Surface Go Sets the Standard for Windows on a Budget

Posted on July 10, 2018 by Mehedi Hassan in Microsoft Surface with 41 Comments

So you are at a store, looking to get a new laptop to get some work done on the go, or for school. There is a ton of options. You could either go for expensive MacBooks, cheap Chromebooks, iPads of various kinds, premium Windows laptops, or budget Windows laptops.

Let’s say you have a small budget. Chances are, you will most likely go for a budget Windows laptop, a low-end iPad, or a Chromebook. You don’t want an iPad as you don’t want to limit yourself to a mobile OS. Or a Chromebook and its limited selection of web apps and the small collection of Android apps that are properly optimized for the desktop.

That leaves you with budget Windows laptops. Right now, the only good options you will find are cheap Windows laptops from companies like Acer, Asus, Dell, and the like. These low-end budget Windows laptops have excellent prices, but you will be making a ton of compromises, ranging from quality to long-term reliability. And that’s where Microsoft’s new Surface Go comes in.

Surface Go is here to set a new standard for Windows on a budget.

With a 10-inch PixelSense display wrapped in a beautiful, light, rounded magnesium body, the Surface Go looks stunning for a $399 device. The device also includes other features you’d usually expect to see on premium Windows devices, including things like Windows Hello, a touchscreen, precision glass trackpad, and a good keyboard. For $399, you are getting a lot of premium features that you wouldn’t get on something like a cheap Acer or Asus laptop. And that’s exactly what’s so compelling about the Surface Go — at least to me.

Sure, the good keyboard and the trackpad comes at an extra cost of $100 to $130, but it’s worth it. It’s not a full-sized keyboard, but Microsoft has re-designed the Type Cover to fit the smaller 10-inch form factor, with a new scissor-switch mechanical, backlit keyset and 1 mm of key travel. Combined with the large precision glass trackpad, that extra money is completely worth spending if you need a keyboard with the Surface Go. But that doesn’t mean the Surface Go is useless without a keyboard — Microsoft says it has worked with some of its partners to make sure apps run well on the touchscreen. And it has even adapted parts of Windows 10, like Cortana, to offer improved interactions on the small 10-inch touchscreen.

Yes, the entry-level Surface Go is quite limiting with the 4GB RAM and 64GB of slow eMMC storage. But if you are just going to use it to browse the web and take notes, that should be fine in most cases. And a future-proof experience will require you to spend an extra $150. With the $549 Surface Go model, you are getting 8GB RAM and 128GB of fast SSD storage, which is more than good enough for any student or a casual consumer. Add the keyboard, and that brings the price up to $649. And that’s where things get a little tricky.

At $649, the Surface Go is essentially competing with Microsoft’s Surface Pro, and Apple’s entry-level iPad Pro. For $649, you may even be able to get a relatively powerful and high-quality Windows device from companies like Dell or HP, but Microsoft’s big bet here is practically on the entry-level Surface Go.

With the $399 pricing, Microsoft is not only providing a compelling, high-quality option for people with low budgets, but it’s also giving them the option to get more power at a higher price. The Surface Go is more about making Surface’s high-quality products accessible to more consumers, and the entry-level model does exactly that. Even at the base level, you are getting premium features like Windows Hello that aren’t usually included in low-end Windows laptops. More importantly, a ton of Windows laptops come with miserable build quality and poor plastic designs, and they struggle to even run basic applications. Microsoft’s Surface Go, on the other hand, doesn’t even look like a cheap tablet from the outside. Yes, it may be a bit limited in the inside, especially over the long run, but you are getting a higher-quality product that’s almost impossible to find anywhere else in the market.

Here is to hoping that Microsoft’s PC maker partners take the Surface Go as inspiration to adapt and improve their own low-end devices. Because honestly, there is a ton of room for improvement in this sector. I have tried a bunch of cheap Windows devices, and almost all of them have poor quality manufacturing; it’s embarrassing.

