Microsoft's Surface Pro X is for many, but not everyone yet

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Tue November 5, 2019

The main new product from Microsoft this year is Surface Pro X. It's a slimmed down version of the classic Surface in terms of weight and thickness, but also reduces the bezels and shrinks the color options to one —- a sleek and stunning matte black.

You still get a type cover, but Pro X packs in a slot for the Surface Slim Pen which acts like a tray and a wireless charger. All of this is new, but the biggest change is the ARM-based processor. Yes, the Pro X has a custom processor that mixes mobile and traditional computing into one. That means it only supports 32-bit apps and is best designed for a mobile or on the go lifestyle.

The Pro X costs $999, and the keyboard and slim pen goes for $269, so a full setup goes for about $1,270.

Let's dive into the Pro X and see if it has what it takes to be your next PC.

Stunning design

The Surface Pro X feels like a futuristic Surface and the flagship Windows tablet. It's extremely thin at just 7.3 millimeters and weighs just 774 grams. Microsoft's only selling it in matte black, and while it does like stunning, fingerprint fears must take note.

It's safe to say that you'll see them all over the device, especially on the anodized matte black almost immediately after the unboxing. It's not the worst, but a case might be a smart investment. The backside also features the only branding — a shiny black Windows logo is centered on the kickstand portion. There's also a rear-facing 10-megapixel camera on the back that can record in 4K video. I wouldn't necessarily use the Surface Pro X as a camera, though.

Flipping or engaging the kickstand is quite simple with two carved out notches on the left and right that gives you easy access. The kickstand itself has a multi-position hinge that maxes out at 165 degrees. In the right corner under the stand, you'll find a slot that contains the SSD and a micro SIM card slot. You'll need to use the included SIM popper to open this up, which is a relatively easy installation.

The left side is home to the power button and the Surface charging port. Like the other 2019 Surface devices, the Pro X supports fast charging through the proprietary plug. The right side has a volume rocker and two USB-C ports. You'll also notice that the Pro X features rounded edges and the sides are tapered toward the back, which makes the Pro X feels more like an iPad Pro and other tablets than other Surface devices. The bottom has a slot for the type cover to connect, and it attaches magnetically and with two latches. It won't easily fall off.

The only thing you'll see on the front is the screen. I'm quite happy with the Pro X as it minimizes the front bezels, namely the ones on the side. The top and bottom still have a healthy amount, which important for a tablet. The top bezel houses the front facing 5-megapixel camera and sensors that enable Windows Hello or face unlock. The bottom provides a solid grip. And yes, while the size is under 12 inches, this has a 13-inch PixelSense display.

This Surface Pro X feels like a tablet. It's a mobile vision for the Surface line, and most importantly, it keeps the familiarity of Windows.

It's a sharp and vibrant display

Like the Pixel Sense displays that have come before it, the 13-inch variant on the Surface Pro X is quite sharp and vibrant. It also can get pretty bright, which lets you use this on a window airplane seat, outside on a sunny day and even in an office under bright lights.

It sticks with Microsoft's history of using a 3:2 ratio for the display, which gives you a wider and taller space to work. It's nice on a tablet, especially on one with a 13-inch display. You can have a few windows open to easily multitask, and with touch gestures, you can snap a Chrome or Edge window into full screen with ease.

It's equally sharp with imagery and videos with 267 pixels per inch and a 2880x1920 resolution. So while it's not 4K, it's certainly an enjoyable experience for writing, browsing the web, streaming and even light gaming.

The display supports 10-point multitouch and packs support for the Surface Pen and Slim Pen. Plus, you can attach the type cover for a keyboard, which gives you a opportunities for input.

The Signature Keyboard and Slim Pen are good

Microsoft has always been keen on making the keyboards on its devices as robust as possible. The keyboard on the Surface Laptop 3 was terrific and the Type Covers for Surface Pros are just as enjoyable. In addition, the $269 Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen for the Pro X gives you a stylus, a keyboard and a trackpad.

