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I switched from Surface Book 2 to Surface Pro X, and I'm in love. Here's why.

Surface Pro X Surface Book 2 Hero
Surface Pro X Surface Book 2 Hero (Image credit: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central)

I've been a Surface Book 2 user — and fan — since it was released in 2017. I bit the bullet and preordered the 13-inch model shortly after it was announced, and I never looked back. However, when my Surface Book 2 met an untimely demise due to an unfortunate incident involving a glass of water a few weeks ago (it got very wet), I started re-thinking what I wanted out of a portable PC.

Enter the Surface Pro X. I wound up going with Microsoft's latest iteration on the long-running Surface Pro line, and it's been the perfect fit. Still, it's a relatively big step down in terms of capabilities. Here's why I ultimately decided that it doesn't matter, and why I'm loving the Surface Pro X.

Surface Pro X is the perfect fit

Surface Pro X

Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

When I picked up my Surface Pro X, several people on Twitter rightly pointed out the sudden "lane change". Making the jump from an Intel processor with a discrete graphics chip to Microsoft's custom ARM SQ1 chip (a riff on the Snapdragon 8cx) does have its downsides. But, for me, the positives outweigh the negatives.

The key here is that my laptop is no longer my main PC. I bought the Surface Book 2 when I didn't have a desktop PC to fall back on, so I went for power and maximum app compatibility. Now, I spend more time at a pretty powerful desktop rig than not, so my priorities have shifted drastically.

The three biggest draws for me with the Surface Pro X were LTE connectivity, portability, and battery life. There are several LTE laptops on the market nowadays, but none of them check all three of those boxes quite like the Surface Pro X.

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My Surface Book 2 felt great to use, but it wasn't exactly the most portable PC in the world, and I started to feel that over the last year or so. The Surface Pro X, by contrast, is a device I can fold up, toss in my backpack, and barely notice it's there the rest of the day. With LTE added in, the portability argument gets even better because I can set up shop nearly anywhere to knock out some work on the go.

The Microsoft SQ1 ARM chip that powers the Surface Pro X is no slouch when it comes to battery life, either. Like some, I initially worried when I saw Microsoft's quoted battery life of "up to 13 hours" when compared to the figures quoted in the 20-hour range on some other ARM laptops. Thankfully, my fears have been unfounded thus far: I can easily go beyond a typical workday on a single charge, and topping back up is fairly fast.

Surface Pro X is a near-perfect device for me.

Beyond my three must-haves, there have been some other pleasant surprises as well. Windows Hello is, for some reason, significantly faster on the Surface Pro X than it was with my Surface Book 2. Combined with instant-on, I can open the Pro X up and get to work in just a second or two. That's something I've gotten used to with phones, but it's incredible to see on a PC.

Surface Pro X definitely has its limitations

Surface Pro X

Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

Despite my love for the Surface Pro X, its not all sunshine and rainbows. There are definitely limitations to consider when looking at an ARM-based laptop, and the Surface Pro X won't be for everyone.

The biggest concern for many will be app compatibility. Native ARM apps feel great to use, but emulating Win32 apps can prove to be quite frustrating. And if you need to use a 64-bit "classic" desktop app, you're out of luck (at least for now).

The good news for me is that I live mostly in my browser, and the new Microsoft Edge works flawlessly with ARM chips. For the few apps I need when working on the go, there are either ARM64 versions available, or I can install them as Progressive Web Apps (PWA) via Edge. I was initially skeptical of this approach, but PWAs have proven to be quite responsive and don't feel out of place alongside true desktop apps.

The biggest stumbling block I've encountered is in my photo editing workflow. I occasionally have to take and edit photos for work, and I previously relied on my Surface Book 2's SD card slot and Affinity Photo (opens in new tab) to get the job done. With the Surface Pro X, there is no SD card port, and Affinity Photo simply isn't compatible with ARM devices yet.

I've since picked up a USB-C dongle that includes an SD card slot, but it's not the most elegant solution in the world. Without Affinity Photo, I've also had to learn some different apps as well. Polarr (opens in new tab) has proven a pretty good alternative, but it's not as capable as I'd like. Pixlr (opens in new tab) is also great for a web editor, but it isn't quite as smooth as a native app.

All of this is to say that you'll have to take inventory of everything that is an absolute must-have app before you take the leap and pick up a Surface Pro X or any other ARM-based laptop.