And that is exactly why I believe Microsoft’s Surface Go is the new standard for Windows on a budget. If you are looking for a cheap Windows device for school or to get some work done while on the move, this is the way to go. No pun intended.

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Comments (42)

42 responses to “Surface Go Sets the Standard for Windows on a Budget”

  1. dsharp75

    Except the average parent looks for $300 as the sweet spot for their child's device. You could even squeak by adding the keyboard for the extra $100 at that price point. Its simply too high for a glorified 'premium' tablet. Nothing against the Surface group, which are excellent engineers and hardware persons - I believe the pricing is Apple-isque and not even close to being aggressive, especially if they're trying to get mass adoption.

    Only if kids had the "oooh" factor over the ipad, which this doesn't have from the start being a year too late, would this have a chance of significant market assertion.

    I'm a big supporter of Surface and MS, but this, much like a laptop are safe products that are overpriced and technically aren't Surface device per se. Surface breaks ground and takes risks - these are overpriced same old, same olds with the Surface name slapped on.

    Just my 3 cents.

  2. YouWereWarned

    They are going to use up those rolls of Alcantara® if it kills them.

  3. skane2600

    Seems like most reviewers want to bury the lead: The fact that the Surface Go is shipped with Windows 10 S mode which it means it doesn't run Windows programs "out-of-the-box". Although you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro (is it still free?) is the base model powerful enough to effectively run it?

    • Jonas Barkå

      In reply to skane2600:

      1. UWP apps are "Windows programs".


      2. Win 10 Pro is no heavier to run than Home.


      3. There is no upgrade, just a setting and a reboot to turn off S-mode. If you struggle to turn it off, you shouldn't.

      • skane2600

        In reply to Havoc:

        1) Sorry, no revisionist history. UWP apps aren't "Windows programs" as they have been understood for decades. They aren't "universal' either but that's another story.


        2) Windows Home has nothing to do with Surface Go.


        3) If there was a narrow technical definition of "upgrade" we could argue about whether a particular process qualifies, but there isn't. Going from S mode to Pro represents a transition to more functionality and thus it's an upgrade regardless of the method used to achieve it.



    • YouWereWarned

      In reply to skane2600:

      I have two 4GB Acer notebooks languishing in the Goodwill-or-bust box that say NO.

  4. RobertJasiek

    I suppose the exterior chassis has a good build quality but we need to await reliability of the firmware. Build quality is also about repairability and battery replaceability; here the Surface Go fails and I fear has the same astronomic service prices as the Surface Pro. Do not praise the exterior whilst hiding the interior.

  5. SYNERDATA

    Microsoft could hardly have done a better job of making this product. It is important.

  6. glenn8878

    Budget Windows Laptops usually include a Core i3 or i5 with a 500 GB hard drive, which is more than adequate compared to the worse spec of the entry level Surface Go with Pentium processor and 64 GB storage. In fact, the 64 GB storage will be half full once all the necessary software is loaded. The entry level Surface Go could not be a worse product for entry level casual computer users.

    • jrickel96

      In reply to glenn8878:

      This isn't a laptop nor can it fit a traditional HDD. Nor do budget machines come with Core i series chips. They tend to be Celeron or Pentium. Currently the cheapest Core i3 is about $400. No touchscreen, last gen chip, low 768p resolution, slow 5400rpm HDD. Larger screen, less portable.


      64GB is not great, but it's entry level and will suffice for the type of programs that schools will run on them. That's the target audience for the entry device. That or people that want a portable experience for doing light tasks. If you primarily use a device to do a little work, browse the web, stream some videos, etc then it works just fine.


      This currently line of Pentium chips is actually pretty good. Low power consumption and speeds roughly on par with a Core i3. The primary difference is it does not have the ability to ramp up the clock rate. So it's not a machine made for intensive tasks - but I don't expect a 10 inch tablet to be generally used for that.


