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Surface Go from Microsoft comes back for round 2, starting at $399

The mini Surface returns as the Surface Go 2, with a bigger screen and better CPU options.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

I had to dig deep into the archives to remind myself what the Microsoft Surface Go was all about. It was only 2018, but that feels like a lifetime ago now. In its original incarnation, this was a miniaturized version of the excellent Surface Pro Windows two-in-one. It mimicked the larger model's slate-plus-keyboard design with a similar magnetic connection and versatile rear hinge. But, at the same time, it shrunk the screen down to an almost iPad-like 10 inches and moved to an Intel Pentium processor. 

The second version of the Go is here, unimaginatively named the Surface Go 2. In one respect, the timing isn't ideal. Not too many people are shopping for an ultra tiny, ultraportable laptop replacement when the biggest part of your daily commute is probably from the kitchen to the living room or home office. But the Go's embrace of a low starting price (the same $399 as before), combined with premium-looking design, is well targeted for today's budget-conscious laptop shoppers, who regularly snatch up any new in-stock items on our ever-evolving list of the best laptops under $500

Now playing: Watch this: Surface Go 2 is a cheap and charming Windows tablet

If you're shopping for something in the premium or power user segment, Microsoft is also updating the Surface Book line with the Surface Book 3, which supports Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti or Nvidia Quadro graphics. 

And this new Surface Go makes a few notable improvements to the good-but-not-great original. The screen size bumps up from 10 inches diagonally to 10.5 inches. It may not sound like a lot, but at small screen sizes like this, every little bit helps. With roughly the same footprint, that makes for a narrower screen bezel, which is the border around the display, and bumps the pixel density up to 220 pixels per inch. 

The new model also adds dual proprietary Studio-branded microphones, dual 5-megapixel cameras (front and rear), up to 10 hours of reported battery life, optional LTE and weighs just 1.2 pounds (544 grams) to start. Having just unboxed the Surface Go 2 as I write this, the bezel still feels hefty, compared to many other modern Windows machines, but the overall size and weight are great. 

The processor options open up as well, going up to an eighth-gen Intel Core m3. That's usually reserved for very slim high-production-value laptops that fall in the $600-and-up range, so it's not like a full-power desk-bound laptop, but it'll be fine for everyday mainstream use. But be prepared to pay extra for that, the $399 base model is listed as an Intel Pentium 4425Y, which is a modest evolution from the 2018 Go's Pentium 4415Y. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Extra, extra

And yes, the history of the Surface tablet line has always been one of upgrades and sold-separately accessories. These are generally very good products, in the case of the recent Surface Pro models, excellent ones -- so it always pains me to have to dig deep into the pricing model. The Surface Go 2 itself starts at $399. For that, you don't get the Intel core m3 processor, which is understandable. But you also don't get a keyboard. Or a stylus. 

The clip-on keyboard is an extra $129, or $99 if you forgo the cool colors and fabric texture. It's always been the most interesting bit of engineering around the Surface line, and frankly a must-have to get the best experience, so that's a big added expense. Adding a $129 keyboard on top of a thousand-dollar Surface Pro is a pain, but here's it's a 25-plus-percent premium just to get started. Want a Surface Pen stylus (which is also very well done)? That's an extra $99. It adds up, especially if you're already in the market for something closer to the Surface Go's $399 than the Surface Pro's $749-and-up starting price. 

In my initial hands-on experience with the Surface Go 2, the keyboard, while smaller than the one that works with the larger Surface Pro, provided an excellent typing experience, and even the small touchpad felt responsive. In this case, I'm trying the Core m3 version, along with a gray alcantara fabric keyboard cover. 

Shop smart, shop S-Mart

Remember Windows 10 S? Of course you don't. This seemingly short-lived experiment in creating a stripped-down, easy to use version of Windows that felt more like iOS (or iPadOS as it now is) only showed up on a few lower-cost systems starting in 2017. 

And by stripped-down, I mean it only ran select preapproved software packages, mostly from the Windows 10 app store. Microsoft Edge, yes. Google Chrome, no. Sure, it could save inexperienced users from downloading malware, and stop buyers from trying to run software the Pentium/Core m3 CPUs can't really handle, but the idea never really took off, and even Microsoft was downplaying it by 2018

Yes, the original Surface Go had Windows 10 S, and it's on this new model as well, which was frankly the last thing I ever expected to see again. Now it's called "Windows 10 in S Mode," but you should treat this version exactly the same as the original -- follow our quick guide to upgrading it to full Windows 10, which is free to do and only takes a few button clicks. 


Small victories 

The Surface Go 2 will be available starting May 12, from $399. The portability isn't the world's biggest selling point right now, but the low price (even with the sold-separately accessories) certainly is, especially for a well-built machine with high production values. 

Plus, if we get lucky and our long stay in quarantine-land starts to come to an end, the first thing people will want to do is take their PCs and go work in the park, in coffee shops, on planes and anywhere but at home. The new Surface Go 2 looks like a potentially good way to do that, which I will confirm once I get a chance to fully test the hardware.