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Surface Pro X (2020) review: Minor changes for the best ARM PC

With a new platinum finish and SQ2 processor, Surface Pro X is still our favorite ARM laptop, but this is a minor refresh.

Surface Pro X Sq2 Hero
(Image: © Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The Surface Pro X arrived late last year as the newest entry to the rapidly growing line of Microsoft-branded devices. With its modern design, decent battery life, 4G LTE, and instant-on abilities, I made no qualms that it was my personal laptop of the year. But while I thought Pro X was nearly perfect, I also noted only for the right customer.

Microsoft is refreshing Surface Pro X for late 2020, and make no mistake, this is a mild iteration from last year. But a lot of progress around Windows 10 on ARM has been made in the previous 12 months, including our first preview of x64 emulation due in November.

What is new with that Microsoft SQ2 processor, and how does Surface Pro X still fair? Here's my review after using it for the last three weeks.

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Microsoft Surface Pro X (opens in new tab)

From $999 Bottom line: Microsoft has refreshed Surface Pro X for late 2020, and while the changes are welcome - new colors, slightly faster processor - the performance of ARM is slipping quickly behind Intel and AMD. But for those who need a 4G LTE, thin-and-light tablet PC that is just a joy to use, nothing beats Surface Pro X.

To the point

Surface Pro X (2020) What's new

Surface Pro X Sq2

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

There are four main buckets for changes to or with Surface Pro X:

  1. New SQ2 processor
  2. New platinum colorway
  3. More color options for the Surface Pro X Signature Type Cover
  4. General advancements in ARM and Windows

Out of these, it is only the new processor and advancements in ARM that are notable.

Following Qualcomm's somewhat vague announcement of its Snapdragon 8cx Gen2 5G, which now features optional 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and improved performance, Microsoft followed with its SQ2 chip. Both are based on the Kryo 495 CPU from last year and are clocked a tad higher than last year's processors.

Interestingly, the other two features of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx Gen2 5G announcement – specifically 5G and Wi-Fi 6 – did not make it over to this refreshed Surface Pro X. That is somewhat understandable for 5G, which is still a bit green, and it would likely require a significant redesign of Surface Pro X's antenna system. Nonetheless, it would have been exciting to have as an option. The omission of Wi-Fi 6 is more disappointing and unclear.

I can't think of a single thing that needs improving on Surface Pro X for design.

The new platinum color option, which is only found in the upper two price tiers of Surface Pro X, is outstanding. Gone are the fingerprints the black model was so prone to collecting. And this platinum is very platinum, by which I mean it has such a gorgeous shimmer that is likely attributable to the aluminum chassis. This laptop plays with the light in ways the black model could not.

NameCPURAM/StoragePrice
Surface Pro XSQ18GB/128GB$999
Surface Pro XSQ18GB/256GB$1,299
Surface Pro XSQ216GB/256GB$1,499
Surface Pro XSQ216GB/512GB$1,799

There are now three new Surface Pro X Signature Type Cover options for color: Platinum, Ice Blue, and Poppy Red matching the Surface Pro 7 line. Each of those keyboards also has the Surface Slim Pen dock built-in for quick and easy access. While not an upgrade, it shows confidence in the product line with Microsoft expanding options for those who want more customization. Compared to last year's black-on-black, these new combos are a breath of fresh air.

Surface Pro X 2020

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

Microsoft has also had a nice stream of announcements demonstrating the company's commitment to Windows on ARM. Last year, I lamented there was no version of the new Edge browser compiled for ARM64, though that was resolved a few weeks later. Microsoft Teams is also now optimized for ARM64 delivering improved performance and battery life. Microsoft announced the inclusion of ARM in its growing App Assure program, which helps developers and companies convert and optimize their apps for Windows and ARM-based systems.

CategorySurface Pro X
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home on ARM (Consumer)
Microsoft 365 Family 30-day trial
Display13-inch PixelSense
3:2 aspect ratio
2880x1920 (267 PPI)
ProcessorMicrosoft SQ1
Microsoft SQ2
GPUAdreno 685
Adreno 690
Memory8GB or 16GB LPDDR4x
Storage128GB, 256GB, or 512GB SSD (removable)
Rear Camera10MP autofocus (1080p and 4K video)
Front Camera5MP (1080p)
SecurityWindows Hello face authentication camera
ConnectivityWi-Fi 5 802.11ac
Qualcomm Snapdragon X24 LTE
Bluetooth 5.0
Ports2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 1x nano SIM, 1x Surface Connect, Surface Keyboard connector
BatteryUp to 15 hours typical use
Dimensions11.3 x 8.2 x 0.28 inches
(287mm x 208mm x 7.3mm)
Weight1.7 lbs (774g) w/o keyboard
2.36lbs (1,074g) with keyboard
ColorsMatte black
Platinum
AvailabilityOct 13th and beyond
PricingStarts at $999 (opens in new tab) ($1,499 for SQ2)

Microsoft is now preloading Amazon Prime Video and the new Liquid Text app with Surface Pro X. While LiquidText has a free version, the fully-featured app is around $30. While not cheap, it is a great productivity app ported natively to Windows on ARM from the Apple iPad ecosystem. It's a winner.