      The 128GB versions should do very well with more RAM and faster SSD, likely m.2.


      This is an intriguing option to me, especially the LTE variants that are coming. I have an iPad Pro and a much more powerful laptop for work. I also travel. I'd love to have built in LTE for the file management I need to do on our backend. I can't do it on an iPad. Downloading large builds and them putting them where they need to be is not something that machine is capable of. Built in LTE is much faster than using a hot spot or tethering. So this would be a nice device to be able to take care of back end management on the fly via LTE almost anywhere I travel and do so for a much lower price than the Surface Pro. It's also small enough that I'd likely just leave the iPad at home.

    • Mike Widrick

      In reply to glenn8878:


      For consumers, the touchscreen and the stylus are better value-adds than a bigger SSD. We're not using these for AAA games or for decades old backups, so exactly what would all that storage hold? 64gb should be enough for a tablet. How many people's phones have more storage than that? These are secondary devices, realistically. Yes, windows should be smaller, no argument, and more is always better. But the microSD option is absolutely valid, because a tablet's extra storage typically is for media, and the mSD is perfect for that.


      The i3/i5 chip thing is a red herring, irrelevant at the $400 tablet cost. Maybe Intel's integrated graphics are the issue, but, again, no one is AAA gaming on this and Pentium is probably as good as an Android ARM chip for graphics. So, again, good enough for a small tablet.


      If Intel can't make a decent affordable chip, that's the issue and, yes, MS needs to have a first party ARM offering. But this is a compelling use of an Intel chip, given the compatibility advantage.

      • glenn8878

        In reply to solomonrex:

        Yes , consumers have no need for a microSD because they have no need for the entry level Surface Go. MicroSD is only interesting to power users who are too cheap to buy the better Surface Go and have lots of music or video files to store and listen/watch endlessly.


        Cost is still a factor to purchase a PC. If you’re unwilling to consider that you can buy an Core i3 or i5 with the same amount as a Surface Go, then go ahead and waste your money on a product that is only useful for 1 or 2 years max. Bringing up GAMING is a red herring. Intel Core chips are affordable.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to glenn8878:

      Realistically, a person would use the removable MicroSD card for data storage where they're not storing in the cloud.

      • glenn8878

        In reply to MikeGalos:

        Adding an extra $20 for the MicroSD, which may not work as seamlessly as a large hard drive. And add the keyboard for $99. So you're already paying another $119 plus tax for make it somewhat equivalent to a budget laptop, which it isn't as it will still be unpowered and have little storage space. Many will just give it up after a few months. Buying the next one up will cost $549, plus keyboard for $99. In the budget PC world, this will buy you a mid-range laptop that costs $648. $648 is more than adequate to get you very good specs.

        Microsoft should instead sell a budget laptop so people don't feel like they are hurt with horrible performance and storage compromises. Budget laptops also come with touch screens so they can attempt to be tablet without the heartburn that comes with an unattainable goal.

        • MikeGalos

          In reply to glenn8878:

          This is a computer running full Windows not a cell phone or tablet with a toy operating system so a MicroSD card is just another drive. Of course it will work seamlessly. And a MicroSD card is massively cheaper for an end-user to buy as needed than ordering the largest internal storage they anticipate ever needing at build time at manufacturer's drive prices.

          • glenn8878

            In reply to MikeGalos:

            A second hard drive doesn’t make it seamless. You have to know where you placed your files. Programs will default to the C: drive, which would normally hold your files except when you put it in the MicroSD. So this adds another complication to a tablet that should be easy to use. Plus it’s a tablet that requires a mouse to do file management.

            • truerock2

              In reply to glenn8878:

              A second HDD, SSD or network shared drive is kind of an automatic for a Windows 10 PC. My kids all have external HDDs or flash drives for all the multi-media files and Steam games they accumulate.


