Price (RRP): $from 1699 plus keyboard and pen
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 devices.
Windows on ARM – the facts
It looks like Windows; it smells like Windows, and it feels like Windows.
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 life.
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 vector graphics
- Database/statistical programs that need a co-processor
- Games using Open CL 1.2 or later
- A large number of USB devices that need WOA drivers
There is a compatibility troubleshooter but frankly, we find software runs, or it does not. But it can only get better as WOA is here to stay.
Rule Number One – horses for courses
The Surface Pro X is really a 13-inch ‘phone’ using advanced smartphone tech and running a version of Windows – as long as you go into the deal with eyes wide open, we have done our job.
Microsoft Surface Pro X
- 8/128 or 256GB $1699/2149
- 16/256 or 512GB $2449/2899
- Keyboard only $219.95
- Pen only $234.95
- Keyboard and Pen bundle $429.95
- Surface Dock $299.95
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 content.
Adreno 685 GPU – not for games and lacks OpenCL 1.2 or later support.
16GB LPDR4X-1866Mhz dual channel (Microsoft mistakenly calls this 3733)
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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] via a dongle/dock or 1 x [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 your carrier.
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 – PASS
Qualcomm Aqstic audio technology, aptX audio technology with Dolby Audio Premium.
Maximum volume 72dB – not overly loud.
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 [email protected] video. It has no HDR or flash.
The front 5MP AF supports Windows Hello for fast facial recognition and log-in.
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)
- 1080p video loop, 50% screen brightness, aeroplane mode – 7 hours
- Typical office use – emails, Wi-Fi and Office – 9 hours
- 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.