Hands-On with Microsoft Surface Go

Posted on July 9, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 123 Comments

Those familiar with our travel schedule will recall that Brad and I traveled to New York City two weeks ago to attend a meeting. That meeting, as it turns out, was with the Surface team at Microsoft’s flagship retail store on 5th Avenue. More specifically, in the loft space above the store.

After a brief recap of the current Surface product line, we were shown Microsoft’s newest Surface PC, the Surface Go. And the reveal was handled deftly: There was a black sheet of sorts on a long table at the end of the room, but Microsoft’s Natalia Urbanowicz pulled the Surface Go out of a purse that I assumed had been left nonchalantly on a chair.

That move calls to mind Apple’s famous manila folder trick with the MacBook Air. But it was also more effective, since that is how many people would indeed choose to carry Surface Go with them out in the world. And it neatly highlights a key benefit of this small PC, it’s portability.

It’s tempting to compare Surface Go to Surface 3, Microsoft’s previous low-cost tablet. I get that, and I do provide some comparisons along those lines elsewhere. But my first thoughts on seeing Surface Go were of the newest Surface Pro, which remains one the most refined premium 2-in-1s on the market. And on first blush, Surface Go really did appear to deliver on the same look, feel, and quality that Surface customers have come to expect, albeit at higher price points.

The design is class, still. Surface Go looks like a slightly smaller 2017-era Surface Pro, with the same magnesium build quality, same full friction hinge with its 165 degrees of travel and Studio mode support, and the same Surface Connect port for power and expansion.

I asked about that. Like many, I had assumed that Microsoft would be moving to USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. But on the other hand, doing so on an entry-level device did seem like overkill.

The answer I got was that Microsoft perceives Surface Connect as a core asset and benefit, and that its customers expect that compatibility as they move forward. This is important in business and education markets, of course, but also with consumers.

No matter: With its low-end specs—described at the time as being a Kaby Lake-era Pentium chip, 4 or 8 GB of RAM, and 64 or 128 GB of storage—no Surface Go owner is going to want to drive two 4K displays anyway. But that Surface Connect port lets customers use the normal Surface Dock, as they might with Surface Pro, Surface Book, or Surface Laptop. And there is a USB-C port on the side, as is the case with Surface Book 2.

The device itself is smaller—a bit smaller than Surface 3, and smaller still than Surface Pro—and quite light. (I believe it was 1 pound for the PC and .5 pounds for a Type Cover.) It is also the thinnest Surface PC that Microsoft has ever made, and I was shown how they’re going to have to start rethinking the kickstand if they wish to get any thinner. They are literally running into the limits of how thin a Surface can be, given that kickstand and the width of a headphone port.

(Fun fact: The headphone jack is never in the same location as the kickstand so that the device can be as thin as possible.)

Thanks to its low-end parts, Surface Go is fanless and silent, and it lacks the ventilation ports that you see on Surface Pro and Surface Book. But the device isn’t just smaller and thinner: Microsoft has also taken the opportunity to improve the design when compared to Surface Pro. For example, the edges are less sharp, and more rounded, and the result is a more pleasing overall shape.

Microsoft had a number of peripherals on hand, too, including different colored versions of its new Type Covers and Surface Mobile Mouse.

Basically, you can get a black Surface Go Type Cover, or go with the Signature Edition and choose between Platinum, Burgundy, and Cobalt Blue, each in high-quality Alcantara. The keyboard seems small—I believe I was told it was about 86 percent full-sized—and would be difficult for me to use reliably.

Surface Go Type Cover (top) vs. Surface Pro Type Cover (bottom)

But there are some nice new design touches here, too, including a continuation of that rounded look from the PC itself, here seen on the corner keys, and a nice touch. The touchpad is also larger compared to the overall size of the Type Cover when compared to that for Surface Pro.

The Surface Mobile Mouse is likewise available in these same colors, and it appears to be a colorized and slightly redesigned version of the Surface Bluetooth Mouse.

Surface Go is also compatible with the Surface Pen, which remains an optional extra purchase. However, when I asked, I was told that Surface Go does not include the Pixelsense Accelerator chip found in Surface Pro and Surface Book 2. That said, it still supports 4096 levels of pressure and tilt.

While I could tell immediately that this particular PC would never be suitable as a daily driver (for me), its appeal is obvious. And I think there are many families, students, and even mobile workers of various kinds that would be delighted to buy such a PC.

We didn’t meet with Ralf Groene, but he was randomly in town for a family event and dropped by to say hi

And on that note, I hope to review Surface Go soon. Microsoft said that review units would be available in late July, a timeframe that unfortunately corresponds to this summer’s home swap. Worst case, I will take a longer look at Surface Go when I get back home in early August. If I’m lucky, however, I can bring it with me on the trip, which would be ideal.

More soon.


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