Best Microsoft Surface Tablets

Updated December 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

7 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
100 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Microsoft Surface tablets

Last Updated December 2019
By Jaime Vazquez

Microsoft’s Surface tablets are one of the best-kept secrets in the gadget industry. While most people have only had eyes for the iPad, Microsoft has quietly designed a tablet that’s just as thin and light but even more powerful. Surface tablets run full-fledged versions of Windows 10, and with the right specs can be the perfect computer for any job – even high-intensity tasks like video editing are a snap on a Surface.

As with all good tablet brands, there are lots of different kinds of Surface tablets available, each designed to suit specific types of users. That’s good news and bad news: it means that there’s definitely a Surface tablet that’s perfect for you, but it also means you’ll have to sort through the details to find the right combination of features. But that’s what you have us for, so read on for everything you need to know to find your ideal Microsoft Surface tablet, and check out our favorites when you’re done.

About the author

Jaime Vazquez has been writing about technology and geeking out with gadgets since 2000. He loves trying the latest electronics so that his readers don't have to, and using his inner cheapskate to find the best bargains.


Jaime Vazquez  |  Writer
The entire Surface family of devices was practically tailor-made for Microsoft Office products, with just one catch: none of it is included by default. If you regularly use Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, you’ll need to purchase the software separately.

Key considerations

Finding the right Surface tablet is largely about understanding how you’ll use it. Before you start shopping, answer these key questions.

Will you use your Surface tablet in places without WiFi?

To connect to the internet, Surface tablets use WiFi, and in some cases, LTE. If you’re planning on using your Surface tablet only in settings with WiFi, you’ll be fine – all Surface tablets support WiFi.

If you need web access when you’re away from WiFi, things get a little more complicated. You’ll need a Surface tablet that supports LTE from a wireless carrier, and you’ll need a corresponding subscriber data plan. (And if LTE is critical to you, note that the Surface Pro 5 was the last generation to support LTE. Starting with the Surface Pro 6, LTE is no longer an available option.)

Do you need a Surface tablet for personal use or for work?

If you’re looking for a Surface tablet for basic everyday activities like streaming video, browsing the web, or playing mobile games, you can go for one of the more modestly equipped models (such as those with Intel M or Intel Gold CPUs). If you need a proper machine for work and you want some real horsepower, get a Surface Pro with an i5 or i7 Intel processor.

Will you focus on one task at a time or have multiple tasks running at once?

Random-access memory, better known as RAM, is the memory that computers use to manage multiple tasks simultaneously. Skimp on RAM and you’re likely to find your tablet impossibly slow when multiple applications are running, so buy a Surface tablet with as much RAM as you can afford. We recommend a minimum of 8GB of RAM, but if you have especially high needs, 16GB will be more appropriate.

DID YOU KNOW?

Microsoft has brick-and-mortar stores across the country, so if you ever have a problem with your Surface tablet, help is never far away.

TESTING MICROSOFT SURFACE TABLETS

We spent 6 hours researching 7 different models of Microsoft Surface tablets then worked with experts to pick our top five choices.

The Microsoft Surface family

One of the most confusing things about the Surface brand is that it’s found on several different devices, and they all turn up in one another’s search results, which can make them hard to tell apart. Here’s a rundown of every machine in the Surface line and what they’re each for.

Surface and Surface Pro tablets: These are the brand’s flagship models. Surface tablets were among the first to put laptop-worthy internals in a tablet form factor, and they’re perfect for both business and leisure. If you want a powerful computer that’s slightly more tablet than it is laptop, get a Surface or a Surface Pro.

Surface Go: This is a smaller version of the Surface that includes LTE connectivity. Older generations of the regular Surface tablet had optional LTE access, but with the release of the Surface Pro 6, Microsoft began limiting LTE access to the Surface Go only. The Surface Go fits in any bag, it’s affordable, and perhaps best of all, it’s the only Surface with a USB 3.1 (aka USB-C) port.

Surface Laptop: This is exactly what it sounds like: a Microsoft Surface with a permanently attached keyboard. Surface Laptops are even more powerful than Surface tablets, and a lot more expensive to boot. If you’re a professional who needs a laptop with sheer power – and you don’t need the form factor of a Surface tablet – the Surface Laptop may be your best option.

Surface Book: This is a slightly bigger and bulkier version of the Surface Laptop. While it doesn’t have the sleek good looks of the Surface Laptop, it’s got the best display in the family – the 15-inch version is big, beautiful, and sports a resolution of 3240 x 2160. If you want a portable Surface with a brilliant picture, get a Surface Book.

