Microsoft Surface Pro X full review

When Microsoft announced the Surface Pro X, it was easy to get excited about this fantastic-looking ultraportable device. It promised incredible battery life in an ultra-thin, lightweight design.

All this is enabled by the use of Microsoft's new processor, the ARM-based SQ1, rather than a low-power Intel chip. And this gives the Surface Pro X plenty of advantages including fast charging, decent graphics performance and LTE connectivity built right in.

Plus, with a 13in screen and optional keyboard, the Surface Pro X is a direct rival to the 12.9in iPad Pro.

But there are also drawbacks which mean this new 2-in-1 is only a good choice for certain people that only need what the Surface Pro X offers. Ultimately, you can't treat is as a normal Windows laptop as the ARM chip can't run some apps. And that brings plenty of confusion.

Surface Pro X: Price & availability

You can buy a Surface Pro X from Microsoft.

The cheapest model costs £999 / $999 but that doesn't include the new keyboard or Surface Slim Pen. They’re £129.99 each or £259.99 as a bundle (your mental arithmetic is correct: there’s no discount for buying them together).

Just note that the non-Signature version of the keyboard does not have the recess to hold the Slim Pen, so it makes sense to buy the bundle if you're planning to get both accessories.

In the US, the bundle costs $269.99, and the pen on its own is $144.99.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review

Getting back to that base model, the specs include 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but you can opt for 256GB of storage if you’re willing for fork out an extra £269 / $300, or go higher and get 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage for £1819 / $1799.

There’s only one colour: matt black.

Surface Pro X: Features & design

Since the Surface Pro line hasn't had a redesign for years, it makes the Surface Pro X looks sleek and bang up to date. Weighing only 774g, the tablet feels quite light. Its rounded corners feel better than the angular edges of the Surface Pro 7, and even with the keyboard and pen attached, it’s still a device you can carry around most of the time.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review

The bezel is slimmer than the Surface Pro 7's so there's a slightly larger 3:2 screen with a 13in diagonal and a slightly higher resolution. It's bright and offers the usual top-notch quality.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review

Unfortunately even at this price there's no HDR support or any anti-glare coating. But you're more likely to be put off by the more practical things such as the absence of a headphone jack and microSD slot.

Also note that there’s only 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5, not Wi-Fi 6. Similarly, there are a pair of USB-C ports but they don’t support Thunderbolt 3. And you'll need to use one of them for the USB-C to 3.5mm dongle if you don't want to use Bluetooth headphones or the surprisingly decent internal speakers.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review

Under the kickstand is a small cover which is released using the included SIM tool. Beneath this is a nano-SIM slot and an M.2 port which will accept an M.2 2230 drive, though you'll have to remove the existing drive first: it's not for supplementing the existing storage. There's also an embedded SIM (eSIM) and you can swap between the nano SIM and eSIM connection easily.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review

What is Microsoft's SQ1 processor all about?

But one of the key features is something you can’t see. The Microsoft SQ1 is a collaboration between Microsoft and Qualcomm: a tweaked version of the Qualcomm 8cx that we've seen in a few previous ARM-based Windows machines.

And this is where you really have to be careful with the Surface Pro X. ARM chips can't run traditional Windows apps natively, and they can't run traditional 64-bit apps at all. The SQ1 is no exception, and is happiest running apps written for or ported to ARM64.

Surface Pro X review: hands-on

The list, unfortunately, is not as extensive as you might hope, so it is crucial that you draw up your own list of the apps you'll need to run and find out if there's a 32-bit version or an ARM64 version available. If not, you'll have to find an alternative app - or an alternative 2-in-1.

You'd be right to expect great performance given what the Pro X costs, but this is another sticking point. Windows 10 runs absolutely fine. It really zips along. But you will notice that traditional Windows apps aren’t as snappy as running native ARM64 apps because 32-bit x86 apps is done using an emulation mode.

This means there's also a penalty in battery life: run exclusively older x86 Windows apps and you'll see around seven hours of battery life instead of the circa 10-12 hours you'll get when running apps optimised for ARM. So you might want to use Microsoft's latest Edge browser instead of Google Chrome.

So, it will really depend upon what you want or need to do that will determine if a Surface Pro X is right for you. (And the same goes for Samsung's Galaxy Book S.)

If you don't find any dealbreakers when checking through your app list, then the Surface Pro X could be exactly what you're looking for. It offers an always-on, phone-like experience and LTE means you'll get emails and notifications even when out of Wi-Fi range. Windows Hello works swiftly and reliably to log you in, and thanks to the bundled fast charger a 30-minute charge will boost the battery by around 35% - just about enough for half a day's work.

If you don't have the charger with you, the tablet can also be charged via USB-C.

In terms of outright performance, the SQ1 is just about comparable to an eighth-generation Core i5, and its Adreno 685 graphics offer more grunt than Intel's UHD 620. You're not going to play demanding games on the Surface Pro X, though.

In Geekbench 5, which was one of the only benchmarks from our usual suite that the Pro X would run, we saw results of 720 for single-core performance and 2773 for multi-core.

Comparing these to the Core i5-equipped Surface Pro 7, which has the same 16GB of RAM and scored 1219 and 4548 respectively, it's clear you don't get as much computing power for your money with the Pro X.

Keyboard and Surface Slim Pen

As with other Surface Pro models, the X's kickstand has an infinite number of positions so you can adjust screen angle precisely. The keyboard is a little different - at least the version designed for the Slim Pen. There's a recess in the part which magnetises to the bezel of the tablet and the Pen is stored there, and also charges there.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review

The bad news is that although key travel is fine, the keyboard isn't quite firm enough and bounces too much for our liking. You'll also have to get used to the adjusted layout, including the half-width Shift key and narrow Enter key, if you’re used to a full-size keyboard.

The Pen itself has a flat design like a draughtsman's pencil. It has a side button as well as one on the end, and packs the same tech as the regular Surface Pen: 4096 levels of pressure detection and a tilt sensor.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review

You can always opt for a normal Surface Pen if you don't like it, but the regular one won’t fit in the keyboard.

Verdict

Summing up the Surface Pro X isn't easy, nor is deciding upon a rating for this review. It's aimed at a very specific group of people: workers who need a portable, always-on device for relatively undemanding tasks that they need to carry out wherever they happen to be.

But even for those people, the portability, connectivity and battery life isn't quite compelling enough to warrant buying it over some of its similarly priced rivals which offer more performance and don't have the Surface Pro X's compatibility problems.

And since it's entirely possible you're not the target audience, you may decide you need something like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 instead. (You can see all our recommendations for the best 2-in-1 laptops here.)

Alternatively, you might be better off with an iPad Pro 12.9 which has similar capabilities to the Surface Pro X and costs about the same, but offers a better tablet experience: Windows 10 in tablet mode doesn't compare well to iPadOS.  

The iPad isn't quite as hot at productivity as the Surface, but for almost everything else, it's a better device.