Microsoft Surface Go full review

If Apple owns the tablet market, Microsoft is quietly doing great work with the Surface range. The Surface Go, a cheaper version of the Surface Pro, is not an iPad rival though – it’s for a different audience.

If you want to watch Netflix, browse the web and send some emails then iPad and iOS will do you fine. But if you want a tiny little PC that runs well, looks great and costs less than an iPad Pro, then the Surface Go is for you.

It’s a little too small for some and you can’t edit video on it, but if you want a new laptop and like the Surface form factor then we can thoroughly recommend the Surface Go despite its few shortcomings.

Microsoft Surface Go: Price and availability

The Surface Go costs £379/$399 for the 64GB model and £509/$549 for the 128GB model. This price, unfortunately, doesn’t get you the Surface Pen, Type Cover or Mouse.

The essential accessory is the Type Cover which costs from £99/$129

The base RRP for the admittedly more powerful (and larger) Surface Pro is £799/$799. So if you don’t need the computing power, the Surface Go represents a substantial saving.

The Surface Go comes with Windows 10S preloaded for free. You can upgrade it to Windows 10 Home for free, or Windows 10 Pro for £119.99 in the UK. Most users will be happy with 10 Home.

For a run-down of the differences between Windows 10 S, Home and Pro, here’s our Windows 10 comparison

Microsoft Surface Go: Design and build

We are fans of small, compact computers at Tech Advisor so were delighted when we got the Surface Go in for review. Although it’s cheaper and smaller, Microsoft hasn’t noticeably compromised on build quality.

You get the 180-degree adjustable kickstand just like on the Surface Pro, and the magnesium body of the tablet is totally premium considering the price range. This isn’t MacBook-metal lush, but it’s not far off.

Although you can pick different colour keyboards, mice and pens, the tablet itself is silver on the back with a black front bezel no matter which one you go for. At 8.3mm thick it’s thinner than some phones.

That black bezel is more noticeable on a tablet this small. The 10in display is, and indeed looks, smaller than the 10.5in iPad Pro’s because of the half inch difference and the fact Windows 10 is busier than iOS and creates the illusion of an even smaller display.

But attention to design detail is excellent, from the divots on either side of the tablet to easily open the hinge to the subtle curve of the edges of the device that give away that this is intended for angled, landscape use.

Those edges house the Surface connector via which the Go charges, but there is a USB-C port for connecting peripherals, but notably no USB-A. It shows Microsoft is slowly moving to adopt USB-C but still doesn’t trust it to charge its Surfaces.

And yes, there’s a headphone jack. This is a well put together piece of hardware, particularly impressive at the £379 price point of the 64GB version.

Without the Type Cover attached it weighs 522g and went unnoticed in our bag most of the time (a good thing). And while not preferable to an actual laptop on your actual lap, it’s easier to use than the Surface Pro in this way simply because it’s smaller.

Above all though, this is a fun laptop. Yes, fun! Windows 10 especially, but also laptops in general, struggle to be this and it's why we enjoyed using the Surface Go so much. All this computer in such a well put together combination of hardware makes it a joy to use.

Microsoft Surface Go: Keyboard and trackpad

If you don’t buy the Type Cover, you don’t get a keyboard or trackpad. The Surface Go is a touchscreen tablet but you won’t want to type using the on-screen keyboard given it has full Windows 10.

The £99/$129 Type Cover is thankfully better than we expected despite its diminutive size. It takes a slight adjustment from a full-size keyboard but the travel of the keys is amazingly satisfying, and miles better than Apple’s odd fabric keys on the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard.

While the inside of the Type Cover is coated in rubber on the black version we tested (or Alcantara if you pay a bit more for the other colours) the keys themselves are plastic and great to use. The cover magnetically clacks onto the bottom edge of the tablet to give you an angled keyboard and it’s great.

You can leave it flat if you like, but we prefer the angle
It does mean typing gives a slightly clacky hollow sound given the thinness of the keyboard, the travel and the space underneath the angle, but you can forgive it given the sheer portability of the set up.

The trackpad is also excellent – responsive, well placed and sized and with left and right click. Microsoft offers a Surface Mobile Mouse for £29.99 if you do want a mouse but you can certainly get by with the trackpad most of the time for simple tasks and word processing, as we did during the review.

Microsoft Surface Go: Screen

The 10in PixelSense display, as Microsoft calls it, is a decent panel. With an 1800x1200 resolution that works well with the 3:2 aspect ratio you’ll have no trouble buzzing about Windows 10.

It has 10-point multi-touch input and is protected from scratches by Gorilla Glass 3. Touch input is decent, but on a 10in display you’ll be inclined to use it less. Tapping to move windows, close them, or clicking on links is fiddly compared to the same actions on a larger screen.

We did use it to scroll though, the best point at which you’ll reach for the screen instead of using the trackpad. But when using a mouse, we didn’t find ourselves touching the screen at all, and the Surface Go truly felt like a zippy little laptop.