However, the most exciting news is that in November 2020, Microsoft should give Windows Insiders the first look at x64 emulation on ARM. Currently, Windows on ARM can only emulate x86-32-bit programs, but not 64-bit ones leaving many business and specialized apps unable to run on Surface Pro X, for example, Adobe Photoshop. With x64 emulation, that should solve many of those app incompatibility problems, effectively making ARM the same as traditional x86 systems.

Testing will begin in November, with the commercial release of x64 emulation occurring sometime later in 2021.

Now with more color

Microsoft Surface Pro X design and features

Surface Pro X 2020

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

Despite many exciting laptops in 2020, Surface Pro X still holds its own for style and design. While the aging Surface Pro 7 is always a good alternative, there are simply no convertible-tablet PCs that match the slimness and looks of Surface Pro X.

At just 7.3mm thin, the Surface Pro X feels very much like an iPad Pro — solid, metal, premium, and lean. The Surface Pro 7, by comparison, is a hair thicker at 8.5mm. Weight, however, is similar between both devices at just 1.7 pounds (775 grams).

Audio is excellent, thanks to the dual front-facing speakers. They are loud and vibrant and are remarkably similar to the Apple iPad and iPhone sound profile.

Ports are sparse with just two USB Type-C, either of which can be used for charging, data, or display out. Neither are Thunderbolt 3. There is no Type-A port, so users will need a dongle (not included). While the lack of a micro SD card reader is unsurprising, the omission of a 3.5mm headphone jack is regrettable. Microsoft sells a $12 Type-C to headphone adapter (opens in new tab) for those who do not want to use Bluetooth.

Bluetooth 5 and the 4G LTE X24 modem provide wireless connectivity. The LTE modem is a world-modem and not carrier- or SIM-locked, and users can sign up for an eSIM within Windows 10 directly. Users can even switch between a physical SIM and eSIM dynamically, which is excellent for traveling.

Below the kickstand, there is a door that pops off using an included SIM tray tool. Below that door is the replaceable M.2 2230 NVMe SSD and nano-SIM card slot for the 4G LTE modem (eSIM is also supported). Smaller M.2 2230 drives are harder to find, but they can be bought inexpensively online, giving users an easy way to upgrade (or replace) storage. Because of this feature, the site iFixit gives the Surface Pro X a favorable rating for repairability.

It's a testament to Microsoft design that I can't think of a single thing that needs improving on Surface Pro X.

Bright and glossy

Microsoft Surface Pro display

Surface Pro X Sq2 Liquid Text

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

Due to the thinner side bezels, the Surface Pro X gets a larger 13-inch display compared to the 12.3-inch one found on Surface Pro 7. That number may seem small, but it is noticeable, and Surface Pro X is more enjoyable to use because of it.

The 2880 x 1920 resolution gives a pleasing 267 pixel-per-inch (PPI) density. It's a higher resolution than the Surface Pro 7's 2736 x 1820, but its smaller size results in the same 267 PPI as the Surface Pro X.

Last year I could not test color accuracy due to driver incompatibility, but that is changed. Plugging in my Spyder X colorimeter, it suddenly worked – just one of those bits of software coming online for Windows on ARM.

This is an outstanding display that's bright, punchy, and sharp. Plus, those thin bezels.

Microsoft quotes 450 nits of brightness, but I exceeded that with an impressive 487 nits at max and six nits minimum in my tests. By comparison, Surface Pro 7 is below that at 410 nits, although it can go a bit dimmer at just three nits.

Color accuracy is also reasonable at 99 percent sRGB, 74 percent AdobeRGB, and 75 percent DCI-P3. Those are all a hair higher than Surface Pro 7.

Like my criticism of last year's Surface Pro X, Surface Pro 7, and Surface Laptop 3, the Surface Pro X omits wide-color gamut (WCG) abilities, high-dynamic-range (HDR)/Dolby Vision, and anti-glare that other PCs in this price category feature. Surface Pro X lets users switch between an "enhanced" color profile with a more saturated look or a more neutral sRGB mode where color correctness is necessary.

Overall, the display on Surface Pro X is a selling point. It is bright, color-accurate, punchy, sharp, and larger than Surface Pro 7.

Slimming down and hiding away

Microsoft Surface Pro X pen and inking

Surface Pro X Sq2 Flat

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

One of Surface Pro X's hallmark features is its Surface Slim Pen, which can be optionally bought with the Signature Type Cover or by itself. Due to its design, it is perfect for those who use the pen all the time and those who barely need it at all. It is just incredible.

