Surface Pro X reviews: An intriguing, yet flawed, step in Microsoft’s battle with Apple’s iPad

(Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft’s hardware division aims to shake up the notion of the two-in-one device with the Surface Pro X. Instead of a pure laptop-tablet hybrid, the device features several smartphone elements that set it apart from past Surface gadgets and make it an interesting new challenger to Apple’s iPad.

Surface Pro X offers LTE connectivity and uses a new SQ1 chipset designed by Qualcomm — an ARM processor commonly found in smartphones — and a redesigned graphics processing unit. Microsoft calls it the “thinnest, lightest, most powerful and most connected Surface Pro ever.”

The 2-in-1 device is also the first Windows PC with an integrated AI engine. Surface Pro X starts at $999 — $250 more than Surface Pro 7 — with additional costs for accessories. Users will have to pay a premium for the new device.

Surface Pro X was one of several new and updated devices Microsoft introduced last month at a big hardware event in New York City. The new devices should help boost the Surface division, which saw revenue dip 4 percent year-over-year in the most recent quarter to $1.14 billion.

Surface Pro X goes on sale today, and the reviews are starting to role in. The consensus was that Surface Pro X represents a tantalizing evolution of Microsoft’s device vision. However, to many reviewers, the technology felt incomplete due to some software compatibility issues. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn sums up the challenges of the new device.

You should never buy a gadget today based on the hope that the software will come tomorrow. That rule applies to the Surface Pro X more than usual because the investment is so large. For the near $1,800 you’d have to spend to get the Pro X model I reviewed, you would be able to buy a Surface Pro 7 kitted out with equivalent RAM, storage, keyboard, stylus, and an Intel Core i7 processor that would be loads faster and also be compatible with all Windows apps.

Is getting a thinner device with LTE, a bigger screen, and the happy feeling you’re living slightly further in the future worth the app trade-off? Maybe for a sliver of people who can afford to buy very nice things to do Office, email, and browsing tasks. This is a CEO’s computer, not an engineer’s computer, and certainly not a computer for the rest of us.

The Surface Pro X is the best-looking computer I’ve used all year. But we don’t need to look at computers, we need to use them.

Brian Chen of The New York Times loved Surface Pro X as a laptop, but when the keyboard came off, it became clunky.

In tablet mode, the Surface Pro X was awkward to use. It felt heavy to hold in one hand — the bulk comes, in part, from a metal flap on the back of the device, which can be unfolded to make the screen stand upright.

The software was the biggest problem. When you use the device as a tablet, Windows doesn’t properly adapt to become a touchable operating system. Important elements, like the search icon or “X” button to close windows, remained tiny and difficult to tap with a fingertip. Web browser tabs appeared to be jammed into the top of the screen.

At heart, while Windows was designed to be a two-in-one experience, it is still a PC operating system with some flawed tablet features. Microsoft said that it had heard feedback from people on the Windows interface and that it was continuing to improve its software for tablet use.

CNBC’s Todd Haselton had a lot of nice things to say about Surface Pro X’s design, battery life and how fast the device charges up. He also complimented Microsoft’s ability to format Windows 10 for an ARM chip.

But ultimately, Haselton wrote that the device is too pricey, and some of the apps designed to run on Windows 10 don’t work well on the ARM version of the operating system.

The Surface Pro X is a gorgeous computer that’s truly great to use. I love that it charges fast, connects to cellular networks anywhere I go, has a beautiful screen and generally works for pretty much everything I need, except my work VPN software.

But it’s hard to recommend because it’s so expensive and, if you buy one, you run the risk of not being able to run apps you might need for work or school. My review unit, for example, costs $1,499 with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of hard drive space. Add in the keyboard and pencil and it costs $1,769.98 before tax. Even if you buy the entry-level $999 machine and just the keyboard, you’re spending $1,138.99.

Those are prices I can only stomach if I know they’ll work with everything.

Dan Ackerman of CNET writes that Surface Pro X has gotten the attention of tech fans. It shows that the Surface division is not on cruise control, combining “the feel of a PC with the DNA of a smartphone” in the new device.

Ackerman noted some issues running apps like Adobe Photoshop. And those challenges are magnified when looking at the device through the lens of its high price tag.

There’s so much I really like about the bold new Surface Pro direction. The slimmer design; better display and bezel; great stylus implementation; decent battery life; and excellent keyboard experience. But the relatively high price, especially considering the cost of accessories, the software compatibility issues and tough spec comparisons with the mature Surface Pro 7 make this ideal for only a small subset of the tablet-toting population.