Surface Studio: This is a full-fledged desktop computer, albeit one with a giant 28-inch touchscreen. You read that right: while it may look like an iMac, the Surface Studio’s supersized touch interface makes it a truly unique device, and one that’s especially popular with videographers (and, incidentally, kids). If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind desktop computer, consider the Surface Studio.

Versatile power

The Surface Pro 6 is the most powerful Surface tablet there is, which is really saying something, given how impressive the entire product line is. We love the i7 CPU under the hood, especially for intense tasks and even gaming, but the real killer feature here is the all-day battery life. The Surface Pro 6 is as expensive as a laptop but given that it delivers laptop functionality in a tablet form factor, it’s a steal.

EXPERT TIP

If you’re certain you’ll be buying a mouse and keyboard to use with your Surface tablet, keep your eyes open for bundles. Sometimes Surface tablets show up as part of product bundles that include accessories at a discount.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Get a Microsoft mouse and keyboard. If you plan to use your Surface with an external mouse and keyboard, consider buying the matching models made by Microsoft. While Surface tablets work with any Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, the Surface Mouse and the Surface Keyboard come in matching colors and are built with the same “less is more” design aesthetic. If you’re a fan of funky form factors, try Microsoft’s odd-looking but extremely ergonomic Surface Arc Mouse.
     
  • Get a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter. Do this if you’re planning on connecting your Surface to a projector or TV. Surface tablets can easily connect to a monitor, projector, or TV, but you’ll need the right adapter. Surface tablets don’t have the standard HDMI ports that most other devices use; instead, they use Mini DisplayPort connections, so your best bet for video connectivity is to pick up a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter.
     
  • Get a Surface Pen. Do this if you’re planning on using your Surface tablet for sketching or writing by hand. It’s designed specifically for Surface tablets, and it includes more than 4,000 pressure points so it can capture every pen stroke perfectly. The Surface Pen is a lot more than just a stylus, so it’s priced accordingly. In this case, you get what you pay for.

Before you buy your Surface tablet, set up a free Microsoft.com account for logging in. By signing in this way, you can take advantage of security features, such as getting help if you get locked out or enabling two-factor authentication for added protection.

All-day performance

The Surface Pro 5 is one of our favorites because it’s still an incredible piece of hardware, despite being from a prior generation. At 1.69 pounds, t’s just as thin and light as its brethren, and the included 8GB of RAM is perfect for keeping everything running fast. If you need a middle ground between the latest hardware and the latest discounts, take a long look at the Surface Pro 5.

Other products we considered

The Surface Go is one of the most fun products in the Surface brand. Rather than trying to emulate its more powerful, pricier counterparts, the Surface Go focuses on portability and affordability. With a 10.0-inch screen and an LTE radio for wireless web access anywhere, the Surface Go is really going places. Just be forewarned that you’ll need to sign up for a contract with a wireless provider if you want to take advantage of the Surface Go’s LTE access. And the Surface Pro 4 is still quite a beast despite being a few generations old. It’s got everything we love about Surface tablets: the impossibly thin form factor, the powerful CPU, and the gorgeous 12.3-inch screen. If you’re itching to buy a Surface tablet but want to save a couple of bucks, or if you just need a Surface tablet for everyday use, you can’t go wrong with the Surface Pro 4.

When comparing different Surface tablets, you’ll see the CPU and the amount of included RAM change between generations. Less well known is just how much the battery has improved. The battery on the Surface Pro 5 and Surface Pro 6 lasts significantly longer than prior iterations.

FAQ

Q. Do Surface tablets have headphone jacks?
A.
Yes – for now. Although Apple was the first major tech company to offer a mobile device without a headphone jack, others have been following suit in forcing consumers to use Bluetooth headphones. As of this writing, every Surface tablet model available has a standard 3.5mm headphone port, but that’s likely to disappear in future iterations.

Q. Why are there no LTE options on the Surface Pro 6?
A. 
When Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 6, it was the first Surface tablet to not have the option to include an LTE radio. This was primarily because they launched the Surface Go, a smaller, more portable version of the Surface Pro, which does feature an LTE radio for getting wireless internet. If LTE access on your Surface is critical to you, you’ll either need to get an older generation or consider the Surface Go.

Q. Which version of Windows is better: Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro?
​​​​​​​A.
There are only a few differences between Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. Windows 10 Pro includes everything found in Windows 10 Home and adds a few key features for more technical users, such as Remote Desktop, Group Policy Management, and Device Encryption. If you’re a casual Windows user, Windows 10 Home is perfectly fine, but if you’re a network administrator or you do some intense networking at home, you may want to opt for the Pro version.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Jaime
    Jaime
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
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