The secret is the Surface Slim Pen stows nicely in the Surface Pro X's keyboard deck. Held by strong magnets, the tray also wirelessly recharges the pen when not in use. It's a smart idea — one that lets you forget you even have a pen right up until you need it. Hidden away, it also means you'll never lose the pen in your bag. The magnets are so good that even if you place the pen down incorrectly in the tray, it flips over to make sure it charges.

Functionally, the Surface Slim Pen is the same as the regular Surface Pen. It has a Bluetooth button at one end that also double as an eraser. There are two buttons near the tip for functions that can be assigned.

The Slim Pen and stowaway feature is simply awesome.

Based on Microsoft Pen Protocol (MPP), formerly known as DuoSense2 under N-trig, the Surface Slim pen supports tilt and 4,096 pressure sensitivity levels. Because of this, you can use the Surface Slim on other Surface PCs, and the older, regular Surface Pen also works on the Surface Pro X.

For artists, the usual pen jitter still occurs when slowly drawing straight lines.

I had no issues using the Surface Slim Pen for notetaking or marking up documents. While you can use it for drawing and higher-level artistry, I think Microsoft is keener on those using this pen for work-related tasks.

Sadly, the new Surface Slim Pen is not cheap at ~$115. If you buy the Surface Slim Pen separately, you still get a small wireless charging dock for it.

Best cameras around

Microsoft Surface Pro X keyboard and cameras

Surface Pro X Sq2 Keyboard Led

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

The Surface Pro X keyboard is fantastic and familiar to anyone who has used a Surface before. With three-stage backlighting, ample key travel, and a decently sized glass-topped trackpad, the Surface Pro X's keyboard is as good as Surface Pro 7's.

So-called "lapability" may be an issue for those with shorter legs, but I have no problem whatsoever.

Surface Pro X easily has the best webcam on any laptop. Period.

Tiny magnets that help keep the Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard closed, which is a nice touch. While you can shake it loose, the magnets help lock the cover to the Surface Pro X's display.

The Surface Pro X cameras are the best of any Surface — and Windows 10 PC — to date. They are marvelous with excellent sharpness and clarity, beating Surface Pro 7 and Surface Book 3. The 5MP full HD front-facing camera with dual Studio Mics ensures exceptional Zoom or Microsoft Teams conference calls. In the rear is an 11MP full HD (1080p) camera with autofocus that's not all that dissimilar to Surface Duo. That's a small bump from the Surface Pro 7's 8MP camera, but it shows when taking pictures of whiteboards for your notes.

One new trick introduced earlier this year is Eye Contact. It's an option found under the Surface app and is off by default. The feature is exclusive to Surface Pro X and is due to the Qualcomm AI chip on board. The technology auto-adjusts your eyes in real-time using the video camera, so it looks like you are looking directly at the person and not down on your screen. While it is a subtle adjustment, it works incredibly well, and with any app that uses video.

Windows Hello — Microsoft's system for bio-authentication and facial recognition — works as anticipated and is fast and accurate. Due to the Qualcomm ARM processor, the Surface Pro X is nearly "instant on" each time you open the keyboard.

Mobile and virtual meetings are a necessity in 2020, and here Surface Pro X shines. If you need to work in your house or take a meeting away from Wi-Fi, there is no better laptop PC than Surface Pro X.

A modest improvement

Microsoft Surface Pro X benchmarks and battery

Surface Pro X Sq2 Gaming Borderlands

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

Getting to the crux of Surface Pro X (2020) is what is new with the Microsoft SQ2 processor and Adreno 690 GPU (up from an Adreno 685).

The SQ2 does not replace the SQ1 as Microsoft continues to sell that chip in the $999 and $1,299 models. Instead. SQ2 is for the $1,499 and $1,799 editions, which also come in the new platinum color.

The good news is if you have Surface Pro X with SQ1 (or you can only afford that model), you are not missing much. Please make no mistake: SQ2 is faster, but we are talking minor improvements, not generational shifts. The less-than-impressive conclusion is that SQ2 is clocked at 3.15GHz compared to 3.0GHz of SQ1 (and the original Snapdragon 8cx is just 2.85GHz).

Geekbench 5

Geekbench 5.0 (CPU) (Higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Surface Pro XSQ27983,100
Surface Pro XSQ17252,819
Flex 5GSD 8cx7162,844
Galaxy Book SSD 8cx6852,681
MagicBook 14Ryzen 5 3500U7482999
Acer Swift 7i7-8500Y7321,106
Surface Laptop 3 13.5i5-1035G71,1774,413
Surface Laptop 2i5-8250U9093,372
Surface Pro 7i5-1035G41,1914,441
Surface Pro 6i7-8650U1,1133,519
Surface Pro 6i5-8250U9043,440
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390i7-1065G71,2093,571

