Two weeks ago, during a weekend when I was suffering from a terrible fever, I impulsively bought a Surface Go. Look, in my defence, I was feeling under the weather, it was on sale and I had been eyeing the damn thing ever since 2018. I also really like the direction Microsoft is going with their Surface lineup.
Surface Go has been on sale for the past couple of weeks, and there are rumours that an updated model might launch later this year. I figured it probably wasn’t worth waiting until later this year. It’s also one of the more premium affordable laptops you can buy.
If you look at the specifications of this thing, you’d think not many people should purchase this in 2020. Yes, this small 10-inch tablet & laptop from Microsoft comes with a comparatively slow CPU inside. If you have a flagship phone, it’s (probably) faster than this Pentium. That doesn’t make it a slouch, though.
With a dual-core 1.6 GHz1 Pentium processor inside I expected this thing to be slow, and it is — at times it will take a moment longer than you might be used to, in order to perform relatively simple tasks. That being said, I thought that the performance would be worse and was left generally impressed.2 For a cheap computer — and let’s face it, this is one — it performs quite well. Web browsers tend to perform the worst on this machine. (Another reason to ditch Electron apps!)
So, why would you want this over an iPad? Well, if you’re looking for a small, portable computer that runs a full operating system that can run any software... then Surface is a great pick. For most people, this isn’t a device they should get. Most people only need a simple tablet running a mobile OS. For those people, better battery life and mobile app access is more important.
I’d recommend the Surface Go only to folks who need a powerful operating system. If you feel restricted by an iPad running iPadOS, this is a great alternative. For example, I love my iPad for content consumption, but if I need a real operating system with no restrictions, this device feels less limiting and allows me to more easily do e.g. work on my website. At the 400 dollar price point, this directly competes with the budget iPad.3
I’ve already talked about Surface before on this website, and the usual caveats remain. It’s a computer running Windows, so if you’re solely a Mac person, then this won’t change your mind. Like the previous post, I do offer you two solutions to issues I found to be annoying:
- Windows 10 comes with a ton of bloatware (solution)
- Intel Display Power Saving Technology is turned on by default and you can’t turn it off easily (solution)
Windows still has other issues too: search doesn’t work well and font scaling isn’t perfect, but macOS has recently had software issues as well, unfortunately. It seems no vendor is truly free of software issues on powerful, desktop operating systems.
As far as the hardware is concerned, besides the CPU, the rest of this device is quite good, especially the body and the kickstand. The kickstand is easily my favourite feature of this new Surface. It’s fantastic. Overall, it’s my favourite feature of the entire Surface lineup, hands down. In various other ways, this hardware does feel a little dated. For example, it has rather large bezels. It is also heavier than its competitors.
So, if you’re looking for a tiny, portable laptop and you don’t need a 13-inch laptop, there aren’t many options out there for you that aren’t Chromebooks or cheap plastic laptops. This, as far as I'm concerned, is clearly the superior option.
Because this is a Pentium, it does not support Turbo Boost, which means the absolute maximum clock speed is 1.6 GHz. Also notable: for some reason, if I charge the Surface Go via a USB-C dock and connect another device, the clock speed of the CPU drops to 400 MHz (0.4 GHz) which makes the machine pretty much unusable. I am unsure whether this is a thermal constraint, but I’m guessing it is. Charging the Surface using the included charger is recommended instead. ↩
My Surface Go scored 410 points (single-core) and 984 points (multi-core score) respectively, on Geekbench 5. That makes it about as powerful as the Snapdragon 670 inside the mid-range Samsung Tab S5e. ↩
An important comparison point is also going to be battery life: this Surface lasts for roughly six (6) hours on a battery charge, whereas the iPad can get to ten (10) hours of screen-on time. As far as the keyboard accessories go, the Surface Go has a better keyboard. It probably also has a better keyboard than the MacBook Pro, but that's another story. ↩