Happy with Surface Pro X despite the drawbacks

Surface Pro X battery

Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

I won't lie: I had a bit of hesitation in choosing the Surface Pro X when looking for a replacement for my Surface Book 2. I fully expected to use it for a week, call it a "neat piece of hardware," and return it for something else. But the weeks keep coming, and I've only come to enjoy using it more and more.

For someone like me, who mainly does a lot of writing and working in a browser, the Surface Pro X is a near-perfect device. Anyone who has legacy apps to worry about, or has to take on some particularly heavy workloads, will still want to look elsewhere. But for my money, the Surface Pro X has been a great fit.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

39 Comments
  • Well, it's not like it was a deliberate choice necessarily. I was close to keeping it, but I ultimately returned my Surface Pro X to wait for the Surface Book 3...
  • I use the SB2 13", and couldn't base my work on an ARM processor -- but there may be workarounds:
    * how feasible is it to use a Surface Pro X as a "terminal" for TeamViewer, Microsoft Remote Desktop app, etc. and log into a desktop computer running Windows on an intel/AMD processor?
    * my IT people at work indicate that Remote Desktop app is not really suitable. Apparently it has to do with that it doesn't use the web port when connecting to desktops, making it necessary to open ports on my desktop leading to reduced security. Or something (I'm not an IT person...) I'm also curious about the battery life. For my SB2, MS claims 17 hours of battery life -- which is more than what they claim for the Pro X. How is real life battery life in comparison?
  • Apologies for the incoming giant post, I noticed it was getting a bit out of hand about halfway through. the TL;DR is:
    *It is extremely feasible to use the Surface Pro X as a thin client/terminal, that's actually its second best use case after chromebook-esque workloads. RDP works exactly the same as a windows to windows connection (that is, perfectly) while being compiled ARM64 for great battery life. To stay secure, connect into your house with an OpenVPN server hosted on your router or computer and then connect into your computer after on VPN. Your IT people are right, don't use RDP without a VPN.
    *Battery life is around 10 hours in my workflow of mainly heavy web browsing (30+ tabs constantly with streaming video, lots of javascript elements, busy web based dashboards, etc), the office suite, and some x86 apps in the background like Spotify and Telegram. I don't have a Surface Book, but I'd imagine is a bit better or about the same depending on your workload (I tend to get about 30% shorter run-time with my heavy web browsing workload on various laptops than notebookcheck's light web browsing test, and they tested the i7 SB2 at 11 hours). In my opinion, nothing beats the native Microsoft Remote Desktop app for remote access on any platform, and the only operating system that has the fully featured RDP client is Windows and macOS. Android, iOS, chromeOS, etc. all use limited implementations of RDP, while the SPX has a native arm64 fully featured client preinstalled (DO NOT use the windows store app version, it's little better than the android client). I am a firm believer that you shouldn't have to take a powerful computer with you unless you're going to somewhere more then ~100ms away (i.e. traveling outside the country if you're living in the US) or somewhere that has unreliable internet. I do most of my travel in state in California where 100mbps+ LTE is the norm, so the SPX 16GB/256GB has actually been my daily driver PC for work and play since it was released back in November. I have a Xeon/Nvidia server at home that has Windows 10 running on it all the time if I need to run x64 workloads, and I have a Gaming PC that has wake on lan enabled if I wanted to do any gaming through Steam or Nvidia game streaming (although I usually just use my Switch anyway if I'm away from home). RDP flawlessly handles remote workloads at the native resolution of the SPX, passing through touch and even pen input perfectly. I do a lot of Lightroom photo editing on my SPX over RDP because of the SPX's accurate sRGB screen, very comfortable form factor, and pen. The way the pen tucks away and charges is the smartest design choices I've seen on a tablet since the Surface Pro 3's fully adjustable kickstand, as it's always just charged and at your fingertips when you need to use it, but disappears out of the way when you're not. As far as the network security part of it, your IT people are right. Never expose RDP ports directly to the internet, instead host a VPN server at home and get to your computer through that. OpenVPN is ideal as it has ARM64 support and is pretty ubiquitous, it already runs natively on many home routers like netgear nighthawks etc. Finally for battery, if you use ARM apps exclusively you get ~11 hours, if you use x86 applications you get 6.5 hours, and if you use a bit of both you can almost just do the math. IMO if your daily workflow has you using an app that isn't available in arm64 for more than 10% of your time, you probably shouldn't get a SPX now and wait for more arm64 adoption. I work mostly in CrEdge and in Ubuntu using