A surprise hit, the Surface Go is a brilliant machine for those who seek a highly portable work companion
- Excellent keyboard
- Superb screen
- Performance can be slow at times
- Battery life isn’t as good as iPad Pro
Black Friday deal update: The 8GB Surface Go is now £70 cheaper
In the run up to Black Friday, Amazon has slashed the price of the Surface Go model we recommended in our review. As you’ll read below, this is definitely the version to buy, as we think the £380 version with 4GB RAM and 64GB eMMC storage will be too slow to be practical.
The good news is the latest Amazon offer brings the 8GB version within touching distance of the cheaper one, slashing the price from £510 to £440. That makes it an easy recommendation from us. Keep reading to find out why.
The Surface Go is a tablet like no other. Without the optional keyboard, it’s a 10in Windows tablet and you might wonder why anyone would buy it. Add the keyboard, however, and it’s transformed: imagine a lazy Hollywood movie where the leading lady removes her glasses to reveal the beauty beneath and you won’t be too far wrong.
Microsoft Surface Go review: What you need to know
Let’s get some basics out of the way first. This is a 10in Windows tablet with a seventh-generation Pentium Gold 4415Y processor inside, and Microsoft sells it in two configurations: one with 4GB of RAM and a 64GB eMMC drive, the other with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SATA 3 SSD.
The latter configuration is more expensive, but we wouldn’t recommend the former, lesser specification. When you’re running Windows 10, you need every ounce of performance you can get.
Microsoft Surface Go review: Price and competition
Effectively, then, you’re paying £509 for the higher specification tablet and a further £99 for the basic, black keyboard or £125 for the keyboard finished in fancy Alcantara. That adds up to at least £608 for the bundle, which is quite a lot of money.
In the context of the main competition, though, the price doesn’t look so bad. The recently-launched Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 is £599 plus £119 for the add-on keyboard, while the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is £619 plus £159 for the keyboard.
You could also buy a regular 9.7in iPad for £319 and buy a Bluetooth keyboard for it, too, but that doesn’t make the most elegant of working companions. Finally, should you suddenly decide that you want a premium Windows tablet, look no further than the wonderful Microsoft Surface Pro 6, starting from £979.
Microsoft Surface Go review: Design
Bereft of keyboard, there’s nothing special about the Surface Go’s design at all. At first glance, it’s almost indistinguishable from an iPad, with chunky black bezels surrounding the screen. There’s no Home button, though, with just a power button and volume up/down rockers on the right-hand edge.
Microsoft again goes its own route with its choice of connectors. Along with the proprietary magnetic connector that holds the keyboard in place, there’s a microSD slot, Surface Connect and USB Type-C port. Here, the USB Type-C port can be used as a display output or for storage and, as ever, I recommend you consider stowing a third-party USB-C port replicator in your bag.
One upside of the USB Type-C port is that you can also use it to charge the Surface Go. That’s a great boon because it means that if you forget to sling the Proprietary Microsoft power supply in your bag you may well be able to borrow someone else’s charger to keep it topped up.
Microsoft Surface Go review: Keyboard and touchpad
Microsoft doesn’t supply the Surface Go with a keyboard, so your first choice is which one to buy. There are four different colours, with the Signature keyboards costing £125 and coming in blue, burgundy and silver. For most people, though, the £100 default keyboard is surely the way to go: it still looks stylish and matches the black bezels of the tablet.
It’s also extremely enjoyable to type upon. The main keys are large enough that you shouldn’t hit their neighbours by mistake and, while it is small compared to a “proper” keyboard, I had no difficulties hitting the same level of touch-typing speeds as normal.
There’s a reasonable amount of travel on the keys and they don’t make much noise when you bash down; always a positive for a machine designed for use on your travels. I’m also a fan of the large, responsive touchpad, while the backlit keys mean it’s still usable in dim or dark conditions.
Naturally, the Surface Go uses a kickstand to support the screen in laptop mode, but this is one area where its size helps: even if you have relatively short legs you should find it possible to rest the Go on your lap and keep typing (although it’s a more pleasant experience on a table).
Microsoft Surface Go review: Display
The 10in screen makes Windows feel cramped. Poking at icons on the taskbar is fiddly (you’ll end up using the generously sized trackpad on the keyboard most of the time) and this is one consistent area of superiority for iOS and Android: they’re actually designed for fingers. Sure, you can tell Windows 10 to switch into Tablet mode, but it still feels like applying sticking plaster to a gaping wound.
Luckily, the screen itself is terrific. In terms of image quality, it’s right up there with the iPad, even if it falls behind the iPad Pro and its 120Hz display. A resolution of 1,800 x 1,200 translates into a sharp 217ppi and with a maximum brightness of 426cd/m2 it’s readable outside in all but the brightest outdoor conditions. We were pleasantly surprised by its colour accuracy, too: a respectable 90% sRGB gamut coverage was backed up by a superb average Delta E of 1.44.
