Tip: Skip the Entry-Level Surface Go Configuration

Posted on July 10, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 33 Comments

If you’re looking to send a child off to school with Surface Go, make sure you make a few smart upgrade decisions. The most obvious? Don’t even consider the base configuration.

Sure, the $400 price tag looks compelling. But the PC you’re getting at that price is not compelling, and it’s absolutely not future-proof. The biggest issue here is the same thing that doomed Surface 3 to poor performance: This entry-level Surface Go utilizes slow eMMC storage rather than speedy SSD storage. Combined that with just 4 GB of RAM and a low-end Pentium processor, and you have the makings of a disaster.

The good news? For just $150 more, you get some nice upgrades: 8 GB of RAM and more and faster storage: Not only does the higher-end Surface Go configuration double the storage from 64 GB to 128 GB, that storage is dramatically faster, since it is based on NVMe SSD technology. That’s a device that might actually make it through four years of high school or college.

That said, I still think that potential Surface Go customers should consider a few other factors when it comes to this device.

For starters, it’s small: The keyboard on its Type Covers is about 86 percent as big as a full-sized keyboard, so it won’t be a good choice for many adults, especially those who, like me, have larger hands.

The Pentium processor used in all Surface Go configurations is on the pokey side, though we’ll need to spend time with the PC in the real world before we fully understand the performance.

And Microsoft cut some other corners, as should be expected at this price. Surface Go doesn’t support on-screen Surface Dial, and it doesn’t offer the same buttery-smooth Surface Pen experience you’ll get more expensive Surface PCs. If those features are important to you, you should consider the slightly-more-expensive (but bigger and more capable) Surface Pro instead.

But if you do feel that Surface Go is right for you, just be sure to skip out on that base configuration. That one is a no-go, and the real base price of a Surface Go is a still-reasonable $550.


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Comments (33)

33 responses to “Tip: Skip the Entry-Level Surface Go Configuration”

  1. Tsang Man Fai

    Paul, I disagree that eMMC is so slow as you claimed. I have been using my Surface 3 (also with eMMC) for 3 years. It works very well. Apps launch quickly and the whole experience is smooth. As you as you don't use Surface Go for processing large amount of data, the base model is absolutely fine. With the much improved CPU, I am very optimistic of the performance of Surface Go, even for the 4GB base model.

    Your advice does not apply to average users like students in general.

  2. Awhispersecho

    The question then becomes if you're going to spend 550 on the higher end and than 100 bucks on the keyboard, should you just spend 50 bucks more and get the Core-M Surface Pro bundle. To me that would be a no Brainer. But I guess size would be the deciding factor and the small size of the Go might be necessary for some. But the 699 Core-M SP bundle and maybe even the 799 I5 bundle become a consideration once you look at spending 650 or so on the Go.

    I still feel like a college student should be looking at the SP and the market this is aimed at needs to be able to be all in on a good device for 400 bucks at the most. Keyboard and all. I just don't see this working for the intended market. But if it sells as well as the Surface 3 did I guess that's good enough. I think it did pretty decent numbers.

  3. skborders

    This is cheaper than the Surface 3 was. I believe it was 499 for the base model and 599 for the upgraded version, plus the pen and keyboard cover. So not a bad deal over all. Don’t know that I would replace my surface 3 with it though.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to skborders: I would. The option of the faster processor (Than the 3), 8G RAM, the full swing kickstand, Hello, USB-C, even Surface Connector (I have Surface Pro's), together make it seem upgrade worthy to me. I will wait for the LTE version, because that's what I have now. It has come in handy, and is convenient.

  4. Richard55

    with keyboard is a whopping 650!!!

    you'd have to be INSANE to pay that kind of money for an Atom rebrand device.

  5. Jhambi

    I agree with Paul. A chromebook with these specs would be fine, but windows has heft and once you start running multiple apps it will start to crawl. What would have been interesting is if Microsoft put windows lean on these and gave you the option of full windows on the higher spec.

  6. Lordbaal

    So for $550, I can get a used Surface Pro 4.

  7. F4IL

    For a bit of context, those are the prices in Germany. In short, i just can't see this being competitive, at least not in Europe.

  8. Daekar

    Great tip, Paul.

    I think the question everyone should be asking is, why did they bother with the eMMC configuration at all?

    • ReformedCtrlZ

      In reply to Daekar:

      I would imagine they wanted to get the base tier at the lowest possible cost. Although in this case it would have been better to eat the difference and put better parts in IMHO.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to Daekar:

      That is certainly what I'm wondering. Assume it had to do with hitting as low a price point as possible so they could at least be in a conversation in education.

    • eeisner

      In reply to Daekar:
      1. $399 is great for marketing. Probably couldn't hit that with an SSD
      2. They probably figure schools and others buying in bulk won't care. Increase margins
      3. An opportunity to upsell consumers. Apple did/does the same thing. No one is buying a 16gb iPhone, but they made one to have a lower starting price to get you in the door, then to upsell you on a 32gb, the iPhone they actually expect to sell.
    • Polycrastinator

      In reply to Daekar:

      Since you can run SATA over an M.2 connection, I'm mystified why they didn't go with a 64GB SATA SSD. It wouldn't have been the fast NVMe storage, but it would have been fast enough. eMMC will likely hobble the device in comparison with what could have been.

