Consumer Reports Recommends Surface Again … But Not Surface Go

Posted on September 27, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 28 Comments

Over a year after its stunning put-down of Microsoft’s Surface, Consumer Reports is once again recommending the PCs to readers. Well, most of them.

“Microsoft Surface laptops are now eligible for ‘recommended’ status in Consumer Reports ratings,” the publication writes. “Last year, we removed that designation because of poor predicted reliability in comparison with laptops from other brands.”

This is big news, folks: Consumer Reports is a trusted and reliable consumer advocate, and its recommendations matter. It’s also worth pointing out that Microsoft’s Apple-like response of the time, to fall back on customer satisfaction, which is not an indication of real-world reliability, fell very far off the mark.

And to be clear, those Surface Book and Pro 4 reliability issues were very real. In fact, I coined the term Surfacegate to describe the problems.

But it is very clear that Microsoft’s more recent Surface releases—starting with Surface Laptop, and continuing through Surface Pro (2017), and Surface Book 2—are far more reliable than the Surface Book (1) and Surface Pro 4 that were responsible for Consumer Reports dropping its recommendation in 2017. (Surface Go is too new for me to have an opinion about its reliability.)

But now Consumer Reports has a new set of data to work from: A year later, its readers have responded to newer surveys about the products they’ve purchased. And the data matches my contention about the newer PCs: They are far more reliable now.

“The Surface Pro (2017), Surface Laptop, and Surface Book 2 do score well enough to be recommended,” Consumer Reports proclaims.

However, Surface Go does not. Why? For the reason I’ve told people to ignore the product: Poor performance and battery life.

“Why did the Surface Go fall short of being recommended? Mainly because its performance falls below what consumers can find in a number of other laptops, which can result in some lag when performing tasks like cycling through different windows,” the publication reports.

“We weigh processing power heavily when we’re evaluating laptops,” says Maria Rerecich, who oversees all electronics testing for Consumer Reports. “A computer that doesn’t do well in performance testing isn’t likely to get recommended.”

See? I told you Consumer Reports was credible.


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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Consumer Reports Recommends Surface Again … But Not Surface Go”

  1. lvthunder

    So they are comparing Surface Go to a regular laptop. That doesn't seem fair. I'm not saying it should be recommended I just think it needs to be compared to tablets and not regular laptops.

  2. anomomuss

    ¯_(ツ)_/¯ I paid $339 for the HP ProBook x360 11.6" G1, touchscreen convertible w/Windows 10 pro 64-bit E. Works great, a little heavy because it's "rugged" for student use. I've built, re-built many PCs, tried OSX, every version of Windows back to 3.1, Linux live and installed, and I have been on the internet 12 hours a day for at least the last 15 years. I've experimented with many applications, but now I've maybe lost interest in this hobby and my little up to date HP does everything I need now.

  3. Tsang Man Fai

    “We weigh processing power heavily when we’re evaluating laptops,” - this is a terrible mistake in evaluating a portable device where users can accept a less powerful CPU (which still works perfectly fine in basic multi-tasking). Portability is always the first and most important priority for a 10" device.

    Maybe their understanding of "laptops" is limited to those super heavy devices that on one is willing to use on the go.

  4. Tsang Man Fai

    There is a strange phenomenon among Windows and Apple users.

    • Most Apple users care about their actual usage experience instead of judging their iDevices in terms of hardware spec. Some of them have nearly zero knowledge on hardware spec. They buy over-priced products simply because Apple devices are over-priced.
    • Most Windows users look at the hardware spec first when evaluating a device and they often come to conclusions like "RAM is not enough, CPU is slow" without even trying the device, or without considering some important factors like portability and build quality. Sadly the majority are proficient in hardware spec, and more sadly some are even famous tech reviewers. It turns out that they would also spend more money (or persuading others to spend more) on buying an over-powered device. When the target users just need 4GB of RAM, they say 8GB is the minimum. When the users already feel satisfactory with a Pentium/Atom processor, they say Core-M/i5 is the minimum. when the users don't feel any significant lag with eMMC storage, they say eMMC is "laughable", "terribly slow".

    No offence to Apple and Windows users. I am talking about the majority only.

  5. Brazbit

    This is a bit harsh on the Surface GO. The GO is a perfect secondary computer.

