Microsoft Surface Pro X review: Better battery life for the coolest Surface
There's very little different about the new Surface Pro X update, but the computer industry is slowly coming around to Arm-based PCs.
Updated Oct. 27, 2020 8:00 a.m. PT
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Dan AckermanEditorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications.
"Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
ExpertiseI've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever.Credentials
Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Better performance and battery life than last year's model
Still the best-looking Surface product design
Best-in-class keyboard and clever stylus storage
App compatibility remains an issue, especially disappointing considering the premium price
Keyboard and stylus are sold separately, and cost too much
Updates over the original version are very, very minor
Last year, when Microsoft launched the original Surface Pro X, the idea of a premium Arm-based PC was a fanciful one. There had been a handful of lower-cost models from HP, Asus and others, but they generally failed to impress. The Surface Pro X was a bold move to ditch the usual Intel (or AMD) chips and power a high-gloss, high-price two-in-one with a more smartphone-like processor. In that case it was the Microsoft SQ1, a collaboration between Microsoft and Qualcomm, based on the latter's Snapdragon chips.
Now it's a whole new landscape, thanks in large part to Apple's plans to replace Intel chips in its Mac line with custom "Apple silicon" CPUs, similar to the ones in iPhones and iPads. Suddenly the Surface Pro X has some similarly premium company. So, while there's not much different about the new 2020 version of the Surface Pro X, aside from an updated processor -- naturally named SQ2 -- it's certainly closer to being the right product at the right time.
Microsoft promises better performance and better battery life from the new SQ2 version, and is also offering an aluminum finish (the original was matte black). In my hands-on testing, there was a small performance boost, although the limitations of Windows-on-Arm means I couldn't run all the regular benchmarks we normally do on other Windows devices. Battery life was also better, at 10 hours, 5 minutes, versus just under 9 hours on the original Surface Pro X.
Because this is a nearly identical device, most of my impressions of the first-gen Surface Pro X apply here. You can read a deeper dive into those issues in that review. The key takeaway is that not every software app will run on an Arm-based Windows system, which means you should check any specific apps you need first.
On the plus side, almost everything we do is browser-based now, so everything from Gmail to Netflix to cloud-based gaming like Amazon Luna will work fine. Photoshop? Well, you're still out of luck.
Here's what I liked and didn't like about the new 2020 version of the Surface Pro X.
This is the best-looking Surface product by far. The Surface Pro feels clunky compared to this thin design. The Surface Laptop and Surface Laptop Go are slim and attractive, but nothing special. The Surface Book is a bulky and awkward. The Pro X, on the other hand, offers a big screen and slim body.
The keyboard and stylus are great, but there's a catch. Like every Surface tablet, the clip-on keyboard is best-in-class. And I love that the flat stylus both hides inside the keyboard cover, and also recharges in its dock. But, like the Surface Pro and Surface Go, neither is included in the purchase price. And with the new SQ2 version of the Surface Pro X starting at $1,499 (£1,549, AU$2,449), that's a tough pill to swallow. The Surface Pro X keyboard starts at $139 (£130, AU$220) and the stylus is $145 (£130, AU$235). There's currently a bundle from the Microsoft Store website offering the fancier Surface Pro X Signature keyboard in a few new colors, plus the stylus, for $270, or $192 if you go with basic black.
No 5G, yet. Most new phones and many new laptops and tablets have 5G support, either now or in the near future. Despite having a built-in nano-SIM slot, the new Surface Pro X does not, instead sticking with 4G LTE.