Geekbench 4

Geekbench 4.0 (CPU) (Higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Surface Pro X (ARM)SQ23,64912,299
Surface Pro X (x86)SQ22,3797,422
Surface Pro X (ARM)SQ13,50511,727
Surface Pro X (x86)SQ12,1826,822
Flex 5G (ARM)SD 8cx3,28811,139
Galaxy Book S (ARM)SD 8cx3,27111,096
Yoga C630 (ARM)SD 8502,2877,215
Flex 5G (x86)SD 8cx2,1036,681
Galaxy Book S (x86)SD 8cx2,0326,371
Yoga C630 (x86)SD 8501,3453,560
Acer Swift 7i7-8500Y2,2814,905
Samsung Galaxy Book2 (ARM)SD8502,2627,405
Samsung Galaxy Book2 (x86)SD8501,3454,164
HP Envy x2 (ARM)SD8352,1116,314
Surface GoPentium2,0783,934
Surface 3Atom x71,0782,777
Surface Laptop 3 13.5i5-1035G75,26517,345
Surface Laptop 2i5-8250U4,20313,233
Surface Laptopi5-7200U3,7257,523
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390i7-1065G75,45919,097

PCMark 10

Applications (Higher is better)

DeviceCPUScore
Surface Pro XMicrosoft SQ25,088
Surface Pro XMicrosoft SQ14,617
Flex 5GSD 8cx5,026
Galaxy Book SSD 8cx4,308

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (Higher is better)

DeviceReadWrite
Surface Pro X (SQ2)2,045 MB/s810 MB/s
Surface Pro X2,023 MB/s832 MB/s
Lenovo Flex 5G1,913 MB/s426 MB/s
Samsung Galaxy Book S1,912 MB/s425 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga c630791 MB/s220 MB/s
Samsung Galaxy Book2722 MB/s205 MB/s
HP Envy x2513 MB/s197 MB/s
Surface Go (SSD)1,185 MB/s133 MB/s
Surface Go (eMMC)260 MB/s145 MB/s
Surface 3149 MB/s33 MB/s
Surface Laptop 3 13.52,338 MB/s1,583 MB/s
Surface Laptop 3 152,028 MB/s806 MB/s
Surface Laptop 21,509 MB/s811 MB/s
Surface Laptop486 MB/s244 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 73902,400 MB/s1,228 MB/s

.

In 3DMark Night Raid, which runs natively on ARM and pushes the CPU and GPU heavily, Surface Pro X (2020) scored 7,366 while Surface Pro X (2019) 7,085. That's a four percent difference, and in video playback, just a couple of frames-per-second disparity.

The new SQ2 is technically faster, but barely so. It's a bit disappointing.

The Adreno 690 GPU in Surface Pro X is no slouch, either. Surface Pro X (7,366) more than doubles Samsung Galaxy Book2 (2,972). And compared to the Intel Core i5-8250U with Intel UHD 620 (6,517), the Surface Pro X easily topples it by a wide margin.

PCMark 10 Applications (ARM) loops through productivity work using Excel, the web (Edge), PowerPoint, and Word for twenty minutes. Again, the SQ2 (5,078) beats SQ1 (4,523), resulting in a 12 percent improvement in overall performance.

Surface Pro X Sq2 4g Lte

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

The app story is still the same from last year, except that Microsoft Teams and Edge are now fully optimized for ARM64. Here is a list of apps I extensively use on Surface Pro X without any problem:

  • Microsoft Office (Word, OneNote, Excel)
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Spotify
  • VUDU
  • Disney+
  • Twitter
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Slack (PWA)
  • Mail (Outlook.com)
  • Flow Mail (Gmail)
  • Polarr Photo Editor Pro
  • Microsoft News
  • GroupMe
  • OneDrive
  • Skype
  • Microsoft To Do
  • myTube! (opens in new tab) (YouTube)
  • MobileDiscord PTB (Discord)
  • Unigram (Telegram)
  • ExpressVPN using manual configuration

Gaming is not out of the question, either. I can play Borderlands 2 (Steam) at ~50+ frames-per-second (FPS) at 1600 x 900. Bumping the resolution to 1920 x 1080 and ~32-40 FPS is very enjoyable, especially when paired with an Xbox controller (Bluetooth). Other games like Dead Cells, Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2, Tesla vs. Lovecraft, Streets of Rogue play simply fine too. Indeed, Surface Pro X's display and audio make this a fun gaming machine if you are OK with older titles, platformers, and 2D fare.

A similar story is found with Geekbench, where SQ2 gets around 300 more points on multi-core performance than SQ1 and Geekbench 4, especially when comparing 32-bit emulation vs. native ARM performance.

For RAM, Surface Pro X ships with either eight or 16GB of LPDDR4x and is quite performant and energy-efficient.

The SSD performance has not changed either, yielding a satisfactory 2,000 MB/s sequential read and ~800 MB/s write transfer rate using CrystalDiskMark.

