The small-scale Surface Go from Microsoft recasts the largertwo-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 ($280 at Amazon). 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).
Editor's note: This review has been updated with new benchmark results and a final rating.
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, 1,800x1,200-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. For example, I was recently able to take the Surface Go to a press event and use it as my main on-site PC, with its small size and light weight as major plusses. I was slightly concerned about battery life, being as I'd be using the Surface Go for several hours of intensive writing, emailing, social media posting and live-chatting through Slack, but it held up just fine, and I didn't feel like I was missing much by leaving my full-size laptop at home.
Microsoft Surface Go
|Price as reviewed / starting price (US)||$778 / $399|
|Display size/resolution||10.0-inch, 1,800x1,200-pixel touchscreen|
|CPU||1.6GHz Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 615|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Operating system||Windows 10 / Windows 10 S|
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The biggest question about the Surface Go was how it would perform as a Windows 10 ($140 at Amazon) 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 favorite for Black Friday doorbusters, for example).
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 Chrome browser, the Windows Amazon Kindle app, or anything else, providing it can run on a Pentium CPU. I can't imagine any Surface Go purchaser not doing that immediately., 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
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(as in the non-Pro version), which was a 10-inch variant released in 2015 with an Intel Atom processor. At the time, I referred to it as "trickle-down computing," and said it wasn't powerful enough to be your full-time computer.
While the hardware specs may not wow you on the page, in real-world situations I found the Surface Go to be filled with pint-size charm. During my frequent NYC coffee-shop writing sojourns, it turned out to be the perfect size for on-the-go use, with the keyboard just big enough and the system powerful enough to run Google Docs and the other online tools I use regularly.
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 (some would say present) 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.