Surface Pro X Release Date, Specs, Price – Microsoft is trying a million different things to try and bring Windows into the Modern Age, and one of those things is this thing, the Surface Pro X. “X not 10”.
I think it looks like a million bucks, but the significant part of the Surface is the processor. It uses a Qualcomm ARM Chip like your phone, instead of an Intel chip like your computer. An ARM could be the future, but the future ain’t cheap. This starts at $1,140 with a keyboard, and the model I’m testing here costs just short of $1,800. The future also ain’t fast. See, we’re not gonna get to the future without some heartbreak.
So, look, I mean, actually, look at the Surface. It is beautiful! Microsoft went with anodized aluminium in this nearly matte finish, which looks sharp as hell, but also, yeah, it picks up a ton of fingerprints something awful. But from the back, you’d think this was just a black Surface Pro 7, just a little bit thinner with slightly more rounded edges.
But, then this screen hits you. It’s a 13-inch screen and a body that’s nearly the same size as the Surface Pro 7, and that’s because the bezels are much smaller here, at least on the left and the right. It’s 1920 by 2880, which makes it a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is the best. Yes, it is.
There are two keyboard options, and one of them has this little slot where the new Surface Slim Pen can hide, right here. It’s really clever! It just kinda (fingers snap) snicks right in, it charges right there, and it’s held down with magnets. It means you’re much less likely to lose it or forget it in your bag, or whatever.
But, that extra space does seem to make this keyboard just a little bit more wobbly than other Surface keyboards, and when it’s clicked up, it’s harder to tap stuff on the taskbar, or even to see it sometimes. That’s annoying, but if you really want a stylus, it’s probably all worth the trade-off. Now, I am not a stylus person, but this one seems all right. It could get a little bit tiring to use for a long time because it’s so thin, but it supports all the stylus stuff that you’d want, pressure, and angle, and the eraser feature on the other side. Let’s see what else?
Well, the hinge goes to whatever angle you need it to. It’s fanless. It has two USB ports, but not Thunderbolt. You can replace the SSD if you can find one in this weird size, and you can put a SIM card in it for LTE. Even the power and the volume buttons are in more beautiful places. I hope there a microSD card slot, and I wish there were a headphone jack, but overall, this is actually really close to what my platonic ideal Surface hardware would be.
The whole design of the Surface Pro X makes the Surface Pro 7 design look like it’s 4-years old because it is literally 4-years old. This, however, looks like the future. In fact, I’ll just say it. This is the best looking, most beautiful computer that I have held in at least a year. Better than any MacBook, better than the iPad Pro, and way better than any Surface. So, so far, so good, right?
Totally, but that heartbreak is still coming, and it’s spelt A-R-M. The Surface Pro X runs on an ARM processor instead of an Intel x86 processor. It’s made by Qualcomm, but Microsoft customised it especially for graphics performance. It’s called the SQ1, why ARM?
Well, it’s where computers want to go because ARM is developing faster than Intel these days. It supports LTE directly, and it can usually get a better battery life, but there are two problems. ARM processors can’t sustain high speeds as Intel chips can, and most Windows apps aren’t optimised for ARM.
Let’s start with the performance. It’s mostly fine. I mean it’s actually better than I was worried it would be. It’s much faster than other ARM-based Windows computers. I have the model with 16 gigs of RAM, and I am regularly running, like, a dozen apps and over two dozen tabs across a couple of different browsers, and nothing is grinding to a halt. Now, if you end up getting the 8 gig model, you’re probably gonna wanna chill out on that just a little bit.
There is some weird lag sometimes, but, mostly, I didn’t notice too many problems when I was doing office stuff. You know, Microsoft Office, but also what your average office drone, like me, has to do these days. Run Slack, keep an eye on Twitter when they’re bored, edit some spreadsheets, grind through email, and so on and so on.
So, that’s what’s fine, but when it comes to more powerful software, like Photoshop, you can barely even call it an option. Photoshop technically runs on this thing, but look at the zoom. It’s just awful! I wouldn’t also call this usable in a pinch.
So, let’s talk about apps, the apps that run best on the SQ1 are the ones that have been compiled to ARM64. That means they’re 64-bit, and that they’ve been designed to run on this chip. Those apps are fast, and they don’t hurt your battery life much, and they are pretty rare, actually. A bunch of native Windows apps do it, and there’s some stuff on the Microsoft Store, but there’s not a ton more. But, ARM processors can run apps that were compiled for 32-bit x86 Intel chips. This is actually most of what you’re gonna run. Chrome and Spotify, and even Microsoft’s own Office apps, like Word and Excel. I can notice a small speed difference with these apps, especially in Chrome, but mostly the emulation mode here is much better than I expected!
All of which brings us to the real problem. There are a bunch of Windows apps, and especially the newest and most potent Windows apps, that are 64-bit, but designed to work for x86 and not ARM, and they don’t run at all. I’m talking about apps like Adobe Lightroom and even a bunch of Lightroom alternatives that I wanna try, but I can’t. I’m also talking about games. Games are a full-on non-starter. I don’t mean that they’re slow. I mean they literally don’t start. You can’t install Fortnite. You can install Steam, but pretty much everything you download isn’t gonna work. So, here’s a game that I love. It’s called Into the Breach, and it’s a disaster! Just what is happening on the screen, here?
Well, okay, you can play Angry Birds 2, Whoo! See, everybody has that one app that they need, and mine’s Lightroom. And you have to do a ton of research to figure out if your app actually works on this computer. There’s no list that you can just go look it upon. And, hell, Microsoft’s own online store has a homepage that’s filled with apps that don’t work on this computer! Microsoft promised that they’re gonna fix the filters so that only compatible apps show up here, but, c’mon! Whew, all right, that was a lot of bad news. How ’bout some good news again?
Well, the speakers, they’re really loud, and they’re pretty good! Bluetooth also seems stable, and thank God, because there’s no headphone jack here. LTE also works really seamlessly on Windows 10. I think battery life is medium. It’s not great. Other ARM laptops promise 20 hours of battery life, but Microsoft only promises 13 hours of typical use. That also includes a bunch of downtime in standby mode. So, me, I’m getting just over 6 hours of active use throughout a day, and maybe nine or 10 total, if you include all those standby times. That means that I usually have to plug this in the midafternoon just to feel safe.
I think the battery life should be better at this kind of computer, especially at this price. At least the Fast Charging is really fast. When I was using the Surface Connect charger, and this thing was in standby, I got from 5% to 50% in half-an-hour! And, while I was using it on charging, it also felt pretty fast. It will also charge over USB-C, but it just won’t be as fast as using the original charger.
So, at this point, you’re asking yourself, “Why wouldn’t I just get a Surface Pro 7? “It has better performance, and all of the apps work.” And, you’re not wrong. I think that this hardware, and especially this screen, is much nicer. But, I don’t know that it’s kind enough to justify all those other trade-offs. Maybe someday, when there are more ARM apps, but not today.
I will give Microsoft some credit for making an ARM machine that’s fast enough, and that runs real Windows 10, instead of RT, or Windows S, or whatever. And, again, this is one of the best-looking computers around, but the apps are not ready yet. There might be a bunch of people who won’t care. If you just need Office, and email, and Spotify, and Netflix, and whatever, this thing is excellent! It’s basically the perfect computer for an executive or a CEO.
But, for the rest of us, if we’re gonna spend anywhere between $1100 and $2000 on a Windows computer, then we should expect it to do more. Buying this computer is making a massive bet that ARM apps are going to get made, and I think that’s just too risky. This hardware looks great, but you don’t just look at computers, you need to use them! As I said, it’s a heartbreaker. What do you think?