FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS, Microsoft has updated its Surface Pro devices in a rather incremental fashion, adding a few small tweaks and updated processors. That was until it outed the Surface Pro X on Wednesday - a feature-stuffed upgrade compared to previous Surface Pro models.
The big news here, at least to INQUIRER readers, is that the Surface Pro X is running a custom ARM-based chip rather than an Intel processor, which is quite a shake-up, though one that was expected at some point given Microsoft's work with Qualcomm.
But the Surface Pro X is an interesting device all round. We got our grubby hands on one at Microsoft's New York event, so read on to see what we thought of the Surface Pro X.
In many ways the Surface Pro X looks like a Surface Pro that's been on a strict diet and dropped a significant amount of heft; at 7.3mm thick it's slimmer than the Surface Pro 7.
The bezels around the display have also shedded the pounds meaning it now fits a 13in display into the same footprint as the Surface Pro 7, which sports a smaller 12.3in screen.
This all has the effect of making the Surface Pro X look a little like a Windows 10 take on Apple's iPad Pro; not bad thing given that's a fairly slick tablet.
Because the Surface Pro X is rather svelte, it now only has a brace of USB-C ports rather than a USB-A and USB-C port like the Surface Pro 7. There's also no 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a surprise but a sign of the tech times whereby the venerable analogue port is slowly being phased out.
Despite being slim, the Surface Pro X still has a solid-feeling kickstand that allows the tablet to be propped up like a picture frame and used with a re-designed Type Cover in a form of laptop mode.
Speaking of the Type Cover, it has the same overall feel of a Surface Pro 7 keyboard, with 1.3mm of key travel facilitating a reasonably tactile typing experience. But it now has a divot in the top that can house and charge the Surface Slim Pen, which is a slimmed-down version of the Surface Pen; go figure
Microsoft's new take on the stylus is rather neat, feeling more like a digital pencil than a pen, which could appeal to people who like to sketch on fondle slates rather than bits of dead tree.
When in its dock, for want of a better word, the Type Cover can be positioned in a fashion that hides the Surface Slim Pen away and thus lessens the risk of it falling out and going missing.
It's a neat bit of functional design that we have to doff our metaphorical cap to.
As for colours, there's only a smoky grey-black finish to choose from, so the Surface Pro X doesn't have the pallet of the Surface Pro 7.
Round the back, you'll find a 10MP camera that can record videos up to 4K. We suppose that's a nice thing to have, but we've never seen anyone snap a pic or record video on a Surface device.
With a resolution of 2,880x1,920 and a 3:4 aspect ratio, the Surface Pro X's display is a PixelSense panel through and through.
Everything we gazed at on it looked clear and flush with colour and contrast.
And thanks to the slim bezels, the display has more of a chance to shine than that of previous Surfaces; it also makes the tablet nicer to hold.
We'd have liked to have seen a high-refresh panel like the iPad Pro has, but otherwise, the Surface Pro X's screen looks to be onto a winner.
Given this was a brief hands-on, we couldn't really get a feel for how colour accurate the PixelSense display was, but going by previous Surface devices it promises to be pretty good, if maybe not quite up to the demands of the most discerning photography professionals.
Nevertheless, we were pretty impressed by the Surface Pro X's display; all hail thinner tablet bezels.
Performance, storage and battery life
As mentioned, the Surface Pro X's headline feature for us is the use of an ARM-based chip. Microsoft calls it the SQ1 chip, which seems to have taken a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC and given it a bit of a custom job.
Rather than drawing 2W of power like Microsoft claims a lot of ARM-based chips do, the SQ1 sucks up 7W, which is around what a low-end Intel Core 10th-gen processor chugs down.
But thanks to some jiggery-pokery in collaboration with Qualcomm, Microsoft said the SQ1 delivers three times the performance per watt of a Surface Pro 6.
It also has an enhanced GPU on the SoC, which delivers 2.1 teraflops of compute power. That's roughly the performance of an Xbox One, though with the underlying architecture and no current support for OpenGL for example, the SQ1 isn't likely to be running any modern console or PC games just yet.
But there's potential for some impressive power here. We couldn't really test it thoroughly but the whole thing felt pretty smooth and responsive, much like using any other hybrid device or modern laptop.
The chipset also brings LTE connectivity with it, so that could be handy if you want a machine that can connect to mobile broadband by itself.
RAM comes in 8GB or 16GB options, which are pretty healthy. And storage goes from 128GB to 512GB; the storage is in M.2 SSD form and it can be swapped by removing a plate that sits behind the kickstand. However, there's no word on if there'll be official M.2 SSDs that Microsoft will sell to folks, or if it'll be compatible with other laptop-grade M.2 drives.
Battery life is being touted at 13 hours, but we'll believe that when we see it as often such figures don't quite translate into real-world use.
But given it's using what's essentially a reworked mobile SoC, we'd expect it to outlast a Surface Pro 7. Fast charging is present and correct here, so a battery can be juiced up to 80 per cent capacity in around an hour, which we're sure some Surface users will appreciate.
In effect, Microsoft has created an iPad Pro rival with the Surface Pro X.
But if its chip can deliver the performance it seems to promise, then we're looking at a slim hybrid device that can run full-fat Windows 10 and all the apps and tools that come with it, which would stand the Surface Pro X in better stead to be a productivity device over Apple's high-end fondle slate.
There are a few things that cause us to raise an eyebrow. When the Surface Pro X is released 5 November, it'll start at $999 (£999 in Blighty), but opt for fully-loaded machine and you're looking at $1,799 (~£1,462), and that's before you add in the $140 (~£113) Type Cover and $145 (~£117).
When all is said and done, you're looking at a price that hits the $2,000 mark, which isn't cheap for such a device. But then you'd be paying for a slice of Microsoft's engineering prowess, so that's a factor to chew over.
In short, the Surface Pro X is shaping up to be the main Surface device to buy if you're after a Windows 10 hybrid.
We'll need to give it a proper test before we cast our final judgment, but it's still good to see that Redmond has hardware engineers beavering away at tech that's practical for nearly everyone.
And we reckon other hardware makers could use the Surface Pro X and a blueprint on which to develop their own hybrid devices based on Windows 10. But as ever, time will tell here. µ