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Hands on: Microsoft Surface Pro X review

The flagship Surface Pro goes in a bold, new direction

What is a hands on review?
Microsoft Surface Pro X
The Microsoft Surface Pro X marks the company's first-ever device with a custom-built processor inside.
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

The Surface Pro X is an incredibly impressive looking and feeling Windows tablet – perhaps the best yet in that department. However, while we understand 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, though 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-level range of tablets is here, and it's a whole new breed. The Surface Pro X marks the company's first-ever device with a custom-built processor (CPU) inside, as well as a stylus that stows away and automatically charges.

All told, it's a logical leap forward for the device that is now in its seventh iteration, especially when it comes to the design. This version of the tablet is more compact than ever before. However, 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 when it comes to performance.

Microsoft Surface Pro X

The Microsoft Surface Pro X is a premium product through and through.

(Image credit: Future)

Price and availability

The Surface Pro X will hit the streets on October 22 in stores and online. However, it is now available for pre-order, with the base model starting at $999 / AU$1,699 (about £810).

In short, this is a premium product through and through. The good news here, however, is that Microsoft has now included the stylus and keyboard cover for that price, which makes it a pretty good deal.

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.

Image 1 of 12

Microsoft files down the curvature and angles of the Surface Pro X’s edges.

Microsoft files down the curvature and angles of the Surface Pro X’s edges.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 2 of 12

Surface Pen is now flatter than before to accommodate the new storing and charging functions.

Surface Pen is now flatter than before to accommodate the new storing and charging functions.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 3 of 12

There's only one color: a matte black aluminum finish and a black Alcantara fabric Type Cover.

There's only one color: a matte black aluminum finish and a black Alcantara fabric Type Cover.
(Image credit: Future)


Image 4 of 12

The Surface Pro X files down the classic yet tired Surface Pro design in terms of thinness and weight.

The Surface Pro X files down the classic yet tired Surface Pro design in terms of thinness and weight.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 5 of 12

It's only the sleekest of appearances for this flagship evolution debut.

It's only the sleekest of appearances for this flagship evolution debut.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 6 of 12

It's only the sleekest of appearances for this flagship evolution debut.

It's only the sleekest of appearances for this flagship evolution debut.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 7 of 12

The Surface Pro X files down the classic yet tired Surface Pro design in terms of thinness and weight.

The Surface Pro X files down the classic yet tired Surface Pro design in terms of thinness and weight.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 8 of 12

The Surface Pro X files down the classic yet tired Surface Pro design in terms of thinness and weight.

The Surface Pro X files down the classic yet tired Surface Pro design in terms of thinness and weight.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 9 of 12

The Surface Pro X files down the classic yet tired Surface Pro design in terms of thinness and weight.

The Surface Pro X files down the classic yet tired Surface Pro design in terms of thinness and weight.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 10 of 12

There's only one color for the Surface Pro X: a matte black aluminum finish.

There's only one color for the Surface Pro X: a matte black aluminum finish.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 11 of 12

The display is a 13-inch PixelSense touchscreen with a 2,880 x 1,920 resolution.

The display is a 13-inch PixelSense touchscreen with a 2,880 x 1,920 resolution.
(Image credit: Future)
Image 12 of 12

The Alcantara fabric Type Cover comes in black.

The Alcantara fabric Type Cover comes in black.
(Image credit: Future)

Design and feel

The Surface Pro X takes the classic yet tired Surface Pro design and files it down in terms of thinness and weight. Specifically, the tablet now 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, and would easily slip into almost any bag. Microsoft also files down the curvature and angles of the Surface Pro X’s edges, giving it a much more rounded look and feel. 

It's a welcome 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 sleekest 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 flatter than before to accommodate the new storing and charging functions. However, it feels just as pleasing and accurate to doodle and draw on. 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 stunning panel with excellent color from what we can tell. It's also impressively 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.

Microsoft Surface Pro X

The USB-C ports on the device are not Thunderbolt 3, but presumably USB 3.1.

(Image credit: Future)

Performance

The Surface Pro X is a future-looking device, just looking at its silicon. It's utilizing an all-new CPU that we've actually never seen before, so it's difficult to get an idea of how it holds up against 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 – delivers PC-class performance, alongside "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 cautiously intrigued and can't wait to get it in-house to see how it stands up.

This ARM processor also allows for native LTE support, so you’re connected wherever you go. This means you don't have to stop working, creating or playing no matter where you are. However, it's a bit of a double-edged sword because it's using this chip instead of an Intel Ice Lake processor. This means that it doesn't support WiFi 6, and is 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 boasts the first-ever artificial intelligence engine in a Windows PC processor. The applications for this are largely unknown right now. However, one feature we've seen is live video editing during webcam calls to make it always appears as if you're looking at the lens – even when you're not. An impressive feature, if 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 letdown. 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 gone, 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. However, it could be that the Microsoft SQ1 chip is just that powerful. We'll test it to see just how long it really lasts, though you should at least be comforted by the fact that it supports fast charging. With the Surface Pro X, you'll be able to get up to 80% battery in about an hour.

Microsoft Surface Pro X

The Surface Pro X is an incredibly impressive looking and feeling Windows tablet.

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

The Surface Pro X is an incredibly 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, despite 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 are notorious for having 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.