PCMark 10 Battery (Applications)

DeviceTimeBattery
Surface Pro X SQ28 hours, 42 minutes20% left
Flex 5G18 hours20% left
Galaxy Book S11 hours, 11 mins21% left
Surface Pro X8 hours, 31 minutes20% left

Battery life is virtually the same as last year due to optimizations in drivers, Windows 10, and ARM64 applications. On the "recommended" setting, I get 8.5 hours at 200 nits of brightness. You could easily push ten hours in battery saver and lower display brightness. Throwing it on max performance, and I still get over 7 hours. While that is not record-breaking – even for an ARM PC – considering the size and display resolution, it is effectively all-day. The Lenovo Flex 5G gets substantially longer battery life. Still, it achieves that with a dimmer, lower-resolution display, slower processor, and much larger battery, which results in it being a half-pound heavier.

From the data, we can conclude Microsoft SQ2 is a bit faster, and the overall Windows experience feels a smidge zippier. Still, there is a good reason why Microsoft is also not calling this Surface Pro X 2.

Target audience

Surface Pro X: Who is this for?

Surface Pro X Sq2 Hero

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

As I said in 2019, Surface Pro X is a unique device with a particular target audience. Think of it more like a specialized tool rather than a do-it-all PC. For my job and when I'm not behind a desktop PC, Surface Pro X is my preferred laptop to use, whether it's on the couch, flying, getting away for the weekend, or visiting a friend. I use it all the time.

Microsoft Surface hardware chief Panos Panay said the Surface Pro X is for "a tech-forward, mobile professional". That sounds like corporate marketing jargon, but there is some truth to it. Much of today's workforce is increasingly mobile, relying on a few core productivity-based apps like Microsoft Office, OneDrive, Outlook, web, PDF readers, remote access, VPN, and custom line-of-business (LOB) apps. These workers need something very portable, long battery life, 4G LTE, and instant-on abilities with inking for document management.

Panay says more about who would benefit from the Surface Pro X in 2019:

And so, if you're leaning into tech, and you want something a little bit cutting edge, this is a great product. It's crazy cool. If you work on a train, a bus, a plane, if you're ride-sharing in a car, you like working at the park or at Starbucks, that's a mobile user to me. They use their products everywhere. It's perfect for that.

Some of that has changed in 2020, however. Being mobile and needing 4G LTE is less critical, as so many are now working remotely from home. That will change as the world comes out of the pandemic in 2021. But for now, LTE is less of a selling point. Nonetheless, features like instant-on, all-day battery life, exceptional teleconferencing abilities, and portability make using Surface Pro X for home-work that much more enjoyable. Surface Pro X is essentially an Apple iPad Pro but with Windows 10 and an excellent keyboard.

Surface Pro X 2020

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

If you need a PC that is always on LTE, turns on quickly, and brings the benefits of a 2-in-1 laptop, Surface Pro X solves some problems for you. But if you want PC gaming, the ability to run computer-aided design (CAD) apps, heavy-lifting things like video editing and media creation, then the Surface Pro X creates problems. Knowing where you fall on that spectrum determines if the Surface Pro X is right for you.

Confused? That's understandable. Luckily, Microsoft has a tool to help steer you towards the right Surface (opens in new tab).

Looking at the competition

Surface Pro X Alternatives

Lenovo Flex 5g

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

When it comes to Surface Pro X, there are not many alternatives that tick all the same boxes for features, quality, and design. Assuming long battery life and 4G LTE are priorities, Samsung's Galaxy Book S and Lenovo's Flex 5G are worthy alternatives. While neither are as pen-and-tablet focused as Surface Pro X, they tend to get longer battery life, and in the case of the Flex 5G, offer next-gen internet connectivity.

If you prefer going with a traditional Intel x86 processor and want 4G LTE, the HP Elite Dragonfly is an excellent option as well as the highly-praised Spectre x360 13, which is more affordable. For more business folks, Dell's Latitude 9510 is fantastic. All have 4G LTE options and get decent to very good battery life, albeit in a heavier, more traditional laptop form factor.

You can find more recommendations in our Best Windows 10 LTE Laptops 2020 roundup.

Small tweaks

Surface Pro X (2020) Should you buy?

Surface Pro X Sq2 Logo

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

Who it's for

  • If you want a thin tablet/convertible PC
  • If you need always-connected 4G LTE, instant-on
  • If you want a good pen and inking experience
  • If you prefer thin bezels and a great office productivity device
  • If you like the iPad but wish it ran Windows

Who it isn't for

  • If you want to game (without streaming)
  • If you're looking to stretch your dollar
  • If you need 64-bit x86 applications like Adobe Photoshop (for now)

Surface Pro X with SQ2 is not an upgrade from last year's model. Instead, it is an attempt by Microsoft to keep its flagship Windows 10 on ARM Surface fresh for 2020. It mostly succeeds, but the new SQ2 processor is more of a footnote than a banner feature. It also does nothing to close the gap with traditional x86 chips.