Windows Hello face recognition also works amazingly fast on the Go thanks to the front facing camera and sensors in the bezel, and with the absence of a fingerprint reader is a surprisingly massive time saver when unlocking the device.

You won't want to take photos with the Go's 8Mp rear facing camera but it's nice to have; more useful is the 5Mp front facing camera that can run 1080p Skype calls.

Screen brightness is decent but could be brighter, particularly in direct sunlight. Colour accuracy is excellent, from viewing photos and video to zoning in on your work on Word.

You can also use the optional Surface Pen for input but it’s aimed at creatives who will want to use professional apps to draw, design and edit. It might be that the 10in Go is not a large enough easel for these creations compared to other Surfaces, but the option is there.

Microsoft Surface Go: Core specs and performance

We tested the model with 128GB SSD storage and 8GB RAM. This will run read/write faster than the lower end 64GB model with eMMC and only 4GB RAM.

If you can stretch to the more expensive version you’ll find it faster with the advantage, obviously, of double the storage space. The 8GB RAM certainly helps full Windows tick along on a device that has no fan.

Even while using Google Chrome, that famous RAM-hog and slower-down of tablet PCs, the Surface Go coped surprisingly well under the strain. We found only hints of lag when multi-tasking with several tabs in Chrome, Spotify, Slack, Word, Mail and other apps running simultaneously.

With Windows 10, this kind of workflow does not feel as hemmed in as it does on tablets with keyboards like the iPad Pro or Samsung Galaxy Tab S4. The benchmarks below also show that the Go has decent processor (Geekbench) and graphics (GFXBench) performance against these machines.

This is not a PC you will want to play games on (as they won’t run at all) but if you want to download older games like GTA San Andreas from the Microsoft Store then you’ll have no problem. It'll probably cope with Minecraft too if your kids want to steal the Go away from you.

Microsoft Surface Go: Connectivity and audio

The Surface Go has a Surface Connect port, Microsoft’s proprietary charging port. This is fine by us, and the computer charges fully from dead in under two hours (if not in use then it’s about an hour and a half).

You also get a USB-C port and headphone jack, and the great inclusion of a microSD card reader hidden underneath the hinge. It makes the Surface Go a bit of a road warrior considering this and the battery life, and that’s a welcome surprise given its size and price.

Given the price and audience, it's still a shame there's no USB-A port, though. Bluetooth 4.1 is adequate for connecting headphones and mice.

The speakers are nothing to write home about as you might expect in a small tablet and they are not as loud as any of the iPad Pro models. But for two grilles on each side as you use it landscape, they are not awful either, with decent levels of sound for one user (it won’t be loud enough for a great film experience but then again, the screen is too small for that too).

You’ll want to use headphones or speakers for music most of the time but the speakers are adequate for general use.

Microsoft Surface Go: Battery life

The Surface Go has surprisingly decent battery life for a small tablet running full Windows.

In our standard video loop battery test the Go also scored well. With a 720p video looping and the screen brightness set to 120cd/m2 it lasted for 11 hours and 13 minutes before running out of charge. This puts it over two hours longer than Microsoft’s stated nine hours of video playback – an impressive result.

If you are working out and about with the Go you’ll still want to pack a charger, but we found we could work for about five hours on it away from power before our eyes were drawn to the battery symbol.

The Surface Go is a quiet triumph for Microsoft. The company has successfully distilled what is best about the Surface Pro (portability, usability, great design) into a smaller, cheaper computer than doesn’t suffer performance issues as a result.

We recommend spending more on the higher tier version that gets you more RAM and storage as in our tests it runs Windows 10 Home excellently. The annoyingly not included Type Cover is a necessity but it’s the best 2-in-1 keyboard in this size.

It’s 2-in-1 that doesn’t make us wish we had a traditional laptop instead, and for that it should be commended. Creatives and media junkies won’t like the small screen but as the cheapest Surface going this is by no means a compromised product.

Verdict

The Surface Go is a quiet triumph for Microsoft. The company has successfully distilled what is best about the Surface Pro (portability, usability, great design) into a smaller, cheaper computer that doesn’t suffer performance issues as a result.

We recommend spending more on the higher tier version that gets you more RAM and storage as in our tests it runs Windows 10 Home excellently. The annoyingly not included Type Cover is a necessity but it’s the best 2-in-1 keyboard in this size.

It’s a 2-in-1 that doesn’t make us wish we had a traditional laptop instead, and for that it should be commended. Creatives and media junkies won’t like the small screen but as the cheapest Surface going this is by no means a compromised product.

Specs

Microsoft Surface Go: Specs

  • Windows 10 S/Home/Pro
  • 10in 3:2 1800x1200 touchscreen with Surface Pen input
  • Intel Pentium Gold processor 4415Y
  • Intel HD Graphics 615
  • 4GB or 8GB RAM
  • 64GB or 128GB storage
  • 8Mp rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video
  • 5Mp front-facing camera with 1080p Skype HD video
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • MicroSD card reader
  • 9 hours video playback battery life
  • 245 mm x 175 mm x 8.3 mm
  • 522g (without Type Cover)