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Hands on: Hands on: Microsoft Surface Pro X review

Hands on: Hands on: Microsoft Surface Pro X review

Early Verdict

The Surface Pro X is an absolutely impressive looking and feeling Windows tablet – perhaps the best yet in that department. But, while we appreciate Microsoft’s faith in its new ARM processor, we’ve yet to see an ARM-based Windows device perform to expectations for the price. Consider us impressed but cautiously optimistic.

For

  • Refinement of Surface Pro design
  • Fantastically bright and vibrant display
  • Brilliant Surface Pen implementation

Against

  • ARM CPU is worrisome
  • No more microSD slot

The next evolution for Microsoft’s professional-bent range of tablets is here, and it’s a whole new animal. The Surface Pro X marks the company’s first device with a custom-built processor (CPU) inside and a stylus that stows away and automatically charges.

All told, it’s a logical leap forward for the device now in its seventh iteration, especially in terms of design. This version of the tablet is thinner and lighter than ever before. But, this is also uncharted territory for the platform, now being an ARM-based, Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU called the Microsoft SQ1.

The Surface Pro X looks and feels fantastic, and the price considering isn’t necessarily astronomical, but let’s just say we’re cautiously optimistic for its performance.

Microsoft Surface Pro X

(Image credit: Future)

Price and availability

The Surface Pro X launches on October 22 in stores and online, while pre-orders are starting today. Microsoft has set the starting price at $999 / AU$1,699 (about £810).

In short, this is a premium product through and through, but at least it includes the stylus and keyboard cover for that price.

Keeping in line with similarly priced 2-in-1 tablets, that price gets you 8GB of memory (RAM) and a removable 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) to start. That’s about what a MacBook Air delivers today at its starting price.

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Design and feel

The Surface Pro X takes the tried and true Surface Pro design and files it down in terms of thinness and weight. Specifically, the tablet measures 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.28 inches (287 x 208 x 7.3mm) and weighs 1.7 pounds (774g).

Knowing that, the device feels incredibly light to us, and would fit in almost any bag. The Surface Pro X also files down the curvature and angles of the tablet’s edges, making for a much more rounded look and feel. 

It’s a pleasant change, making the Surface Pro feel more like our iPhone XR than a Windows tablet – and that’s a compliment.

There’s only one color for the Surface Pro X: a matte black aluminum finish and a black Alcantara fabric Type Cover. It’s only the most sleek of appearances for this flagship evolution debut.

As for the typing experience, we quite enjoy it and find ourselves to be accurate on the keyboard, though it feels bouncier than in previous-generation Surface Pro tablets. That said, we appreciate that the ergonomic angle is still an option with the Surface Pen stored within the Type Cover, just beneath the display.

Speaking of the Surface Pen, it’s now a bit flatter than before – to accommodate the new storing and charging functions – but it feels just as pleasing and accurate to doodle with. All of the usual pressure sensitivity is there, and the display’s palm rejection is spot-on.

While we’re on the display, it’s a 13-inch PixelSense touchscreen with a 2,880 x 1,920 resolution (267 pixels per inch) with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous panel with excellent color from what we can tell. It’s also quite bright at 450 nits.

All told, this is a large Windows tablet that we could actually see ourselves using as a traditional tablet, thanks to its profile and weight. Not to mention that excellent display.

(Image credit: Future)

Performance

The Surface Pro X is a future-looking device, just looking at its silicon. It’s using an all-new CPU that we’ve actually never seen before, so it’s hard to get an idea of how it holds up with competing chips from Intel and AMD. And, unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to put it through our full suite of benchmark tests – yet. 

However, the tablet is packed with up to 16GB of RAM, and Microsoft does claim that this custom ARM processor – co-developed with Qualcomm – promises PC-class performance, along with “best-in-class” graphics performance. Everything there sounds great, but we’ve yet to see an ARM-based Windows 10 device really give Intel or AMD machines a run for their money. So, honestly, we’re intrigued and can’t wait to get it in-house to see how it stands up.

The ARM processor here also allows for native LTE support, so you should be able to be connected wherever you go. This means you don’t have to stop working, creating or playing no matter where you go. But, it’s kind of a double edged sword. Because it’s using this chip instead of an Intel Ice Lake processor, it doesn’t support WiFi 6, instead limited to WiFi 5. Realistically, this will probably mean little for most everyday users, but the lack of future-proofing is a bit disappointing for a device heralded as the future of Microsoft’s Surface Pro lineup.

The Redmond company also touts the first-ever artificial intelligence engine in a Windows PC processor. The applications of this are largely unknown right now, but one feature we’ve seen is live video editing during webcam calls to make it always appear as if you’re looking at the lens – even when you’re not. An impressive feature if not a tad creepy.

Also, we should note that the USB-C ports on the device are not Thunderbolt 3, but presumably USB 3.1 – which is a total let down. We welcome the versatility that USB-C brings to Surface Pro now, but we also wanted the unmatched data transfer speeds and high-resolution display support. Oh, and the microSD card slot is no more, likely due to the shrinking profile.

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro X will last up to 13 hours on a single battery charge, but to us this seems a little low for an ARM device. One of the biggest benefits of this kind of processor is power efficiency, but maybe the Microsoft SQ1 chip is just that powerful. We’ll test it to see how long it really lasts, but you should at least be comforted by the fact that it supports fast charging, so you’ll be able to get up to 80% battery in about an hour.

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

The Surface Pro X is an absolutely impressive looking and feeling Windows tablet. It’s the first of its kind that we could honestly see using in the traditional tablet orientation, thanks to its diminutive dimensions.

However, in spite of the clever hardware design and brilliant display, we’re quite wary of the ARM processor inside. While it has been developed by Microsoft specifically, ARM CPUs inside Windows devices have enjoyed an awful performance track record thus far.

Regardless, if this is the new flagship Surface Pro device, then Microsoft have a lot of faith in this new processor platform, so we’ll reserve any more judgment for a full review.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews’ are a journalist’s first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it’s like to use, even if it’s only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar’s Reviews Guarantee.

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