Purely for academic reasons, I settled into a prolonged Netflix session, looking for lost details in shadows and any other defects that might spoil the viewing pleasure, and the Surface Go sailed through. It helps that the audio from the two side-mounted speakers is surprisingly strong, with great handling of speech, but there’s a 3.5mm jack built into the tablet if you want to plug in headphones.
Microsoft Surface Go review: Performance
Even with the higher specs, the Surface Go isn’t going to win any awards for speed. It scored 2,050 in the single-core Geekbench 4 test, rising to 4,026 in the multicore portion. That appears embarrassingly slow when compared to Apple’s iPad and iPad Pro devices and is demolished by every comparable Android device, too. Nor did it shine in our own Windows-based benchmarks, with an overall score of 20 being one of the slowest we’ve seen this year.
But benchmarks are just benchmarks. What you should care about is how well this machine performs in everyday use and, on that front, I have few complaints. Do web pages spring to life as quickly as on more powerful machines? No, but they’re not far behind.
Likewise, it’s fine for tapping away in Word, rendering PDFs and editing the occasional photo. I wouldn’t want to edit a movie on the Microsoft Surface Go but for the daily tasks 90% most of us carry out each day it’s fine.
Don’t expect miraculous battery life, either. Windows 10 is inherently a more power-intensive OS to run than iOS or Android and, because you have a full x86 processor inside, it consumes more electricity than the ARM chips inside its rivals. To be fair to Intel, the gap is closing – the Pentium Gold 4415Y has a maximum TDP of 6W – but the Go still gets warm if you push it.
How does that translate into real-world battery life? Microsoft claims up to nine hours, but that’s optimistic: it only lasted for 6hrs 44mins in our video battery rundown test with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2 and flight mode engaged. That looks bad compared to, say, the iPad Pro, but as ever it depends on your needs.
If you’re going to be in meetings all day and occasionally taking notes on the keyboard (or using the optional Surface Pen, then that level of battery life is fine. If you’re sitting in economy class and want to alternate between work and watching movies for that cross-Atlantic flight, you’ll be a mite disappointed.
Microsoft Surface Go review: Operating system
The Surface Go is pre-supplied in S mode, which means you can only install apps from the Microsoft Store, thus adding a layer of security but also restricting you to Edge rather than Chrome but it’s easy to switch to Windows 10 Home.
If other web browsers were included in S mode then I’d be tempted to stick with it. I like the fundamental security it offers, even if Microsoft still tells you to run antivirus software (whilst emphasising that Windows Defender is absolutely fine). The Microsoft Store is slowly improving, too. If you’re hoping to search for a beloved program, however, then you’ll likely be disappointed.
And note, too, that while previous Surface machines supplied in S mode upgraded to Windows 10 Pro, that will be an extra £120 here. Microsoft is also stingy with Office. Where previous Surface devices have come with a year’s subscription to Office 365 Personal, here you get a 30-day trial. You can buy it for £20 as part of a bundle at time of purchase but that still sticks in the craw.
Microsoft Surface Go review: Verdict
So where does this leave the Surface Go? In a unique position, which has its pluses and negatives. On the negative side, you will never get the same range of keenly priced tablet-focused apps as on iOS. The apps you can buy from Microsoft Store are mostly repackaged pieces of software designed for Windows with a mouse and keyboard, not to be used with touch.
You also can’t buy the same range of third-party accessories, so you’ll be paying through the nose for the Surface Pen (£100), Surface Go Keyboard (£100 to £125) and Dial (£90). Likewise for power supplies, where a second Surface Go adapter costs £35.
I must also reiterate that I’ve reviewed the high-end model with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. I’d steer clear of the 4GB/64GB Surface Go for numerous reasons. My 128GB machine had around 110GB of usable storage, so you’d only get 45GB of space with the lesser spec. More annoyingly, though, it will feel much more sluggish in use: 4GB of RAM is right at the limit of Windows 10’s usability, while an eMMC drive is also a poor choice.
With those caveats in place, there are numerous positives that earn the Surface Go a Recommended award. The keyboard is truly excellent and turns this machine into a fully fledged laptop when you need it. If you’re the sort of person who’s been frustrated by tablets before, because they can’t do all the things you want, then we urge you to take a look at the Surface Go. It really is a tablet like no other.
- Processor-Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Pentium 4415Y
- Memory slots (free)-1 (0)
- Max memory-8GB
- Dimensions-245 x 175 x 8.3mm
- Sound-Realtek HD Audio (3.5mm headset port)
- Pointing device-Touchscreen
- Screen size-10in
- Screen resolution-1,200 x 1,800
- Graphics adaptor-Intel HD Graphics 615
- Graphics outputs-1x USB-C
- Graphics memory-1GB
- Total storage-128GB
- Optical drive type-N/A
Ports and expansion
- USB ports-1x USB-C
- Memory card reader-microSD
- Other ports-N/A
- Operating system-Windows 10 in S mode
- Operating system restore option-Restore partition