You can now put 5 years worth of Surface Pro devices side by side, and it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 7 Plus retains the same familiar design, so it can satisfy business customers looking to standardize their hardware for years at a time. This may be good news for business customers, but for the rest of us wanting a thinner display bezel and a more modern design like the Surface Pro X, the wait continues.
It’s no surprise that Microsoft is limiting sales of Surface Pro 7 Plus exclusively to businesses and schools. Consumers can’t buy this in stores, it’s really for businesses and schools looking to upgrade their old computers.
Although we have lamented the Surface Pro’s current design for years now, there are a few changes inside the Surface Pro 7 Plus that will appeal to many. Microsoft now offers built-in LTE on select models, and SSDs are now removable, just like Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Pro X. Intel’s latest processors promise better performance and battery life. It’s pretty much everything you want on a Surface tablet in 2021, but we still want it to look like a Surface Pro X with an Intel chip built in.
The Surface Pro 7 Plus starts at $899.99 and is a $150 premium off the Surface Pro 7 price. Fortunately, the base model is the Intel Core i3 version with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Microsoft has removed the 4GB RAM option for the Plus model. I tested the Core i5 model with 16GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and built-in LTE connectivity, which costs $1,649.99 before adding a keyboard or stylus. The cheapest option for LTE is the $1,149.99 model with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. Microsoft offers all 11 models with a classic silver option, but oddly enough, the black version isn’t available on the built-in LTE. You need a separate Surface Type Cover, and the business version costs $159.99.
Overall, the hardware on the Surface Pro 7 Plus is pretty much the same as the Surface Pro 7. It has the same 12.3-inch (2736 x 1824) touchscreen with an aspect ratio of 3:2, a single USB-C port, and a regular USB. -port. Microsoft still hasn’t switched to Thunderbolt 3 or 4 here, so you won’t be able to connect this tablet to an external GPU or use the many Thunderbolt drives and docks available.
The actual changes to the Surface Pro 7 Plus can be found inside. Microsoft has moved to Intel’s latest 11th generation processors and you can choose between Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 variants. I’ve been testing the Core i5 model and it’s kept great even when using heavy apps like video or video editing software. Like other Core i5 Pro 7 models, it doesn’t have an internal fan, so it’s quiet while you’re working.
These newer processors also include Intel’s Iris Xe graphics. Turning this into a handheld gaming laptop isn’t enough, but it helps make the Surface Pro 7 Plus feel a lot faster on a variety of tasks. Lightweight photo and video editing combined with improved SSD read and write speeds are definitely faster than what I’ve been using on my regular Surface Pro 7.
The biggest new hardware addition is built-in LTE. This is the first time the Surface Pro lineup has included this feature in years, but unfortunately there is no 5G support. Microsoft is using Qualcomm’s older Snapdragon X20 LTE modem inside the Surface Pro 7 Plus. On the side of the device there is a dedicated SIM slot that usually replaces where the microSD slot is located.
The UK has been in a pandemic blockade for months, so it hasn’t ventured outside enough to push LTE connections to the limit, but in limited tests it didn’t affect battery life too much. LTE connectivity is a great option to use on devices like the Surface Pro, especially for those who work remotely in general, visit clients, or just want something to replace a really bad Wi-Fi connection.
Another important hardware change for Surface Pro 7 Plus is the removable SSD. It is actually designed for commercial users to replace defective SSDs or keep corporate data. The SSD is easily accessible from the access door on the back of the Surface Pro 7 Plus and is opened using a simple SIM tool. Microsoft’s network of resellers started selling SSD kits with 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB options, so there’s also an option to upgrade your storage space here. It’s encouraging that Microsoft has made this easy to do so IT admins can get their computers up and running much faster.
All these internal hardware changes also mean Microsoft can compress a larger battery (46.5Wh to 50.4Wh) inside the Surface Pro 7 Plus. The company now promises 15 hours of battery life compared to the 10.5 hours of the original Surface Pro 7, but we didn’t notice a significant increase in battery life during normal use.
In general, I got around 7 to 8 hours of battery life during testing, which includes a variety of apps ranging from Chrome, Discord, and Netflix to Adobe Photoshop. If you just watch the video, you’ll get closer to Microsoft’s 15-hour appointment, but in reality this is enough to handle your day-to-day work. I’m still hoping that someday the Surface Pro will work reliably for 10 hours, so I don’t have to worry about traveling without a charger.
I’m still a big fan of Surface Pro despite no design changes. Microsoft is clearly catering to a specific audience here, and the Surface Pro 7 Plus is built for business. That said, we look forward to the upcoming consumer-focused Surface Pro, which combines all the benefits of Surface Pro X with the power and performance of Intel chips.
Built-in LTE and removable SSDs are great additions to the Surface Pro lineup, but we’ve been waiting for basic features like Thunderbolt 3 support for years. LTE is a great option to use once again, but it’s odd that Microsoft doesn’t include future-ready 5G connectivity. If you’re using an older Surface Pro and want to upgrade, it may not seem like much has changed over the years, but these subtle hardware changes will make some difference.
Microsoft has completely redesigned the inside of the Surface Pro this year to include this LTE support and removable SSD. I’m just hoping that a complete redesign of the exterior is going on. It’s still a two-person product, but the Surface Pro can offer so much more.