Here's an in-depth look at the Microsoft Surface Pro X.
As I briefly mentioned a few months back (see “A holiday shopping guide for engineers: 2021 edition“), and in contrast to previous conceptual criticism (see “Windows on Arm: All of Apple’s challenges with none of its charm“), the third time was the charm when it came to attempted purchases of a Microsoft Surface Pro X:
The acquisition attempt documented in that year-ago write-up was my (my wife’s, more accurately) first try, in early November 2020, and was thwarted by (among other things) a missing AC adapter. I subsequently sought to purchase a Surface Pro X from the Certified Refurbished section of eBay’s site a few weeks later for around the same price, just under $1,100 inclusive of sales tax. But the merchant reported that inventory was already depleted when my order came in, canceled it, and promptly refunded my money. And my last (but definitely not least) attempt was last June, again an eBay Certified Refurbished item (ironically from the same merchant), this time for just under $800 with tax. It apparently pays to wait!
All three systems intentionally had identical specifications:
To that latter point…my interest in the Surface Pro X (and Windows-on-Arm more generally) has always been on its promised future capabilities versus any underwhelm in its existing status. As I wrote a year ago, the platform’s Win32 emulation support, albeit seemingly robust, was being rendered increasingly irrelevant by application developers’ migrations to Win64 code and APIs. And although Microsoft’s efforts to bolster Win64 capabilities were tangible, they didn’t come robustly or quickly (the other reason why my first purchase of a Surface Pro X didn’t pan out) enough to notably “move the needle.”
That said, everything changed last October via a completely unexpected source: the release of Windows 11. Although I largely panned it for x86-based systems, due to its seemingly prematurely-obsoleting CPU and security requirements, it was conversely an ideal solution for Windows-on-Arm, thereby compelling me to upgrade to it as soon as it was available (and, in related news, compelling Microsoft to mothball further x64 emulation efforts on Windows 10 one month later, in order to focus further development on a single operating system foundation going forward).
No longer did I need to cherry-pick Arm-native or Win32 application variants, or search for inevitably inferior app alternatives if only Win64 versions of my preferred programs were available. Generally speaking, in fact, I’ve been hard-pressed to find Windows apps that won’t successfully install and run on the Surface Pro X, with a couple of exceptions:
On that last point, to be clear, “native” software is always optimal, of course, from compatibility, performance, and power consumption standpoints. But the few aforementioned exceptions aside, I’m otherwise solidly satisfied with the experience of running Windows 11 and various applications (both native where available and emulated otherwise) on the Surface Pro X. My longstanding desire to be able to (modestly, admittedly) use a computer for an entire day solely running on battery power is finally a reality. The integrated LTE connectivity is similarly invaluable to actualizing my mobile computing aspirations. The touch-capable LCD is high in resolution (2880×1920, 267 PPI, 3:2 aspect ratio), with rich color depth, and is nearly bezel-free. The system is lightweight (1.7 lbs/774 g) and svelte (0.28”/7.3 mm thick). And a stable of subsequently purchased accessories, all acquired gently used or discontinued at significant discounts to the brand-new prices, have neatly completed the picture:
Was this particular system configuration, at its original $1499 MSRP two-plus years ago and with its initial dearth of (emulated, not to mention native) app support, worth it? Or any of the initial systems, extending downward to the bare-bones 8GB/128GB no-LTE $899 configuration or all the way up to the top-end 16GB/512GB $1,899 setup, for that matter?
Slick promo videos aside, no. Even today, with a one-generation-newer operating system and significantly enhanced application support, they’re admittedly still a stretch at MSRP. And don’t get me started on the $269 Signature keyboard-plus-Slim Pen 2 kit, or any of the other accessories, for that matter. But at the roughly half-off MSRP that I paid for my like-new system, and with equally bargain-shopper accessories, it’s a much easier proposition to fiscally swallow.
I’ll close with a teaser; this isn’t the only Microsoft-branded system like this that I’ve recently mentioned…and acquired…motivated by future upgrade promises in contrast to current underwhelming reality, and at a notable discount to the original MSRP. A write-up to come will do the “full monty,” of course; for now, all I’ll say is that it’s also touchscreen-supportive and optionally controllable via the Surface Pen. Ideas? Or thoughts on anything I’ve said in this post? Let me know in the comments!
This article was originally published on EDN.
Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Edge AI and Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.