Microsoft describes the Surface Pro X as Xtraordinary. Yes,
there are many Xcellent things about it, but you need to know that it runs
Windows on an ARM processor. That Xtracts a toll that current Windows users need
to know before they buy.
Surface Pro X is Microsoft’s vision of the future – small, light, great battery life, LTE, connectivity and a 13-inch screen in a small body. Samsung Galaxy Book 2, Lenovo and others have similar Windows on ARM (WOA) devices. Not to want to take away from Surface Pro X but it may pay to read the Samsung review after this.
Surface Pro X is an important device for Microsoft and Windows.
First, it offers a viable Windows alternative to iPad iOS and iPad Pro. Ironically
people expect more functionality from a Windows device and less from an iPad.
Well, you can do almost everything on this device that you can’t do on an
Android or iOS tablet.
And perhaps an alternative to ChromeOS. While price-wise it
is not in the same ballpark, it is proof of concept that it can better ChromeOS
Windows on ARM – the facts
It looks like Windows; it smells like Windows, and it feels
It is a 32-bit ‘emulation’ of Windows called WOW64 running on
a 64-bit ARM chip. In this case, the chip is a Microsoft/Qualcomm designed SQ1 based
on the 7nm Qualcomm 8cx SoC. Microsoft claims two teraflops of GPU power, 9TOPS
of AI power and an eight-Kryo-core 3GHz ARM.
Don’t put a lot of store in those figures – they are synthetic
benchmarks. But it is impressive that all this comes from a low power 7W/15W
TDP. The chip is not so much bang for buck as bang for battery life. And a
smartphone SoC enables more efficient, fan-less cooling in a slimmer chassis.
What it will run
Surface Pro X will run much of what you want. Microsoft Office/Outlook
365 – pass. Most 32-bit x86 programs from Windows Store – pass.
Technically it runs 32-bit x86 (under emulation), and native
ARM32, and ARM64 UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps from the Microsoft
Store. On the whole, apps that do don’t seem to suffer from lag.
To repeat – Office 365, content (video) consumption and
basic apps on a device that will give up to 13 hours ‘typical device usage’ battery
But it won’t run
Most Anti-virus (apart from Windows Defender)
VPNs (sorry no TAPI drivers yet)
64-bit x86 programs
Monolithic programs like CAD or those requiring heavy
Database/statistical programs that need a
Games using Open CL 1.2 or later
A large number of USB devices that need WOA
A Surface Pro on a diet. Rounded edges, thinner bezels and
chassis. Familiar kickstand to 160°. 287 x 208 x 7.3mm x 774g and only in matte
black aluminium finish.
The keyboard and pen are optional extra’s.
Who buy’s it?
It is a niche device – not a full-blown Surface Pro 7 or Laptop 3. It does not run all Windows programs (like the Surface Pro series), it chokes on multiple apps and browser tabs, and just when you are used to it you will find some must-have Windows app, and it won’t work!
The ideal buyer is someone that just wants a light device to
use Office 365, Outlook, Edge and view content – it is perfect for that.
Screen – EXCEED
Surface means a 3:2 ratio screen more for productivity than
any 16:9 ratio can be.
This is a 13-inch, 2880×1920, 267ppi and claimed 450 nits and
1400:1 contrast. We tested at 103% of sRGB, 73% DCI-P3, 420 nits and Delta E .3
(below 4 is good) – pass. There is also an enhanced colour profile for more
saturated (and less accurate) colours.
It lacks HDR, and the glossy reflective screen is not the
best in daylight.
Processor – PASS
In perspective, if it ran native 64-bit ARM programs it
would have similar power to an Intel i5-8250U processor. But with all the emulations
going on that is not a fair comparison.
Just accept that it has enough power for productivity and
Adreno 685 GPU – not for games and lacks OpenCL 1.2 or later
16GB LPDR4X-1866Mhz dual channel (Microsoft mistakenly calls
256GB M.2 2230 (200GB free) user-replaceable under Sim card cover.
It is a quite fast M.2 2230 PCIe NVM3 v3.0 x 4 lane topping 2358/1586MBps sequential/read
writes. The fastest SSD would be up around 3500/3000. It is also quite good on
larger file transfers.
Ports – PASS
Surface Connect Ribbon – Why? For 60W power and Surface Dock
5Gbps use. This is handy as it is a separate charging port and adds expansion.
2 x USB-C. In the absence of tech specs for these – see Expansion
below. The ports support PD and can charge from a 45W charger or more.
Expansion – PASS
Windows Central says it has two
USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) connectors. It claims it can support dual 4K@60Hz
external monitors. We are not challenging Windows Central, but there is no way
we could get it to do that with a variety of docks and cables.
What is in question is that these are Gen 2, 10Gbps ports. Device Manager says it has USB 3.0 ports and hub. And Neowin says USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbps).
