Surface Pro X
After reviewing the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 and using Windows on my MacBook Pro for a week, I wanted to review Microsoft’s very own hardware. The Surface line has been evolving over the years in becoming a very solid lineup of Windows hardware.
The Surface Pros, Surface Laptop and the Surface Book are all very appealing products. From the design to the materials used, all of Microsoft’s products have a high quality aspect that is similar to that of Apple’s MacBook line.
When I decided that I wanted to review one of Microsoft’s hardware, I decided ultimately that it would be the Surface Pro. At the time the Surface Pro 6 was available but knew the Surface 7 was going to be released in 2019 and decided to wait, but then, at Microsoft’s announcement, they announced a new Surface Pro, the Surface Pro X.
From the announcement alone you could tell this new product was stunning. It had everything that was great about the Surface Pro lineup that had already existed but with a much more futuristic design. The smaller bezels, hidden compartment for the Slim Pen, and the fact that Microsoft was going to release it with a new ARM SQ1 processor made this new product that much more exciting.
In my opinion, the Surface Pro X was Microsoft’s first true competitor to Apple’s iPad Pro. The mere fact that it was introducing a new ARM chip was a big deal, let alone the industrial design of the device that looked stunning at first glance.
So I have been using this Surface X Pro for over two weeks now and I have to say it definitely lived up to a lot of the hype from it’s announcement. Since I am now using an iPad Pro as my main computer it made sense for me to compare the two, especially since it is a modular computer. But you can’t ignore that it is a laptop first, and is why I am also comparing it to a MacBook Pro.
When you pick up the Surface Pro X for the first time, you can definitely feel how dense it is. Since the entire computer is in the tablet, as it is in the iPad Pro, it makes sense that this would be pretty hefty. In comparison to the iPad Pro 12.9-inch I think the iPad Pro still wins in weight but didn’t feel the Surface Pro X was too heavy when using it in tablet mode.
The model that I got was the Surface Pro X with Signature Keyboard and Slim Pen. It came with a 3Ghz SQ1 Processor, 256 GB SSD, 8 GB of RAM, and also has Cellular LTE available.
Casing and Kickstand
The matte black color is pretty great. With the dark colored casing and the slim bezels it allows the screen to really pop while you are using it. The finish can show a lot of finger prints after using it for only a short period of time. And even though they come off pretty easily with a microfiber clothe, it does look bad covered in fingerprints.
Microsoft has definitely perfected the kickstands on their Surface products and the Pro X is no exception. You can lean this device all the way back with no issue and, after removing the keyboard, the kickstand can provide a pretty great easel-mode to use the Surface Pen if you wanted to write or draw.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard and trackpad feel fantastic. Never had one issue writing this entire review using the keyboard on my desk for long periods. On my lap, though, you could feel the keyboard flexing and was a but uncomfortable typing for a long period of time.
Speaking of using the Surface Pro X on my lap, normally kickstands on laps just don’t work — see my review on the Logitech Combo Touch Keyboard Case. The Surface Pro X actually felt fine on my lap. Besides the flexing of the keyboard, I had no problem using the kickstand for longer periods which was quite surprising.
The trackpad works fine and had no issues with it at all. One area I was little annoyed with was the noise the trackpad made when I had to click. Most times I would just tap the trackpad to select things, but in those instances that I needed to drag something and had to press it hard into a click, the sound was pretty loud. Not a deal breaker but was something I noticed quite a lot during my use.
Now, the display on the Surface Pro X is outstanding. The colors, vibrancy, brightness and size, 13-inch at 2880 x 1920 resolution, are just great. Compared to that of the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1, I feel this screen beats it no problem. Of course, I didn’t see the QHD or UHD versions of the Lenovo but the 1080p made Windows feel dull, the Surface X Pro screen makes Windows feel excellent.
Even compared to the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro, the Surface Pro X is a very strong contender. I did expect the Surface Pro X to have a nice display but for some reason I was just so surprised about how high quality it actually was.
The last thing thing I will touch on with the display is, actually, the touch capabilities. I found the touch pretty useful when using in tablet mode and didn’t sense any delay with the Slim Pen when using it to select or draw things.
