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Microsoft Surface Pro X: Review Roundup

Microsoft is certainly interested in presenting itself as a hardware-focused company, as evidenced by its strong keynote address this year which details the company’s plans for mass-market computer products for next year and beyond. While many of the most exciting products discussed at this event aren’t due to be launched until the 2020 holiday season, the release dates for refreshes of the company’s existing hardware have just recently passed. In advance of Microsoft’s release of the Surface Pro X, reviews of the cutting-edge device have hit the Internet, and critics have mixed feelings.

The Surface Pro X uses a processor based on the ARM architecture, rather than the x86 architecture more common for the Windows operating system. As such, the Surface Pro X runs a version of Windows specifically built for compatibility with this processor, meaning many third-party programs familiar to Windows users won’t function on the device as well as you might expect. In order to run x86 apps, the Surface Pro X uses an emulation layer which is compatible with 32-bit x86 apps, but not 64-bit ones. Apps running through this emulation layer are significantly slower than native ARM-optimized apps, and can run into various unexpected problems. Photoshop, for instance, is a 32-bit x86-optimized app, and while it does function on the Surface Pro X, it is so slow as to be nearly unusable. Other apps, like Lightroom, won’t run at all, as they are built for 64-bit x86 processors.

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Although the ARM architecture is ideal for mobile environments, as it is more power-efficient than its x86 counterpart and has better support for LTE, the majority of Windows developers have not made their programs available on this platform. Microsoft-made apps like Edge run fine, though, and some third-party apps like Google Chrome are compatible. Perhaps this is the reason why Microsoft is positioning the Surface Pro X as a tablet which runs Windows and features an optional keyboard cover rather than as a device to replace one’s laptop or desktop PC. The app compatibility issues led The Verge’s Dieter Bohn to call the device “a computer built for a world that doesn’t exist.” 

Overall, the Surface Pro X is a tough sell when compared to products like the iPad, which has a mature app ecosystem, superior battery life, and many of the same features.

Though reviewers complained about the device’s unfortunately limited functionality, they praised the look and feel of the Surface Pro X. This iteration of the Surface tablet features a thinner design and smaller bezels than previous ones, but maintains its signature kickstand, which is emblazoned with the Windows logo. The display was also well-received, with reviewers like Jacob Krol of CNN calling it “sharp and vibrant.” The 13-inch screen, featuring a 3:2 aspect ratio and a 2880×1920 resolution, is ideal for watching movies and editing photos, among other graphics-intensive applications. (Very few modern video games, however, will work on the device.) Depending on how you use the Surface Pro X, the battery life can last between 5 and 13 hours, which CNet’s Dan Ackerman characterized as “respectable but not record-breaking.” The device does support fast-charging, however, and can be charged via one of its two USB-C ports. Dieter Bohn, despite his criticisms of the device’s software functionality, called the Surface Pro X “the best-looking computer [he’s] used in the past year.”

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Reviewers also judged the Surface Pro X’s optional $269 Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen. Though it is expensive, they praised the improved design of the accessory relative to the models of years past, and considered it essential for getting any advanced computing work done with the device. The keyboard was considered robust and comfortable, but the small size of the trackpad was criticized. Though initially met with skepticism, the Slim Pen device was also well-received, and reviewers quickly adjusted to the stylus’ flat shape, though some complained it became uncomfortable after a while.

Overall, the Surface Pro X is a tough sell when compared to products like the iPad, which has a mature app ecosystem, superior battery life, and many of the same features. Though Microsoft is taking an important step by pushing Windows compatibility with ARM architecture to compete with companies like Apple and Samsung in the tablet market, this iteration simply doesn’t have the developer support, speed, and battery life necessary to justify its price tag.