02 Dec Microsoft Surface Pro X Three Week Review: Exceeded My Expectations For My Productivity Use Case

As a tech industry analyst, I’m in the enviable situation that I don’t have to rush out my reviews or hit a certain embargo deadline. I can take my time; wait for any updates I hear about from earlier reviews and make the experience mine. I can load all my data and apps, take a few trips with and even configure the system to see how I can stress the system. That’s what I did with the new Microsoft Surface Pro X and net-net, the experience was better than I had expected for my personal workload, which is primarily business productivity.

My personal use case

I make a living by researching, formulating, aggregating and communicating my thoughts about technologies, products and companies, and I do this across the globe. I travel approximately 45 weeks a year for work and play, which means work is wherever I am working, not necessarily a specific place. Connectivity is paramount as I’m not always in reach of decent WiFi, so LTE connectivity is important. I need enough performance to power through Outlook emails and calendaring, do 5-10 video or collaboration calls on Skype, Teams, or Webex a day, do a lot of web research, taking notes in OneNote, writing in Word and PowerPoint, create some pivot tables in Excel, and chronically posting to social media and chatting over every conceivable medium. I do a little bit of photo editing for my research and blogs, but no video editing other than some short snippets. My files and photos are constantly being synced in background over OneDrive and Google Backup and Sync. With that long use case preamble, let’s dive in.     

Setup

You know you’re about to dive into a premium experience when you open the Surface Pro X packaging. It comes in a heavy-duty cardboard box with simplified graphics that looks more like something you’d expect with an expensive purse. After I turned on the Pro X, the OOBE was simple and if you have a Microsoft or OneDrive account, you can log-in and light up the system to pull in your Windows settings and start syncing OneDrive. It would have been great if it had pulled in my GMail and Office 365 accounts from my previously synced Windows PC, but I am guessing it doesn’t do it because of security. It took me about 2-3 minutes to get from power on to working, which was about as fast as my fingers could type. I wasn’t bombarded with any annoying offers, either, for anti-virus, to buy more software, to update the system or warranty.

While it would have been great if I could have just logged into my AT&T account to add the Pro X to my LTE account, I inserted an AT&T nanoSIM behind a very accessible magnetic door and it worked automatically and I was up on AT&T LTE Advanced in about 5 minutes. An AT&T metering app downloaded in the background, which was pretty cool which enables you to set parameters about data usage and login to your account.

Portability and design

The Surface Pro X looks and feels premium and this is the new black, anodized aluminum design for the next generation of Surface Pros. The 13” display (2880×1920; 267 PPI; 3:2) is edge to edge and as you would expect makes its predecessors look old. The PixelSense display is crisp, bright and true to life and 3:2 ratio helped me to get my work done more comfortably. Even with the built-in kickstand, it is ridiculously thin (.28” thick) and light (1.7 lbs) and I could take it everywhere and do hard-core work; in a coffee shop, standing up at a desk in an airport lounge, in my car parked, in the kitchen, and in my office. As it has facial Windows Hello and Instant On, it lit up instantly after opening up. My only challenge were airplane trays where every 2-in-1 has an issue falling off the back.

The optional backlit keyboard is a masterpiece compared to other 2-in-1s and this is where Microsoft excels big-time. I barely realize that I am working on a 2-in-1 keyboard as there’s near zero flex. I was comfortable writing 5,000-word research briefs and I think you will, too. I’m not much of a pen person, but if you are, I think you will like the integrated pen door in the keyboard itself, which hides and charges the new pen when not in use.      

Most of the time I used the Pro X with the keyboard with one exception and that was to watch a few movies on a hotel couch. On the airplane, I pulled off the keyboard, kicked out the stand and set it on an airplane tray, which was surprisingly satisfying as holding a 13” device for two hours is annoying.    

Performance

I had more than enough performance to do everything I wanted for my use case above on the Pro X and did not experience any hiccups. I have used every generation of ACPC which did have some performance hiccups in certain circumstances and apps but not here. I attribute this to the custom Microsoft SQ1 processor developed in partnership with Qualcomm and not skimping on the I/O and storage. Also, a factor is here how much software work Microsoft did over the last three years to optimize the system. Outlook, multi-browser Edge Canary, Chrome, and Photos just flew for me.

Just for kicks, I created a triple-display (USB-C 4K, USB-C 1080P, internal Pro X) configuration to put a little bit of stress on the Pro X and it performed well enough. It wasn’t the fastest, but I didn’t expect it to be. I stretch systems to get more confidence in normal-performing use cases and I was confident. Some people asked me if I ran some big-time games and Photoshop and my reaction was I don’t use Photoshop and don’t game on a 13” 2-in-1 system. I did use the Photo app to resize, crop and improve lighting and it was fast.

While Microsoft didn’t push the technical limits wirelessly on the Surface Pro X, I did register very fast WiFi and LTE speeds on SpeedTest.

The Surface Pro X performed better than I thought it would and commend both Microsoft and Qualcomm. I tested the 16GB memory and 256GB model and applied all firmware and software updates.

Battery life and quick charge

I drive vendors a bit crazy with the way I test battery life and that is to measure how many hours of continuous work I can get done. I’m not impressed with unconnected local video playback or MobileMark scores as they set a highest bar which none of will achieve. I got 5-7 hours of work done on a single charge connected to WiFi/LTE, 65% brightness, using Edge Canary with 10-15 active browsing sessions (incl Gmail, Calendar, Hangouts, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Forbes), and open Outlook Mail and Calendar, OneNote 2016, Word, Photos, and WhatsApp.  Your Phone, OneDrive and Google Backup and Sync were all actively running. I traced the difference between the 5-7 hours based on how many video collaborations I did. Skype, WebEx, Zoom and Teams video chew up the battery. Also of note, I used Edge Canary which isn’t exactly power-optimized yet. Personally, I would have traded some z-height for a larger battery to get a few more hours of battery life, but the quick charge capability (80% in an hour) made up for a lot of it. I was stunned at just how quickly I could go from zero to 80% charge and it’s evident to me that Microsoft made some real progress here. Also, USB-C supports quick charge with a 60W adapter or more, which is cool because my Samsung Galaxy Note10+ charger is 65 watts.

Wrapping up

After using previous ACPCs, I can say that after three weeks, the experience exceeded my expectations. If you’re a road warrior, want a super thin and light 2:1 design for office productivity and collaboration, I would absolutely check out the Surface Pro X. Also, if you are considering the Apple iPad Pro 13, you need to check out the Pro X and compare for what your use cases are.