With names like Surface Pro, Go, Laptop, Laptop Go, Duo, and Studio, Microsoft's Surface family of PCs, tablets, and phones isn't easy to decipher. We've tested them all to help you figure out which one to get.
Whether you need a laptop, a tablet, an all-in-one desktop, or even a smartphone, Microsoft has you covered. The company that became a household name via its Windows operating system has been selling actual hardware devices under the Surface brand for many years. The current Surface lineup includes some standout PCMag Editors’ Choice winners, as well as some niche products that most buyers won’t want to consider.
Whether you’ve owned many Surface devices in the past or you’re contemplating your first one, the current Surface lineup can be pretty confusing, since it employs a bit of its own lingo and many of the products sound similar. The word “Go,” for instance, translates to “smaller” and “less expensive” in Surface parlance, and it applies across multiple product categories. And the word “Pro” actually refers to one of the original and most mainstream of Surface devices that Microsoft pioneered more than a decade ago: Windows-powered tablets with optional detachable keyboards.
Not only are the Surface naming conventions byzantine and samey-sounding (“Pro,” “Go,” “Studio,” and “Duo,” anyone?), but the Surface family also welcomes new members on a regular basis, adding to the models worth considering. Among the newest Surface siblings are the Surface Laptop Go and the buzzworthy Surface Laptop Studio. To cut through the Surface clutter, we’ve gathered every current Surface device in one place to help you decide which, if any, is the right one for you.
Microsoft Surface Pro 8
The Surface Tablets: The Original 2-in-1 Detachables
Most people think of Windows as an operating system for laptops and desktops, but the OS is actually much more versatile. Microsoft created the Surface tablet as a showcase for how Windows can power touch-screen devices without integrated keyboards. And in many cases, it works splendidly.
That’s certainly true of the Surface tablet that will attract most mainstream buyers. Now in its eighth generation, the Surface Pro is a frequent Editors’ Choice winner that represents the best of detachable Windows tablets. Like the Apple iPad Pro, the Surface Pro 8 is a sleek 13-inch touch-screen tablet that can be used either by itself or with an optional detachable keyboard, now dubbed the Surface Signature Cover. (With earlier Surface Pros, it was called the Type Cover.) The Surface Pro’s signature physical feature is an integrated kickstand with a fully adjustable hinge. It allows you to recline the screen through 165 degrees of range, from standing at attention to nearly flat. It’s also a showcase for the new Windows 11 operating system, and works with a new, larger stylus, the Slim Pen 2.
The Surface Pro 8 is a capable device that can replace both a traditional laptop and an iPad, but you’ll pay handsomely for it—well more than $1,000 for a mid-level spec configuration and a keyboard cover. So Microsoft also offers the Surface Go family, which brings most of the Surface Pro features to a smaller, less-expensive form factor. Now in its third generation, the Surface Go 3 is one of the best budget Windows tablets available. However, its smaller screen and less-capable Intel processor mean it’s more suited to people who prioritize portability and cost savings, and it’s not a true laptop replacement.
Microsoft’s third variety of Surface tablet, the Surface Pro X, is the sleekest and most futuristic of them all. It’s essentially the same size and weight as the Surface Pro 8, but with a slightly larger (13-inch) display and a more elegant design. But we don’t recommend the Surface Pro X for two reasons: It employs a nonstandard CPU that suffers from occasional sluggishness and app compatibility issues, and it’s even more expensive than the Surface Pro 8.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go
The Surface Laptop Family: Most Powerful Surfaces
While the Surface Pro 8 can potentially do everything a laptop can, not everyone needs a laptop replacement. So a few years ago, Microsoft decided to add conventional laptops with clamshell-style hinges to the Surface family. Now in its fourth generation, the Surface Laptop 4 combines elements of the Windows tablet experience (especially the excellent touch-enabled display) and the laptop experience (expertly designed key switches that make for snappy, comfortable typing, and a wide range of processors from Intel and AMD that offer serious computing power).
The Surface Laptop 4 is available in either 13-inch or 15-inch screen sizes, and like many of the Surface tablets, it comes in multiple color options.
The Surface Laptop 4 is also rather expensive, and like the Surface Pro 8, a decent high-end configuration will be well north of $1,200. So as with the Surface Go tablet, Microsoft also takes some of the best parts of the Surface Laptop experience and distills them into a smaller, cheaper package: the Surface Laptop Go. This device has a smaller 12-inch screen and lacks powerful AMD processor options, but it also comes with a far more palatable starting price of just $549 and ideal configurations in the $800 range.
At the other end of the price spectrum, Microsoft offers the Surface Laptop Studio, a flagship Windows 11-native device aimed at creative professionals (not to be confused with the Surface Studio, which we’ll get to below). It advances the state of the art of mobile computing for creative pros in a big way, with a haptic touchpad and a 120Hz screen that pulls forward so you can lay it completely flat on top of the keyboard. It’s not particularly powerful, and it’s pricey, but it’s still impressive.
