Microsoft Surface Pro X Review: The Best Tablet You Shouldn’t Buy
The Microsoft Surface Pro X is a fantastic tablet – that most shouldn’t buy. In this review, you’ll find out if you’re among the few the Pro X is made for.
Microsoft Surface Pro X is one of the best tablets you can buy right now. However, for most, I can not recommend getting one. It offers a pretty 13-inch screen, a very premium-feeling design, and great accessories with the Surface Slim Pen and keyboard cover. With prices starting from 999 US Dollars, it’s quite expensive though. And instead of Intel chips, we’re getting an ARM processor. In this Microsoft Surface Pro X review, you’ll learn everything you need to know.
Design & Build Quality
We’re starting this review with the design and build quality. Regarding this, every Surface has been excellent in the past and with the Surface Pro X, Microsoft improved the design of the Pro series even more. They managed to increase the screen size from 12.3 to 13 inches without making the body bigger. Because of that, the screen bezels on the sides are very slim now.
The tablet is thinner than the Surface Pro 7 with its 7.3mm but it weighs about the same at under 800g. Instead of a magnesium alloy, Microsoft is using a black aluminum body with rounded edges now. While that looks quite elegant, it also means that you’ll see fingerprints much easier. Since the ARM processor is passive cooled, there are no air vents and it’s completely silent.
I noticed that the body seemed much sturdier to me than the iPad Pro does. When I use Apple’s even thinner tablet without a case, I always have the feeling of bending it by accident. Now, that never happened, but it feels more fragile.
Like all Surface tablets, the Pro X has a kickstand build into its back and you can open it very wide. The kickstand seems to be very sturdy and you can open and close it smoothly.
Every generation offered a microSD card slot that was always hidden underneath the kickstand. That feature is missing now. Instead, you can use a SIM eject tool to open a lid and insert a SIM card. LTE is a standard with all versions and works well.
Next to that SIM card slot, you have direct access to the SSD. Yes, the Surface Pro X is the first Surface and one of very few tablets in general, that let you replace the SSD on your own. Sure, it’s a bit smaller than your standard SSD. But at least you can get a replacement without sending it to Microsoft.
It’s a bit disappointing that just like with Apple’s and Samsung’s flagship devices, they decided to remove the headphone jack. Well, I guess it’s time to get over that. There’s not USB A port either. Instead, the Pro X has two USB C ports. No, they don’t support Thunderbolt 3, but you can connect USB C hubs and external monitors anyways. The power button sits on the left side and on the right, you’ll find the volume controls.
Even though you can charge the Surface Pro X using both USB C ports, Microsoft continues to include the Surface Connect port which sits on its right side. And we also get the magnetic Surface Connect charger instead of a USB C one.
Cameras & Speakers
On its back, the Microsoft Surface Pro X features a 10-megapixel camera that can record full HD but also 4K videos. The quality is excellent, especially for a Windows tablet. And that’s what I can say about the 5-megapixel front-facing webcam too. It supports 1080p videos only, but the quality is good. I didn’t review many laptops but since even expensive ones usually have bad cameras, the webcam of the Surface Pro X is probably one of the best in a Windows device.
Next to that webcam sits an infrared camera which you can use to unlock the tablet using the facial recognition of Windows Hello. That works fantastic and seems to be as good as Apple’s Face ID.
Pro X has two speakers which are barely visible on the sides of the screen. Their sound quality is very good and like what we get from other premium tablets.
Surface Pro X Keyboard
On the bottom, the Surface Pro X has a magnetic connector for keyboards that you’ve got to buy separately. Even though the connector looks like the ones of other Surface tablets, keyboards for the Pro 7 or Pro 6 are not compatible.
For the Surface Pro X, you can choose between the Surface Pro X Keyboard and the Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard. I think the Signature one is most interesting because it’s covered by an Alcantara material and it has a kind of pouch for the Surface Slim Pen. In fact, the pen gets charged while stored inside. The Bundle of Signature Keyboard and Slim Pen costs 269.99 US Dollars.
Sadly, the bundle was sold out when I got it in Germany, so I had to get the normal keyboard which costs 139.99 US Dollars. And I had to buy the Slim Pen separately which is more expensive. So, if you need both, try to get the bundle.
Well, the keyboards from Microsoft are very expensive. But like I said in my Surface Pro 7 review, I think they’re the best official keyboards for any tablet. Much better than what Apple and Samsung are offering. Not just a bit, but a lot better.
Even the cheaper standard keyboard feels well made and it’s a full-size one. I was able to type on it fast without having to get used to it. You’ve got real keys to press down, a background light is build-in, and thanks to a magnetic bar, you can angle up the keyboard a bit.
The touchpad is a bit bigger than the one from its predecessors and works well. However, it’s not as big as the ones from most recent notebooks like a MacBook Pro.
Hardware & Performance
Six years ago, I reviewed the Microsoft Surface 2 which was the last tablet Microsoft released with an ARM processor. Back then, it got shipped with Windows RT which had huge limitations compared to Windows 8. Needless to say, that Windows RT got killed a couple of years later.
