Surface Pro X REVIEW
PAT PILCHER tests Microsoft’s slinky Surface Pro X and finds out why the brand is making such a buzz in laptop land.
Not so long ago, if someone had suggested to me that Microsoft would be a big name when it came to making PCs, many (myself included) would have laughed and said, “nope”. But it’s 2020, and here we are. Microsoft’s Surface range of PCs is big noise, and they’ve also been leading the way in both portability and design in the PC market for some time. Their latest effort, the Surface Pro X, showcases what is possible when Microsoft has a wee think on the PC.
“It’s almost as if a Microsoft Surface computer fell out of a time-warp from five years in the future”
Central to the new machine is a custom-designed piece of silicon designed and built out of a partnership between Qualcomm and Microsoft. It’s based around ARM architecture, and in theory, should confer the Surface Pro X with superior battery life, a lightweight portable design and solid bang per buck value.
Looks-wise, the Surface Pro X looks like what I’d imagine a next-generation Surface Pro should be. It’s almost as if a Microsoft Surface computer fell out of a time-warp from five years in the future. Screen bezels have been trimmed, corners rounded, and its display seems much more vivid and bright than earlier Surface pros. In short, it is gorgeous.
As you’d expect from a Surface, it’s also very portable. My old work PC gave me hernias when it was lugged around in a laptop bag. Not so with the Surface Pro X. Thanks to a slinky slim design, it was almost effortless to carry.
Engineering a notebook, especially one as slim as the Surface Pro X, is always an exercise in compromise. To achieve such magnificent portability some ports were sacrificed. It’s got two USB-C ports and a proprietary Surface Connect port. There’s no USB-A or SD card slot, so dongles are the order of the day for those with legacy gear.
“Thanks to a slinky slim design, it was almost effortless to carry”
So, if that’s the good news, what about the not-so-good news? The base spec Surface Pro X (128GB SSD, 8GB Ram) might be priced at a reasonable $1899, but that doesn’t include a Type Cover or stylus. The upshot of this is that you’ll need to hand over an additional $479.95 for those two essential items, which brings the price up to $2378.95. I find this approach irritating. No one is going to see the Surface Pro X as a good proposition without shelling out extra cash to buy these accessories, so why price them separately?
Grizzles aside, the Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard is a marvel of engineering. It’s so thin that it could easily be mistaken for a fabric screen cover. It is, in fact, a full QWERTY keyboard, and trackpad. Given its ultra-slim design, I was expecting a horrible, mushy typing experience, but the keys have a seemingly impossible amount of travel and provide decent tactile feedback. The net result is a highly usable Surface Pro X. At the top of the Signature Keyboard next to where the keyboard meets the screen is a clever dimple. This is for holding the Surface Slim Pen, a flattened-out Stylus, and the keyboard slot does double duty as its inductive charger. Finally, Microsoft has worked out that a slot for the pen is a good move.
“The keys have a seemingly impossible amount of travel and provide decent tactile feedback”
If there is a downside to the Pen slot, it’s that it adds height to the keyboard. This, in turn, translates into a little extra bounce when typing. It’s not a deal-breaker, but in saying that, I did sometimes find it a distraction.
The Surface X Pro’s display has what Microsoft call PixelSense technology, which is talked up by Microsoft as being brighter than the screen used in the Surface Pro 7. Having spent time with it, I’m inclined to agree. It packs a resolution of 2880 x 1920 into a 13-inch edge-to-edge display, with bezels that are barely noticeable. It was bright enough to require sunscreen and screen colours are super vivid.
In dumping Intel in favour of the Microsoft ARM developed SQ1 CPU, Microsoft has given the Surface Pro X longer battery life, and 4G support for connectivity. An efficient CPU with a low thermal envelope also figures prominently in the Surface X Pro’s sleek and highly portable form factor.
There does seem to be one caveat with this approach though. Using an ARM CPU instead of silicon from Intel means that there are some compatibility issues. The Surface Pro X appears to use virtual machine and emulation to work its magic, and because of this some 64-bit apps I tried refused to run. I found this when using the Chrome browser. While I could run Chrome on the Surface Book Pro X, it was a 32-bit version that felt slower than its full 64-bit counterpart. Compatibility issues also meant most of the benchmark apps I usually use refused to play nice.
“Using an ARM CPU instead of silicon from Intel means that there are some compatibility issues”
That said, most apps did run, and the Surface Pro 7 kept on trucking. This isn’t a huge surprise given it’s engineered for portability and battery life. It also had no problems running several games I installed. Microsoft’s bumf says that the Surface Pro X can run for up to 13 hours with typical use. I got around 10 to 11 hours, which for a Windows laptop is impressive.
The new Surface Slim Pen may cost extra, but in the limited time I spent with it, I was taken with its usefulness. Being flatter than the traditional surface pen, it sat comfortably in my hand. Where the original felt like a stylus, the Slim Pen is much more like a paintbrush. Creatives and artists will probably be quite taken with it.
“Where the original felt like a stylus, the Slim Pen is much more like a paintbrush”
For road warriors, LTE support means you can stay online from anywhere there’s 4G coverage. Getting set up is as easy as slipping a Nano-SIM into a space behind the kickstand. There’s also an SSD tucked away in there too, but it looks like a proprietary piece of hardware, which might limit upgrade options later.
The Surface Pro X looks and feels a lot like Microsoft’s vision of the future of computing. While I did experience some compatibility issues, most apps ran fine, including some games. The design of the Surface Pro X impressed, and its fantastic portability, excellent battery life and LTE connectivity make it an excellent option for road warriors as a stylish productivity tool.
Display: 13-inch, 2880 x 1920 display
CPU: QUALCOMM/Microsoft SQ1
RAM: 8GB / 16GB
Storage: Up to 512GB SSD
OS: Windows 10
Dimensions: 287 x 208 x 7.3 mm, 774g