The Surface Pro X is a glimpse of an ARM-powered Windows future, combining the best pieces of computers and phones, but while that future is nearer than ever, it’s not quite ready yet. The new #999 Surface Pro X may seem like the rest of Microsoft’s Surface pills on the exterior, but it’s fundamentally a different beast on the inside. It’s a new chip at its heart known as the SQ1, which Microsoft partnered with mobile-chip manufacturer Qualcomm to create, rather than a conventional Intel or AMD chip.
Changing to an ARM system has certain benefits, such as potential for longer battery life, built in 4G and a thinner profile, but in addition, it complicates things on the applications . The Surface Pro X takes the Surface Pro 6’s layout , maximises the display widthways and shaves off 1.2mm of depth. The fanless design looks and feels fantastic: solid, thin and exceedingly well-made in black magnesium and glass, the sides well sculpted to create them hand-friendly. At 774g it is not light, but this is a relatively large tablet — the Surface Pro 6 weighs 770-784g, whilst Apple’s 4G 12.9at iPad Pro weighs 633g.
Review of Microsoft Surface Pro X
The 13in display is sharp, responsive and gorgeous, in line with the majority of high-end laptops. The Windows Hello face recognition camera above the display is simply brilliant, logging you in immediately once you consider it.
The kickstand out the back is the finest in the industry: stable in a wide assortment of angles neatly tucked away when not in use. Additionally, it hides a compartment for a nano sim along with the SSD. Unfortunately there’s no headphone socket or microSD card slot, which is unsatisfactory. The front-facing speakers are tiny but surprisingly loud and great for a tablet computer.
Keyboards and styluses
The Slim Pen docks to a small tray concealed in the magnetic strip of the Signature keyboard for traveling and charging. The keyboard is still brilliant, providing excellent backlit typing with great travel and key feel, a smooth and responsive but rather small trackpad, and the flexibility to use it flat or at an angle. It attaches to the bottom of the tablet computer with powerful magnets and folds all of the way round the back of the pill, out the way, or shuts closed on the display when not in use. It’s a vital part of the Surface encounter, but sadly it is not included in the purchase price, costing #129.99 on its own or #259.99 using the Slim Pen. The Surface Pro X isn’t compatible with regular Surface Pro keyboards.
If you purchase the one with the Slim Pen, it’s a neat trick. The new flattened stylus, which functioned as well as Microsoft’s excellent standard Surface Pen, magnetically clips into a tray at the bottom of the keyboard. It’s among the cleverest storage alternatives I’ve seen for something really easy to lose.
The Slim Pen is available on its own for #129.99, also has a little charging tray, but is best purchased with the computer keyboard.
- Display: 13in LCD 2880×1920 (267 PPI)
- Pictures: Adreno 685
- Camera: 10MP back, 5MP front-facing, Windows Hello
The Surface Connect interface handles electricity, but may also be used to link to accessories like the Surface Dock. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
On paper, ARM chips are on a similar performance level that has many classic laptop x86 processors. But how the Surface Pro X works is entirely determined by the application you happen to be using, divide between programs that run natively on the ARM architecture and the ones who don’t, that are then relegated to operating in a 32-bit x86 emulation layer.
Performance is, unsurprisingly, day and night. Apps that are ARM-native absolutely fly . Microsoft’s new Chromium-based Edge browser is a prime example, performing just also on the Surface Pro X with 30 tabs open as it does on a top-spec desktop PC using a conventional Intel processor. The same goes for the majority of Microsoft’s Windows programs, except Office, which remains x86.
Apps that are not ARM-native operate like you’ve got the handbrake on. Google’s Chrome browser is a excellent example. It uses the exact same underlying Chromium technologies as Microsoft’s Edge browser but does not have an ARM-native edition, so is slow and ponderous. Simple text editors, such as Typora, operate perfectly fine as a 32-bit program, but are noticeably slower than when employed on a Surface Guru 6.
Another wrinkle is that Windows can only imitate 32-bit x86, not the more performance 64-bit. Although some programs have 32-bit versions, many don’t, like Signal or Google’s Gsuite Chat. 1 big missing area is picture editing, where none of the best photo editors have ARM or 32-bit, such as Affinity Photo or any of Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
Adobe says it’s working on ARM-native Creative Cloud and other programs, but at the time of writing only the cut-down Photoshop Express is available, and even that’s 32-bit x86 and for that reason incredibly slow.
Concerning overall computing performance, the Surface Pro X managed a multi-monitor setup just fine, including a 4K 60Hz screen by means of a Surface Dock or a USB-C-to-HDMI cable, so with the perfect programs it will match Microsoft’s additional Surface Pro devices.
Battery life for a day of work
Both USB-C ports may be used for power or linking to any number of accessories, but there is no USB-A port. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Surface Pro X lasts for approximately nine hours of work, mainly with Edge with 10 or so tabs, Windows Mail, Evernote, Typora, Nextgen Reader and various different messaging programs. That is about the same as the Core i5 edition of the Surface Pro 6, and for that reason slightly disappointing, given ARM chips are intended to be battery-efficient. But nine hours is good enough to comfortably finish a complete work day without reaching for the charger.
As a result of the USB-C interfaces you have options for charging the tablet. The included 65W Surface Connect charger works great, but a USB-C Power Delivery charger, which is currently the typical standard for phones, tablets and many notebooks, works just fine also.