October 15, 2019
Microsoft's latest hardware line up is almost upon us, with the Surface Pro 7 and Laptop 3 hitting store shelves later this month, followed by the Surface Pro X in November. We caught up with Microsoft to get some hands-on time with the new range.
Has Microsoft delivered? For some of the products, it's a definite yes. The Surface Pro X and Laptop 3 feel like truly desirable products that you'd love to have on your desk. The Surface Pro 7? Well, it's fine – but it's barely a departure from the rest of the series.
Sadly, Microsoft's more radical upcoming products – the double screen Neo and Duo phone and tablet – weren't on display. The company is holding these back for a 2020 release. But, we were able to spend some quality time with everything else in the new Surface range, so read on for our first impressions.
Confused by the Microsoft range? See our guide to the Microsoft Surface Pro vs Surface Laptop vs Surface Book
Surface Pro X
Arguably, the most interesting new device in the Surface line-up, the Pro X is a brand new product, as opposed to an iteration. It represents what the Surface Pro would look like as a premium product.
As soon as you pick up the Pro X, you can feel the sweat of the design team in its styling. It's thinner than the Surface Pro 7, and has a notably slimmer bezel, too (33% slimmer, actually). The Pro X has a 13-inch screen – just a smidge larger than the biggest iPad Pro's 12.9-inch display.
It has a super sharp 2880 x 1920 resolution and looks clear and bright. There's plenty of detail to be made out here, and at 267 pixels per inch, the display is on a par with the iPad Pro (264 ppi). Pick it up, and it feels solid – and, if we're honest, pretty dense. It's not as light as the iPad Pro 12.9-inch, and it definitely feels like a product that will spend more time on a desk than in your hands.
Some of that weight can be attributed to the Pro's kickstand, which has been a mainstay of the series, and isn't something that Apple offers out of the box. As ever, it can be set at multiple angles and can be adjusted to your preference. When we tried it out, we found that, just like other models, you can make the tiniest adjustments until you get it Goldilocks levels of just right.
We've often accused the Surface Pro series of being only half a product if you don't add a keyboard, and that has never felt truer than with the Pro X. Sadly, you don't get one in the box – you'll need to spend a further $139.99. While you've got your card out, you should probably add the new Surface Slim Pen too – just another $144.99. Expensive as this setup is, it's no different to Apple's approach to accessories. Bundle the whole lot up, and the Pro X really does come into its own.
The new Slim Pen is exclusive to the Pro X. It's similar to the older Pen, but with flat sides and rounded edges – imagine a piece of liquorice that's been sat on. Its ergonomics are up for debate. While we happily doodled with it for a few minutes during our hands on time, we can't speak to long periods of time holding it.
When not in use, the Slim Pen nestles in a bespoke groove at the top of keyboard. Magnets keep it in place (and even flip it the correct way round), and it feels more secure than the regular Pen's home in the standard Surface Pro series, which was clipped to the side, making it easy to knock off at every opportunity. The Slim Pen certainly seems secure, and the keyboard will also charge it while it sits there. When the keyboard is angled up slightly, the Slim Pen is effectively folded under the screen, making for a neat design choice.
The Slim Pen will right itself if placed upside down
Microsoft has added USB-C to the entire new Surface range, and the Pro X is no exception. It seems slightly odd to be lauding the arrival of USB-C in 2019, and yet here we are. There's no denying that it's a welcome addition. With the Pro X, you get two of them (the Surface Pro 7 only has one). There have also been improvements to the battery life, with the Pro X boasting 13 hours between charges, and the ability to quick charge the battery to 80% full in an hour.
Specs wise, the Pro X starts with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage. The processor isn't an Intel or AMD, but instead a bespoke SQ1, developed for Microsoft by Qualcomm. Purported to be the fastest processor Qualcomm has ever made, Microsoft claims that it equates to three times the performance per watt of the Surface Pro 6. When we played with the Pro X, we didn't have access to benchmarking software or any programs that would challenge it, but suffice to say it should make for a fast tablet.
Ironically, some of the design features that it has borrowed from the iPad would have been more beneficial to leave in. For starters, there's no headphone jack. Nope, that's been ditched, so you'll need to rely on bluetooth headphones if you pick up the Pro X (rather handily, Microsoft is about to launch its own set…).
The biggest grumble, though, is the lack of expandable storage options. The mainline Pro still gives users the option to buy a cheap micro SD card to add extra storage. So why not retain this option for the Pro X? Chances are its high-end audience base won't care about saving some dollars this way, but it does feel like a step back.
The Surface Pro X starts at $999, and is available to pre-order now, shipping in November.
