SURFACE PRO X VS. PRO 7: ARM still has work to do

According to the review report of foreign media The Verge: “I just want the Surface Pro 7 to look like a Surface Pro X with an Intel chip inside.” This is what I wrote last month when I reviewed Microsoft’s latest 2-in-1 device, the Surface Pro 7 next words. For the last week, I’ve been using the Surface Pro X, an ARM-based version with the latest design. I’m looking forward to a Surface Pro X with an Intel chip inside.

At times, performance was choppy, battery life was disappointing, and using the keyboard was maddening. I’ve fallen in love with Surface Pro devices for the past 12 months, but using the Pro X for the past week has made me feel like a step backwards in many ways. The device is beautifully designed, but when I write this review on the Surface Pro X, I also carry the Pro 7 with me, just in case. That’s my high summary of the Pro X. I don’t trust them very much because their performance and app compatibility are not up to the mark. Microsoft has an edge over any other OEM by having a usable Windows operating system on an ARM-based notebook, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

I guess a lot of people wanted to know how it was different from the Surface Pro 7, so I spent a week pitting them against each other. I don’t care about benchmarks or anything, as most are designed for x86 processors. Also, the Surface Pro X only runs 32-bit x86 applications at the emulation layer, so this comparison isn’t fair. I can weigh the advantages of both in terms of hardware and software, and my experience with both devices.

If you’re just trying to make a simple choice between the two, here’s the rule: Regular Windows users who don’t want to worry about app compatibility and performance should opt for the Surface Pro 7. If you need a device with more power than an iPad, and you don’t use your PC a lot, the Surface Pro X is good enough for most tasks.

Let’s start with hardware design. Microsoft has basically done a decent job developing the Surface Pro X. The 13-foot screen is a nice upgrade from the Surface Pro 7’s 12.3-foot touchscreen, and it feels less cramped. Essentially, Microsoft is cramming a larger Display into the familiar look of the Surface Pro 7, while making the device slimmer and more rounded. The sides of the display bezels are much narrower, but there’s still enough width at the top and bottom to accommodate the Windows Hello camera.

The Pro X device I reviewed had a thumb-sized crack in the glass on the right bezel. I have neither dropped it nor used it roughly, so I can only guess that it happened in transit, but there is no other sign of damage around this crack in the display, and it did not affect the screen at all normal use. The device is black, as are the bezels, so this little blemish is only noticed when using the Pro X’s tablet mode.

If you put the Pro 7 and Pro X side by side, you’ll see that the display changes the most, with the Pro X making the Pro 7 look a little bit old. I sometimes find the Surface Pro 7 display a little cramped to use, but with the Pro X, I don’t feel that way. Microsoft has kept the hardware design of the Surface Pro 7 display and most of the external hardware, which is a more edgy / more angular feel. So, as a tablet, it’s not that comfortable to use.

The Surface Pro X also feels better in the hand than the Pro 7. As with the slimmer profile, the rounded edges are more comfortable. It’s more of a tablet than the Pro 7, and I like the subtle changes. The kickstand on each device feels similar, allowing you to adjust to different angles through friction.

In terms of port selection, the two devices started to differ. Microsoft put two USB-C ports on the Surface Pro X, and I actually prefer the single USB-A and USB-C ports that the Surface Pro 7 offers. People have handed me a USB-A thumb drive countless times, but I’ve never seen a USB-C thumb drive.

The Surface Pro 7 also benefits from a microSD slot, but the Pro X offers a mobile SSD and an LTE-enabled SIM card slot. I prefer the Pro X’s built-in LTE to the expandable microSD storage, but I also wish the Surface Pro 7 had a headphone jack. Bluetooth headphones are great, but having to re-pair to use it is annoying, and I wish the Pro X had the option of a regular headphone jack.

I don’t like the Surface Pro X’s keyboard — at least not the new “with a stylus slot.” While the key locations, travel, and trackpad are the same as the Pro 7, the way you connect to the display is different. Microsoft designed a stylus slot for the new Surface Slim Pen where the keyboard connects to the Pro x, which allows for better storage of the stylus, but also made some major compromises. The entire keyboard feels more wobbly than the Pro 7’s keyboard. It’s noticeable when using it on your lap, as the keyboard can tilt and cut off part of the taskbar. This is a serious problem for me, especially when the date disappears, and I can’t either see which apps are open or take a quick glance at the notification badge on the app.

New keyboard with stylus slot is less stable than before

Whether you experience this problem really depends on where you sit and how you use your Surface Pro X. I use the device everywhere – from the level surface, the sofa, the bed, the train, all the way to places where it’s inconvenient to use a laptop. I wish Microsoft’s keyboard for the Pro X without the stylus slot would perform better, but I haven’t tested it yet. If you’re torn between the Pro X and the Pro 7, this is definitely something to consider.

The Surface Slim Pen is a lot better than the previous Surface Pen. It’s as smooth as a woodworking pencil and feels lighter in the hand. I don’t draw often, but if I do, I definitely use this one instead of the regular Surface Pen. Fortunately, the stylus can be purchased separately, and it’s compatible with the Surface Pro 7, so you don’t have to choose the Pro X for a slimmer stylus. The only advantage the Pro X has here is that the keyboard storage slot automatically charges the Slim Pen. If you plan to use the Pro 7’s Slim Pen, you’ll need to connect via USB-C.

Hardware differences aside, should I choose the Pro 7 or the Pro X? The next issue to consider is the built-in processor. Microsoft has opted for a custom Qualcomm SQ1 ARM processor inside the Pro X and an Intel 10th Gen processor inside the Pro 7. While both versions use Windows 10 and don’t have a funky S Mode or RT version, it might not work the way you expect. Dieter Bohn mentioned some app compatibility issues in his review of the Pro X, and I wanted to compare those issues with the experience on the Pro 7.