It is safest to assume 5Gbps (and
that is what our tests indicate). As such it should support dual external 1080p@60Hz
via a dongle/dock or 1 x 4K@30fps monitor via USB-C – and it did.
It also has a Surface Connector
that is for power (60W) and data (5Gbps). Using an older Surface Dock (with the
latest firmware) it supports dual 1080p@30Hz and one x4K at 30Hz.
Perhaps we expect more from a Windows device. If you use
an external monitor/s make sure you make it a condition of sale that it
supports your monitor setup.
Comms – PASS
Wi-Fi AC, 2×2 MU-MIMO – 866Mbps speed at 2
metres from the router
BT 5.0 and aptX
GPS (as part of the LTE card)
Magnetometer for e-Compass
Missing – Wi-Fi AX and NFC but no big issue
LTE – EXCEED
The Qualcomm X24 LTE modem, in theory, is capable of 2Gbps/316Mbps
DL/UL. Typical Speed Test results varied from 40-70Mbps
download and 30-40Mbps upload. In the Sydney CBD, we got 70/50Mbps.
It is both Nano sim and eSim capable – the latter depends on
It supports a huge range of bands so it should be good for
international travel. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29,
30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 46, 66
You can get a 4G/4GX Telstra
pre-or-post-paid plan (see here) that gives maximum available (uncapped) upload and
download LTE speeds. You can use a Telstra 3/4G MVNO like Boost, Aldi or
Woolworths but data speeds max at 100Mbps and can fall back to 3G.
The LTE modem also has GPS and is perfect
for a large-screen GPS while travelling. You must download the appropriate maps
(generally free from Microsoft Store) to use it as a navigation device.
Sound signature – it is quite good. While it is mid-centric, there are subtle hints of bass that give it a slightly better, fuller sound than the Surface Pro 7.
But the lack of an EQ in the Microsoft Store to at least try
to get more bass or treble is puzzling.
Fortunately, BT 5.0 aptX (CD-Quality) codec provides
reasonably volume to BT speakers and our reference Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones.
Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – none
Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – building
High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – building to 200Hzt
Low-mid: 200-400Hz – flat
Mid: 400-1000Hz – flat
High-mid: 1-2kHz – flat
Low-treble: 2-4kHz – flat
Treble:4-6kHz – flat
High Treble: 6-10kHz –flat
Dog whistle: 10-20 – off the cliff – nil
The rear 10MP, AF is capable 4K@30fps video. It has no HDR or flash.
The front 5MP AF supports Windows Hello for fast facial recognition
Keyboard, Touchpad and Slim Pen
As usual (with all Surface Pros) you have to add an
eye-watering $429.95 to add the Alcantara keyboard and pen. I have given up
questioning Microsoft’s rationale so let’s just say that most will buy the keyboard
and some with buy both.
The keyboard looks like a Surface Pro board (it won’t fit),
but it has a reduced 1mm throw and 30g actuation, so it’s a harder keyboard to
use. It is not bad, but the Surface Pro keyboard is better.
The Pen is flattened and can inductively charge in the keyboard
caddy or via USB-C caddy (only supplied if you buy the pen separately). It has 4,096
levels of pressure sensing, tilt sensing, excellent latency, good palm rejection,
and has a rated precision of 0.1mm.
Battery – PASSable
It has a 38.23Wh (nominal) battery and a 60W charger (15V/4A). In theory, this means fast charging. Microsoft claims 80% in an hour and a full battery in under two – we concur.
Microsoft claim up to 13 hours typical life – we have no
idea what that means.
Tests (we could not run many as the test software is not compatible)
Typical office use – emails, Wi-Fi and Office –
Endurance mode – battery optimised 11:45
It is not a full day battery. However, you can use a USB-C
45W charger or a larger (10,000+mAh) USB-C PD Power bank, so this earns more points.
iFixit’s teardown is here, and it gets an excellent 6/10 repairability.
GadgetGuy’s take – Microsoft Surface Pro X is good in parts
What is to like – good battery, screen, portability. For the
right person, it is perfect.
What is not to like – performance, compatibility and price
many knock this out of contention.
It is a damned big phone – well under the skin, and that is a good thing. It portends Microsoft’s vision for the future and portability.
But as a phone, it has limitations that Windows users need to know. I suspect we are going to see Intel’s Project Athena ultra-light ultra-books dominate this space – call it another ARMs race.
Me – I love the screen size, and it beats the 10-inch Surface Go that I use for travel. I have one gripe – lack of software WOA VPN support makes this less secure. You can use an external VPN box like InvizBox Go, but that is something extra to carry and power (micro-USB).
Would I buy it? Probably not as I use too many things and software
that the Surface Pro range provides – it is my desktop replacement. And so far,
I have not needed always-on LTE.
For the right user, it is perfect. But a ‘Pro’ – I think not.
Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Thin and light
Bright colour accurate display
Adequate performance for typical productivity apps