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Tech review: Microsoft Surface Pro X

From €1,330 with keyboard


Microsoft Surface Pro X

Microsoft Surface Pro X

Microsoft Surface Pro X

I've been using Microsoft's 13-inch Surface Pro X for almost two months now. It comes close to being the perfect travel work laptop.

For users with heavier needs, there are compromises. And it's very pricey compared with some rivals.

But if your work doesn't require graphics-intensive applications such as Photoshop and you spend most of your time online or using Office, this is a real treat.

The Surface Pro 'two-in-one' line has been around for many years. But this is the first time that Microsoft has used an ARM chip (which usually caters for smartphones), instead of an Intel chip. This brings one or two limitations, which I'll come to below. But it also brings advantages. This is the slimmest Surface device on Microsoft's books and is one of the lightest overall laptops you can currently buy. That is not unrelated to it being the best-looking laptop Microsoft has ever made.

In fact, it's one of the best-looking machines around, full-stop.

For those who've never really used a two-in-one variant of laptop, it's a Windows laptop that detaches from its keyboard (which also serves as a protective cover). It particularly suits people who don't need to spend many consecutive hours doing intensive research in one place. It's aimed at those who prize portability and high specifications for a smaller number of core 'ordinary' work functions like Office, email and web.

The Surface Pro X is very good at this, with a super high-resolution display, great speakers and a good keyboard (which you need to buy separately, a feature I think is a little regrettable).

It also has an ingenious piece of industrial design that covers a magnetically attached flat 'Slim Pen' stylus if you go for the higher-end keyboard option, which I got. But it's not perfect.

For all the benefits of an ARM processor, there are some apps that more ambitious users won't be able to use. I've mentioned Photoshop as an example. But it struggles with other graphically demanding apps too. This is a clear limitation of the chip architecture. Its Intel-based Surface Pro 7 sibling, released at the same time, has no problem handling these apps. Then again, the Surface Pro 7 is fatter with thicker bezels, and has a smaller screen. I haven't yet run into any practical usability barriers. The closest I've come is an occasional slight lag when loading or scrolling through an app (for some reason, Pinterest is glitchy on it).

I am particularly sensitive to this as I often use an iPad Pro, which has peerless scrolling and responsiveness, thanks to its high-end 120hz display.

Then again, I recently switched over to the newer Chromium-based version of Edge. That has made a noticeable difference.

If you get one of these machines, use Edge instead of Firefox.

There are other, smaller compromises. There's no headphone jack here, unlike the Surface Pro models.

This isn't as big a deal as it used to be, as you can still use wired headphones that have a USB-C connection tip (although normal headphones with a USB-C adaptor, which should work, sometimes didn't in my experience).

Using its keyboard, there are two positions - either flat or at a slightly raised angle. The flat position makes it more solid to type on, whereas it feels slightly more hollow when raised. (But when raised, it covers the pen dock.)

The keys are nicely spaced and there's just the right balance between 'clickiness' and slimness. It's also very well-designed, snapping on and off the screen magnetically.

Mind you, you do pay for it: the keyboard costs a sturdy €160 (or a whopping €300 if you go for the high-end version with the Slim Pen stylus), on top of the actual Surface Pro X cost.

I find it a bit odd that it's sold separately, as I can't imagine anyone buying any Surface Pro without the accompanying keyboard. (Windows touch PCs are still not good stand-alone tablets.)

Speaking of price, the whole thing is at the upper range of what you'll be willing to pay.

It starts at €1,330 (8GB of Ram and 128GB of storage with the standard keyboard), with my test model (8GB of Ram and 256GB of storage with the high-end keyboard) costing €1,900.

In summary, this is a pretty gorgeous device. I think it will suit more than 90pc of executives.

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