Microsoft continued to work on Windows on ARM and even though the Surface Pro X has an ARM processor, it is running normal Windows 10 Home. However, a couple of limitations remained. But let’s check out the internal hardware first.
Inside the Surface Pro X sits a 3GHz Microsoft SQ1 processor that they developed together with Qualcomm and has eight cores. When buying the tablet, you can choose between 8GB and 16GB of RAM, as well as a 128GB to 512GB SSD. Depending on your configuration, you’ll have to pay between 999 and 1799 US Dollars. Without accessories.
My review unit is the cheapest one with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.
In my Geekbench 4 benchmark comparison, you can see that the performance of the SQ1 processor is not as good as a recent Intel Core i5 is. At the same time, however, it’s much more powerful than cheaper Windows tablets like the Surface Go.
Sadly, I couldn’t run any benchmark tools that test graphics performance on Windows because they’re not compatible. And that brings us to the limitations that still exist on Windows on ARM devices: Old, not for ARM made 64-bit or x64 apps are not supported.
That means that you’re not able to play most games. And apps like Adobe Premiere Pro, Premiere Rush, and Lightroom cannot be installed either.
Instead, you can install and use all programs that are made for Windows 10 ARM. And 32-bit x86 apps are supported too, they run in an emulator that you won’t see. That means you can install most apps from the Microsoft Store. Not all, and certainly not all games, but most apps. Programs like Chrome are 32-bit and do work.
So, how good is the real performance?
Microsoft’s apps run very well. In fact, the Surface Pro X does feel very fast and snappy in real life. When working with Microsoft Word, Excel, OneNote, and the Edge browser, it feels as fast as the Surface Pro 7 does. Windows runs very well too and that’s the case for most Microsoft Store apps. With those, the tablet feels as fast as ones with recent Intel Core i5 chips do.
However, that’s not always the case with 32-bit x86 apps like Chrome. Google’s browser and even the Chromium-based Edge beta do run surprisingly well. Much better than on cheaper Intel Windows tablets. For example, you can watch YouTube just like you can on most laptops, and it plays smoothly in the background. Yes, even when you’re using ten browser tabs, two Word documents, and an Excel file at the same time. With these apps, multitasking performance is great. But sometimes you do notice that it’s not as snappy as a normal, premium notebook is.
That’s clearly noticeable when using Photoshop which is one of very few Adobe apps that you can install on the Surface Pro X. It does run and I did edit a couple of photos with it. But it does not run as it should on a Windows machine that costs 1000 dollars or more. In fact, you can see how the photo is being rendered when you just zoom in a bit or move the visible area. Now, you can use many tools like the brush tool, and they do work smoothly. But overall, the performance is much worse than on the Surface Pro 7.
Like I said, most games won’t run and that’s the case for Adobe Premiere Pro as well. Fortnite is among them too. Some do run, however. I tried Asphalt 9 and that racing game does work well. With that being said, Asphalt 9 runs on tablets that cost around 200 Dollars. So, it’s not a huge achievement.
Surface Pro X is clearly too weak for you if you want to use Photoshop or play games. For things like that it’s either too weak or the app is not supported by Windows ARM. Microsoft’s apps like Word, Excel, and OneNote run great, on the other hand. And Windows 10 itself too. The performance of other apps like Chrome is not perfect but pretty good.
Read: The Best Windows Tablets
Now, let’s get to something positive. The display is 13-inches in size which makes it bigger than all previous Surface Pro tablets. I like that Microsoft is keeping the 3:2 aspect ratio because it’s the best format for office work. The resolution of the PixelSense display is 2880 x 1920 pixels which is more than before. But since the screen got bigger, the pixel density remains at 267ppi just like on the Pro 7.
I like that the display is very bright, especially for a Windows tablet. Viewing angles are wide and contrast and color reproduction are excellent. It’s exactly the kind of screen I expect to get with an expensive premium tablet.
Microsoft Surface Slim Pen
Let’s get to the new Microsoft Surface Slim Pen. Like I said earlier, you can get it either as a bundle with the keyboard or buy it separately for 144.99 US Dollars. It’s the first stylus from Microsoft that has an integrated, non-removable battery. If you’ve got the keyboard bundle, the pen is charged using that keyboard. If you get the stylus alone, it’s charged using a USB C charging station.
It’s important to know that in this case, the older, normal Surface Pens are compatible too. So, if you owned one in the past or prefer the old one, you can continue to use it.
The Surface Slim Pen looks a bit different and has a rechargeable battery, but besides that, it works just like the normal Surface Pen does. It supports 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, has a button on its side and an eraser button on the back. All those pressure points allow you to draw a thin line when pressing down just a bit and a harder line when pressing the pen down harder.
On the right side of the Surface Pro X, you can connect the pen magnetically. However, I think that’s not on purpose and works because of the magnets for the Surface Connect port.
The Surface Slim Pen is a bit thinner than the normal stylus – that’s why it’s called Slim Pen. While the previous ones are made of metal, this one has a full plastic body. That makes it feel much cheaper even though it is pricier.