There's nothing like Surface Pro X on the market, but it's also not for everyone.

That conclusion means if you are a current Surface Pro X owner, upgrading to this "new" version is probably not the best use of your money. The one exception is if you live on the Pro X all day, and you really (and I mean really) want it in platinum. You know what? I don't blame you – this refreshed version is dynamite looking.

Things are much better for those looking to jump on Windows 10 on ARM than when I last reviewed Surface Pro X. Microsoft Edge and Teams are now native for ARM64, helping with performance and battery. App x86-64-bit emulation is right around the corner, which could solve many app compatibility limitations, and there is now a nifty AI-based Eye Contact feature.

There are some unsurprising disappointments too. While 5G is still in its infancy, it would have been a fascinating future-proofing opportunity (see Lenovo Flex 5G). The same goes for Wi-Fi 6, which is another minor but essential upgrade that is missing.

Performance is still reasonable with the Microsoft SQ2, and, for my work, it is all I need. But it is challenging to ignore Intel and AMD, who are making rousing processors in 2020 that genuinely take a massive lead in performance over Qualcomm. While the Snapdragon 8cx is an OK competitor against a two-year-old 8th Gen Intel Core i5, it pales next to an 11th Gen or a Ryzen 4000 series. That's just a fact.

Of course, there cannot be a device like Surface Pro X – super thin and light, no heat or fan, long battery life, and 4G LTE – but powered by an x86 processor. Not yet, at least. And that is what makes Surface Pro X so unique. There's nothing else like it on the market.

Overall, I still love Surface Pro X, and it is my go-to PC when I'm not at a desktop. But Qualcomm needs to start delivering real year-over-year performance gains if it wants to compete against Intel and AMD. Here's hoping we see that in Surface Pro X 2.

(opens in new tab)

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 (opens in new tab)

Refreshed for late 2020 is the new Surface Pro X with the SQ2 processor. A faster CPU, more powerful GPU, improved battery life, x64 app emulation in November (Insiders), and now in platinum, there is a lot to like here. You can even now pick multiple colors for the Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen Bundle. Preorder now; get it for October 13th.

(opens in new tab)

Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen Bundle (opens in new tab)

This bundle includes the Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard that features Alcantara and the Surface Slim Pen that charges wirelessly within the keyboard. Previously only in Black, you can now get newer colors like Platinum, Ice Blue, and Poppy Red.