Surface Pro 7
In contrast to the Surface Pro X, the Pro 7 is something of a small, iterative change. It takes the previous Pro 6 and improves on it, albeit without completely ripping up the design book.
One of the more notable changes is that Microsoft has ditched the low-powered m3 processors. This time around, it's available with a 10th generation Intel i3, i5 or i7. The reason for this, according to Microsoft, is due to customer feedback. This processor is still available in the entry-level Surface Go for those that want a cheaper tablet.
Our time with the Surface Pro 7 yielded few surprises. We were relieved to see that the headphone jack lives on, even if it doesn't in the Pro X. Not only that, but there was much rejoicing on our part to see that the micro SD slot has also survived the designer's eraser. Cheap storage, here we come.
Size-wise, it retains the 12.3-inch screen, and from a distance (and even up close), you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference between a Pro 6 and Pro 7.
We didn't get a chance to try them out, but Microsoft state it's added “studio microphones” to the new Surface Pro 7, which should improve the call quality when making video or audio calls (for the person you're talking to, at least).
Elsewhere, there's little revolutionary about the Pro 7. That's not to say it's a bad product – the Pro series certainly has its place for those wanting a high-end Windows tablet. Microsoft claim it's the best selling 2-in-1 device on the planet, so it's clearly doing something right. Still, it really does feel like “more of the same”, especially when sat next to the more dynamic Pro X.
But wait, there is one more thing to mention. The Surface Pro Signature cover is now available in two new colors, Poppy Red and Ice Blue, should that win you over.
The Surface Pro 7 starts from $749, and begins shipping 22 October.
Surface Laptop 3
The Surface Laptop 3 has seen a few more updates than the Pro 7. For one thing, the new Laptop model is larger than its predecessors. The series is now available in both 13.5-inch and 15-inch, giving those Microsoft fanboys who wanted a larger screen a reason to crack open their wallets (plus staying competitive with the MacBook Pro range, which also has 13- and 15-inch iterations).
Let's kick off with the specs. If you opt for the 13-inch Surface Laptop 3, your options are a 10th generation Intel i5 or i7. The 15-inch model offers an Intel i7 or AMD Ryzen 7. Graphics on the 13-inch are handled by Intel's Iris Plus, and with the 15-inch, either AMD Radeon Vega 9 or Radeon RX Vega 11.
In terms of ports, you get a (fanfare please) USB-C port, as well as USB-A, a headphone jack, and of course the Surface Connect port. In terms of battery-life, Microsoft tells us you can expect around 11.5 hours between charges.
Design-wise, the Surface Laptop 3 is similar to the previous iteration, but there have been some notable improvements. Sit down with the Laptop 3 and you'll sense straight away that this is a pricey laptop. It feels every inch the premium product, and you can almost see where every dollar of the $999 asking price has gone. We're told that there isn't a single screw visible in the casing, and a quick check over verifies that is is the case. Yes, it does bring to mind a MacBook, but you'd struggle to find a high-end laptop that doesn't in 2019.
Microsoft tells us that based on feedback, they've made a few changes to the design – the most obvious of which is the choice of an aluminium body. Don't fret felt fans, the iconic Alcantra finish is still available to those who want it. There's a new color in the mix too – a reddish-orange sandstone, as well as the typical black and silver.
The keyboard has received some notable improvements. Firstly, there's the touchpad, which is now 20% bigger. Secondly, the keys themselves have a very slight concave to them, which we're told means your fingers will naturally slide into place as you type. Maybe. Typing on the Laptop 3 certainly feels fairly effortless and responsive. There's another interesting design choice on the keyboard that owners will probably hope they never have to make use of – it can be removed. Not in the way a Surface Pro keyboard can, with a quick tug, but a panel on the rear of the unit means that it can be separated from the screen, for repair purposes. A sly dig at Apple's MacBook repair issue?
The audio now benefits from what Microsoft has dubbed “omni sonic speakers”, and the sound emanates from the keyboard itself. We were given a demo to show off its capabilities – a pumping song from the Trolls movie soundtrack is brought up on Spotify, and we're asked to assess the quality. My first thought when handed the laptop is “yep, that's loud”, because it's inches from my face and the volume has been cranked up to 11. But, it does prove that the laptop can hold its own when streaming Netflix or listening to a playlist. Sure, it could do with a bit more bass, but this is a thin laptop, and it's doing its best.
The Surface Laptop 3 starts at $999 for the 13.5-inch model, and $1,299 for the 15-inch, and starts shipping from 22 October.
We'll be getting some of these Surface products into the office soon for a full review, but based on what we've seen, Microsoft has a strong line-up on their hands with the latest range.
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