Surface Pro X–Excellent productivity notebook heralding a new era in laptops (Analyst Angle)

The fun of being an analyst is that you get to test new gadgets firsthand and share your opinions without any inhibitions. It also comes with a sense of responsibility towards your readers. I got my Microsoft Surface Pro X about two weeks ago and have been using it as my daily driver ever since. My verdict – it is an excellent productivity notebook for a pro user like me, who extensively uses office applications, browsing, videos, and social media. Beyond that, it also signals the dawn of a new class of always-on, always-connected notebooks (aka ACPCs) that will redefine personal computing.

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Easy set-up

I bought a 16GB/256GB Pro X model with a keyboard and stylus. The windows set-up on this was a breeze. The impressive part was the ease of enabling cellular connectivity, like a smartphone—push the nano-SIM in, a couple of clicks, and you are ready to go. I have been using connected laptops since 2008/3G days. It was always a pain to transfer a subscription from one laptop to another. Although I didn’t utilize it, a user-removable SSD drive is another neat feature.  The best part of this machine is its always ON feature, just like smartphones. You come in front of it, your face is recognized, and it is ready to go. Additionally, OneDrive allowed me to move files from my old laptop seamlessly.

Ever since setting it up, I have been using it as my primary computer for working in my home office, for meetings with clients, bringing it to my son’s karate and other classes, etc. Thanks to the Snapdragon/SQ1 processor, Pro X is so thin, and light, carrying it around is extremely convenient. 

A solid productivity machine

The biggest character of Pro X is that it is a great workhorse, and using it is a joy! Its bright display is beautiful, and its thin bezels make a full 13” screen fit in a small form factor. Coming from my 13.3” laptop, I felt homely. I am a power user of many of the Microsoft Office tools, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. The user experience was very snappy and super responsive, even when multi-tasking with lots of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Switching between windows of the same app or between different apps was very smooth.

I use emails on Outlook as my to-do list—keeping many email windows (more than 15) open till the action items in them are dealt with. My previous laptops had issues dealing with this, especially when the laptop was put to sleep and turned back on. Many times Outlook would become unresponsive, requiring restarts. But Outlook on Pro X has been pretty stable so far.  

A lot of my work happens through the browser, and Chrome is my favorite. I usually have more than ten tabs open that span multiple Gmail accounts, local, national, and international news sites with video feeds, ads, etc., Tweetdeck and Twitter pages, Yahoo finance page, multiple forums that I regularly follow, Whatsapp web, Google Sheets and Google Photos that I share with my wife, Facebook, and others. I also use tabs as my to-do list. My kids call me crazy when they see how many tabs I use. Surprisingly, the user experience was smooth even with those many tabs open. As you might know, Chrome currently runs in the emulator mode. Microsoft recently announced the beta of their Edge browser that will run natively on ARM processors (i.e., on SQ1) that would further improve the performance and battery life. I am thinking of migrating to Edge and evaluate the experience myself. 

So, all in all, I was very impressed with the workload Pro X could take and proved itself as a solid machine.

A perfect companion for travel and offsite work – battery life and connectivity

The biggest differentiation of ACPCs such as Pro X, as touted by Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Arm, is their more than a full day of battery life. I really experienced it while using Pro X. I would always have at least 10 -20% of battery left after a full day of work (8-9 hours). That was using a mix of Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. I bet I could eke out even more with optimized screen brightness and connectivity settings. 

Pro X transformed how I go out for meetings and travel. I would always bring the charger with my old laptop to avoid battery anxiety, which necessitated carrying a bag. Once I decided to get the bag, I would throw in lots of “just-in-case” items that I hardly use. But with Pro X, viola! No anxiety, no charger, no bag, and none of the other junk! This thing is so sleek, light, and stylish. I carry it as a notebook! And a nice stylus with handwriting converter to boot! Additionally, with fast charging, its battery can go from 0 to 100% in a little over an hour.

For a road-warrior like me, integrated cellular connectivity is a no brainer. It is such a relief that I am always connected, no matter where — no need to search for Wi-Fi, no worries of security and privacy, etc. Also, no need to use my phone’s hotspot and worry about its battery running out.

What about gaming and other incompatible apps?

This is the most frequent question I encountered when carrying or using Pro X in public. Well, I am not a gamer, and, it turns out, I don’t use those x-86 apps that don’t have 32-bit versions, which are needed to run them on Pro X. So, I am not the best person to give a judgment on that. 

There have been reports of people having trouble running games on this. That has actually worked in my favor! Ever since I opened the Pro X package, my teenage son had his eye on this thing, always tinkering with it. I think he tried a few of his favorite games, such as Minecraft, Fortnite, CS:GO. I have a feeling either they didn’t work, or he didn’t like the user experience. That is because, after the first couple of days, he resorted back to his powerful gaming rig. Obviously, Pro X is no match to his purpose-build beefy desktop.

What are the misses? 

I think the biggest miss is its steep price tag. Even the most basic configuration with only the keyboard would cost $1,100 plus tax. So, this is no mainstream computer but targeted toward those who value its premium design and features. 

Despite the premium cost, I was surprised that there was no cellular data plan included. I would have expected Microsoft to bundle at least a few months, if not a year, of data to let consumers evaluate the always-connected experience.   

Pro X is a notebook, literally not a laptop. As with any Surface Pro, it is almost impossible to use it on your lap.

Heralding the ACPC era

Many people might review Pro X like any other expensive gadget, on its merits and misses. However, the relevance of Pro X is far beyond this one product. Its performance conclusively proves that ACPCs are real, and can deliver on the promises their proponents Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Arm have been making for the last two years. Pro X also shows the strong commitment these companies have for the ACPC concept. As mentioned, Pro X is not a mainstream device, but it will herald a new era of personal computing, and I am sure there will be more cost-effective options soon that will make arm-based ACPCs mainstream.

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