              Now... I must admit that none of the Windows 10 PCs have HDDs as a primary drive... they all have SSDs - so, there is always a space constraint on the primary drive. This has been true for about 6 years when SSDs became popular. When SSDs became standard in Windows PCs... then it was an automatic that a secondary storage drive with lots more capacity had to be installed. Which is easy as sticking a flash drive in a USB port. We have standardize on SDXC cards for speed. We also started using only type-C USB flash drives so we can quickly spot a fast drive.


          • skane2600

            In reply to MikeGalos:

            Who mentioned a smart phone or not running full Windows? He compared full Windows laptops with the Surface Go. With the exception of tablet capability it's an Apples to Apples comparison.

          • truerock2

            In reply to MikeGalos:

            I agree. My experience is you always put a SDXC card in an ultra-portable for storage. Plus...because SD cards are removable, you have an easy data-backup process.

  7. MikeGalos

    The key thing pointed to in the Microsoft Mechanics video on one of the other articles that people don't seem to be getting is that while Surface Go is a great choice for a casual, small machine for consumers, its real strength is that it's a fanless tablet capable of running both classic Windows applications and new Windows applets.


    Add to that the mention of ruggedized-to-industrial-standards cases, a battery that lasts for a shift, NFC communications and you have the next generation of industrial and medical computers.

    • dsharp75

      In reply to MikeGalos:i agree, but its targeted for education and some lite business users without focusing on the inherit benefits of choosing this product, its build and its immediate accessibility to a plethora of existing real apps. Theres no apparent use for the NFC, though it would be sweet to have. While the build may be superior, these are likely to be the most abused Surfaces ever considering the intended clients.


      • MikeGalos

        In reply to dsharp75:

        Well, targeted is a bit self-selecting since the industrial customers will be getting their information not from the general press or the computer industry fan press but from the news sources from their industry and from their vertical market application vendors and integrators. And, of course, the larger industrial customers already have their own account management teams both from Microsoft and their vertical market vendors.

    • skane2600

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      So after the Surface Go is upgraded would you argue that such a device with 4GB RAM and 64GB of eMMC is adequate storage and power to effectively run Windows Pro and Win32 programs?

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to skane2600:

        Storage is limited by the MicroSD card so I'd certainly say that a shop floor device with 4GB of RAM and 1TB of internal storage plus WiFi access to corporate servers is plenty. And if it's not then the 8GB of RAM model is. And a company knows what software they put on their shop-floor systems before buying the hardware so they'll know which model to buy up front.

        • skane2600

          In reply to MikeGalos:

          So that's the standard for reviewing computing devices now? You just assume that the user is going to max out the peripherals and evaluate on that basis. So if you can add a 5 TB usb drive to a cheap laptop we are going to consider it a 5 TB laptop in evaluating its usefulness?


          This is a discussion of the Surface Go as a budget standard, so let's stick with the base model and what it actually is delivered with.

  8. Lordbaal

    No, it's not about the Pentium.

    You say Pentium, I am not interested. At least put in a better CPU.

  9. truerock2

    My son asked for an ultra-portable-notebook recommendation so he didn't have to take his full-size Windows 10 notebook PC to every class he was taking that semester. My other son coincidentally asked for the same recommendation which would be used in a pickup truck to log delivery information for his business (it would be replacing an old iPad). They both wanted to run Microsoft Office (Outlook, Excel, Word and maybe PowerPoint.


    I ended up discovering the fascinating market segment of $200 Windows 10 ultra-portable notebooks. To me, this could be an iPad killer for many applications. We ended up buying a couple of Dell Inspirion 11-3180 notebooks - partly because I caught them on sale for $199 at Best Buy (limit - one per customer). Ultimately each son ended up putting 128GB SDXC flash storage cards in their notebooks to increase storage. One son bought a $10 USB external 802.11ac wifi adapter with an antenna to extend the wifi range.


    I think this market segment could be huge.

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