Microsoft is updating its Surface Pro line today with a refreshed Surface Pro 7 Plus model that is only available to businesses and schools. While the design and screen on the outside remain the same as the Surface Pro 7, Microsoft has overhauled the internals of the device to make way for Intel’s latest 11th Gen processors, a bigger battery, removable SSD, and LTE connectivity.
This marks the return of LTE to the main Surface Pro line for the first time since 2015, but unfortunately there’s no 5G connectivity as Microsoft is using Qualcomm’s older Snapdragon X20 LTE modem inside the Surface Pro 7 Plus.
A variety of models will be available, starting with the Intel Core i3 (1115G4) and ending with the Intel Core i7 (1165G7). Only the Intel Core i5 (1135G7) model will have optional LTE starting at $1,149, and the base Core i3 model ships with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for $899. The top Core i7 option ($2,799) can also be configured up to 32GB of RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage.
Microsoft is now promising up to 15 hours of battery life on the Surface Pro 7 Plus, up from the 10.5 hours the company claims on the original Surface Pro 7. A small part of this battery life improvement will be thanks to the Intel 11th Gen chips, but it’s mostly down to a move from a battery capacity of 46.5Wh to 50.4Wh.
The Surface Pro 7 Plus also ships with the same 12.3-inch (2736 x 1824) PixelSense display found on the original Surface Pro 7, with a single USB-C port, a USB-A port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and the Surface Connect port. The Wi-Fi-only models will include a MicroSDXC card reader, while the LTE models will replace this with a nano SIM. This does mean that the Surface Pro 7 Plus still doesn’t have Thunderbolt connectivity.
The Surface Pro 7 Plus has some bigger than normal internal changes overall, too. “We changed the inside quite substantially,” explains Robin Seiler, corporate vice president of program management for devices at Microsoft, in an interview with The Verge. “It actually required us to flip the internals in order for us to put the SSD here, so when we did that we also updated the TDM (Thermal Design Model) to create more space for a larger battery size.”
The removable SSD works just like it does on the Surface Pro X or Surface Laptop 3, allowing businesses to swap drives out for reparability.
So why no major redesign with thinner display bezels? Microsoft says it’s mostly for consistency because businesses want to standardize on Surface Pro configurations and form factors. “When you look at the Surface Pro X, which has the thinner bezels, there are pretty substantial changes in terms of port locations which is driven by those bezels,” says Seiler. “Thinning the bezels does require significant change in terms of form factor and compatibility with previous [models].”
This focus on businesses and LTE connectivity, at a time when home internet connections might not hold up to working from home demands, also explains why Microsoft didn’t opt for the Surface Pro 8 moniker and make this device available to consumers. “This is simply an extension of a commercially-focused line,” explains Seiler. “It was important for us to signal that this is an extension of Pro 7, for all of the customers who have standardized on that.”
Still, it’s disappointing that a refreshed model with Intel’s latest processors and LTE connectivity won’t be available directly to consumers. Microsoft won’t say if that will change any time soon, but it does feel like the company is trying to draw a line between the Surface Pro as business-focused and the Surface Go and Surface Pro X for consumers.
Microsoft is planning to start shipping the Surface Pro 7 Plus to customers on January 15th in the US, and it will also be available in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and a large number of European countries.