Microsoft's thinnest Surface is a 'Pro' in name only

Microsoft's Surface Pro X tablet looks and feels incredibly slick; from the stealthy looking all-black anodised aluminium finish and curved edges to the way the redesigned Surface Pen smartly hides away into an innocuous magnetic charging cradle above the keyboard. But the decision to go with a processor using mobility-focused ARM architecture, as opposed to an x86 architecture used in many Intel and AMD PC chips today, produces mixed results.

With its thinner bezels, the Surface Pro X packs a larger 13-inch 2880x1920 resolution display into a frame that is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 7. At just 7.33mm thin and 775 grams, the Surface Pro X is on par with Apple's 12.9-inch iPad Pro and, coupled with the versatile built-in kickstand, extended tablet use is much more comfortable.

The Surface Pro X is the thinnest and lightest Surface Pro, but comes with a big compromise.

The downside is that the black finish around back is a fingerprint magnet and easily picks up nicks and scratches. There's no headphone jack or SD card slot either which are odd omissions given that other 2-in-1 PCs including Microsoft's own Surface Pro have them.

The Pro X offers always-on 4G connectivity via the physical SIM card tray or eSIM, and features a replaceable SSD for storage which is rare for a device in this category.

Microsoft's SQ1 ARM chip sits at the heart of the device and is part of the reason the Surface Pro X can be so thin and light. It's more powerful than any other ARM-based PC on the market — such as Samsung's Galaxy Book 2 — produces barely any heat and allows the PC to start instantly, but it isn't as powerful as the or Apple's iPad Pro.

But using the mobility-focused ARM architecture in the PC world has its drawbacks, since most desktop applications are designed to run on more traditional x86 chips.

Practically anything you download from Microsoft's own app store, like Office or the new Chromium-based Edge browser, will run fine. But most programs you get from elsewhere run through an emulation layer, resulting in a slight performance hit. Many more demanding applications that professionals might use, such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, won't run at all.

ARM also lacks support for modern game engines, so gaming is pretty much out of the question.

In my testing I found app compatibility to be a bit of a crapshoot, with some apps like Netflix and Stan letting me watch one video before crashing, and Dropbox not working at all. Even Microsoft's own 'Your Phone' app ran extremely poorly with constant connectivity issues. Other hardware accessories and peripherals such as printers , unless their drivers have been designed for a Windows 10 ARM-based PC.

The problem is that there is really no definite way to know what will work and what won't before buying, as Microsoft doesn't maintain any sort of online resource when it comes to app compatibility and doesn't communicate the issue well to consumers.

I did come across a community initiative on Reddit that lists the apps that are supported and not supported on the Surface Pro X based on user testing, which can be viewed .

Microsoft's app solution has implications for battery life too, as emulating apps consume more juice. My battery life was as low as 6 hours when using an x86 app like Google Chrome, but switching to Microsoft's ARM-based Edge browser boosted battery life closer to the 9 hour mark. While that's impressive for a device this thin and light, it's just an hour more runtime than the more capable Surface Pro 7 and well below other ARM-powered Windows PCs.

Overall I really like the Surface Pro X but I would be hesitant to recommend it to most people since it simply isn't as capable or as versatile as the Surface Pro 7. The Pro X also starts at an eye-watering $2129 for the base 128GB model with the detachable keyboard and Surface Slim Pen; that's $400 more than a similarly equipped Surface Pro 7.

The Pro X is for a very specific type of user; one that values mobility and 4G connectivity above all else and is willing to live with the compromises that come with it. If your workflow primarily consists of using a web browser and apps downloaded from the Microsoft Store, then the Surface Pro X is worth the premium. Others looking for more of a general purpose 2-in-1 will be better served elsewhere.


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