  9. bbold

    Good tip! Thanks Paul :D Now the question is.. as always... Alcantara red or blue? :D

  10. m_p_w_84

    Microsoft support the iPad so well that I really don’t see the need for them to make a competing device. The Surface Pro and Surface Book are excellent, but these mini versions (I own a Surface 3) just don’t do anything as good as an iPad and are terrible compared to the bigger Surface’s.

    If you have $550 your better of just getting a (often discounted) Surface Pro.

    I can only assume the discounts will get better when the new Pro comes out too.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to m_p_w_84: I have been trying to get Access to run on my iPad. Just having a heck of a time. Works fine on my Surface 3. How do you know these mini versions are terrible? I dont even think my current Surface 3 is terrible, for what I use it for, which is different than what I use my Surface Pro for.

  11. Tony Barrett

    If the bigger, faster 'Go' is the only one worth getting, and you still - at the least - need a keyboard, and possibly pen, we're now up to $750, which doesn't make it look anywhere near such good value. I just can't see parents buying into this, especially as so many schools now use Chromebooks. The Go is still too expensive, too little, too late. It looks fragile and is likely full of the usual Surface bugs. I'd avoid at all costs. I can buy a laptop at half the price with a bigger screen, full keyboard and better connectivity.

    • Richard55

      In reply to ghostrider:

      agreed. this suffers from "cheap bmw" syndrome. first people buy bmw's because they are not outfitted to take on the corolla. second people buy bmw's because they can afford them and bmw isn't on a humanitarian mission to let you have one. third bmw's are about pushing the edge, not racing to the bottom. What's next, a plastic surface for 299? Surface Lumia?

    • paulc543

      In reply to ghostrider:

      Totally agree. The $400 price tag is classic bait and switch. It also highlights the absurdity of the pricing on the keyboard covers and pen. Are we really to believe that the cost to manufacturer the covers and pen each represent fully 25% of that of the rest of the system?

      Microsoft kinda painted themselves into a corner in this respect. Since there's very little, if any, real difference between the covers for the Go and the rest of the Surface line, they can't really drop the price on just the Go keyboard. But what was merely an annoyingly high-priced accessory on a $1,000+ system is an intolerable one on a $400 system.

      Maybe I'm just being whiney, I just had the battery in my Surface Pro crap out, rendering the system near useless. I managed to separate the glued-on screen with only minor damage, but it remains to be seen if I can fix it and get it working again. Microsoft is following the unfortunate trend of throw-away electronics - premium-priced systems that have been specifically designed to prevent repair so a customer is left to buy a new one in a year or two.

      No thanks.

      • SvenJ

        In reply to ghostrider: "Are we really to believe that the cost to manufacturer the covers and pen each represent fully 25% of that of the rest of the system?" I don't see the logic here. You might argue they are overpriced to begin with, but the cost of the device you are putting them on would have no bearing on the cost of making the peripherals in the same manner as they are currently being made. It is the current pen, not a new mini one, and the Surface keyboards of various sizes, have always been about that price.
        • paulc543

          In reply to SvenJ:

          You really can't see the logic? Here goes:

          You buy a $1200 Surface Pro, which requires a $100 keyboard to really make it a useable system. Ok, it's annoying, but for $1300, you'll get a really capable, adaptable system.

          You buy a $400 Surface Go, which has pretty much the bare minimum specs required for a modestly useable system. You're not going to be doing much, if any, multitasking, and not running any major applications. On top of this, it still requires a keyboard to be a useable system, and from my experience, the pen is very handy. So now you need to spend 50% more on those two accessories, bringing your price up to $600... for a bare-minimum spec system. Worth it? Not really.

          Now, if Microsoft had priced the accessories more appropriately, maybe $50 for the keyboard cover and $30 for the pen, then a complete system for the Go would cost $480. Much easier to justify than $600.

          I never claimed the price of the system had a bearing on the cost to manufacturer the accessories. My point is that grossly overpricing necessary accessories destroys the value proposition of the system, and this is more pronounced the lower the price of the system.

          And the striking ILLOGIC is that Microsoft clearly wanted to attract the more price conscious buyer by designing and manufacturing the Go in the first place... but then wants to take them over the coals with the exorbitantly priced accessories. Makes no sense.

          • RobertJasiek

            In reply to paulc543:

            It is the same greed of Microsoft and other manufacturers when charging €150 extra per 128GB / 4 GB more worth €50, or €130 for LTE worth €5 for the hardware and €25 for testing of seemlessly working LTE together with the other hardware. I.e., €100 ripoff per increment, in some cases even much more than that and yet much more for planned obsolescense and astronomic repair prices.

            We can vote by not burning our money.

            Our problem is the oligopoly of quality mobile devices. Voting means building one's own PC, buying mobile crapware, buying the compromise entry models we would want to avoid, buying earlier generations of products when on clearance sale or refurbished, or waiting a couple of more years until the entry models become good enough for us.

  12. JustMe

    The upgrade to enhance longevity is to be expected, I suppose. I do wonder how many folks will do it, though, given that you are now at $550 with no keyboard (which, if I'm honest, I cant see many people buy this without, at least currently). I'll be interested in hearing what you think of the device once you get some hours on it, though I doubt I could use one as my daily driver. I will be curious to hear if the Store really is as big of a problem for this device as I think it will be.

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