Read: The Best Apps For The Microsoft Surface Pen
Another new aspect is the tip of the Slim Pen. It’s as hard as the one of the Apple Pencil now. The normal Surface Pen has a softer tip, but you can buy harder ones too if you want. I always thought that the softer ones feel more like writing on paper until a designer told me that he preferred the hard one because it travels easier over the screen. Well, you’ve got to try them for yourself to see what you prefer.
Both pens work fantastic in apps like OneNote to write down handwritten notes or to draw something. As I said, apps like Photoshop run too, but not good enough to use them a lot. That’s why I think the stylus for the Surface Pro X is interesting for handwritten text only. Photographers or designers should go with Surface Pro 7.
In my battery test, the Microsoft Surface Pro X got a runtime of 12 hours and 15 minutes. For this test, I’m always looping the same HD video with medium brightness and activated WiFi.
Yes, the battery life is better than on the Surface Pro 7, but the promise of ARM is especially long battery life. That’s why that result is a bit disappointing. In real life, the battery lasts longer than other Windows tablets when using Office apps. But with x86 apps like Chrome, the runtime is like what you get with Intel Windows tablets. That’s a bummer.
Microsoft Surface Pro X Review: My Final Verdict
Okay, let’s get to the end of this Microsoft Surface Pro X review. Like I said at the beginning, I think it’s a fantastic tablet. I like many aspects a lot. Among those are the design, the screen, and great accessories. It’s also nice to see that LTE is supported because that’s quite rare on Windows devices. For some, the Surface Pro X can be an interesting choice. But for most, it’s not.
I think it might be worth getting if you’re looking for a very high-end Windows tablet for Office work. That means for Microsoft Word, Excel and OneNote, but also to surf the web. And to write down handwritten notes. Surface Pro X is made for these tasks and does them well. It’s an interesting choice if you’re willing to spend lots of money on high-end design, on a premium tablet, but need it for office work only. And sure, it’s good for watching Netflix and YouTube too, but certainly not for gaming.
The tablet is most certainly not for you if you’re a photographer or designer. Apps from Adobe either don’t work at all or poorly. And I couldn’t find any alternatives that run great and that professional photographers would really use. I think that’s the case for designers too. And you can’t edit videos with it at all. And it’s not for gamers either.
My final verdict is not super clear, because, on the one hand, I like the Surface Pro X a lot. Bot, on the other hand, it’s very expensive and you’re investing lots of money in a Windows tablet that can’t run all Windows apps. And don’t forget that among those are drivers you might need for an accessory you’re using. That’s why my final verdict is that it’s a great tablet, but for most I cannot comfortably recommend it.
Let’s check out some alternatives.
Surface Pro X Alternatives
I think the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is a much better choice for most. Sure, the design is exactly the same design of the Pro 6 and 5, but the performance is very good, the screen looks nice too, and the keyboard and pen are fantastic. It’s a bit cheaper and it’s shipped with a normal Intel processor. Apps like Photoshop run very well. And yes, if you want, you can even play a bit of Fortnite.
The second alternative is the Apple iPad Pro. It’s an interesting alternative if you don’t need Windows and don’t need to fully replace a laptop with it. The iPad Pro has a bigger selection of apps that are optimized for touch and it’s the better pure tablet. You can get some work done with it, but I wouldn’t replace a real PC with it. But for many, it’s the perfect second device.
Read: The Best Microsoft Surface Pro Alternatives
Surface Pro X Accessories
Here are the accessories I’ve been using with the Microsoft Surface Pro X. I didn’t list the official keyboards and pens extra, because I mentioned them already.
Inateck Case For Surface Pro
To protect the Surface Pro X and Pro 7 when using them outside, I used the Inateck sleeve. Both tablets fit great including their keyboard covers and they’re protected from all sides. The Inateck sleeve costs around 16 dollars, so it’s cheap but looks good. Another small pouch for the charger is included.
VAVA 9-in-1 USB C Hub
While I’m a huge fan of USB C, I continue to need at least an SD card reader, a couple of USB A ports, and sometimes even an ethernet port. I’ve started to use the VAVA 9-in-1 USB C hub with the Pro X. And I really like that it offers HDMI, ethernet and USB A ports, but also SD card readers and especially a headphone jack. Since the Pro X is lacking one, exactly this VAVA hub might be interesting for you too.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
I tried to stay away from Bluetooth headphones for a long time. But since fewer and fewer phones and tablets offer a headphone jack and since I forgot my adapter several times when flying, I decided to get the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. They’re the best ones according to Wirecutter, and they offer a long battery life and work great with the Pro X. However, with a price tag of around 400 Dollars, they’re quite pricey. So, it’s probably only worth it for you if you need the noise-canceling feature a lot.
- Fantastic design
- Pretty 13-inch screen
- Great performance for office work
- Excellent keyboard & stylus
- Removable SSD
- Build-in LTE 4G
- Poor performance of some x86 apps
- x64 programs can’t be installed
- Short battery life for an ARM tablet
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