Surface Pro 11 could have emptied my wallet to be my new Copilot+ PC if Microsoft hadn't missed one crucial launch option

Surface Pro revealed at Microsoft event in 2024
(Image credit: Zac Bowden | Windows Central)

I've been using Windows for as long as I can remember, at least since my parents bought a Windows 3.1 PC when I'd fumble around in Minesweeper and Solitaire. Decades later, I still love the operating system, despite rarely using most of its features. I format my internal storage at least once every six months to enjoy that 'fresh install' feeling without a cluttered downloads folder, keeping my most precious files backed up to the cloud via OneDrive. It's not that Windows 11 is missing anything for me, but I don't invest more time into my virtual environment any more than I have to.

My mostly shallow use of modern Windows goes beyond software habits, too. Every time I've migrated to a new PC, they've always been custom-built desktops with all parts bought on an aggressive budget. Windows is a vessel that gets me to Microsoft Edge to browse the web or to Steam to play PC games. Anything that happens outside of that is just consequential, and I haven't felt like I often "experienced" modern Windows in years. That was the case until I picked up a previously loved Surface Pro X to see what Windows on Arm is all about, and now my perspective on what Windows PCs can be has changed.

What matters most to me in a new PC?

5G connectivity with a physical SIM or eSIM is the most secure way to work on the go. (Image credit: Daniel Rubino | Windows Central)

So, now I have a personal investment in portable Windows, which specs are most important to me? The first is an OLED screen, which might seem obvious to those familiar with the technology or excessive to those who aren't. It was time spent during my ASUS Zenbook Duo (2024) UX8406 laptop review that finally sold me on OLED as a necessity as the range of brightness (especially apparent at the low end during dark evenings) and ultra-deep contrast completely crushes traditional LCDs.

Next up is size. I'd often dismissed anything outside of a 15.6-inch laptop chassis as too big and clunky or too small and underpowered to get the job done. A relatively recent uptick in 14-inch ultrabooks changed my mind, with ultra-competent gaming laptops like Razer's Blade 14 Mercury Edition and Lenovo's ever-excellent Slim 7i still evolving with Snapdragon X Elite chips sealing the deal. Touchscreens have grown on me, too. Not as a replacement for trackpads but as sheer convenience once I've overcome the fear of covering a gorgeous OLED panel with fingerprints.

Finally, it's 5G. Yes, it's the ignored stepchild of modern computing. Most consumers won't care about mobile connectivity unless they're frequent travelers, and even then, they might assume it's okay to connect to whatever Wi-Fi networks you can find (it's not) or that tethering to a 5G-compatible smartphone is equally convenient (it's not.) The advantages of 5G computing, whether via eSIMs or physical SIM cards, are self-explanatory the moment you try it. If you leave the house with a laptop, the experience is far better with self-sufficient mobile data.

The cash-saving shortcuts to my next laptop

Upgrading the SSD inside a Surface Pro has never been particularly difficult. (Image credit: Daniel Rubino | Windows Central)

An exciting wave of new Copilot+ AI PCs powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite processors already had me opening my wallet and frantically checking my savings to see how much cash I was willing to part with. To check all of the boxes in my list of preferences, the obvious choice for a portable Windows device no larger than 14 inches, boasting an OLED screen and 5G compatibility, would be the brand-new Microsoft Surface 11th Edition. It's not cheap, starting at $1,499.99 for an X Elite variant with an OLED panel, but I had a tricky scheme up my sleeve.

Inspired by the "Steam Deck" method (self-titled) of buying the cheapest model with the smallest amount of storage and manually upgrading the internal solid-state drive (SSD.) Microsoft charges a $200 premium to upgrade from 512GB to 1TB, but a $79.99 Corsair-branded 1TB M.2-2230 drive is fine and far cheaper. However, Microsoft stamps out my dreams by delaying options with 5G to "later in 2024." So close, you almost had my money before my conscience kicked in.

And that's it. None of the other Copilot+ AI PCs that I would otherwise consider, like a Dell XPS or Lenovo Yoga/Slim, offer 5G connectivity (yet). Intel's Lunar Lake chips are just around the corner, too, promising the same 45 TOPS NPU performance as Snapdragon X alongside an earnest effort to match or beat battery life in an expanded range of Copilot+ devices. So, as it stands, my "dream" Windows PC doesn't quite exist yet, but it's close. Extremely close.

