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Microsoft Surface Go Review: Solid Modular Design, Tablet Performance

The newest addition to the Surface lineup makes the functionality of a tablet-laptop hybrid more affordable, but there's a few caveats.
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In the past, Microsoft’s Surface lineup has been lauded for its sharp design and versatility. Unfortunately, the relatively high cost of entry has kept the sleek devices from potential mass adoption. That might be about to change, though.

Positioned as a more affordable alternative to the Surface Pro, the Surface Go could be Microsoft’s answer to the iPad Mini. In many ways, the company is mimicking Apple’s strategy of making flagship features available to a wider audience in a less expensive and highly portable form factor.

Related: Microsoft Surface Pro Review

With great build quality and a robust feature set, the Surface Go looks like it could be a viable contender. But has Microsoft cut any corners in order to achieve that goal? Read on to find out.

Special thanks to Microsoft for providing a Surface Go for this review!

Microsoft Surface Go

Reviewed by Bradley Iger
4.2
    Design 4.7
  • Build Quality 4.6
  • Performance 3.8
  • Cost 4.0
  • Overall Value 4.1

Pros

  • Eye-catching design
  • A port for every occasion
  • MicroSD slot for expanded storage
  • Available keyboard, mouse and pen accessories expand versatility

Cons

  • Sluggish CPU
  • Price climbs quickly with optional accessories
Buy Now from Microsoft

Microsoft Surface Go Specifications

  • Dual core 1.6GHz Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y CPU
  • Intel HD Graphics 615 GPU
  • 8GB RAM (as tested)
  • 10-inch, 1,800 x 1,200 resolution touchscreen display
  • 128GB storage (as tested)
  • USB-C 3.1, MicroSDXC card reader, Surface Connect port, headphone jack
  • 5MP front-facing webcam, 8MP rear-facing camera
  • 1.15 pounds

Form Meets Function

Although the Surface Go is the least expensive device in Microsoft’s Surface lineup, you wouldn't know by the way it looks. Both the design and finish are up to par with its more expensive brethren. Minimalist aesthetic paired with high quality materials are the order of the day.

Diagonally smaller than the Surface Pro by 2.3 inches, the Go shares much of the Pro’s look, but with softer, more rounded edges. Like the Pro, the Surface Go features a sturdy, adjustable kick stand to make work and play a more comfortable experience when a desk or table is available.

Along with a MicroSD card reader, Surface Connect port, and a headphone jack, the Surface Go also boasts a USB-C port — a first for the Surface tablet lineup. There's also a magnetized dock to connect the available Type Cover accessory, which does double duty as a keyboard and screen protector. Right off the bat, the Surface Go scores points for a design that allows for easy storage upgrades, charging options and overall flexibility.

Opting for the Type Cover accessory adds a keyboard that, while a bit cramped, offers full-sized keys with snappy response. It also features a generously-sized touchpad, which transforms the device into a tablet-laptop hybrid of sorts, improving productivity overall.

Microsoft also offers a matching Surface Mobile Mouse ($34.99) and Surface Pen ($99), the latter of which boasts 4096 pressure sensitivity levels. While I'd consider the Type Cover (starting at $99) to be an essential add-on for the Surface Go, the mouse and pen are just nice accessories to have around, but ultimately unnecessary.

A Performance Balancing Act

Perhaps the aspect that most clearly distinguishes the Surface Go from other tablet rivals like the iPad Mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 is Surface’s use of Windows 10 S.

Ostensibly a version of Windows 10 tweaked for tablet use, the prospect of desktop functionality paired with the Surface Go’s ease of expandability should be a slam dunk for Microsoft. In practice, however, it’s more of a mixed bag.

Although Windows S utilizes much of the desktop OS’s familiar look and layout, it limits software installation to only apps available in the Microsoft Store. Surface Go owners have the option of converting the OS into a proper Windows 10 Home installation from with the tablet’s settings, but after a few minutes of use, it quickly becomes clear why Microsoft opted to default to the former.

Computing power in the Surface Go comes from Intel’s Pentium Gold 4415Y processor, a dual-core chip operating at 1.6GHz. Paired up with the 8GBs of RAM in our tester, the Surface Go is reasonably responsive when operating within Microsoft’s app suite. But when called upon to perform tasks outside that realm, it doesn’t take long for the tablet to start to sweat.

For their part, Microsoft says the decision to go the Pentium route rather than with something from the Core series of Intel chips came down to battery life, which they peg at around nine hours of video playback. In testing, I saw no reason to refute that claim, so if battery longevity is a higher priority to you than sheer horsepower, you’ll probably applaud Microsoft’s decision to go that route.

Should You Buy the Microsoft Surface Go?

Whether the Surface Go is the right choice for you really comes down to your needs from a device like this. This tablet-laptop hybrid has a lot going for it in terms of design and modularity, which should make it great for productivity, in theory at least. Unfortunately, the internal hardware ultimately limits its functionality beyond typical tablet-related tasks. It’s also worth noting that the price climbs rapidly when you start adding accessories. This top-spec tester with the Type Cover, mouse and pen retails for more than $800 on Microsoft’s site.

Shop Surface Go at Microsoft

Prices start at $399.99 for 4GB of RAM and 64 gigs of storage, while stepping up to 8 gigs of RAM and 128GB of storage will set you back $549.99 when purchased from Microsoft directly. We have seen the 8GB model selling for as little as $499.99 on Slickdeals, though, so be sure to shop around before you buy.

Additionally, check our Microsoft Store page for all of the latest discounts and deals, or set a Deal Alert to be instantly notified as soon as a Surface Go deal pops up.


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About the Author
Bradley Iger Contributor

Relocating to Los Angeles after competing his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, Brad translated his obsession with cars and background in information technology into a unique journalistic voice, lending his efforts to MTV Networks, Autoweek, Hot Rod Magazine, and others. When not behind the wheel, Brad can often be found standing too close to a dimed guitar amp, out on a cycling trail, or breaking something just so he can put it back together.


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