Microsoft Surface Pro X Review (SQ2, 2020)

Enter the Microsoft corner of your nearby electronics store, and the Surface Pro X is probably the device you’re attracted to. With its sleek bezels and premium materials, the Slate has the most modern look of any Surface and showcases Microsoft’s sophisticated hardware design language. Not only that, the display is beautiful, the 5MP webcam is class-leading, the battery life is solid, the speakers sound great. And while the Type-Cover keyboard remains an add-on, the typing experience is fantastic. This is our Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 Review.

Last updated on December 7, 2021 9:41 am

So why the unfavorable rating? Until the introduction of x64 emulation, application compatibility will remain an issue. And even then, the SQ2 chip doesn’t represent a significant improvement over the SQ1, which means that the Surface Pro X lags behind the competition in raw performance. This is a difficult compromise to overlook when spending $1,499 on a tablet.

Specifications

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 specs
Price:$1,499
CPU:SQ2 SoC
RAM:16GB
Storage:256GB SSD
Display:13-inch, 2880 x 1920-pixel
GPU:Adreno 690 GPU
VRAMN/A
Battery life:9 hours and 30 minutes
Size: 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.3-inches
Weight: 1.7 pounds (2.4 pounds with the keyboard and stylus)

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review: design

The Surface Pro X is not the Surface that needs to be reworked (see Surface Pro 7), so I don’t mind that the model SQ2 has the same design as the earlier version.  In fact, out of all Microsoft’s 2-in-1 products, the Pro X has the most advanced case. If you are familiar with the numbered Surface Pro models, imagine them, but with slimmer bezels, rounded corners, and a thinner case. These improvements help differentiate the Surface Pro X as a more travel-friendly option compared to other Microsoft products.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review

The Pro X displays Microsoft‘s distinctive aesthetic aesthetics, defined by a minimalist approach with clean lines. On the back is a chrome-plated Microsoft logo centered on a stand under a rear-facing camera. As I mentioned before, the bezels around the display are thin, but not so thin that you can’t grab the board without accidentally painting the screen. And despite the limited space around the display, Microsoft has placed an IR camera above the panel and speakers on the side bezels.

Microsoft sent me the matt black version last year; I have the more traditional platinum color this time. It lacks in style and comprises a high-quality aluminum shell and a practical stand that can be rotated 160 degrees.  To support the Surface Pro X, insert your finger into a slot on the side and push the stand outward. The stand is great for positioning the Pro X in-studio or laptop orientations, but it’s not ideal for use on your lap because the tray bounced on it as you typed.

The Pro X has more ports than most tablets but less than most laptops. On the right side, you will find a Surface Connect port for charging, just below the power switch. Slide it to the left side; there are two USB-C ports under a volume swing. There is neither a headphone port nor a microSD card slot, both of which found their way to the Surface Pro 7. On the connectivity front: The Surface Pro X supports 4G LTE via a Nano-SIM. There is no 5G support, and Wi-Fi is limited to Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac, not Wi-Fi 6.

At 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.3-inches and 1.7-pounds (2.4-pounds with the keyboard and stylus), the Pro X is smaller but weighs the same as the Surface Pro 7 (12.5 x 7.9 x 0.3-inches, 1.7-pounds). Apple’s iPad Pro (12.9 inches) is even slimmer at 11 x 8.5 x 0.2 inches and only 1.4 pounds.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Microsoft makes the best detachable keyboard. You may not have the deepest stroke, but the large backlit keys on the signature keyboard are springy and tactile. As I wrote this review, my fingers jumped from letter to letter, allowing me to effortlessly string words together at a pace that would make my editor proud. This is one of those keyboards that does not require a user manual. Place your hands on the first row and start typing – no learning curve is needed.

The generously sized keys and the adequate spacing between the keys make this keyboard so easy to use. I’ve also always been a fan of the Alcantara fabric coating on the deck, which gives my overstrained wrists a plush surface on which to relax during a long working day. I can also confirm that thanks to an embarrassing mishap in the galley (I won’t go into detail), the keyboard is very dirt-resistant. Oh, and this is a small thing; however, it’s nice to have three levels of keyboard backlighting. 

What sets the Surface Pro X’s keyboard apart from the others is a slot for the optional slim pen. You can hide the slot by folding up the hinged flap. This tilts the keyboard downwards, which makes typing more comfortable. The smartpen slot not only saves you from having to remember where you last placed the slim pen but also functions as a wireless charging station.

