Is the Microsoft Surface a tablet or a laptop? What to know

Man using Microsoft Surface

Looking for a new 2-in-1 PC or laptop? The Microsoft Surface lineup offers powerful, versatile mobile devices and notebook computers that combine the utility of a laptop with the portability of a tablet and then some, with a variety of options to choose from. Known for their responsive touchscreens and Surface Pen that goes with them, Surfaces are the best option for anyone who needs to draft documents, write articles, take notes, stream TV shows or movies, or just browse online. Which form factor you purchase will ultimately depend on your needs, but every model can do just about anything you need. 

With flexible kickstands and detachable keyboards, Surfaces also let you work comfortably at a desk or on the go. Similar to Apple's selection of iPad tablets, Microsoft's adaptable PCs are great portable tech for a wide range of users. No matter what you need, there's a Surface computer that can make your life easier. 

But you've got to know what you need and want out of a new mobile computer first. Not sure which Surface you should pick up? That's where we come in. Here's everything you need to know about the Microsoft Surface line and what each 2024 model can do. 

Microsoft Surface models

What is a Microsoft Surface?

The Microsoft Surface line is company's take on mobile computers and tablets. Just as companies like Apple offers laptops and iPads, Microsoft has developed an inventory of specialized computers, tablets, and laptops.

Surface devices are known for their high-quality build, sleek design, and versatility as well as their very responsive touchscreens. They usually run on Windows and are well-integrated with other Microsoft services and software. They're a great choice if you're already in the Microsoft ecosystem or if you're looking for devices that offer a bit more than your typical laptops or tablets.

What kinds of Microsoft Surface models are there?

The Microsoft Surface lineup features a few models, each aimed at specific users. Here's a quick rundown of the key models as of 2024:

  • Surface Pro: These are Microsoft's flagship 2-in-1 devices, merging a tablet and laptop. They have detachable keyboards and work with the Surface Pen stylus, making them great for creative types who need some power and versatility. The latest Surface Pro 9 rocks top-tier processors and great-looking high-res PixelSense displays.
  • Surface Laptop: For those who just need a straightforward laptop, the Surface Laptop line has you covered with a selection of slim and light clamshell models. For instance, the Surface Laptop 5 sports a cool aluminum body and comes loaded with speedy specs.
  • Surface Go 2 and Surface Go 3: These lightweight 10-inch devices are made for portability and affordability. Students and busy folks on the move can handle everyday tasks with the scaled-down Surface Go.
  • Surface Studio 2+: This all-in-one PC is geared toward creative work and users who demand more from their computers. It's also the priciest option right now, which makes sense -- these models are usually put to work for a variety of more demanding processes, like video editing, rendering, or other multimedia tasks. 

Whether you need a tablet, laptop, portable studio or full desktop replacement, the Surface family likely has a device that fits your lifestyle. 

What is a Surface Pen and does every Surface support it?

The Surface Pen is a stylus designed by Microsoft specifically for use with its Surface devices, like Apple's Apple Pencil. You use it with your Surface's touchscreen. It offers features like pressure sensitivity, tilt support, and buttons that can be customized for different shortcuts and functions. The Surface Pen is particularly useful for note-taking, drawing, and using your device's touchscreen without having to use your hands to do so. 

If you plan on taking handwritten notes, creating art, or doing other precise tasks like video editing, a Surface Pen can definitely be a must have. However, for general things like reading Reddit, checking your email, or watching videos, a Surface Pen isn't a necessity. 

Most of the later Surface devices support the Surface Pen, including the Surface Pro series, Surface Laptop Studio, and Surface Go series. However, the level of functionality and features supported by the Pen can vary depending on the specific model and generation of your device. It's always a good idea to check the compatibility of the Surface Pen with your specific Surface model before you lock in a purchase. 

Are Microsoft Surface devices good for gaming?

In a word, no. Microsoft Surface devices can handle some seriously demanding tasks, but they aren't targeted at gamers. Performance usually depends on the model and its hardware, though. Models with more powerful processors and dedicated graphics cards can handle a variety of games reasonably well. But they usually aren't suitable for the most demanding games, which require high-end graphics capabilities and advanced cooling systems. Those things are typically found in dedicated gaming laptops and PCs.

Yes, Surface devices do feature high-resolution displays and crystal-clear sound, but those features are more attuned for watching TV and movies or listening to music as well as productivity. While most Surface devices can handle casual gaming, they might not be the optimal choice for serious gamers looking for the highest performance possible. So if you're planning on keeping up with all the newest releases on your Steam profile, a portable gaming PC like the Valve Steam Deck or Asus ROG Ally would be a better choice.