Microsoft Surface shifted my perspective

A second-hand Surface Pro X was a bargain entry-point into Windows on Arm. (Image credit: Ben Wilson | Windows Central)

Working as Channel Editor for Windows Central allows me more fantastic opportunities with cutting-edge technology than I could count, and it's helped me refine what matters most to me and other budget-conscious buyers (see: cheapskates). Dipping my toes into the dizzying heights of NVIDIA's GeForce RTX 4090 graphics and AMD Ryzen X3D desktop processors had the opposite effect of what I expected: I didn't crave any of this stuff. Not really. Once the novelty wears off, it feels like excessive spending. So, what do I care about in a PC if not the absolute top-end of what's available?

Previously, I'd never desired laptops outside of necessity. If I'm at home most of the time, why would I want a portable device when I could have a fully-fledged tower loaded with RGB fans and other extravagant nonsense? Indeed, the idea of a professional tech head using a laptop as their driver who only leaves the house to buy coffee or to take an expenses-paid business trip with free coffee seems farfetched and perhaps pointless. Then again, I've primarily been ignorant of the benefits of a Windows portable PC because I didn't know about them until I tried.

It started with my retrospective journey into the somewhat shaky origins of Windows on Arm, which led to untapped excitement for the future of first-party Microsoft hardware. Now, I'm learning why many people crave ultrabooks with lofty promises of all-day battery life and featherweight construction. Lazing on the sofa with an egregiously long YouTube documentary explaining the lore of a video game nobody cares about and still being able to switch to a comprehensive suite of Windows apps with more than enough power to stay away from my desk for the rest of the day, I get the appeal. Surface Pro is awesome. I just need 5G in the 11th Edition.

Ben Wilson
Channel Editor

Ben is the channel editor for all things tech-related at Windows Central. That includes PCs, the components inside, and any accessory you can connect to a Windows desktop or Xbox console. Not restricted to one platform, he also has a keen interest in Valve's Steam Deck handheld and the Linux-based operating system inside. Fueling this career with coffee since 2021, you can usually find him behind one screen or another. Find him on Mastodon to ask questions or share opinions.

  • timwhite
    I agree 100%. I was poised to pull the trigger on a new, 5G ARM Surface Pro on launch day. The absence of 5G, though, is a show-stopper for me.
  • John McIlhinney
    If you need 5G then you need it, so I have no issue with that. I do take issue with some of the language though. It makes it sound like Microsoft have chosen to delay the models with 5G just to be spiteful or because they don't care or whatever. the simple truth is that they more time to get it working satisfactorily so the alternative would have been to delay the WiFi-only models unnecessarily in order that both are released at the same time. I see similar complaints when games release without multiplayer components or the like. Things tale as long as they take so, if you're expecting everything to be released together, you're not going to get what you want any sooner but others will haver to wait for what they want for no good reason. Also, maybe I'm misremembering as I've never bought a 5G model but haven't they been released later than the WiFi-only version is some Surface devices in the past too?
  • The Werewolf
    I'd missed that - yeah, one of the features of Snapdragon is that because it started out as a cellphone chipset, the chipset has a radio modem built in. Problem is that OEMs have to pay an extra fee to turn that on and I think a fee for each band activated.

    The Surface X had 5G so it's odd they left that out on the 10s.

    I generally prefer tablets and laptops with integrated cellular, but in the US it gets even weirder as US cellcos still tend to want tablets and laptops locked to a specific network. Lenovo is particularly bad for this, tending to lock to the most evil cellco - Verizon.

    Personally, I've adapted to using my phone as a radio modem either as a hotspot or by just connecting it using a USB cable. It used to be a major hassle but it's gotten MUCH easier (at least on Android - don't use Apple products so can't speak for iOS). Also, my cableco include access to their WiFi network which is widely accessible across my city and for the first time in a long time, having cellular support hasn't been a major issue.
  • Arun Topez
    This article was annoying, literally had to scroll down all the fluff to see what the missing 'crucial launch option' was. And that's it? 5G? When you already know it's coming in this fall, and it obviously purposely being released later for a reason? Obviously they'd release it at launch if that was an option for them, but they didn't want to delay the regular launch. You should have just named the article "I wish the 5G variant was released at launch" because with the way it's currently written, sounds like something is wrong with the SP11 itself.
  • John McIlhinney
    The Werewolf said:
    The Surface X had 5G so it's odd they left that out on the 10s.
    Note that the just-announced model with Snapdragon X is Surface Pro 11. Surface Pro 10 was the Intell model released earlier in the year and was only "for Business", with no consumer-focused version. I was actually surprised when these were named Surface Pro 11 and there is a "for Business" version too. Oddly, it is not going to be available until September/October when the only difference is going to be Windows 11 Pro instead of Home. Maybe that means that Windows 11 Pro won't have the AI features ready until then.