At 4 x 2.1 inches, the Microsoft Surface Pro X’s touchpad is located on the small side. The surface has a smooth, soft finish and responds quickly to my Windows 10 gestures, such as swipe with three fingers to change windows and pull up and down.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review: display

The 13-inch touchscreen of the Surface Pro X with a resolution of 2880 x 1920 pixels and a screen resolution of 13 inches is one of the best panels I have ever seen on a tablet. The screen was so detailed that I could see every outline of Djimon Hounsou’s shredded body during a stabbing scene in the trailer The King’s Man. The dotted scars on his shoulder made me curious about the origin of the character. The gilded gold shimmered in some of the opulent scenes shown throughout the trailer, while the rich colors in the velvet red and green dresses made it clear that the costume designers made a great effort to recreate this feeling of the early 19th century.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review

According to our colorimeter, the Surface Pro X display covers 73.7% of the DCI-P3 color space, making it more colorful than the Surface Pro 7 panel (68.8%) but less vibrant than the premium average (84.1%). With an sRGB coverage of 104%, the Surface Pro X is not as vibrant as the latest iPad Pro (123%). 

Working outside with the Surface Pro X should not be a problem. With 420 nits brightness, the Surface Pro X is brighter than the Surface Pro 7 (395 nits) and the average of the category (359 nits), but the iPad Pro (484 nits) wins this round again.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review: audio

The two speakers flanking the Pro X screen sound great. Everything I listened to was clear and detailed, and although there are not many lows, I enjoyed listening to music from a wide variety of genres. 

I am also very impressed with how loud these speakers get. I had no trouble hearing Joe Vann singing “Can You Be Mine,” a quiet, ethereal song, while I was washing dishes by hand in an adjacent room with the Surface Pro X. The Pro X captured the music’s airiness and Vannucchi’s delicate vocals, which blended well with the electrical instrumentation.

The panel made an admirable effort with Jessie Reyez’s “NO ONE’S IN THE ROOM,” a trickier song that blends deep bass tones with fragile vocals interrupted by a throbbing rhythm. A good pair of Bluetooth headphones or wireless speakers must get the full effect of the song. Despite this, the Pro X with a clear voice has prevailed even at maximum volume and a right balance between highs, mids, and lows.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review: graphics

Don’t expect Surface Pro X to run anything other than applications and less graphically demanding programs. Unfortunately, we could not test the tablet’s SQ1 Adreno 690 GPU because the Surface Pro X was unable to perform any of our benchmark tests. As a result, we can’t draw any definitive conclusions, although the problems we faced are pretty much what gamers can expect from the Pro X.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review: performance

Microsoft’s custom SQ1 chip was not impressive, but the new SQ2 SoC in our review unit promises to improve performance and graphics. To be clear, the SQ2 is not as “custom-made” as Apple’s new ARM-based M1 chip. Instead, the SQ2 is an offshoot of Qualcomm’s 8cx chip designed for laptops. You may be wondering how the SQ2 compares to the M1 in MacBook Air and MacBook Pro? Protect your eye surface fans; the upcoming benchmarks will be ugly.

But before I delve into the numbers, let me assure you that the Surface Pro X can handle everyday activities. I listened to Vince Vaughn talks about his most iconic characters in a GQ YouTube video on Microsoft Edge. Simultaneously, two twitch streams played Fall Guys, and another YouTube video ran through a playlist of my favorite artists. I loaded 20 websites, and while some graphics and text took a few seconds longer than usual to load, there were no crashes or freezes. 

Remember that the new Edge Browser runs without problems, but 32-bit applications running in emulation mode will suffer a performance hit. And in fact, running the same workload under Chrome was not nearly as smooth. Web pages took a few extra seconds to complete, and some were temporarily frozen for a fraction of a second. The emulation process takes a significant toll.

Now to the numbers. Equipped with the SQ2 SoC and 16 GB RAM, our Surface Pro X scored 2,943 points in the Geekbench 5.0 overall performance test. We didn’t do this particular test with the SQ version, but from Primate Labs’ database, it appears that the older model scores about the same. Compare the Surface Pro X with its contemporaries, and the gloss of this slender slate starts to fade. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7, equipped with an Intel Core i7-1035G4 CPU, scored 4,443 points, and the iPad Pro scored 4,720 points, well above the category average (4,183). 