Best Microsoft Surface models

Microsoft Surface Pro 9

Microsoft Surface Pro 9

Display Size: 13-inch touchscreen | Display Resolution: 2,880 x 1,920 pixels | Display Type: PixelSense Flow | Processor: 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U (CPU), but other options are available; Intel Iris Xe (GPU) | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB | Average Battery Life: Up to 15.5 hours | Operating System: Windows 11 | Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.2 0.037 inches | Weight: 1.94 pounds | Ports: 2x USB Type-C, Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover port | Stylus Included: Optional | Keyboard/Cover Included: Optional 

The new Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is the ultimate 2-in-1, merging a tablet and laptop into one slick package. Keeping the classic Surface design, it sports a handy kickstand and attachable keyboard for flexibility. Though it looks similar to the Surface Pro 8, inside it's rocking some solid upgrades.

Powering the Pro 9 are 12th-gen Intel processors, so it flies through tasks and crushes productivity. A 5G model with a Qualcomm chip is also available if you need connectivity on the go. So whether you just need a daily driver or heavy-duty performance, the Pro 9 has an option for you.

The 2880 x 1920 touchscreen looks crystal clear, with a 3:2 ratio that's perfect for getting everyday work done. You can equip it with a 120Hz refresh rate for buttery smooth visuals, though this impacts battery life. It packs two USB-C ports, magnetic charging, and a 1080p webcam with Windows Hello for security. One change though, from the previous model: The microSD slot got cut from the earlier options in the series, so if that's a dealbreaker, it's certainly something to consider. 

Otherwise, the Surface Pro 9 keeps the versatility and power of the lineup while amping up performance. It's built for users who need a tablet and laptop in one adaptable package, and of course it looks absolutely fantastic, too. This is definitely an attractive device. 

Microsoft Surface Go 3

Microsoft Surface Go 3

Display Size: 10.5-inch touchscreen | Display Resolution: 1,920 x 1,280 pixels | Display Type: PixelSense | Processor: Intel Pentium Gold 6500Y / Intel Core i3-10100Y | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB | Average Battery Life: Up to 11 hours | Operating System: Windows 11 Home | Dimensions: 9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches | Weight: 1.2 pounds | Ports: 1 x USB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, 1 x Surface Connect port, MicroSDXC card reader | Stylus Included: No, optional | Keyboard/Cover Included: No, optional 

The Microsoft Surface Go 3 is a great pick if you want a super portable 2-in-1 tablet on a budget. As the smallest and most affordable Surface, the 10.5-inch Go 3 is ideal for basic tasks and people who like compact gadgets. It runs on slower Intel chips, so it won't blaze through heavy-duty tasks a la the larger, pricier Surfaces. But it handles everyday jobs just fine.

With Windows 11, the Go 3's touchscreen is more enjoyable compared to the previous model, even though battery life took a bit of a hit. Where the Go 3 really shines is with the Surface Pen for taking notes and drawing. That makes it perfect for students or anyone who needs to get work done on the go. Add the Type Cover keyboard (sold separately), and it transforms into a surprisingly capable little laptop-tablet hybrid. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Display Size: 14.4-inch touchscreen | Display Resolution: 2,400 x 1,600 pixels | Display Type: PixelSense Flow | Processor: Intel Core i7-13700H | Graphics:  NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4060 (60W) or NVIDIA RTX 2000 Ada Generation | Storage: 1TB or 2TB SSD | Average Battery Life: Up to 8.5 hours | Operating System: Windows 11 Home | Dimensions: 9.84 x 13.63 x 2.4 inches | Weight: 1.2 pounds | Ports: 2 USB-C 4.0 ports with Thunderbolt 4, 1 USB-A port, headphone jack, Surface Connect for docking and charging | Stylus Included: No, optional 

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 is a powerful machine for professionals and creatives who need top-notch performance and versatility. Or anyone who's looking for a computer that can meet any of their needs. This model is a great do-it-all pick.

It packs an Intel Core i7-13700H processor on board, an upgrade from its predecessor. That means it'll crush number-crunching, data analysis, 3D modeling -- you name it. As far as GPUs go, it offers a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4060 for tackling graphics-heavy applications, which makes it a more than capable machine for gaming if you so desire -- even if that isn't what it was technically made for.

The 14.4-inch touch display is crisp and vibrant, which means it's great for visual work or just spending time browsing with its high refresh rate. And the Surface Pen experience is as responsive as ever for drawing and notes, if you happen to have purchased one separately. 

With all these features and what this Surface laptop is capable of, you've got to expect a bit of a hefty price tag, though. If that isn't an issue, you'll be pleased with everything your new device can do for you, even if you could shop around for something a bit cheaper. 

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