Windows Subsystems for Linux, both compiled arm64, with Telegram and Spotify running x86 in the background not seeming to affect my battery life much, giving me about 10 hours when using mostly arm64 apps with a few x86 apps here and there. The quick charging of this generation is also amazing, I rely on quick charging a lot for my phone, and similarly being able to juice up my SPX from 20% to 70%+ battery in the half hour it takes me to get ready in the morning is great. What I really think makes the SPX unique though is its thermals and improved chassis shape over previous Surface Pros. I used to use a Surface Pro 3 religiously because I loved the form factor, but the ~4-5 hour battery life was never long enough (I push my machines hard) and it always got very warm and noisy. the SPX not only is fanless, but never gets hot or throttles no matter how hard you push it, just a little warm on the center of the back so you can tell its working! The chassis changes are also great, you can really appreciate the slightly larger screen that has very minimal bezels, but still has substantial enough side bezels when you flip it around to use it as a tablet in portrait mode. The rounded edges are also night and day more comfortable to hold than the current Surface Pro design. I do wish it was a little lighter as my 1.4lb 13" iPad Pro is more comfortable to hold than the 1.75lb 13" SPX, but because of all the other things the SPX can do that the iPad can't I rarely use it for even browsing in my house, let along take it with me, and I wouldn't trade that weight for reduced battery life as the 10+ hour threshold feels great.
  • Damn, thanks for sharing all of that info. That's certainly an interesting use case!
  • Wow, this is fascinating! I have a Surface Book 2 15" and use if mostly for VR, multi-media and music production. So my reflexive response to the Surface Pro X is -- not for me because of the need for 64-bit desktop apps. (The SB2 is the first time I've had the power I need in a device portable enough that I can easily tote it along on my 25-minute walk to and from work.) I hadn't thought of this approach! This is a really intriguing way to rethink the challenge of combining computing power with portability! I think I'm a few years away from needing to upgrade, barring an unforseen water disaster!!! But thanks for the food for thought!
  • I used an SP2 when it came out and now SP3. I've only really ever used them as thin clients, except for light-medium coding work. To me that's what they were always supposed to be, so my workflow is already pretty well adapted to an SPX. Except for the aforementioned coding. On airplanes I'd rather code without having to connect to wifi.
  • My everyday, do everything device was a SP3 prior to purchasing the SPX. Unlike you, I used it as my full development environment (server, web, database, mid-tier, client/UI). That thing was/is one of the best machines I have ever had, and that includes my MacBook Pro (great in it's own right). @sb7575 brings up my biggest hurdle of consideration when I purchased my SPX - local coding/development. The biggest gap Microsoft has to fill for ARM, IMO, is they need to make at least an ARM compiled version of VS Code, and hopefully, VS 20XX. An SQL Lite for ARM would be great as well.
  • Great post! Thank you. Great to hear about remote desktop on ARM.
  • Are you saying you can or cannot use Remote Desktop? The Surface Pro X may not be intended for your use case. Get the Surface Pro 7 instead. The SB2 has two batteries. It's always going to offer more.
  • This article describes my situation nearly to a "T". I am now the proud owner of a SPX as well, and I was very skeptical prior to purchase. Now after being 2 months in, I am absolutely ecstatic about this decision, and I am more than enjoying using the SPX. I am a software engineer (design, development, integration), and I basically remote to a workstation for heavy lifting. My most common tasks are really accomplished with the SPX, and the always connected capability is really great.
  • Regarding photo editing: install the Polarr Chrome extension for Edge. It’s miles better than the Polarr app in the Windows Store, which hasn’t been updated in years. It feels just like an app when you run it.
  • Interesting tip. I'll give that a shot too.
  • "Windows Hello is, for some reason, significantly faster on the Surface Pro X than it was with my Surface Book 2." That may not be anything to do with either machine. A recent update to Windows 10 has significantly improved the performance of Windows Hello face recognition. I have a Surface Go, Surface Pro (2017) and a desktop with a Mouse IR camera (which I learned about on Windows Central) and all three are much faster and more reliable now. They all log me in almost immediately every time where, before, it often used to take some time and failed a fair percentage of the time. I also used to have to lean forward with my desktop but the range seems to have improved too. I could be wrong but I would assume that the same update has been made to Windows 10 on ARM.
  • Interesting, my surface go is relatively slow to turn on when not plugged into power and windows hello takes a bit to detect my face. It eventually does but i have to make sure I'm in good light for some reason. I thought the IR camera didnt need that.