Microsoft cannot continue to use such slow SSDs in such expensive products. The Pro X took 1 minute and 42 seconds to duplicate a 25 GB multimedia file, which corresponds to a low transfer rate of 267.2 megabytes per second. This is equivalent to the Surface Pro 7 (267.9 MBps) but falls short of the previous model (363.5 MBps). We don’t have SSD speeds for the Apple iPad Pro, but to give you an idea of how far behind Microsoft is, the 1TB SSD in the new MacBook Air has achieved a lightning-fast transfer rate of 2,897.8 MBps.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review: battery life

An often-quoted advantage of using an ARM-based processor is efficiency, but that doesn’t keep up well with the Surface Pro X, which lasted around 9 hours and 30 minutes in our battery test (which includes continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits). Don’t get me wrong; this is an excellent runtime. It’s just not nearly as long as the 15 hours promised by Microsoft and not as long as the runtimes of the iPad Pro (10:16) or even the previous model (9:45). The Surface Pro X lasts longer on one charge than its Intel counterpart, the Surface Pro 7 (7:30).

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review: cameras

The tablet’s 5-megapixel 1080p front camera was so sharp that after almost a year of living in a world ravaged by a pandemic, it drew my attention to my grill-like appearance. Loose hair was strewn across my unkempt beard, while purple rings under my eyes showed me the physical strain of moving to Texas. I could even see the grain in the wooden beams above my head, and although the bright light coming in from the window was blown out, the rest of the picture was sharp and colorful.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review

I find it embarrassing to take pictures with a tablet, but at least you get good photos with the Surface Pro X. The back-facing 10-megapixel camera may not replace your smartphone’s camera, but the quality of the images I take is decent. Photos I took in Bryant Park in New York City with the SQ 1 model were good enough to upload to social media, but don’t expect the same quality you get from a modern smartphone. A macro shot of flowers had strong pink tones, but brighter areas hit by direct sunlight were overexposed. A wider photo I took of an ice rink with skyscrapers in the background was passable but not as sharp as I had hoped.

Price and configuration options

This is not the best way to end a review. The Surface Pro X is the most expensive tablet from Microsoft, starting at $1,499 for the base model with an SQ2 chip, 16 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. Fortunately, you can find it in stores. As I write this, the base model costs $1,299 ($200 less), making it $100 more expensive than a comparable Surface Pro 7 (Core i5, 16 GB RAM). There are only two versions of the new Surface Pro X with an SQ2 chip. We have tested the cheaper version, but if you need more memory, you can get 512 GB of memory for a configuration for $1,599. 

Remember, the Slim Pen Stylus and Type Cover Keyboard are available separately for $108, $118, or $205 in a package. Add these numbers, and a fully-featured Surface Pro X with SQ2 goes well over $2,000.

Microsoft Surface Pro X SQ2 review: conclusion

The problems I had with the original Surface Pro X remain with the new model but somewhat. App compatibility will be an issue for some users, although there is light at the end of the tunnel. More urgently, the SQ2 chip in Surface Pro X can’t compete with the Intel equivalents, and Apple’s M1 in MacBook Air and MacBook Pro makes ARM better. 

Once the optimization of applications and performance is settled, Surface Pro X may be the only device you’ll ever need – a slim tablet with a fantastic detachable-keyboard, powerful speakers, great cameras, and a stunning 13-inch display. You also get mobile connectivity, although the Pro X still doesn’t support 5G (or Wi-Fi 6). 

Still, the Microsoft Surface Pro X with SQ2 is another ARM-based tablet with a lot of potentials. Microsoft plans to bring 64-bit emulation to Windows 10. At this time, all programs should run on the Surface Pro X, and more and more programs will be ported to run natively on ARM, resulting in much better performance.

7 Total Score
Our Verdict

The Surface Pro X with SQ2 is Microsoft hardware at its best, but Windows on ARM requires more power and suffers from compatibility issues with applications for the time being.

PROS
  • Gorgeous 13-inch display
  • Sleek, premium design
  • Fantastic 5MP webcam
  • Comfortable keyboard (see cons)
  • Decent battery life
CONS
  • Middling performance
  • App compatibility issues (for now)
  • Lacks 5G or Wi-Fi 6 support
  • Very expensive (keyboard and stylus sold separately)
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