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

55 Comments
  • This is exactly what I was looking for, thanks Dan! I was really looking forward to the Pro X's SQ2, but seeing the minimal performance improvement gives me pause. The GPU improvements are what I was most interested in so I'm glad to see the gains there, but ultimately I don't think it's quite enough for me. I'm still on the fence about this device but now I think I'll wait to see what the Surface Pro 8 brings next year before upgrading again.
  • Thanks, glad you liked it. Took a bit longer, but really wanted to get more details on SQ2 for comparison. Surface Pro 8 should be interesting, specifically if it gets a redesign. I still think Pro X will have a design lead, but Pro 8 should pull closer.
  • Dan, do you know if the Pro 8 will have the 11th gen Xe graphics? From what I've been reading, it's quite the leap in performance compared to the older Iris graphics. That may make the Pro 8 more compelling than the Pro X for me, since I'm not too concerned about battery life. 4 - 5 hours on battery is good enough for my typical use, but I'd still rather have the full x86-64 experience for now..
  • "Dan, do you know if the Pro 8 will have the 11th gen Xe graphics? "
    I'm confident it will have Xe graphics, yes, and a slightly larger display (though not as big as Pro X). And yes, Xe is a big deal. Massive gains in performance. I'll have more on that re: XPS 13/2-in-1 refreshes hopefully late next week, or soon after. No more Type-A either, just two Type-C.
  • Okay great, thanks for the info! Looking forward to the XPS review as well.
  • Definitely looking forward to hearing about this.
  • Daniel, why don't you reckon it'll have the same size screen? Whilst heat and slimmness will be an issue, it seems giving the Pro 8 the same screen is something Microsoft can do. If the Pro 8 doesn't get a design refresh finally that tells us Microsoft simply don't want it too. Agreed I still reckon overall the Pro X will be the nicer device design wise. It doesn't have to worry about heat. Love my Pro X for the same reasons you do. Perfect pc for me.
  • "Daniel, why don't you reckon it'll have the same size screen?"
    Some info I have heard. I expect similar size, but thinner bezels and around 12.7" display. But we'll see.
  • These performance gains seem to be within the margin of error. I doubt they would even be noticeable in day-to-day use. What would be nice to see is (once the x64 emulation is released) an app-by-app performance and battery life trial run of common x64 apps that people use (Photoshop, etc..maybe make a poll on Windows Central to gather audience feedback on what they'd like to see) and see how they fare on the Surface Pro X, especially pointing out any specific bugs/quirks that may happen, because while the average consumer may hear "oh x64 compatibility great", we already know that mileage can vary and if it helps one person make an even more informed decision, it would be great.
  • Yeah - I think the x64 emulation will be a big test for either X devices - I am looking to upgrade from a SP5 and I would love the form factor of the X - I just want to make sure the majority of my apps will work on the device and the x64 emulation will be the deciding factor for me. I just wish they made the SP7 or newer with LTE... Not as important right now as Daniel said with WFH - however - having the option is always nice. I have also asked MS on twitter for a hardware compatibility list regarding ARM64 drivers - however MS did not get back to me. I would love to use the device for basic music creation and being able to plug in an external MIDI control surface or keyboard would be nice. I just don't know about driver compatibility.
  • I believe Drivers are whatever Windows 10 has built in support for which is a lot but you'll lose all of OEM driver improvements. Expect basic driver support for things like printers but not random bespoke hardware. Is there any hardware that has OEM provided ARM6 drivers? I'm not aware of any. Daniel is wrong here when he says 64-bit support will essentially make Windows on ARM the same as x86. It won't. If you need to use a peripheral with it Windows on ARM may not be a good route to go down.
  • If you are heavy user of Photoshop, MS didn't have you in mind when creating the SPX. If it works at all, put that in the "nice to have" category.
  • But we already know Photoshop will suck because the older 32-bit Photoshop sucks now. People really need to stop banging the drum on Photoshop. Windows on ARM devices just aren't intended for Photoshop use until the ARM64 versions come. The Surface Pro X is no different here.
  • The SQ2 seems to be around 10% faster, that's a bit higher then margin of error, it kind of matches the the clockspeed increase.
  • I like Dan's dedication to myTube. :)
  • Sadly my current Pro X is not eligible for trade-in or I'd buy. Why that?
  • That is a big fat lie.
  • This thing is not for me (at least not anymore — my computing needs have changed) but holy Jesus in a manger did they make a beautiful device. Almost as pretty as the Surface Laptop (which is a museum piece). A nice, thorough review.
  • Does someone know if it runs Citrix Workspace?
  • The Windows Store version says yes, it supports ARM. Awesome! My wife uses the Store version for her work from home routine and it works very nicely (though that's on Intel).
  • I can confirm it supports Citrix Workspace from the store. I've also been testing Windows Virtual Desktop for ARM which also works well.
  • For Windows on ARM, do apps refresh while the device is asleep? For ex: would Onedrive refresh on the SPX through Wifi while I work on a desktop.... then when I bring the SPX on the go.. will my files be available (assuming I checked the available offline option)? On my current Surface Pro, I have to turn the device on to refresh Onedrive before I leave the house.. which is a slight pain.
  • Good question. I'll test that right now between my SP3 and my SPX. TEST RESULT: No, my SPX does not sync OneDrive while asleep. Files show up quickly after logging in but there is a clear delay. That said, syncing files while asleep would also dramatically impact battery life. Given that I have the LTE turned on, the scenario you describe has never been an issue for me. My files are always there. At times, I must override the default setting "Pause sync while on metered network". For me, this concern is a non-issue.
  • Thank you for testing! Not a dealbreaker, but would've been awesome to have.
  • Thanks for the review. I see you're using the Slack Web App. This suggests you do have problems with it?
  • I prefer PWA over Electron as an app model. I actually use quite a few PWAs even on my Core i9 desktop because I just find the performance better than "native."
  • This is true. WhatsApp web, when saved as a PWA app, runs WAY faster than the WhatsApp desktop app, which essentially launches an entire web browser to accomplish the same thing.
