Hands on with Microsoft Surface Pro X, a bold new direction for Surface

There are sacrifices: the microSD slot, the USB-A port, and the headphone jack.

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Microsoft’s Surface Pro X adds a formerly missing piece to the Surface lineup: an always-on, always-connected device that enables productivity wherever you go. 

What it changes on the inside—especially the custom Snapdragon 8cx-based processor that Microsoft co-designed with Qualcomm—is reflected by dramatic changes on the outside: a pair of USB-C ports, a rechargeable pen tray...and the unfortunate removal of the headphone jack, USB-A, and the microSD slot. There’s also a SIM slot for connectivity, though it’s well hidden.

The 14-inch Surface Pro X tablet is priced from $999 to $1,799 (from Microsoft.com) and will ship on November 5. That base price is a few hundred more than the cheapest $799 configuration of the Intel-based Surface Pro 7. As shown below, users will get to select from various memory and storage options, as well as consumer and business versions. A new Surface Slim Pen and Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard are also specific to the platform. Both the Slim Pen and keyboard appear to be sold separately, though we don’t have prices for either.

Microsoft Surface Pro X Mark Hachman / IDG

Folded up, Microsoft’s Surface Pro X looks normal...

A bold new look for Surface

It’s sort of hard to believe that the first thing worth highlighting is the Surface Slim Pen, but it absolutely is. With the Type Cover inclined, there’s absolutely no indication that anything’s changed. Detach the Cover, though, and a small cubby is revealed: a new, flattish Surface Slim Pen! That recharges when tucked away! That launches the Whiteboard app! And that won’t get lost!

Microsoft Surface Pro X Mark Hachman / IDG

But when unfolded, Microsoft’s Surface Pro X reveals the rechargable Surface Slim Pen in its dedicated charging dock.

Yes, exclamation points are absolutely demanded here. As an occasional inker who has at one time or another touched almost every Surface tablet in existence, a literal handful of Surface Pens live in the bottom of my backpack. A safe, secure place to store a digital pen is absolutely worth applause, though I’m a teeny bit concerned that it will vampirically steal away power from the Surface device, which I consider more of a priority. Securing the pen has been a problem that’s demanded a solution for years. While Dell’s Inspiron 7000 Black Edition laptops got there first, Microsoft earns second place for the Surface Pro X.

The Slim Pen is flattish, rather than perfectly cylindrical as the regular Surface Pen is. It felt comfortable in the hand and inks with 4,096 levels of pressure, which is pretty standard for competitive styluses. The stylus is apparently not compatible with the recently announced Universal Stylus Initiative, unfortunately, although it is usable with other Surface devices. It's a whopping $145, though. 

Equally appreciated: not one but two USB-C slots on the left side of the tablet. Microsoft will still use the Surface Connector to power the tablet, but it sounds like USB-C might be an option in a pinch. Each port can supply 15W of power.

Microsoft Surface Pro X Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft’s Surface Pro X reveals a pair of USB-C ports on the side.

After years of ignoring USB-C, it’s sort of hard to believe Microsoft jumped into it with both feet, but it certainly did. Three ports that you’d expect to see in a Surface—the USB-A port, the microSD slot squirreled away under the kickstand, and the headphone jack—have all disappeared. It’s a plus for all those who have made the leap to Bluetooth earbuds, but ditching so many legacy ports so quickly is disconcerting.

On the plus side, one of the understated features of the design is Microsoft’s ability to squeeze a 13-inch, 2880 x 1920 display into what it calls a 12-inch chassis. (The tablet measures 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.28 inches, slightly smaller than the Surface Pro 7.) The bezels are extremely thin. One of the Surface family’s signature features is a bright, pixel-rich display, and the Surface Pro X lives up to that tradition.

Microsoft Surface Pro X Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Pro X weighs exactly the same as the Surface Pro 6: 1.7 pounds. (Microsoft hasn’t yet published a weight for the Surface Pro 7.) Again, it’s to Microsoft’s credit that it feels like a Surface tablet: There’s only one matte-black color option for the aluminum chassis, but both the tablet and keyboard feel sturdy, with a solid connection between the keyboard and chassis. 

What’s inside the Surface Pro X, though, is just as noteworthy as the outside. Here are the primary specs:

  • Display: 13-inch (2880x1920) (267ppi) touch PixelSense display
  • Processor: Microsoft 3GHz 8-core SQ1 (co-designed with Qualcomm and based on the Snapdragon 8cx)
  • Graphics: Adreno 685
  • Memory: 8GB-16GB LPDDR4x 
  • Storage: 128/256/512GB SSD
  • Ports: Surface Connect, nanoSIM, 2 USB-C
  • Camera: 5MP (user-facing) with Windows Hello; 10MP (rear) with 1080p video
  • Battery: 13 hours (estimated)
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)/Bluetooth 5.0/Qualcomm Snapdragon X24 LTE
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home (consumer) / Windows 10 Pro (business)
  • Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.28 inches (7.3mm)
  • Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Color: Aluminum (matte black)
  • Additional features: Quick charging: 80 percent in an hour
  • Price: Preorders start at $999 on Microsoft.com

Microsoft surface pro x prices Microsoft

A screenshot of the available configurations for the Microsoft Surface Pro X.

Leaked reports of a Surface Pro tablet running a Qualcomm 8cx chipset were correct, although Microsoft has customized and rebranded the chip as the Microsoft SQ1. We’re told that the SQ1 now runs at a full 3GHz, rather than the projected 2.84GHz Qualcomm itself estimated back at Computex. The power-sipping SQ1 pushes battery life to 13 hours, Microsoft says.

Microsoft Surface Pro X Mark Hachman / IDG

A closeup of the Surface Slim Pen.

With that Qualcomm chip comes several peripheral advantages. For one, there’s a microSIM slot hidden away in the rear of the chassis, plus eSIM configuraiton options. Next to that SIM slot is a sort-of user-upgradable hard drive—it’s accessible only with special tools. While YouTube videos may explain how to do it, Microsoft doesn’t anticipate that it’s going to be as easy as swapping out an SD card, for example. The tablet’s battery can be recharged to 80-percent capacity in an hour, using Qualcomm’s quick-charging mechanism.

Does the Surface Pro X feel fast? Sure, under the limited constraints of a demo showcase. Web browsing (either on Edge or the Chromium-based Edgium) felt fast, but we weren’t allowed to load Google’s Chrome to compare, nor run other benchmarks. Netflix ran fine, as did YouTube, subject to the constraints of the demo Wi-Fi. 

The traditional concerns with running on ARM chip on top of Windows are the lack of performance and the limitations of Windows emulation. Microsoft has been working to mitigate each, but we think that there’s still some emulation taking place. 

All in all, the Surface Pro X is the thinnest, lightest, fastest-charging, and most powerful Surface Pro ever, Microsoft claims. We can believe all the labels except the last, which we can confirm when we have the Surface Pro X in to test.

Updated at 6:07 PM PDT to add the price and a shopping link to the Microsoft Slim Pen. 

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