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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Microsoft Surface Pro X review: A peek into the future but one that throws up new questions

The Surface Pro X is a new type of computer that offers a glimpse into ARM-powered Windows, but it’s not without chaos.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Rs. 113299
Written by Anuj Bhatia | New Delhi |
Updated: February 2, 2022 12:08:34 pm
Surface Pro X reviewThe Surface Pro X is exciting but also frustrating at the same time. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

When I was a kid I used to love Lego. Piecing together the little pieces to form a building or creature gave me a sense of accomplishment. While using the Surface Pro X recently, I felt as if Microsoft was solving a puzzle too. The Surface Pro X is a new type of computer that offers a glimpse into ARM-powered Windows, but it’s not without chaos. Just like a Lego set, Microsoft is putting pieces together to build a computer that requires a reimagined approach. But building something new also leads to heartbreak at times. Here’s my review of the Surface Pro X.

Microsoft Surface Pro X price in India: Rs 113,299 (SQ1, 8GB RAM/256GB storage)

Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Design and aesthetics

Think of the Surface Pro X as the BMW of convertible tablets. Although the design of the Surface Pro X is based on the previous-generation Surface Pro devices, there are certain things that make this premium hybrid computer different.

First, Microsoft has shaved off the sides of the screen, giving it a modern look. It still features a 3:2 aspect ratio PixelSense display that measures 13 inches, with multi-touch and Surface Slim Pen support. Unlike the Surface Pro 7, the Surface Pro X is slightly curved though it retains the terrific aluminum build.

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Surface Pro X, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Surface Pro X price in India, Surface Pro X review, Surface Pro X SQ1, ARM on Windows, Windows 11 The Surface Pro X is a 2-in-1 device, just like the iPad Pro. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

At just 7.3mm thin, the Surface Pro X feels a lot like the iPad Pro — high-end, fanless, lightweight and professional-looking. On the back of the Pro X is the Surface Kickstand that offers multiple angles. I wish the iPad Pro too had the built-in kickstand; it’s excellent.

Because the Pro X has a kickstand, I can lay the device nearly flat and transform the machine into a canvas for drawing. Under the kickstand is a small compartment that hides a removable SSD, but Microsoft states that it should only be replaced by technicians. There are two USB-C ports on the left side, with a Surface Connect port for charging. Also on the sides are volume keys to the left, with a power button on the right.

Surface Pro X, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Surface Pro X price in India, Surface Pro X review, Surface Pro X SQ1, ARM on Windows, Windows 11 On the back of the Pro X is the Surface Kickstand that offers multiple angles. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Unfortunately, there is no headphone jack or microSD card slot. Since Microsoft charges a hefty amount for the built-in storage, I’d advise you to choose the model accordingly. My review unit, which is targeted at consumers, comes with a 128B SSD. Storage is costly at the upper tiers and you could see the price difference of Rs 55,900 between the lowest and highest storage capacities.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Display and speakers

Oh, and that screen. The 13-inch screen (up to 450 nits) is vivid and full of contrast. The 2880 x 1920 pixel resolution gives a pleasing 267 pixel-per-inch (PPI) density. The trailer of Badhaai Do looked great, with deep and vivid colours. Surfing the web on the 60Hz screen is sheer joy, but I did miss the 120Hz output that’s there on the new Surface Pro 8. You can, of course, switch between an “enhanced” colour profile with a more saturated look and higher contrast and the more neutral sRGB mode.

Surface Pro X, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Surface Pro X price in India, Surface Pro X review, Surface Pro X SQ1, ARM on Windows, Windows 11 The ARM-powered Surface Pro X runs on Windows 11, Microsoft’s latest desktop operating system. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

The Windows Hello face recognition camera above the display is fast and responsive. The Pro X has a 5-megapixel 1080p front-facing camera, centered above the display when it’s in landscape orientation. On the back is a 10-megapixel camera that can shoot up to 4K video. The front camera is terrific for video calls. Audio quality is not the same level as the iPad Pro, but the dual front-facing speakers are loud and get the job done.

Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Signature Keyboard and Surface Pen

The Surface Pen and Smart Keyboard case have been totally revamped. The Signature keyboard with Slim Pen adds Rs 24,499 to overall ownership of the Surface Pro X but they are worth every penny. You can also purchase these accessories separately. For the review purpose, Microsoft loaned me the Alcantara version of the Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2

When the keyboard is magnetically attached to the Surface Pro X’s bottom bezel, just below the screen, it becomes a full-blown laptop. The keyboard also acts as a protective case for the Pro X. The keyboard is comfortable to type on, offers excellent backlit, and you get the flexibility to use it flat on your desk or at an angle. It’s easy to set up, connects instantly and protects your Surface Pro X when it’s slung in a bag.

My only issue with the keyboard is the small glass trackpad. Interestingly, the keyboard has a hidden compartment for the Slim Pen that doubles as a wireless charger. It’s a clever design – and Apple should copy whenever it announces the next version of Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro.

