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Surface Pro X vs. Pro 7: ARM needs some legs

"I just wanted the Surface Pro 7 to look like a Surface Pro X with an Intel chip in it." That's what I wrote about the Surface Pro 7 last month after reading the latest 2-in-1 from Microsoft. I am now using the Surface Pro X, an ARM-based version with an updated design, last week, and my desire for a Surface Pro X with an Intel chip could not sound better.

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Sometimes the performance was erratic, the battery life overwhelming and the use of the keyboard irritating. I have fallen in love with the Surface Pro form factor for the past 12 months, but the use of the Pro X in the past week felt like a step back in many ways. The machine is beautifully designed, but I write this review on the Surface Pro X with a Pro 7 in my bag in case. For me, that's the Pro X. I don't trust it enough yet, because the performance and app compatibility are not where they should be. Microsoft has come closer than any other OEM with a viable Windows on ARM laptop, but more work needs to be done.

I expect a lot of people to wonder how exactly it is compared to the Surface Pro 7, so I spent a week putting them together. I wasn't bothered by benchmarks or anything like that, since most are designed for x86 processors, and it's not a fair comparison when the Surface Pro X only runs 32-bit x86 apps in an emulation layer. I can see the benefits of hardware and software on both roads and my experience of using these machines side by side.

If you are looking for a very simple choice between the two, this is the following: ordinary Windows users who don't want to worry about app compatibility and performance should choose the Surface Pro 7. If you need something more than an iPad and you are a light PC user, the Surface Pro X should be sufficient for most tasks.


Let's start with the hardware design. Microsoft has done an excellent job with the Surface Pro X – mostly. The 13-inch touchscreen is a nice upgrade compared to the 12.3-inch touchscreen on the Surface Pro 7, and it makes a difference to make things feel less cramped. Microsoft has essentially pressed a larger screen into the familiar form factor of the Surface Pro 7, while the device has become slimmer and slimmer at the same time. The edges of the screen are much smaller on the sides, but are still present at the top and bottom to fit the Windows Hello camera in place.

The Pro X that I have reviewed has a crack the size of an inch in the glass on the right edge. I have not dropped or mistreated the device, so I can only assume that this happened during shipment, but there are no signs of other damage around that part of the screen and it has not tampered with the screen at all. The device is black and the edges are black, so I only noticed the crack when using the Pro X in tablet mode.

If you place the Pro 7 and Pro X next to each other, the display is the most obvious change and the Pro X makes the Pro 7 look old. I sometimes feel that the Surface Pro 7 screen is a bit tight to use, but I have never really felt that way with the use of the Pro X. Microsoft has kept the same hardware design for the Surface Pro 7- display and most external hardware, providing a more edgy / square look and feel. It does not always feel great to use as a tablet.

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The Surface Pro X also feels great to hold compared to the Pro 7. Rounded edges help here, just like the slimmer form factor. It really feels much more like a tablet than the Pro 7, and I love these subtle changes. The standards on each device feel the same, with the same friction so that you can adjust it in different angles.

Selecting ports is really where the basic hardware starts to differ. Microsoft has placed two USB-C ports on the Surface Pro X, and I prefer the few USB-A and USB-C ports that the Surface Pro 7 offers. I cannot count how many times someone has handed me a USB-A thumbstick, but the number of times I have seen a USB-C thumbstick in the wild is exactly zero.

The Surface Pro 7 also benefits from a microSD slot, but the Pro X offers a removable SSD and a SIM card slot for LTE. I prefer the built-in LTE of the Pro X over expandable microSD storage, but I prefer a headphone jack on the Surface Pro 7. Bluetooth headphones are great, but having to pair them again is still an annoying experience, and I would have liked the option for regular headphones on the Pro X.

What I don't like about the Surface Pro X is the keyboard – at least not the new style with a slot for the stylus. Although the placement of the keys, the travel and the trackpad are identical to the Pro 7, the way it is attached to the screen is not. Microsoft has built-in a stylus slot for the new Surface Slim Pen in the area where the keyboard is attached to the Pro X. It is a much better way to save a stylus, but there are some serious compromises. The entire keyboard feels much wobbler than what I am used to on the Pro 7. This is really noticeable on your lap where the keyboard can skew and cut off parts of the taskbar. This is a big problem for me, especially when the date disappears, I can't see which apps are open or I can't scan for notification badges for my apps.

Whether you will experience this problem really depends on how you sit and use the Surface Pro X. I have used it everywhere, from a flat surface, my couch, in bed, on a train and in many other places where it is difficult to use a laptop. I hope that the normal Microsoft keyboard for the Pro X without the pen storage is better, but I have not been able to test this yet. It is definitely something to consider when trying to choose between the Pro X and Pro 7.

The Surface Slim Pen is much better than the previous Surface Pen. It is flat like a carpenter's pencil and it feels a lot lighter in your hand. I don't draw often, but I would certainly copy this to the regular Surface Pen. Fortunately, you can buy one separately and it works with the Surface Pro 7, so you don't just have to opt for the slimmer stylus for the Pro X. The only advantage that the Pro X offers here is the keyboard storage that the Slim Pen automatically charges. You must connect it via USB-C if you plan to use it with the Pro 7.


Apart from hardware differences, the next thing you should consider between a Pro 7 and the Pro X is the processor it contains. Microsoft has opted for a modified Qualcomm SQ1 ARM processor in the Pro X and Intel & # 39; s 10th Gen processors in the Pro 7. Although Windows 10 is the same on both, without funky S Mode or RT variant, the way is on which it runs differently than what you would expect. Dieter Bohn discussed some compatibility issues with the app in his review of the Pro X, and I wanted to compare them to what you would experience on the Pro 7.

