If you were in the market for a new Microsoft Surface laptop or tablet, the choices used to be relatively simple — Surface Book for a potent laptop with a detachable screen, Surface Pro for a capable tablet with an optional detachable keyboard, or the Surface Laptop or Surface Go if you don’t need as much power and don’t care as much about tablet or laptop modes.
Microsoft just blew all that up by announcing the Surface Pro X and Surface Pro 7 portable 2-in-1s on the very same day — not to mention the Surface Neo dual-screen tablet and Surface Duo folding phone. Seriously, let’s not mention those last two again ‘cause they aren’t shipping until late 2020, but I figured you’d want to know.
But let’s say you’re ready to buy a new Surface right now, perhaps because they’ve finally got USB-C ports instead of needing to charge and sling data over a proprietary Surface Connect cable. Should you nab the Surface Pro X with its new Qualcomm processor? Or the Surface Pro 7 with Intel?
Depends what you care about most.
Power for your programs: Surface Pro 7, probably
This might make your decision real easy.
We won’t know for sure until we’ve got review units in our hands, but it’s probably safe to say the Surface Pro 7’s Intel processor is a better bet than the ARM-based Qualcomm chip in the Surface Pro X if you use traditional Windows desktop apps and are set on pre-ordering right away.
While Windows 10 does let you run those Win32 programs on ARM-based chips now, we’ve never had a great time doing so because we’d run into apps that wouldn’t work. Developers need to recompile some programs to work on ARM, many haven’t bothered doing that, and Windows on ARM straight up doesn’t support some tech you might need for PC gaming like OpenGL.
And while we’re optimistic that Qualcomm’s chip might prove to run basic Windows and web browsing tasks faster — recent iPad Pros prove that ARM processors are no slouch, and this one’s clocked at up to 3GHz with 2 teraflops of graphical oomph — we’re still talking about a 7-watt ARM processor compared to a selection of dual- and quad-core 15-watt CPUs from Intel that won’t be hamstrung by any incompatibility issues.
But assuming you’re not worried about that, or your life mostly lives in the web...
Portability: Surface Pro X
If you absolutely need the easiest possible Microsoft tablet to carry around, the Surface Pro X is your slate. While it’s actually the same 1.7 pound weight and has a larger 13-inch display compared to the 12.3-inch Surface Pro 7, it’s far thinner at just 7.3mm thick compared to 8.38mm — just take a look at our photo above.
The Verge’s Tom Warren says that thinness actually makes the tablet feel lighter in the hand, and it’ll slide into your bag that much more easily.
There’s also built-in LTE cellular connectivity too thanks to that Qualcomm chip, so you don’t need to pay extra for an LTE version. Just tack it onto your phone plan and you should be good to go. (The Surface Pro 7 does have Wi-Fi 6, though.)
And if you’re a stylus user, the Surface Pro X has a feature that might keep you from ever losing it again — because you can cleverly stash it right inside the optional keyboard cover’s hinge.
With 13 hours of battery life to the Surface Pro 7’s 10.5 hours, it should last longer on the go as well — though keep in mind that both of those numbers were tested with the screen’s brightness set to a fairly dim 150 nits. You’ll probably be using it set brighter, particularly if you go outdoors.
Ports: Surface Pro 7
The Surface Pro 7 has a USB-A port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card reader, in addition to its new USB-C port.
The Surface Pro X does not. It’s got two USB-C ports — which is nice — but you may end up using Bluetooth headphones and/or dongles.
Both have the proprietary Surface Connect port as well, for data and another way to charge. Neither support Thunderbolt 3.
Price: Surface Pro 7
Technically, you can run up the price of the Surface Pro 7 even higher than the Surface Pro X, if you need the Core i7 with 16GB of memory and 512GB or 1TB of solid-state storage — those will cost you a cool $1,899 or $2,299 respectively. There’s no 1TB option for the X, and its 16GB / 512GB configuration is actually $100 cheaper at $1,799.
But if you’re a price-conscious shopper who’ll settle for less silicon, the Surface Pro 7 starts cheaper and stays cheaper for the same quantities of memory and storage until you get to those upper echelons. Here’s a chart that lays it out:
Surface Pro X vs. Surface Pro 7 pricing
|Price||Surface Pro 7||Surface Pro X|
|Price||Surface Pro 7||Surface Pro X|
|$749||Core i3 / 4GB / 128GB|
|$899||Core i5 / 8GB / 128GB|
|$999||SQ1 / 8GB / 128GB|
|$1,199||Core i5 / 8GB / 256GB|
|$1,299||SQ1 / 8GB / 256GB|
|$1,399||Core i5 / 16GB / 256GB|
|$1,499||Core i7 / 16GB / 256GB|
|$1,799||SQ1 / 16GB / 512GB|
|$1,899||Core i7 / 16GB / 512GB|
|$2,299||Core i7 / 16GB / 1TB|
And while the Surface Pro X technically has an upgradable SSD, it’s not necessarily going to be as easy as it originally sounded: you’ll need to find and buy a fairly niche M.2 2230 solid state drive (they’re much shorter than the standard varieties) to make that work.
Plus, all of these prices are without adding the optional keyboard and stylus you may want to turn these tablets into multi-functional work machines — and at $139.99, that Surface Pro X keyboard will cost you an extra $10 over the standard Surface Pro type cover, while the new $144.99 Surface Slim Pen is a good $45 pricier than the standard model.
Mind you, that’s for a pen that can now wirelessly charge by docking with that keyboard, or with its included wireless charging cradle instead of needing a AAAA battery. But if you’re looking for the less expensive option it’s something to keep in mind.
Those are the big reasons you might pick a Surface Pro X over a Surface Pro 7, based on the info we have today. (The Surface Pro X also has a 10-megapixel rear camera that records 4K video to the Surface Pro 7’s 8MP, 1080p camera, but that didn’t feel worthy of a breakout.)
It’s totally possible one of these two devices will under- or over-deliver, though, so watch for our reviews later this fall.