    Maybe i need to redo the face recognition.
  • I had to redo it with new glasses (taken, they look totally different because i went from bezel-less to a think bezel). It did get me with the other glasses, but it took very long.
  • Nice wallpaper! I can't find it by doing a google search. Where can I find it?
  • Another made up story that just make sense but doesn’t make any sense 😂
  • Speaking of not making sense, congratulations on your comment.
  • Glad you are happy, would be of no use to me...
  • "I switched from Surface Book 2 to Surface Pro X" This is a totally misleading title. It should read: I switched from Surface Book 2 to Surface Pro X and a Desktop PC.
  • "totally misleading" 🙄 Did he not give up a Book 2 for the Pro X? Y/N
  • No. He gave up the Book 2 for a Pro X and a Desktop. The title suggests a Pro X is enough "for him" when the review states it isn't. I'm a fan of the Pro X but there's no need to "try to sell it" by being misleading.
  • .... but he already had the desktop. Since you are intent on being "logically" precise, maybe you should have taken that into account prior to your comments. The SB2 was purchased when he didn't have a PC for heavy lifting, but lo and behold, he still ended up with... another machine for heavy lifting, hence the desktop. It appears he led us right, but as is the case in many circles, someone will undoubtedly get confused. 😶
  • I know he already had a Desktop when getting the SPX, so whilst it was a swap its also semantics. The title is clickbait to suggest the SPX is enough for him when it isn't. Incidentally it will be for me. My plan is to actually swap my SP4 for one.
  • And what exactly is wrong with a glorified Chromebook? Most of us live in a browser these days anyway. 9 out of 10 apps I use on my Surface Pro 4 are Web Apps.
  • It sounds like the Surface Pro 7 would've been a better fit?
  • How so? He specifically mentions battery life and having LTE as key points:
    "The three biggest draws for me with the Surface Pro X were LTE connectivity, portability, and battery life."
    Surface Pro 7 doesn't have LTE and has worse battery life (not to mention a non-upgradable SSD, thicker bezels, a smaller display, and it can't do the cool pen/keyboard thing like the Pro X).
  • Because he mentions Apps in the review he likes to use but cannot. Hence a better fit. I missed the bit about LTE. Surface Pro 5 then? Is battery much different in your experience? I've heard such wild differences from the SP7 and SPX. Thanks. p.s. Calm down, we're not all Surface Pro X haters.
  • @bradavon "Calm down, we're not all Surface Pro X haters" Lol, Daniel has been acting odd over the the Surface Pro X since day one. He is extremely protective of the device and touchy on any criticism, real or perceived.
  • I know right. It has got a lot of unjustified bad press from people who don't understood it (same with the Pixel Slate) but no need to assume we're all like this.
  • Yes, it is a bit odd. The device isn't that great for its price point. This article shows you need about $3000 worth of kit (desktop + overpriced Surface Pro X) to use it to fit the author's needs. Okay... I guess so. Other than the lack of LTE, I find the Surface Laptop 3 a much better fit. It also is virtually instant on and Windows Hello is super fast. It is also much cheaper.
  • @kados78 Yeah, it has a niche market only and given the ridiculously high price will struggle to sell many units.
  • Is the battery life good? I have the 16/256 and I took it off the charger this morning around 9, and i'm at 52%. I did read that disabling the LTE modem helped somebody on Reddit and I'm not using it for the LTE. What are you averaging?
  • It makes absolute sense. Ill be doing something similar. Use to be a heavy Surface Pro users...paired that with a monitor set up at home when I needed to get work done in a more power setting...but since getting my Surface Studio, I'm going to be subbing out the Surface Pro for a Surface Neo later on in the year. Would have gotten an X already if Neo was never announced.
  • I think Surface Neo shows how much Microsoft thinks of Windows on ARM. Right now they seem like they are throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.
  • Microsoft is all about choice these days. ARM is good for those that want it. Heck, I want it, but the X's screen size is too big for my needs. I actually wanted something smaller like Surface Go running on ARM, that a device that works for me, love my (actually daughter's) Go. Surface Neo has two 9" screens...thats even smaller than Go's 10" screen when folded. Surface needs to keep giving consumers choice and all will be fine.
  • Happy it’s worked out for Dan. I’d struggle to recommend a Surface Book to anyone again, given the poor driver support for the 15 inch SB2’s dGPU. Adobe’s CC suite currently shows warnings to anyone opening that software on Microsoft’s most expensive computers.
  • Interesting read. It seems like a Chromebook might have also done the job though given the fact that only a basic photo editor was needed. That could have been loads cheaper. Is this really the best fit?
  • I have a question. Is your Surface Pro X sluggish, jumpy, not smooth at all when switching apps and multitasking etc? I am having a lot of that on mines now and may have to return it.