Rapid Review: Microsoft Surface Go

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has played a very steady game with its Surface family of computers. It took a couple of generations of the Surface Pro convertible before venturing into more traditional laptop form factors with the Surface Laptop and Surface Book and desktops with the Surface Hub. It's surprising that it's taken over six years to produce the Surface Go, a more compact device that appeals to those seeking a Windows system in an iPad-like form factor. But the company has produced a solid performer that will fulfil the needs for those who want a second computer to complement their main computer or whose computing needs are more modest.

What Is It?

The Surface Go is a 10-inch tablet computer running Windows 10 in S Mode. That means, unless you use the one-time option to switch out to regular Windows 10, you are restricted to only installing apps and accessories available through the Windows Store. The idea is that you a protected from potential nasties as any apps you install have been through Microsoft's vetting processes. The Surface Go I tested was provided with the optional Type Cover, which gives you a comfortable keyboard and generous glass trackpad, and a Surface Pen for taking advantage of the touchscreen.

Specifications

Processor Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y
Memory 4GB or 8GB RAM
Storage 64GB eMMC drive or 128GB SSD
Size 245mm x 175mm x 8.3mm, 522g (excluding Smart Cover and Surface Pen)
Graphics Intel® HD Graphics 615
Display 10-inch running at 1800 x 1200 (217 PPI) with 10 point multi-touch and Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3
Ports 1 x USB-C, 3.5 mm headphone jack, 1 x Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover Port, MicroSDXC Card Reader, Compatible with Surface Dial
Operating System Windows 10 in S mode
Wireless Comms 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1
Sensors Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer
Cameras 5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p Skype HD video and 8.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video

What's Good?

I suspect that the folks in the Surface design team have been paying attention to what people have been saying about similar (cough... iPad...cough) products and have looked for ways to overcome some of the limitations of Apple's platform while creating their own take on a mobile computer.

I think they've done a reasonable job.

The Surface Go, like all portable computers, is designed around a set of compromises. For example, the 3:2 aspect ratio display is great for apps and using the Surface Go as a notepad using the optional Surface Pen but it's not ideal for watching a high definition movie at its full resolution as it's too narrow. And, while the Intel Pentium Gold CPU is a solid performer for general office productivity tasks it's not the best option for editing large images or video.

Image: Microsoft

That said, the balance of what's in an out means the Surface Go cuts the mustard as a portable device that can do most things competently, rather than spectacularly.

For example, I'm a big fan of apps that let you replace traditional paper and pen. The Surface Go is light enough to use as a notepad replacement. And the magnetic edge, where the Type Cover connector is found, can hold the Surface Pen so it's less likely to fall while you're not using it. And the familiar Surface kickstand swings through a wide arc so you can have the tablet sitting on a table and the on-screen keyboard is at a comfortable typing angle - something that's much harder to achieve with an iPad.

The optional Type Cover keyboard is surprisingly comfortable. It rest on a slight angle, rather than dead flat, so your wrists are in a more comfortable typing position. The keys are responsive although, while the keys are full-sized, it is a little cramped and will take some getting used to.

Office apps work launch and run well. However, I'd strongly recommend against buying the entry level Surface go, which seems to be made to hit a price point rather than be useful. With just 64GB of storage, it will fill up quickly once you pop a couple of movies and save a few photos. But the 128GB version, which is what I tested, offers enough storage as long as you're careful.

Image: Microsoft

The ability to run familiar apps shouldn't be underestimated. If you're someone who mainly uses a traditional desktop system, you may find mobile apps a pain as they do things in very different ways. But being able to run the same apps on the Surface Go as a a desktop makes switching devices easy.

The presence of a USB-C port, that can be used for charging as well as connecting peripherals, is very handy. And the microSD slot, hiding behind the kickstand is an easy way to carry critical documents around without fill the internal storage.

Also, the Surface Go doesn't ship with a bunch of extra software - something OEMs often invoice but often makes your computing experience worse rather than aiding it.

What's Bad?

The Surface Go uses the same power adaptor as the most recent Surface devices which is a shame. Rather than opting for the old connector, Microsoft has missed an opportunity to go all in with USB-C. A single port is handy but with so many smartphones now using USB-C, Microsoft could have further bolstered the platform by adding a second USB-C port so peripherals and a charge can be connected.

As I mentioned earlier, the display resolution works well with applications but isn't optimal for movies. And the 64GB and 128GB storage options are very meagre. I assume a 256GB or 512GB would have resulted in a far more expensive device and overlapped with the Surface Pro, potentially cannibalising some of that market. I can help feel that a 256GB option would greatly increase the market for the Surface Go.

Should You Buy It

Here's what the Surface Go will cost:

  • Surface Go with 128GB storage and 8GB RAM: $839.00
  • Surface Go with 64GB storage and 4GB RAM: $599.00
  • Surface Pen: $139.95
  • Type Cover: $199.95

So, for the top-end unit with the Type Cover and Pen, which I think are almost mandatory accessories, you'll need $1178.90 - that's a fairly hefty investment in my view.

In my mind, the big question is, how important is it to have a computer than can run Windows and be super-portable. That will be answer to the "should you buy a Surface Go?" question. An extra $360 gets you the larger Surface Pro with 128GB and 4GB of memory with a larger display and it's less than 5cm longer and 2.5cm wider at almost the same thickness.

That makes it hard to make a general recommendation about the Surface Go. It's a good device, built with some compromises, that will fulfil some specific Nic he requirements. But I don't see it as having the same wide appeal as similarly sized Android and iOS tablets.


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