Surface Pro X, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Surface Pro X price in India, Surface Pro X review, Surface Pro X SQ1, ARM on Windows, Windows 11 The optional Surface Pro X’s keyboard is terrific. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

One of my favourite features of the Surface Pro X is a new Surface Slim Pen 2. The first thing you notice is the shape of the stylus. The Surface Pen makes you feel as if you are using a carpenter’s pencil. Because they have a larger surface area, they are easier to grip than standard pencils. Functionality-wise, the Surface Slim Pen has a Bluetooth button on one end that also doubles as an eraser. You will also find two buttons near the tip that can be customised. The Slim Pen supports tilt and 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity. In my testing, I had no issues taking notes or signing documents. Thanks to haptics, writing with the Surface Pen 2 on the Pro X’s feels like real paper. If you are an artist, you can use the Surface Slim Pen for drawing or sketching.

Surface Pro X, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Surface Pro X price in India, Surface Pro X review, Surface Pro X SQ1, ARM on Windows, Windows 11 The Surface Pen 2 makes you feel as if you are using a carpenter’s pencil. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Performance and battery

The Surface Pro X is different from the Surface Pro 8 or any Surface computer introduced in the past. The reason? Well, the chip inside the Surface Pro X is not made by Intel, which uses x86 architecture. Instead, it uses an ARM chip made in collaboration with Qualcomm and Microsoft. Imagine the Surface Pro X is just like your smartphone but in a tablet form factor.

Microsoft is selling the Windows 11-powered Surface Pro X in either SQ1 or SQ2 processor, with the latter version a bit faster than the first-generation SQ1 chip. Strangely, the SQ2-powered Surface Pro X is reserved for business customers. So consumers are left with the only option of buying the Pro X (8GB RAM/128GB storage) with the SQ1 which comes in Wi-Fi-only configuration and cost Rs 93,999. At Rs 113,299, I got the model with SQ1, 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage.

Surface Pro X, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Surface Pro X price in India, Surface Pro X review, Surface Pro X SQ1, ARM on Windows, Windows 11 Strangely, the SQ2-powered Surface Pro X is reserved for business customers. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

As I mentioned in the beginning, the Surface Pro X uses an ARM chip, the processor that powers your smartphone. There are some key benefits of using the ARM platform, like improved battery life, instant booting, better performance and thinner and lighter designs. But there are caveats to switching to ARM chips, especially on the Windows platform. If you are a developer, you have to either build your app that natively runs on the ARM architecture or Microsoft has to provide tools that allow the apps to run in an emulator. The problem with Microsoft’s approach is that currently the rollout of ARM-based apps from third-party developers has been slow but I hope things will get better in future.

In terms of raw performance, the Surface Pro X with the SQ1 is fast, making day-to-day tasks seamless. I was able to switch between multiple open tabs, working on Google Docs, watching a YouTube video, listening to Spotify, going through my Facebook feed, and chatting with colleagues on WhatsApp Web. Not even once have I encountered a stutter or any sort of performance issue. The Surface Pro X covers the basic computing things I usually like to do on a computer. But what about running apps or legacy Windows programmes (32-bit, X86)? It’s a mixed bag, at least, for now.

Surface Pro X, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Surface Pro X price in India, Surface Pro X review, Surface Pro X SQ1, ARM on Windows, Windows 11 Interestingly, the keyboard has a hidden compartment for the Slim Pen that doubles as a wireless charger. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

To try out popular apps, I opened the Microsoft Store and started downloading apps. Apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Hotstar Plus, Zoom, Spotify, iTunes and Twitter are either specifically built for ARM devices or have been optimised to run on the Surface Pro X. Microsoft’s Edge browser, Teams and Office are also optimised for the Surface Pro X. But in order to run Photoshop, you need to install the 64-bit Creative Cloud app. Lightroom, however, works fine on the Surface Pro X.

Apps that aren’t ARM optimised will test your patience. Sophos Connect client, a VPN software, is not compatible with the Surface Pro X. That means there is no way I can upload and publish a story using our CMS on the Pro X, killing the objective of using this device as my daily computing machine.

The Surface Pro X lasts about eight hours on a single charge when using Google Chrome, WhatsApp Web, Spotify and other apps running in the background. While 8 hours is good enough to run a full day of work, it’s no closer to Microsoft’s promise of all-day battery life. Because ARM processors are more battery efficient, I am a little disappointed with the Surface Pro X.

Surface Pro X, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Surface Pro X price in India, Surface Pro X review, Surface Pro X SQ1, ARM on Windows, Windows 11 Under the kickstand is a small compartment that hides a removable SSD. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Microsoft Surface Pro X: Should you buy it?

The Surface Pro X is Microsoft’s bet on ARM processors that might be the future of Windows laptops. The Pro X is the first step in that direction – in fact, a bold one. The Surface Pro X is exciting but also frustrating at the same time. For Microsoft with the Surface Pro X and Apple with the iPad Pro, the end goal is to create a new type of computer but both devices feel less complete than a traditional Windows laptop or a MacBook running macOS. Right now, the Surface Pro X is a bit of a complicated device but has a lot of potential in the future. The success of a device like the Pro X is tied to how developers react to the ARM platform on Windows. Until that happens, I’d recommend you to get a Surface Pro 8 which has the same design as the Pro X but comes with an Intel processor inside.

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