Shrinking the Surface Pro design down to the size of a standard 10-inch tablet, and bringing the starting price down to $599, Microsoft’s Surface Go is a wonderfully compact Windows machine that doesn’t compromise when it comes to productivity.
At 245mm x 175mm and coming in at around half a kilo, this is a fully fledged computer packed into a tiny, beautiful body. The magnesium casing keeps the Go in line with the rest of the portable Surface family, while the sold-separately (but arguably not optional) keyboard cover and pen feel just as good to use as those associated with the machine’s full-sized siblings. There’s even, somehow, full-sized keys and a generous glass trackpad.
The Go’s edges are significantly rounder than other Surfaces, and used as a tablet it’s much easier to handle given the compact size. To that end, more than any previous Microsoft device, the Surface Go really feels like a Windows-powered iPad. And I love that about it, even if it probably wouldn’t be Microsoft’s favourite comparison.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Go is not quite as thin or light as the standard (non-Pro) iPad, or that Apple’s tablet has a nicer screen, but the core appeal is the same: a light, intuitive device that’s powerful enough to handle your work and entertainment on the go.
And the baby Surface does have design advantages over Apple’s tab. The built-in kickstand is invaluable for example, able to be set at any angle to suit typing, drawing or touching in any scenario, and the presence of an SD card reader makes the Go a more pragmatic device. There’s also a USB-C port and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect, if you want to hook it up to a hub. There’s a pair of cameras for video calls or recording, plus others to facilitate Windows Hello instant sign-in.
And then of course there’s the obvious advantage: the Surface Go makes a much more convincing laptop replacement than the standard iPad.
Windows 10 has come pretty close to perfecting the balance between desktop and mobile modes, with the former offering the familiar mouse-based input, file structure and taskbar and the latter organising everything into a simplified, touch-based interface.
The Go ships with S Mode turned on, which means you can only install applications from the official Microsoft Store. This limits your options pretty severely, especially if you’re wedded to Google apps or any special work-related software, but it also means no risk of littering your machine with junk from the internet. I kept S mode on for this review and found the biggest issue to be using Edge as my web browser (I bent it to my will eventually), but from past experience I’m confident saying you could turn S Mode off for full Windows 10 and you wouldn’t have any issues.
The display is brilliantly bright, although at 1800×1200 it isn’t amazingly sharp. The stereo speakers are also impressive in their fidelity and depth, although the Go isn’t an ideal Netflix machine. The characteristic 3:2 screen aspect ratio — designed so documents and web browsers look great in either orientation — means big black bars top and bottom for widescreen content.
But the Go is a productivity machine at heart. The mobile-focused Intel chipset powering it means this is no powerhouse, but there’s plenty of memory to go around and I had no issues juggling a few docs and spreadsheets, plus several browser tabs. At $149 (minimum), the type cover is an expensive extra but makes for one of the most comfortable typing experiences you can get on a tablet this small, plus it’s a cinch to add a wireless mouse.
This thing isn’t built for gaming, but it performs much better than I expected. I didn’t even try to install some of the more intensive games I already own through the Microsoft Store but I did grab the much lighter Fallout Shelter, which ran superbly. And since this was the Windows Store version (S Mode means I couldn’t install Steam to access my usual PC games library), the touch controls were spot on and my progress was synced with my Xbox. Handily, the Microsoft Store will point out how each game’s recommended specs line up with your machine.
From drawing or taking notes to typing, browsing or even some light image editing and gaming, the Surface Go is as powerful as it needs to be while also packing excellent hardware and design to support it. Like the iPad it gives you the freedom to travel light while also giving access to the bigger work and entertainment tasks your phone can’t handle. But, unlike the iPad, sitting down at the desk for some serious work with the Surface Go doesn’t feel like an exercise in compromise.