Microsoft Surface Book 3
The Surface Book: A Laptop-Tablet Hybrid
A unique member of the Surface family, the Surface Book combines serious computing power with a detachable design that defies categorization as either a laptop or a tablet. Like the Surface Laptop Studio, the Surface Book 3 is aimed at professional multimedia content creators and on-the-side gamers, with an optional powerful Nvidia graphics processor not available in any other portable Surface. It looks a lot like a Surface Laptop, and it’s designed to be used as a laptop most of the time, but it has a mechanically locking hinge that lets you separate its screen from the keyboard base.
Like the Surface Laptop 4, the Surface Book 3 comes in 13-inch and 15-inch screen sizes, kitted out with many different internal component configurations. The Surface Book 3 can get quite expensive, however—the configuration we reviewed is nearly $3,000. This category-defying device isn’t for everyone, and Microsoft considers the Surface Laptop Studio to be its eventual replacement. But while it’s still for sale, it could be an essential tool for those who can afford it and realize its full potential.
Microsoft Surface Studio 2
Surface Studio: Microsoft’s Sleek All-in-One Desktop
The sole desktop PC in the Surface lineup is the all-in-one Surface Studio. Now in its second generation, it’s a beautiful, pricey desktop for artists, content creators, and professionals who need a large touch screen.
The Surface Studio 2’s unique design comes from the fact that Microsoft has opted to store all the components in the base, rather than behind the 28-inch display, allowing for an extremely thin display panel. Some of the visual inspiration is from the Apple iMac, but the difference is in the emphasis on touch input, and that is reflected in the rear hinge. Two metal arms extend from the base to hold up the screen, meeting in the middle at a hinge that allows you to use the screen vertically or flex it down horizontally. It’s also well integrated with Microsoft’s Surface Pen and Surface Dial accessories for onscreen or near-screen interaction.
Alas, the Surface Studio 2 is eye-wateringly expensive, coming in at more than $4,000 in the configuration we reviewed. It’s also overdue for a refresh, especially in the CPU department. Like the Surface Book 3, this is an excellent but niche computer that’s not for everyone.
The original Microsoft Surface Duo
Surface Duo 2: Another Stab at the Smartphone
In addition to making a host of excellent laptops and tablets over the years, Microsoft has been trying to break into the premium phone market. Here, it has met with much less success. The original Windows Phone operating system has been put out to pasture, but Microsoft is trying its hand at phones again with the new Android-powered Surface Duo 2. This pricey phone-tablet has a foldable screen that tries to enable those multitasking, productive workflows that never quite happen on your single-screen handset.
It’s ambitious, certainly, and potentially an improvement over the first-generation Surface Duo, which had bugs and ergonomic issues in the early going that sometimes make it confusing and frustrating to use. We’ll have a full review of the Surface Duo 2 when it launches later this year.
That’s a Lot of Surface! Which Is the One for Me?
With more than a handful of devices in many product categories and dozens of possible configurations across the various lines, the Surface lineup is still difficult to navigate even once you know what all the names mean. So let’s take a look at a few common use cases and match them up to which Surface product suits them best.
The Best Surface for Students and Budget Buyers: Microsoft Surface Laptop Go
Although it’s missing some nifty features from the pricier Surface Laptop 4, the Surface Laptop Go is what many people are looking for right now: a well-designed, lightweight laptop with adequate performance that won’t break the bank. Those qualities have enormous appeal, as many people require capable laptops to work and learn from home but are also concerned about their budgets in this rocky economic climate. Since the Surface Laptop Go is more capable than the Surface Go 3, especially when it comes to computing power, it’s a better choice for most budget-minders eyeing a Microsoft device. The clamshell design will also be a lot more pleasant to type on than the Surface Go 3 and its snap-on/snap-off keyboard.
The Best Surface for Mainstream Work: Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
With a snappy, satisfying keyboard and solid battery life, Microsoft’s 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 is an excellent ultraportable that gets the basics right. People who need to type all day will appreciate the comfortable keyboard and touchpad, and the range of color and material options will help pretty much everyone find a match. The laptop offers decent computing performance and a battery that should last all day away from a power outlet. Its display quality is excellent, and its anemic port selection can be overlooked if you’re willing to buy a USB hub or invest in a Surface Dock.
The Best Surface for Content Creators: Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
With an advanced magnetic hinge system that lets you pull the 14-inch screen forward to use as an easel or a digital canvas, the Surface Laptop Studio is an innovative, excellent category-defying device. It offers a robust blend of unique features, operating-mode flexibility, computing power, and portability. Digital artists and on-the-go professionals who need the flexibility of a 2-in-1 convertible laptop and some reasonably powerful graphics horsepower will appreciate it most. The Nvidia RTX GPU is fine for light PC gaming, but don’t look at this as a gaming laptop, as it’s much too expensive and not quite powerful enough to buy just for that.