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On the Pro X, I discovered that most of my apps worked, but there were some major exceptions. Dropbox refused to install and forced me to a Windows Store version that cannot be integrated into the Explorer as I am used to. Clatter, a messaging app, installed but crashed every time I added a service. It then began to work magically after a few days. (This has never happened on an Intel machine.) Tweeten, a great Twitter app for Windows, refused to install and Lightroom is simply not available.

All these apps work great on the Pro 7, and I have never had to find out which ones are or are not running on that device. Most apps on the Pro X, on the other hand, use the x86 emulation layer from Microsoft, which means that only 32-bit apps are supported or that developers have to recompile them into native 64-bit ARM apps. It is very unlikely that most app developers will do this soon, so you play a guessing game about app compatibility.

The worst thing is that even if an app is installed, this does not mean that you will have a great experience. Photoshop installs and opens well on the Surface Pro X, but its usability is terrible. I can sit and watch how the whole new document dialog is displayed frame by frame. Like everyone who uses Photoshop, I use multi-layer files and regularly switch between PSDs. The use of Ctrl + Tab with a few PSD files felt open on the Pro X, and I regularly had to wait a second to respond to actions. I don't think I could quickly create the latest mega meme or easily edit an animated GIF. Photoshop is also not perfect on the Pro 7, but it is not nearly as slow as what I have experienced on the Pro X, and I can easily use it to change multiple-layer files.

Elsewhere I felt that the Pro X performance was somewhat erratic. Occasionally, I resumed standby mode and switched apps, and it took me a good minute to settle down and not feel laggy. Discord is not exactly the most optimized app for Windows, but it sometimes struggles on the Pro X. I have never experienced uneven performance on the Pro 7. Similarly, Spotify can be painful in the beginning until it comes to rest and stops connecting the CPU on the Pro X.

This settling process feels like a constant experience on the Surface Pro X. I often had to wait for the Pro X to catch my breath, and then it would feel like I was working on a Pro 7 for a few minutes until it got stuck again. Much of this is clearly due to the app emulation, and I hope that native ARM64 apps would perform much better. Unfortunately, most apps that I use every day have not been recompiled for ARM and probably never, so I don't see this experience improving in the near future.

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However, there is a glimmer of hope here: if external app developers decide to compile for ARM64, it will certainly get better. I have obtained a non-released ARM64 version of the Edge Chromium browser from Microsoft and the performance improvements were immediately apparent. Everything from tab management to browsing feels faster than the emulated 32-bit versions of Chrome and the Edge Chromium beta. It felt really similar to the browsing performance on the Surface Pro 7, which is a big difference with Chrome now on the Pro X. This is a good indication that native apps will work well, but that requires app developers to invest time and money to bring their apps to ARM.

Docking to an official Surface Dock was also difficult with the Pro X. Windows 10 cannot always handle a switch from a laptop to a secondary monitor properly, but the Pro X would take much longer than a Pro 7 for apps to resize and be useful. The Pro X also always forgot my preferences for multiple monitors, and it would turn on its display, although I had set to explicitly display all content only on my monitor.

I discovered that I would experience fewer delays and fewer problems if I used the Surface Pro X for hours on end. Short bursts of work and then immediately on standby seemed to generate the slow and slow experiences. This is also reflected in the battery life that I experienced on the Surface Pro X. On average, it took between six and seven hours if you went in and out of standby a lot. One day I was stuck with the Pro X and worked a whole day without even going into standby, and it worked for almost eight and a half hours. I have noticed that the battery life is initially a hit when you & # 39; run all your apps in the morning, but then the battery runs at a more reasonable pace as the day progresses.

I have not experienced this type of problem on the Surface Pro 7 yet. The battery life is of course dependent on the tasks and apps you perform, but it is fairly consistent on the Pro 7 after about six hours with a lot of mixed use. I expected a battery life of at least 10 hours on the Pro X, so I am disappointed that it is hardly better than the Pro 7.

Like the Pro 7, the Pro X has a fast resume function, which means that it simply goes into standby when you close the flip or press the on / off button. I stopped working one evening at 11:15 p.m. with 63 percent and resumed the next day at 11:15 p.m. to 59 percent. That is slightly less than the drain that I have seen on the Pro 7, but the differences are not significant. It's great to be able to resume both quickly. You also get a fast charge feature on both the Pro X and Pro 7, and it takes about an hour to get up to 80 percent on both devices.


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The way it looks now, it feels like the Surface Pro X was released too early. Not only because third-party apps are not ready, but also because even Microsoft's own apps – such as Edge Chromium and Office – have not been fully transferred to ARM64.

Microsoft clearly had a design in mind for the future of the Surface Pro, and that was not yet possible with Intel. The calculated risk of Microsoft now depends on third-party apps, but it also means that the Pro X simply shows a hardware design in which we very much want to fit an Intel chip. It also does not provide the battery life that ARM should live up to. The keyboard, app compatibility and performance are also considerably worse than the Surface Pro 7. Those are things that I just take for granted on the Pro 7, and it's weird to worry about that again.

Given the starting price of $ 999 for the Surface Pro X, it is a direct competitor of the Surface Pro 7. I think you now get much more for your money with the Pro 7 and the reliability that you would expect from this type of computer . I have a Surface Pro 7 in my bag while writing this Surface Pro X review, simply because if I have to do some demanding work, such as Photoshop, I know that the Pro X will slow me down.

As someone who uses Windows daily, I trust that it is productive and gets my work done quickly. The Surface Pro X is great to watch, but as soon as you really start pushing it, the experience starts to fall apart. This hardware design may be the future for the Surface Pro line, but if it's a "pro" machine, then it needs to do more than just provide the basics – and the Pro X often can't do that.

At the end of the day, I just wanted the Surface Pro X to have an Intel chip.

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