[Academic Tech] Back to the Surface Pro X

One year ago, on Christmas eve 2020, I posted about the Surface Pro X. I was very happy with it, except for one thing – the size. I ended up replacing the Pro X with the Surface Go 2 just a month or so later. My reasoning was that it was about as powerful as the Pro X in most stuff, the Pro X had compatibility issues, and that the size of the Go 2 was just more convenient.

Then, two months ago, I bought the Pro X again and stuck the Go 2 back on eBay.  (The Go 2 and Pro X were about equal in price second hand, so it cost me very little in the end).

So what changed?

Well, for one, COVID.  While I’ve been going into work 3-4 days a week through the first Semester (Sept-Dec), I’ve also been working at home.  So the portability hasn’t been as big of an issue.  What’s more, is that on the days I was going in, I either wasn’t getting the Go 2 out because the train was busy and it was still a bit of a faff getting it out of my bag, or if I was, the train was so empty that I could just as easily have got the Pro X out.  

As I mentioned in my Galaxy Flip 3 review/thoughts, I think I’m looking for something more like a Galaxy Fold for reading papers on the train.  Something that goes in and out of a pocket.

At home, in an arm chair or at my desk, the Pro X is vastly superior to the Go 2 for reading papers, editing manuscripts, and browsing the web.

The second thing that changed was that Windows 11 was released.  I wasn’t initially a fan, and still have some reservations (the start menu is atrocious, and the insidious dark-pattern BS of Bing inserting itself everywhere [widgets, weather, search], and Edge being destroyed by bloat makes me wary of trusting Microsoft like I used to), but in terms of using the OS and running the programs I need to, it’s really helped the Pro X become more than it was.

Surface Pro X. Gorgeous screen, poor calendar integration in Windows 11. Taskbar is using RoundedTB 

Navigating the OS, particularly when using the Pro X as a tablet is a genuinely good experience.  Being able to snap windows to the top and bottom halves of the screen in portrait orientation is great, and the new touch gestures (while still a touch janky) are awesome for navigating multiple desktops and running applications. More than anything though, the whole operating system and interaction with the device feels [mostly] smooth.  

Emulation of x64 apps is coming along nicely too, and in addition to running Blender or Illustrator absolutely fine in emulation, there’s now a few more native apps – photoshop for instance, and Camera Raw (though performance of the latter leaves something to be desired):

This thing isn’t a powerhouse still, if you want that, you should get the new Surface Pro 8, which finally updates the old Pro design to be more like the Pro X, albeit a little thicker (and still with poor button placement for tablet use, though that hasn’t been as much of an issue recently).

In my comparison with the Go 2 below, you can see they were about equal in performance in most tasks.  What you don’t see in the video is how hot the Go 2 got running Blender and Photoshop. My video finished recording just before the Go 2 started really throttling down, as I mentioned right at the end. It might sound silly, but the difference in comfort of using the devices when the Pro X stayed cool [barely more than room temperature] and the Go 2 got hot was noticeable. This goes double so when you’re interacting with the screen with touch or pen.

What is great is the battery life. Among Windows 11’s general improvements were updates to take better advantage of Big.Little architecture like that on the Qualcomm SQ1 ARM processor. I’ve been going about 3 days between charges, using the device for several hours a day, reading PDFs, browsing the web, and watching youtube/netflix.  Almost everything I use daily is now ARM native – Office, Edge, Photoshop, MyTube!, etc (OneDrive was the last piece of that puzzle, and is now available as an ARM version)

What the Pro X is, is an excellent Windows device, able to run all the programs you need to, while also being a great tablet experience for reading and browsing.  I’ve coupled it with my Renaisser pen, which works wonderfully (almost no jitter), and I got the keyboard too. Though I will note that I barely use the keyboard unless I’m specifically going to be writing on the thing.

I maintain what I said in my first review of the Pro X – “The Surface Pro X is one of the most beautiful computers I’ve ever used.”  That’s no less true a year later.  It’s so thin and light, while having that gorgeous (if overly reflective) screen. The speakers also punch well above their weight too.

This is now my portable device for longer journeys – if we ever go to conferences in person again, this will be perfect.  It’s great for a writing retreat. A holiday computer.

It’s not going to take over from my desktop, and I’m not going to be running photogrammetry software on it (though COLMAP-CL does make that possible now). It’s also probably not, in the long run, going to be what I use for reading and browsing on the train.

But right now, this is a beautiful device, that fits a role nicely, and I don’t see myself trading it in again.

Now to find the perfect device for Desktop and phone…

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