLED screen, excellent performance, cool running, USB4, excellent kickstand, Windows Hello, great speakers, good camera, solid build, removable SSD, easier to repair.

Cons: extremely expensive with no included keyboard, app and accessory compatibility issues remain for the Arm chip, no USB-A port, no microSD card slot, no headphone jack, AI features disappointing.