I did, however, found Windows to not be very touch friendly. Maybe I have a bias in using the iPad Pro more, but trying to touch things with my finger in Windows was sometimes very painful. Certain things I realized I just couldn’t do with a finger at all, like resizing windows.
The Surface Pen was a great supplement to my failures with using my finger but ultimately shows how Windows isn’t really setup to provide a great tablet experience in it’s lack of working with fingers well. I felt this was one of the biggest disappointments for me and the Surface Pro X.
Laptop and Tablet Mode
Having a modular computer that can be turned into a tablet needs to be able to do both, a laptop and tablet, well. The laptop experience I think is great but the tablet part I feel is lacking quite a bit. I know Microsoft thought that Windows 8 was going to help with that but it unfortunately ruined the laptop part of the experience for most and had to back track that whole experiment.
Still without having to go all Windows 8-mode, you would think Windows 10 would be improving more in its tablet functionality. Especially due to the fact that Microsoft themselves offer tablets in most of their hardware. I am not going to say this problem is easy to solve, their is a reason Apple created a whole new OS for their touch devices. But if Microsoft continues to make tablet hardware, I’d like to see better support in their OS for it.
Performance and SQ1 Processor
From Microsoft’s website describing the SQ1 processor, they say that this new processor provides:
Maximizing performance, productivity, connectivity, and battery life a new, ultra-thin design was the goal when collaborating with Qualcomm® to develop the custom Microsoft® SQ1™ processor. The result: PC power in an ultra-thin, 2-in-1 laptop, and a new class of modern, lightweight, LTE-enabled designs that build on renowned Qualcomm® DNA — with all-day battery life1 to fully support an always-on, always-connected mobile lifestyle.
I am no expert when it comes to different types of silicon and processors but do recognize that this SQ1 chip that Microsoft has introduced in the Surface Pro X is their way of getting into designing their own chip set — similar to Apple in it’s iPhones, iPads, AirPods, etc. (and maybe even Macs soon).
Overall performance while using the Surface Pro X was excellent. Most of my use was in the browser but when I would use Excel, Microsoft To Do, and a browser window open, to either Notion or Medium, I felt no lag.
Their were moments when I would try and run Snag It to take a screenshot of something and I would see moments of seeing the spinning circle. But those moments didn’t last too long and was able to keep doing what I was doing pretty quickly after.
If no one told me the processor of this Surface Pro X, I would just assume it was either Intel or another familiar chipset. I did not see or feel any difference in how the Surface Pro X ran than that of the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1, except for one big thing and that has to do with it’s compatibility with software which I will explain next.
I normally don’t go too into depth about the Operating System on Windows devices due to the fact that Windows 10 is not that different on each. Running Windows on a MacBook Pro did not feel different than when I was using it on the Lenovo laptop and can say this is the same for the Surface Pro X.
I will reiterate, though, that I think Windows 10 has matured to a pretty great OS. It stands out as a very modern designed OS, especially when you see run it on great hardware, either from Microsoft itself or other manufactures like Dell, with their XPS line.
Yes, their are still some downfalls with Microsoft like the fact that every time I setup a new Windows computer I am confronted with a ton of updates. Updates not only for the operating system but for a ton of pre-installed apps as well. This does not take away from the experience I had in using other apps on the Surface Pro X though, and would like to go over some of those next.
The app store for Windows apps felt lacking in a lot of exciting and different applications. I was eager to find a RSS app that I could use to read my RSS feed and use the Surface Pro X as a tablet but the the only app I could get working was Nextgen Reader, and did not like the layout at all.
When in tablet mode I could not get the sidebar to go away and just have the article I wanted to read in full screen. I did like that I could set the taskbar to disappear when in tablet mode and liked that the app too would go into a tablet mode, removing the top menu bar. But the fact that I had to read articles on less than two-thirds of the screen was a poor experience.
My biggest problem with the Microsoft Store, providing apps for hardware that can be a tablet or laptop, is that it is really lacking on providing apps specifically for tablet mode. Almost all of the apps I downloaded and tried were clearly built for the laptop first and provided a very poor experience in using the app in tablet form.
Other apps, that I just couldn’t install like Notion, I just used the web app version. On the positive side, because of Windows 10’s ability to pin webpages to the taskbar, it almost felt like I had the native app installed, it would just open up in the Edge Browser when I wanted to use it.
