A beautiful piece of hardware but the Surface Pro X has some pretty big limitations
- Gorgeous 13in display
- Upgradeable SSD
- Built-in 4G
- Doesn’t run all Windows software
- Slim pen only available in bundle
When Microsoft first announced the Surface Pro X my mind zoomed immediately back to the year 2012. This was the year that Microsoft decided to take a leap into the unknown and unleash the Surface RT upon the world.
This was a machine that was a fabulous piece of hardware but couldn’t run a lot of regular Windows apps and this, ultimately, proved its undoing. It was, if I’m being kind, ahead of its time, but it ultimately proved too big a step forwards. Microsoft quickly changed its mind and reinstated full Windows on its future hybrids with the Surface Pro.
In 2019/20, however, Microsoft has changed its mind once again and decided it’s time for another try; thus, we have the Microsoft Surface Pro X which runs full Windows 10 but, once again, can’t run all Windows 10 apps. Is history about to repeat itself all over again?
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Microsoft Surface Pro X review: What you need to know
Outwardly, the Surface Pro X looks much like any other Surface hybrid, albeit with a slightly refined design. It has an 13in 4:3 IPS display in a slim chassis that houses all of the machine’s core hardware and there’s an integrated kickstand at the rear to prop up the screen at any angle of your choosing.
As with the Surface Pro, the keyboard acts as a protective cover when stowed and it’s detachable from the main unit. Unfortunately, it’s still an optional extra. That means you should budget at least an extra £130 for it, because it’s optional in name (and price) only.
There are some small cosmetic differences between the Pro X and the Surface Pro. The X is slimmer and has more gently rounded corners – and in the space above the keyboard there’s a small slot in which you can stow the Surface Slim Pen, where the pen charges quietly as it sleeps.
The big changes, however, reside within. Instead of being equipped with an Intel Core CPU and integrated GPU the Surface Pro X features Microsoft’s SQ1 chip, which is based on Qualcomm’s Windows-on-Snapdragon chip, the Snapdragon 8CX.
In layman’s terms, then, the Surface Pro X is essentially a giant smartphone and, in keeping with that heritage, it has integrated 4G connectivity, allowing you to stay connected without having to faff around with Wi-Fi passwords. You’ll have to pay extra for a data plan if you want to make the most of this, though.
Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Price and competition
The Microsoft Surface Pro X is a little more straightforward when it comes to configurations than the rest of the Surface range. This is because there’s only one processor in the lineup. The only differences between the various models centre on RAM and storage; prices start at £999 for the model with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.
Other options include an 8GB/256GB model for £1,269, a 16GB/256GB model for £1,449 and a 16GB/512GB model for £1,819. We were sent the 16GB/256GB model for this review.
As with other Surface 2-in-1 devices like the Surface Pro 7, you need to budget extra for the keyboard and the stylus. Prices start at £130 for the keyboard alone and rise to £260 for the keyboard together with the new Slim Pen. It’s also worth noting that – unusually – the SSD can be easily upgraded so you’re not going to be locked in if you do go for the cheapest model.
That brings the total price of the most basic Surface Pro X to £1,259. Surprisingly, that’s more expensive than both the lowest-priced Surface Pro 7 (Intel Core i3, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD), which costs £1,024, and the next model up (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD), which costs £1,124.
If you don’t mind dropping down in size, the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is worth a look – and even the 4G model is cheaper than the Surface Pro X at £849 with the keyboard and stylus. You could, alternatively, pick up a 12.9in iPad Pro, but that IS more expensive than the Surface Pro X at £1,119 for the basic 4G-enabled iPad, and another £318 on top for the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio for a total of £1,437.
Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Design and key features
Viewed in the context of the price of the 12.9in iPad Pro, the price of the Microsoft Surface Pro X looks almost reasonable and, when it comes to the design, it’s definitely up there with Apple’s flagship tablet.
It feels beautifully made, it’s super slim and the screen takes up most of the front of the chassis, with barely any bezels. And, despite measuring 1.2mm thinner, 5mm narrower and a mere 6mm taller than the Surface Pro 7, the Surface Pro X has a larger 13in display. Not bad considering the chassis still has room for the Surface Pro’s trademark kickstand. This flips out from the rear and allows you to tilt the screen at any angle you choose.
Choose the Surface Pro X over the Pro 7 and you benefit from other advantages. Buy the Surface Pro X with the Type Cover and Slim Pen bundle and you’ll be able to stow the stylus in a neat slot just above the keyboard, which is a much better solution than the stick-it-on-the-side approach of the Pro 7.
As for connectivity, the X has two USB Type-C ports (one more than the 7) and both can be used to charge the tablet. However, physical connectivity remains limited. There’s no USB Type-A port – the chassis is just too thin – and no 3.5mm headset jack either, which is somewhat baffling.
The Microsoft SQ1 SoC hits back with integrated 4G connectivity courtesy of Qualcomm’s X24 modem and this is pretty simple to set up. Either insert your own SIM in the slot under the kickstand or use the tablet’s e-SIM capability to get it up and running.
In a highly unusual move, the system’s SSD is fully user replaceable. Just pop out the small access hatch that sits under the kickstand (a SIM ejector tool works for this), unscrew the Torx screw holding the SSD in place and you can swap it out with a drive of your choosing. Be warned, however: you’ll need a 22 x 30mm PCI-e M.2 drive to replace it with and these aren’t particularly easy to find.
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Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Keyboard
As with all other Surface Pro devices, the keyboard attaches to the tablet body with a strong magnet and a couple of lugs to hold it in place.
