Pros: The Surface Go delivers Microsoft’s great Surface design and accessories at a lower price and in a smaller size.
Cons: The Pentium processor isn’t suited for all tasks. A keyboard cover is a must-have add-on but still sold separately. And you’ll probably want to pay extra for more storage and RAM, too. Battery life is lacking for a go-anywhere PC.
In General: The new Microsoft Surface Go is the perfect size for casual coffee-shop computing, but getting the full experience quickly drives up the price.
The small-scale Surface Go from Microsoft recasts the larger Surface Pro two-in-one as a casual computer you can toss in a bag and take anywhere. But, the change in size, price and processing power presents a lot of questions for would-be buyers. To answer the most pressing ones:
Yes, the new Surface Go can still run many everyday PC tasks, even with only an Intel Pentium processor. No, it’s not likely going to satisfy as your all-day, everyday workhorse computer, both because of the limited horsepower and the small size. Yes, it’s significantly less expensive than the bigger Surface Pro, and closer in price to an iPad. No, it’s not going to save you much at the end of the day, as the must-have keyboard cover and other accessories are still sold separately (and priced on the high side).
The Surface Go starts at a reasonable $399 (£379 or AU$599). But once you add a $99-to-$129 keyboard cover, a $99 stylus and maybe an extra $150 to double the RAM and storage space to mainstream laptop levels (from 4GB/64GB to 8GB/128GB), you’re looking at a much bigger investment.
But despite not being the bargain Surface you might have been hoping for, it’s hard not to like this little two-in-one Windows hybrid. The smaller size works surprisingly well, both for the 10-inch, 1,800×1,200-pixel display and the clip-on keyboard, which manages to shrink down individual keys without overly compromising the overall typing experience.
It helps that the touchpad built into the keyboard cover is huge for such a small device. And that familiar touchpad and cursor interface works seamlessly with — or instead of — the touchscreen, giving you exactly the sort of flexibility lacking in the iPad or other non-Windows tablets.
Powered by Pentium
The biggest question about the Surface Go was how it would perform as a Windows 10 machine. That’s because it swaps the usual Core i-series Intel CPUs for lower-end Pentium processors, which are typically only found in laptops at the budget end of the spectrum.
It’s a definite step down in processing power, but the potential silver lining is that for most of what people do on their PCs today — websurfing, media playback, and using online tools and services — there’s not too much of an experiential difference. At least if you don’t run too many apps at once or keep 20 browser tabs open.
That may be one of the reasons behind shipping the device with Windows 10 S, the Windows variant that restricts you to apps from the official Microsoft app store, supposedly all in the name of security. It’s always been a bit of a head-scratcher as an OS, but fortunately it’s easy and painless to switch to regular full-blown Windows 10 at no extra cost. It just takes a few button-clicks and then you can install the Chrome browser, the Windows Amazon Kindle app, or anything else, providing it can run on a Pentium CPU.
If the idea of a smaller, less expensive, low-power Surface sounds oddly familiar, that’s because it’s been tried before. The closest comparison is the single-name Surface 3, which was a 10-inch variant released in 2015 with an Intel Atom processor.
Much about the Surface Go feels like it hits a sweet spot between design and functionality. The best parts of the Surface experience — the excellent kickstand, the best-in-class keyboard cover, the great stylus support — are all here, just in slightly miniaturized form. It also takes a step into the future by adding a USB-C port. Power can be connected via your own USB-C power source or with the included magnetic Surface-style power connector.
But two of the biggest Surface issues remain unsolved. The bezel around the screen is shockingly thick, especially notable now that other PC makers are embracing the slim-bezel look. And more importantly, for a laptop alternative, the slate-plus-keyboard-plus- kickstand design still isn’t especially lap-friendly.
Still sold separately
While Microsoft has crafted a perfectly scaled version of its excellent keyboard cover, which has been always considered the most impressive part of the entire Surface ecosystem, it’s somehow still not included in the purchase price. Like the keyboard covers for the larger Surface Pro models, you have to buy it separately, starting at $99 (£100 or AU$200) for plain black or $129 for the color versions.
The Surface Pen stylus is also $99 (£99 or AU$139), and it’s the same exact one as you’d use on the Surface Pro. If you have an existing Pen from an older Surface, just pair it with Bluetooth and it’s good to go. Like other Surface systems, there’s a built-in magnetic connection that can affix the stylus to the side of the system.
One small step
The new smaller Surface takes the laptop-like Pro and shrinks it down to roughly an iPad’s size. Running full Windows 10 and an Intel CPU, even if a low-end one, this at least makes more sense than the much-derided original Surface RT, which used an ARM CPU and the limited and now largely forgotten Windows RT operating system.
If you’re the type of user who would get everything you need from a Chromebook or a low-end Windows laptop, such as the similar Lenovo Flex 11, this is a modest extra investment to get a great high-end design, the flexibility of a two-in-one hybrid and access to a useful ecosystem of accessories.
In the benchmark testing, this system hits middle ground in budget PCs — a bit faster than comparable budget Pentium laptops, but not as fast as a basic Intel Core i3 laptop. Battery life in the streaming video test was about 6.5 hours, which is on the low side for an ultraportable device. Something like the Asus NovaGo, which pairs a mobile phone CPU with a 2-in-1 Windows design, ran for more than double that.