On the Pro X, I found that most of my apps work, with a few exceptions. Dropbox refused to install, forcing me to use the Windows Store version, which wasn’t as integrated into File Explorer as before. I have a communication app called Clutter installed, but it crashes every time I add a service. After a few days, it magically started working. (This has never happened on devices with Intel processors.) Tweeten is a great Twitter app for Windows, but it won’t install and Lightroom won’t work.

When using SURFACE PRO X, you really need to think about the application

All of these apps work fine on the Pro 7, and I don’t have to worry about which ones work and which ones don’t. On the other hand, most apps on the Pro X use Microsoft’s x86 emulation layer, which means that only 32-bit apps are supported, or that developers have to recompile them as native 64-bit ARM apps. Most app developers are unlikely to do this anytime soon, so you can only guess at app compatibility.

Worst of all, even if you install an app, it’s not necessarily a great experience. Photoshop installed and opened smoothly on the Surface Pro X, but its usability was poor. I have to sit and wait for it to render the whole new document dialog frame by frame. Like other users of Photoshop, I work with multi-layered files, often dynamically switching between PSDs. Using Ctrl + Tab to open some PSD files felt a little slow on the Pro X, I often had to wait a second for it to respond. I don’t think I can quickly create the latest mega meme or easily edit an animated GIF.

Otherwise, I find the Pro X’s performance to be a bit erratic. Occasionally, when I resume normal use from standby and switch between apps, it can take up to a minute for it to settle down with no lag. Discord isn’t the most optimized app for Windows, but using it on the Pro x can be a pain at times. I’ve never experienced such choppy performance on the Pro 7. Likewise, Spotify can be a pain to start using until it stabilizes and is no longer tied to the CPU on the Pro X.

This process of “stabilizing” is the norm with Surface Pro X. I feel like I often have to wait for the Pro X to “take a breather” and then work as smoothly as I did on the Pro 7 for a few minutes until it gets bogged down again. Some of these reasons are obviously “app emulation”, and I would expect native ARM64 apps to behave a little better. Unfortunately, most of the apps I use on a daily basis are not recompiled for ARM, and probably never will. So, I don’t think the experience will improve anytime soon.

However, there is still a silver lining: if third-party developers decide to compile for ARM64, things will improve. I managed to get my hands on an unreleased ARM64 version of Microsoft’s Edge Chromium browser, and the performance improvements are noticeable. Everything from tab management to browsing is faster than Chrome’s emulated 32-bit Chrome and Edge Chromium betas. It does feel like browsing performance on the Surface Pro 7, which is a huge difference from running Chrome on the Pro X right now. This shows that native applications can run smoothly, but developers need to invest time and money to migrate their applications to ARM.

Connecting to the official Surface Dock is also a hassle when using the Pro X. Windows 10 didn’t always handle switching between the laptop and the secondary monitor gracefully, but the Pro X took significantly longer than the Pro 7 to resize and make apps available. The Pro X also keeps failing to remember my multi-display preference, turning its display on even if I set it to “show everything on my display only”.

I found that if I used the Surface Pro X for hours on end, the lag was less noticeable and I experienced fewer problems. Work for a while, then go straight to standby – which seems to create a sluggish experience. This is also reflected in the Surface Pro X’s battery life. The average battery life is 6-7 hours if it goes into standby frequently. One day, I was working on the Pro X all day, barely going into standby, and it actually ran for nearly eight and a half hours. I’ve noticed that if you open all apps early in the morning, the battery drains quickly, but over time it drains at a more reasonable rate.

I haven’t had this problem with the Surface Pro 7 yet. Battery life naturally depends on the tasks and apps you’re running, but on the Pro 7 it’s pretty much consistent at around 6 hours, and there’s a lot of mixed use. I expected the Pro X to have at least 10 hours of battery life, but it’s not much better than the Pro 7 – which disappointed me.

Much like the Pro 7, the Pro X has Quick Resume, which means that the Pro X only goes into standby when you close the computer or press the power button. One night I stopped working at 11:15 with a 63% charge, and the next morning I restarted at 11:15 with a 59% charge. That’s a little less consumption than what I saw on the Pro 7, but the difference isn’t noticeable. Both recover quickly, which is great. Both the Pro X and Pro 7 offer fast charging, and both devices take about an hour to charge to 80 percent.

As things stand, the Surface Pro X launch seems premature. It’s not just that third-party apps aren’t ready, even Microsoft’s own apps — like Edge Chromium and Office — aren’t fully ported to ARM64.

Microsoft clearly has an idea for the future design of the Surface Pro, but it hasn’t been able to pull it off with an Intel processor. Microsoft’s expected risk now relies on third-party apps, but that also means the Pro X is just showing off a hardware design that we desperately hope the Intel chips will fit. It also fell short of the battery life that ARM had hoped for. The keyboard, app compatibility, and performance are also noticeably worse than the Surface Pro 7. These are the things I took for granted on the Pro 7 and now have to worry about them again, well, it’s kind of weird.

The Surface Pro X starts at $999, so it’s a direct competitor to the Surface Pro 7. In my opinion, the Pro 7 is a great value for money and its reliability is much higher than expected. As I write this Surface Pro X review, I have the Surface Pro 7 in my bag because, if I need to do some demanding work (like Photoshop), I know the Pro X will hold me back.

As someone who uses Windows every day, I rely on it to be more productive and get things done quickly. The Surface Pro X looks great, but once you actually start using it, the experience starts to crumble. This hardware design may be the future of the Surface Pro line, but if it’s touted as a “professional” machine, it’s going to have to do more than just provide the basics — something the Pro X usually can’t do. a little.

In the end, I just thought it would be nice if the Surface Pro X had an Intel chip!

Author: Yoyokuo