Alongside of headline-stealing new devices like the dual screen Surface Duo smartphone and the folding, tablet-like Surface Neo, Microsoft upgrade its bread and butter hardware line up, releasing the Surface Pro 7 at its Surface event in New York on October 2, 2019. The latest generation of this now-iconic Windows 10 tablet — Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2-in-1 has been around for seven years now! — looks like a solid upgrade … and it’s not the only Surface Pro that Microsoft announced.
Enter the Surface Pro X, an ARM-based 2-in-1 that uses a CPU created in partnership by Microsoft and Qualcomm that is said to be three times more powerful per watt than the Surface Pro 6. That’s some exciting stuff, but is it enough to steal buyers from the Surface Pro 7?
Both of these new 2-in-1s look like Surface Pros. That’s a good thing, because Microsoft has managed to maintain a unique look and feel with the Surface Pro line while still keeping it modern. The Surface Pro 7 is essentially unchanged on the outside, with the same 12.3-inch PixelSense display and its 3:2 aspect ratio and 2,736 x 1,824 resolution for a sharp 267 pixels per inch (PPI). It will be available in the traditional Surface Pro matte silver color and optional jet black. The Surface Pro X is slightly larger thanks to a 13-inch PixelSense display, with the same 3:2 aspect ratio and a just-as-sharp resolution of 2,880 x 1,920 and 267 PPI.
However, the Surface Pro X is also thinner than the Surface Pro 7, at a wafer-like 5.3mm compared to 8.38mm. Both 2-in-1s are roughly equally light, at 1.7 pounds (there’s a one-gram difference). Given how the thinness of the Surface Pro X, we suspect that it will feel like a smaller device.
The Surface Pro X offers a few design tricks that make it a more attractive device than the Surface Pro 7. First, the Surface Pro X has an access cover under the kickstand that allows the user to swap out the solid-state drive (SSD). That’s a first for the Surface line, and maybe a first for tablets, period. Also, while the Surface Pro 7 uses the same Type Cover and Pens as past models, the Surface Pro X has a new Type Cover with a slot that a new Slim Pen can fit into for wireless charging.
Connectivity was enhanced with the Surface Pro 7, adding in a USB-C port (no Thunderbolt 3) to go with a USB-A port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the same Surface Connect port as on previous Surface Pro models. The Surface Pro X has two USB-C ports to go with its headphone jack and a microSIM slot for LTE wireless connectivity.
All in all, the Surface Pro X is slimmer and enjoys a slightly larger display, with some nice design touches thrown in for good measure.
Here’s where these 2-in-1s are most different. The Surface Pro 7 uses Intel’s 10th-gen Ice Lake CPUs with options for Core i3, i5, and i7 processors, with up to 16GB of RAM and up to a 1TB SSD. That gives the Surface Pro 7 laptop-like performance thanks to Iris Pro graphics. The Surface Pro X, on the other hand, uses a new Microsoft SQ1 CPU created in cooperation with Qualcomm, that runs at up to 7 watts of power, with most processing done at 2 watts. The SQ1 has both a CPU and GPU integrated on the same chip, and offers up to 2 teraflops of graphics performance and 9 teraflops of total performance. There’s also an integrated A.I. engine, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to a 512GB SSD.
We suspect that the Surface Pro 7 will be faster, certainly with a Core i7 and when running native applications. The Surface Pro X will need to run legacy Windows 10 apps in emulation, which will be a hit to performance, and we suspect that while it’s faster per watt than the Surface Pro 6, the Microsoft SQ1 CPU will still fall behind Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs on demanding tasks.
Both of these laptops are thin and light and will barely register in a backpack. The Surface Pro X is much thinner, but weight is roughly equal. These are two of the most portable laptops (OK, 2-in-1s) around.
Battery life will be an interesting metric to test once we get our hands on review units. Microsoft dropped its estimate for the Surface Pro 7 from the 13.5 hours promised with the Surface Pro 6 to just 10.5 hours, in reference to the fast CPUs inside. The company promises up to 13 hours for the Surface Pro X, meaning its likely to be the longer-lasting away from an outlet — although that’s not as aggressive as some other ARM-based tablets in terms of battery life. Clearly, Microsoft is aiming for performance with the SQ1 processor rather than battery life.
Which is better?
The Surface Pro 7 will start at $749 for just the tablet, and goes up from there. High-end configurations will likely be well over $2,000, and you’ll want to factor in a couple hundred dollars for a Type Cover and Surface Pen.
The Surface Pro X will cost a minimum of $999, again without Type Cover or Slim Pen, and it too will go up from there. Both of these laptops are premium devices when nicely configured.
We suspect that most users will go with the Surface Pro 7 for performance. But the Surface Pro X certainly offers an interesting alternative with slightly better battery life. We’ll have to wait until our full reviews to name our final winner.
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