  • I find this with MS Teams as well. The PWA uses way less CPU and RAM, and aside from custom backgrounds, it works very well. Unrelated Daniel, sounds like the Surface 3 LTE would be your dream device. Surface 3 was under rated, such a great device.
  • I have a Surface 3. It was fun, but that Atom processor and micro-USB charge port (!) was ... not very satisfying. I'd take SQ2 over an Atom (and even Pentium) chip anytime.
  • The Surface 3 was quite alright for its time and place. I loved the portability of it and since I all I was doing with it was light web surfing and email mostly it was great box for fussing around at the local pub. I am sure that use case masked my perception of its deficiencies and enhanced my fondness for it. May I never, ever, encounter another Atom processors. Still, if it has a legacy other than clouded memories and filling up space in closets around the world, is it paved the way for the Surface Go which has its own challenges. Though I must say having owned a Surface Pro 5 M3 which was a pretty useful box with good battery life, I am almost an odds on owner of the Surface Go 2 M3 as a pub box between now and Christmas. I think I see a pattern here. As for the Surface Pro X 2020 this version is gated by Qualcomm. I am really waiting to see how performant the upcoming Apple Silicon will be. I suspect they will pretty good. Hopefully that will inspire Qualcomm to improve the laptop CPUs dramatically. Another random thought is how good Microsoft has become at getting hardware design right the first time. In retrospect the Surface Pro series evolution was seeing the Surface Team figuring out how to design great hardware. That effort clearly paid off when it came to Surface Pro X and the Surface Duo which to my eye are as close to perfect as you get.
  • Agree on design. Surface Pro X is perfect, imo. Sure, the display could always get better. The only concern for people with Pro X is the processor choice.
  • Mr. Rubino, I forgot to mention that I found your review of the Surface Pro X refresh, as usual, excellent. Even for this incremental refresh of the Surface Pro X I appreciate the work and care you put into this review. This is a ground breaking product for Microsoft that points hard to the future; that alone demands full attention which you did in spades. Again, thank you.
  • I can see why they didn't but there should've at least been a fanless version of the Surface Laptop Go with the SQ2. Windows on ARM is crying out for a decent midrange laptop. The sort of device the masses are likely to buy.
  • Looks nice but no headphone is a automatic no buy.
  • Adapters, USB C headphones and BT exist.
  • Are you plugging headphones into a OC? What year is this?
  • Yeah, I used to think that way too. 5 years ago. Seriously, you are still using headphones with wires? I have more Bluetooth headphones and speakers than you can imagine. Life in 2020 is good. You might want to check it out.
  • Seriously! Sound quality, stability, no battery, and not having to charge is a major plus. Have fun buying $200+ earbuds every 2 years. My $160 dollar wired headphones still going on 13 years and I would like to keep it that way.
  • Macbook(air) with Apple Silicon is Coming.
  • Yesterday's hardware at tomorrow's prices:
    No touch screen
    No pen support
    No upgradability
    No repairability
    No LTE
    No face recognition
    No 2-in-1 design
    No 180 degree screen
    No detachable screen And let's not forget all the class-action lawsuits filed because of poor build quality:
    2021 cracked screen
    2020 green screen
    2019 connectivity issues
    2018 keyboard
    2017 thermal throttling
    And that is just in the last 5 years!
  • Minor performance upgrade because it still same chip based on Snapdragon 855 platform similar move to what apple did with a12z. Which means they are probably looking at upcoming Snapdragon 875 platform to deliver more substantial performance upgrade.
  • The Pro X is also a great lightweight developer machine if you use mainly WSL or remote in. Visual Studio Code is now ARM native. This is what the Surface Pro 7 LTE should have been but can't ever be, no thanks to Intel chips being battery guzzlers.
  • Yup! I'm surprised by the amount of devs who either use Pro X or have asked me about it.
  • I expect more when pro series looks like pro x
  • I love the Surface Pro X and rather use the Microsoft Store instead of using emulated apps. I want something that matches the iPad. Doesn't the 16 gigs of ram helps it with video editing? How is that part on tgis device?
  • Sorry, I don't edit videos and if I did as a regular task, I would get a PC with an NVIDIA graphics card.
  • iPads aren't computers, so even the slowest cheapest computer is better than an iPad. This is why iPad unit sales have plummeted from 73 million in 2014 to 45 million in 2021.
  • Why can't I get a keyboard that holds the Slim Pen for my Surface Pro 7?
  • Seeing the price difference between devices with SQ1 and SQ2 there is no reason to go for the SQ2 version yet. Or am I missing something important?
  • No you're correct. If both costs around the same, then sure go for the SQ2 but it's not worth to pay (much) more for it.
  • Thanks for your feedback! I can see a price difference of ~200€ in Europe between SQ1 and SQ2 versions (16 GB RAM, 256GB SSD). If it comes down to less than 100€ difference, it may be worth considering it. I plan to buy it during black Friday - so let's see.
    Thank you for this great review Daniel! I plan this to be a productivity device during my MBA studies and it seems to be a great fit for that use!
  • If coming from SQ1, no need to upgrade If wanting a new Pro X, whether you get SQ1 or SQ2 depends on how much RAM/storage you want. Only the 16GB models have SQ2.
  • Thank for testing that pen jitter.
    As I voiced on Twitter, it's so sad to see a drawing issue like that remain in a technology since the Surface Pro 4.
    I guess I need to look for alternatives to Surface, with pens that uses the Wacom EMR. I also know I'm in the minority and most serious drawing artists have moved on to iPad's Pencil or some other non-MPP based Pen device. I guess I'll have to do the same for my next device. Such a shame, the Surface line was my perfect kind of device (except for that) =/
  • You say that MS Teams and Edge are ARM optimised, Chromium Edge is amazing on the Pro X but Teams still looks to be emulated and sluggish (and it isn't quick on my works i5 laptop), am I missing an update or beta Teams? TBH I've started using the PWA versions of many 'apps' as they are pretty much feature complete and responsive as pinned Edge sites.
  • 🤷‍♂️ Microsoft has announced Teams for ARM, and we verified it is running as such. That said, even on a desktop PC, Microsoft Teams is not known to be exceptional for performance due to it being built on Angular and Type Script for cross-OS compatibility.