It’s coated with soft Alcantara fabric on both sides, which does feel rather lovely under your palms and the keys themselves combine good travel with a sensible amount of feedback and plenty of space around each one. Typos on this keyboard are, mercifully, minimal.
The touchpad is just as good. At 100 x 56mm in size, it’s ever so slightly taller and narrower than the one on the Surface Pro 7’s keyboard cover but not so much as would make a tangible difference.
It works just fine with Windows 10’s multitouch gestures and the click is perfectly weighted. Being a diving board type touchpad, you can’t click it right at the top edge but move your finger a centimetre or so down towards the centre and it works just fine.
The stylus works well, too. It’s new and has a flattened shape to fit in the keyboard charging slot but it has similar features and specifications to the regular Surface Pen: a button on the barrel and a button/eraser function on the top of the stylus. It’s pressure-sensitive, detects the angle of the pen, enabling intuitive shading, and it feels pretty responsive with hardly any lag. Palm rejection is excellent as well.
Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Display and stylus
The Pro X’s 13in IPS PixelSense display is simply superb. It isn’t perfect but it’s as close to it as you’d ever need it to be. Its resolution of 2,880 x 1,920 and pixel density of 267ppi ensures it’s tack sharp; it’s bright, too, reaching a peak of 452cd/m2 in our tests; and it’s very colour accurate.
With the sRGB setting enabled in the display settings, our tests showed it achieving 91.7% coverage of the sRGB colour space and a contrast ratio of 1,394:1. Colour accuracy results were even more impressive, with the display achieving numbers close to ideal across all colours. This is a sensationally good display by any standards.
Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Software and performance
The Microsoft Surface Pro X is a mighty fine piece of hardware; that much is abundantly clear. The question is, without an Intel chip under the hood, can you use it for day-to-day work?
The answer to this question is, largely, yes. As I write this I’ve been using the tablet for writing, managing content on the website CMS and in doing so I’ve had as many as thirty tabs open in Edge. It’s perfectly responsive and, as long as the tablet will run the app you want it to run, you shouldn’t have any problems.
But therein lies the rub, which is that the system’s SoC is an ARM chip and this means lots of apps simply won’t install in the first place. In particular, the Surface Pro X won’t run any 64-bit application that hasn’t been ported to ARM 64.
The Pro X will run 32-bit (x86) apps, which might help you get around this issue. I was able to install a 32-bit version of Chrome and also Photoshop CC (after a few false starts where Adobe CC simply failed to install for some reason); so it isn’t quite as restricted as the Surface RT, which was only able to run Windows Store applications. However, even then, you can expect performance issues with resource-heavy applications because the x86 Windows apps run in an x86 emulator. Although I was able to run Chrome and Photoshop, neither of those apps felt as nippy as you’d expect from the hardware at hand.
And there are other issues. Any hardware that needs a driver to work with Windows will only be able to talk to the Surface Pro X if the manufacturer has specifically written ARM64 drivers for them. Given the Pro X is one of only a small handful of ARM64 Windows devices around, I can’t see many manufacturers investing the time or money required. Games won’t work, either, if they use a version of OpenGL greater than 1.1. Here’s what Microsoft has to say on the matter.
Either way, if you’re thinking of buying a Surface Pro X, you’re going to have to do some serious research to ensure all the software and the hardware you want to run will work with it. All-in-all, it’s a bit of a mess and my experience with it pretty much mirrors the above. Some apps I wanted to run worked fine but many simply refused to install at all.
With such great hardware, that’s a shame, because there’s clearly plenty of potential here. I wasn’t able to get our in-house benchmarks to run (surprise, surprise) but as Geekbench 4 and 5 have been ported for ARM64, they did work, and gave results that, while clearly slower than the Core i7 Surface Pro 7, didn’t lag all that far behind.
The performance scores took a dip when I ran the AS SSD sequential storage test, with the Pro X’s 256GB SK Hynix disk lagging behind the Surface Pro 7’s by a bigger margin. However, you might well be prepared to accept that when you look at the results of the battery life test. In our video rundown benchmark, the Surface Pro X lasted nearly two hours longer (9hrs 3mins vs 7hrs 20mins) than the Core i7 Surface Pro 7.
Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Verdict
The Surface Pro X is certainly a nice piece of hardware. It’s very slim and light, and it has a big, beautiful display. Its keyboard, touchpad and stylus function superbly and battery life is excellent.
Add in upgradeable storage, built-in 4G capability and nippy performance and it looks like the perfect 2-in-1. It’s a little pricier than the equivalent Surface Pro 7, which is odd, but not by much and it’s more cost effective than the cellular 12.9in iPad Pro.
However, Microsoft’s decision to use an ARM-based processor at the heart of the Surface Pro X means it has some pretty big limitations when it comes to the software you can run on it. Ultimately, this puts the brakes on the Surface Pro X’s appeal.
No matter how good the hardware is or how attractive it looks, if you can’t run the software you need to run on it, it’s not going to work for you. So make sure you do your homework before you splash out.
Microsoft Surface Pro X specifications
|Additional memory slots||No|
|Graphics adapter||Qualcomm Adreno 640|
|Screen size (in)||13|
|Screen resolution||2,880 x 1,920|
|Pixel density (PPI)||267|
|Touchscreen||Yes (10-point multitouch)|
|Pointing devices||Touchpad, active stylus (optional)|
|Memory card slot||No|
|3.5mm audio jack||No|
|Graphics outputs||USB Type-C|
|Other ports||2 x USB Type-C (total)|
|Web Cam||4K (5MP)|
|Dimensions (WDH) – tablet only||287 x 208 x 7.3mm|
|Weight (kg) – tablet only||0.77|
|Battery size (Wh)||38Wh|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Home|