Main menu


Surface Pro 9 5G teases an exciting future for AI features

featured image

OPINION: Microsoft invited me to its offices to preview the upcoming Surface devices, including the Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Pro 9.

But the device that caught my attention most was the 5G model of the Surface Pro 9, and not because of its go-anywhere internet connectivity. Instead, I was impressed with the AI ​​features this 2-in-1 laptop is capable of.

Microsoft showed me a couple of AI-powered tricks that the Surface Pro 9 5G can pull off. Firstly, it’s able to keep your face in frame, even when you’re walking around a room. Anyone familiar with technology should know this isn’t a new innovation, but it’s still welcome to have in a world where video calls have never been more important.

Secondly, the Surface Pro 9 5G was able to create the illusion that I was looking straight at the webcam, rather than at my screen, during a video call. Since webcams aren’t located where your gaze naturally falls on a laptop, video calls always feel a little awkward. It’s unnatural to have a conversation without eye contact, but the Surface Pro 5G fixes this issue.

The Surface Pro 9 in tablet mode

A Microsoft representative demoed this technology for me, repeatedly pressing a toggle on the laptop to cause his pupils in his eyes to switch position on the live camera feed. I have to admit, it looked a little unnerving in person, but impressive nonetheless.

Another nifty feature is the laptop’s ability to automatically filter out background noise. During the Surface launch event, Microsoft showed that the hybrid laptop was able to block out the noise of a leaf blower fan during a video call. While I’m not sure many people will need a Surface Pro 9 5G for that specific use case, I can certainly imagine many craving the ability to filter out a baby’s screams or a dog’s barks during an important work meeting.

So how is the Surface Pro 9 5G able to make use of these features when other more expensive laptops cannot? That’s all thanks to the Microsoft SQ3 processor, powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon. While it has CPU and GPU cores just like any other processor, it also features an advanced Neural Processing Unit (NPU) which accelerates the performance of artificial intelligence.

This kind of technology has been making huge waves in the smartphone industry in recent years, most noticeably with the Google Pixel phones via the Tensor chip. By accelerating the performance of AI, the phones are able to make use of clever features such as Magic Eraser, allowing you to easily remove background objects and people out of previously snapped photos.

The smartphone industry is far ahead of laptops in this regard, but it’s exciting to see the technology starting to trickle down to computing devices. We’ve already seen the likes of Nvidia use AI to boost gaming performance via its DLSS software, but it’s yet to make a major impact for productivity computing portables such as Microsoft’s Surface range.

Right now, it seems that AI is most useful for photography and video, hence why all the Surface Pro 5G’s AI features center around video calls. But the new Google Pixel phones are also able to recognize a wider range of languages ​​for translations and transcriptions, proving that there’s a lot of potential for AI beyond video calls for computing products.

But before we get too excited, it’s important to note some potential drawbacks with the AI-optimized Snapdragon processor that powers the new Surface Pro.

While I haven’t been able to test the Surface Pro 9 5G just yet, I doubt it’s as speedy as the Intel model. Qualcomm is still lagging behind the likes of AMD and Intel when it comes to processing power, which could be an issue if you need a laptop for high-end computing workloads.

The Surface Pro 9 in some grass

When testing Snapdragon chips in the past, I have also encountered significant compatibility issues with Windows. Certain Windows applications will run slower than usual on Snapdragon-powered devices, while some software won’t function at all. Microsoft has acknowledged those issues and made improvements with Windows 11. I’ll have to wait until I can test the Surface Pro 9 5G to see if such problems still persist, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

So while those AI-powered tricks are pretty cool, I’m not convinced they’re currently useful enough to offset the number of compromises you’ll have to make by snubbing an Intel model – especially when those AI upgrades currently focus on improving the experience of video calls, and little else.

But I’m confident that will change in the future. The Surface Pro 9 5G is just a tease for what’s to come. And with artificial intelligence still in its infancy in the consumer laptop world, I’m excited to see what kind of revolutionary features it could bring to the table in the next few years.

Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.