For today’s blog post, we’re going to start 2022 with another Tech Creature—namely the Surface Pro X. For about three months—since Microsoft’s 2021 Surface Event, I’ve been chasing a unicorn.
Microsoft didn’t update the Surface Pro X, but they did create several lower cost SKU’s that don’t have LTE functionality. But the fact that they mentioned it at all meant that the unicorn is still out there somewhere—namely, Windows on ARM.
I tried one of the first Surface Pro X’s a couple years ago and found it slow and the pen experience to be more than lacking. So, why would this barely-updated model be any different? My expectations were pretty low.
But I was presently surprised. The machine I type this very post on is almost exactly what I hoped it would be. It’s by no means and powerhouse desktop replacement or even a top end daily driver. Surface Pro X is a companion device with tons of potential oozing from it. Here are my conclusions and experiences as to why the device has been a great addition to my computing fleet.
The Specs – I went with the SQ2 model with 16 GB of RAM. In the reviews I watched prior to purchase, it was stated that there was little to no benefit of the SQ2 over the SQ1. Without the SQ1, I can’t prove or disprove this assessment, but I can say the device is very responsive and I’ve seen very few pauses or slowdowns.
The Slim Pen 2 – Newly released in 2021, the Slim Pen 2 is night and day compared to the old Slim Pen or its predecessors. I was afraid the changes made to the pen that dramatically improved the drawing experience on the Surface Laptop Studio were in part due to updates to the digitizer itself, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Drawing on the Surface Pro X is almost identical to that of the Laptop Studio. It’s a pleasure and on par with the best experience I’ve encountered on a drawing tablet, namely the 2021 iPad Pro. Let me restate that. The drawing experience on the Surface Pro X is on par, if not equal to that of the iPad Pro.
Windows 11 – Wow. I gave up on Windows a couple years ago. I was tired of Intel-based crap (sorry, Intel) and vowed to never sit through another pain-inducing Windows 10 update and patching cycle. But with Windows 11, it feels like Microsoft has gotten it right. The updates aren’t annoying and when a reboot is required, the process is quick. Now, the other thing with Windows 11 is the user interface. Sure, it’s been simplified and, in some cases, too much so. But the overall refresh is just that…refreshing. It’s a pleasure to use. Dare, I say it—it’s almost Mac-like in simplicity and very responsive on both the Surface Pro X and the Surface Laptop Studio.
X64 apps – Windows 11 on ARM also brings the ability to run Intel x64-based software. My experience is that most of my apps either run ARM or 32-bit. My main drawing app, Clip Studio Paint does run as x64 and is very responsive. Sure, some highly detailed brushes lag, but it’s not that different from the experience on the Laptop Studio. Adobe has ported Photoshop to ARM and it runs pretty well, but some of their “backend” software is still 32-bit and I’ve seen random pop-up errors. There’s been nothing that didn’t work, but I can’t believe Adobe hasn’t figured this out in 2 years. I’ve not run any of the other Adobe apps—not that there are many. The Creative Cloud desktop app will only let me install Photoshop, Lightroom, and Acrobat DC since they are the only ARM apps in the CC as of now. There may be ways to work around this to get the others, but Photoshop is the main app that I use from the suite. Again, I’m surprised that Adobe hasn’t done more to make this experience better. But, in regard to other software, it’s been a much more positive experience. As one might expect, Office screams. Even Edge is responsive.
The Apple Ecosystem – Yes, much of my professional workflow lives in the Apple ecosystem and bringing that over to Windows on ARM via the Surface Pro X has been adequate, but it really depends on what you’re hoping for. The iCloud app getting me access to files, photos and keychain (I don’t use the email function) has been fine. There is no Apple Music app, but I can use the web version. There is a version of iTunes for Windows, but it runs poorly on ARM. I don’t know that I would use this anyway, but I do wish Apple would bring their Music, TV and Podcast apps to Windows proper.
The Accessories – You can argue the cost of Surface devices is always higher than advertised because they don’t include any almost-required accessories like a keyboard, mouse or the Slim Pen 2. This is fair, but it’s been that way since the beginning and Apple follows suit, so I’m going put that aside. What I have found helpful is getting the accessories based on how I intend to use the Surface Pro X. I started with just the tablet itself with the Brydge SPX+ keyboard. It’s okay—not as good as a Surface keyboard, but it has the huge benefit of turning the Surface Pro into a Surface laptop. I tend to work in bed before going to sleep and having a laptop encourages me to use the Surface Pro X in a way that I couldn’t if I relied on the kickstand only. And don’t misunderstand, it’s still a very good keyboard experience. But it can’t beat the old school Microsoft version. When I considered how I might be using the Surface Pro when I’m mobile, I realized that the Brydge wouldn’t cut it due to the lack Slim Pen 2 placement. So, I got the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard (in Poppy Red, of course). Not only does it hold my Slim Pen 2, but the typing experience is just as I’d remembered from Surfaces in the past. Finally, and I know this one gets me snickers, I got another Ocean Plastic mouse. I just like the feel and weight of it. I do wish Microsoft would make multiple colors though. Since I have two, it’ll be hard to not get them mixed up.
That is my experience with the Surface Pro X so far. I’m sure there are more issues that will crop up, but everything has been extremely positive and almost counter to most of the reviews I’ve seen online. That said, Microsoft, with or without Qualcomm, has work to do. When this device was announced, I thought Microsoft was ready to move on from their Intel shackles, but SQ2 is far from Apple’s efforts with the lowest end M1. But I’m hopeful that Microsoft’s work with consumer devices running ARM continues and that the next Surface Pro X isn’t too far away from launching.