When it comes to great writing apps, task managers, and other productivity apps, Microsoft offers some of their own that do a great job in interacting with other applications that they offer. But the third party applications that you see on iPadOS is lacking.
Before I go over a few apps that I did enjoy using on the Surface Pro X I would first like to talk about 64-bit on the SQ1 processor. One thing that I found extremely frustrating was that I couldn’t install some 64-bit apps on a Windows 10 64-bit operating system on this Surface Pro X. This led me down a forum rabbit hole in trying to find out why I couldn’t install Notion onto the device.
I discovered a message from a Microsoft Agent Moderator on answers.microsoft.com and was finally provided an answer on why some 64-bit apps were not possible to download onto the Surface Pro X, which, again, had Windows 10 64-bit version installed. The reason was due to the SQ1 processor that Microsoft provided in this new innovative hardware. As stated in the screen shot below, the application needs to be ported as a ARM64 application for it to be compatible on the Surface Pro X.
I think it is pretty odd that Microsoft would go with this transition without better support for already existing 64-bit applications. I am no expert when it comes to the differences when it comes to CPU architecture, especially when comparing a Intel chip to an ARM chip.
But as the creators and owners of the Windows 10 operating system it is hard for me to believe they didn’t have the ability to support a variety of apps all built differently. Or maybe, I am just not familiar enough with all of this to not understand that this is impossible and Microsoft had no choice.
Either way, it makes for a bad experience for the user. If all of these apps were in the Microsoft Store and were updated to support all of Windows 10 operating systems and the chips that run it, it may be all okay. But right now, it kind of sucks.
Now some apps I did enjoy using while using the Surface Pro X for a few weeks was Microsoft To Do and Edge. I spoke about Edge a lot in my other reviews with Windows. But for a Things replacement for Windows I really enjoyed using Microsoft To Do on both my iPhone 11 Pro and Surface Pro X.
The syncing between both devices was seamless and found the app to be very approachable and well designed. Since I do not use Windows normally I can’t see myself switching to Microsoft To Do going forward but it was nice to use this instead of Notion, and having to launch the web app, for small easy tasks that I wanted to keep track of while using the Surface.
Overall I feel Windows 10 is in a really good place and though I found some of Microsofts apps exciting, felt that the Microsoft Store had a long way to go. Especially when it comes to apps being built to support the tablet mode of the Surface devices.
The Surface Pro X is a brilliant and exciting Windows 10 machine. Not only is it exciting to use hardware like this but that this hardware was created by Microsoft is even more exciting.
Like I stated previously, the main reason why I wanted to test this Surface was it’s similar design to that of the iPad Pros. It’s super slim casing, small bezels and modular design was very appealing to me ever since I decided to switch to the iPad Pro from a MacBook Pro.
Some other things that I wanted to mention that didn’t really fit in the categories above are:
- I love Windows Hello, getting into the device is almost identical as FaceID on the iPad Pro which both are life changing when wanting to just get to work.
- The camera on the back and front of the Surface Pro X are good but don’t see much use for the back camera really— similar to how I feel with the iPad Pros back camera.
- The buttons on the Slim Pen are pretty cool in launching the Whiteboard application with the top button and the side button to select things on the screen. Both are pretty intuitive and slick to use.
- Not having a headphone jack was a bit disappointing. I don’t know if it is because the Surface Pro X is more of a laptop than tablet compared to the iPad Pro I was expecting it to be there, it sucked when I tried plugging in my bose headphones and couldn’t.
- The magnet charger is awesome and makes me wish Apple still had their Magsafe chargers on thier MacBook line — or maybe even a version for the iPad and iPhone. This is also awesome because it leaves the two USB-C posts available for other uses.
- The speakers are decent but nothing too exciting — iPad Pro speakers are way better.
Again, this Surface Pro X is pretty great. I would say that if you are willing to put up with the 64-bit compatibility barrier, everything else about this machine is outstanding. I know some reviews have claimed that they experienced some bugs with the operating system but I have yet to see a blue screen of death or crash of any kind.
I really appreciate Microsoft’s continued push into a modular computer future and feel that this is a big step further into that direction.