You can have the cover popped up or lying flat to type. It's nice to have it propped up for an ergonomic experience. The arch is nice for longer typing experiences (like this review), but others might like the flat experience. And even with the thin design of the Signature Keyboard, you still have a hefty amount of travel that make this a punchy typing experience. The keys have a hard feeling to them, while the majority of the cover is a soft felt-like material — this helps to keep the display clean and gives your wrists a comfortable spot to lean on while typing.

It's a comfortable typing experience, on par with the Surface Laptop 3. I'd still make the argument that while it's different than a laptop, it knows that and makes an effort to improve the experience. It was comfortable to write nearly 2,000 words in this review.

With the trackpad, it's small. Unlike the Laptop 3 in both 15-inch and 13-inch that had larger trackpads, Microsoft opted for a relatively small one here, which is similar to the Type Cover for Surface Pro. You won't want to do hefty image editing, modeling or any tasks that require a lot of space. It has both a physical click mechanism and tap to click solution, and I recommend the latter, especially when it is propped up.

By far though, the coolest part of the Signature Keyboard with the Slim Pen is the pen. When you move the keyboard to a flat position, you'll uncover the tray or mini pencil case that holds the Surface Slim Pen. It not only provides a place for it to be stored, but it wirelessly charges the pen from both sides. This way you don't have to worry about laying it flat. It also auto pairs with the Pro X.

While I was skeptical given the flat nature of the Slim Pen, I found it to be quite easy to use and natural to hold. The color matches the matte black design and it's lightweight. And it works like a real pencil, in that you can erase with the top. Apple still needs to incorporate this with the Apple Pencil. It's natural to write on the Pro X, although I recommend laying it flat for the experience that most similar to a pen or pencil with paper. Microsoft Whiteboard is an easy way to take notes during meetings or making to-do lists.

At $269, it brings the price up, but this is an integral part of the Pro X experience, and Microsoft shines with it.

Performance and battery life

The elephant in the room with the Surface Pro X is the ARM-based Microsoft SQ1 CPU and Adreno 685 iGPU. I was testing the 256 GB of storage variant with 16 GBs of RAM. The processor is clocked in a 3.0GHz and has some snapdragon blood inside of it.

And unlike previous ARM-based devices that use this mobile-first technology, the Pro X is surprisingly zippy with most tasks. Browsing the web in Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome has been easy, and I had about 12 tabs open on average. It's safe to say I'm a power user, but I toned it back. The biggest difference here is that the Surface Pro X won't support the Intel X86 standard, which is what most Windows apps run. So Photoshop, the rest of the Adobe suite and many other apps won't work at launch.

You'll need to find alternatives or stick to the web for a majority of these. Although bigger software houses like Adobe have committed to bringing support for ARM-based machines, we don't know when.

From a certain perspective, the Surface Pro 6 is an iPad Pro on steroids. It has the hardware to be a full Surface, or at least, a toned down one. I wouldn't expect this to be a gaming powerhouse or an on-the-go editing suite that can handle any task, but it's for a mobile-first and likely heavily web-based lifestyle The iPad seems like it has the upper hand with a full-fledged App Store, but I'd love to see full trackpad or mouse support arrive on Apple's tablet some day. Microsoft gets the win in that corner.

And for Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365, streaming, working in a CMS and other web-based tasks, the Surface Pro X lasted a while. Microsoft rates the battery to last for up to 13 hours of life. I got about 12 hours of use on it, with several apps and switching between Wi-Fi and LTE. The Pro X supports both a physical SIM on the back or an E-SIM, and it's nice to use the Pro X from wherever. It's kind of like a Windows machine wherever you need to be, just minus apps.

Bottom line

I really like the Surface Pro X, but the core item holding me back from recommending it is the ARM-based CPU. Yes, it can handle web browsing and the apps that it supports, but it isn't the full Windows experience. Developers will need to do their part and support the Pro X, as it's likely going to be a popular device.

But if you want an ultra-thin Surface, the Pro X is the way to go It has an incredibly slim build with an epic color, will last all day with a vibrant display and the Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen are impressive.

You'll just need to make the call if this will work for you at a starting price of $699, plus the $269 keyboard and pen. Chances are, if you're mostly web based, this is a terrific solution.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.