    Unlike all the portables I have had in the past, the Surface GO is one that I actually do have on me at virtually all times. No longer am I reduced to remoting into a PC through my phone when I run into a situation out in the field that requires a full PC to interface with, In the past I would have the laptop or Surface with me when I knew I would be in those situations, with the GO it is always with me so I am ready to correct the situation even when I wasn't planning on such a situation.

    Same goes for when I am away from work. The always present GO has taken the place of my phone for most entertainment uses when away from the home.

    For me, the GO is doing for computing what the camera phone did for photography. It isn't the best tool in the inventory for the task but the ever-present nature of it makes it more valuable than a twin Xeon, double eye melt video card, 87" screen, gobs of RAM, SSD for ages PC back on the desk for all those moments that would have been missed or struggled through with a phone. It's the X-factor that allows this technically underwhelming device punch far above its weight when it comes to value.

  6. FalseAgent

    “We weigh processing power heavily when we’re evaluating laptops"

    and ARM laptops are

  7. roastedwookie

    Microsoft must have paid a lot of guinea pigs to write positive stuff in those surveys :)))


    I think that expecting a Volkswagen to go as fast as a Ferrari is perhaps an issue with tester incompetence where applying inappropriate test criteria. To describe a slow processor as not being fast should equate to a positive rating, not a bad rating as though a slow processor should perform as well as a fast one.

    Consumer Reports therefore can still not be recommended as a reliable guide to buying computers.

  9. Tsang Man Fai

    The fact is, both Consumer Reports and Paul have biased opinions on Surface Go. They "evaluated" the device by lab tests/impression without even trying it, without even doing a meaningful survey on potential target users.

    Classifying device as good performance and poor performance is narrow minded.

    For a highly portable, budget device, users' expectation on performance should be much lower. Users care whether they can get things done. They are willing to sacrifice a bit performance for portability.

    I don't mind spending 5 more seconds opening a Word file. I am still very happy that I get my things done on the go.

    Sorry, Consumer Reports and Paul never understand this basic common sense. I think Paul should not be too happy just because Consumer Reports have similar mindset as he.

  10. waethorn

    "which can result in some lag when performing tasks like cycling through different windows"

    When a chip based off of the mainstream Intel chip lineup can't hold up on Windows 10 for average consumer usage, you know there's something wrong with the software.

    • Otto Gunter

      In reply to Waethorn: "some lag" is open to interpretation; in fact I have no such problems using my SGO in every situation that I would use my SP4, save for audio/video editing which I prefer to do on when docked to my 27" monitor. The SGO is quite delightful to use as a tablet, and in spite of what Paul says, the battery life is sufficient for my needs, since I don't use it all day long. What does not get mentioned often enough is the fact that it can be charged to almost 100% in little more than an hour, like while I eat dinner. Consumer Reports, are you listening?!

    • ym73

      In reply to Waethorn: It's an Intel Pentium chip with not much ram and a slow storage. It's another netbook. Anyone expecting decent performance on a device like this is delusional. If you are just browsing the web and email, it will be fine. Trying to run any moderately resource intensive software won't work well.

      • Tsang Man Fai

        In reply to ym73:

        it's way more powerful and portable than a netbook.

        It's true that netbooks in 2000 were slow. But technologies have improved A LOT in 10 years. Does it still make sense to describe that device as a "netbook"?

        I'm not sure what you mean exactly by "moderately resource intensive software".

        I am just using a Surface 3 and it can run Office + Edge + File Explorer very well. I expect Surface Go to handle these basic tasks even better.

        I don't see any point of running resource demanding software on a 10" device on the go.

        I guess you have not tried the device at all before making the conclusion "not much ram and a slow storage". 4GB of RAM is perfectly fine for most productivity tasks. 8GB/16GB of RAM is for gaming/video editing tasks. Why should I expect a budget, portable device to have gaming PC specs???

  11. nbplopes

    I guess the Surface story is also one about integrity.

  12. Dale Griffin

    I purchased a Surface Pro 4 in April of 16 and I love the tablet but hate the battery life. At around $1000. and the battery now lasts about 2 hours before it goes into "battery saver" mode. That makes the unit cost me around $500. per year. I think that stinks. I called Microsoft and they say that I am using it wrong. I only use it to surf the web and access games online while I am away from the house. I hardly ever use it at home. I have a PC for that. Microsoft trying to put the onus on me for not knowing how to use the Surface is a cop out on their part. Anyway I would not recommend Surface to anyone from my experience on this one.

    • bleeman

      In reply to [email protected]:

      If you have a Microsoft store near you bring it in and have them look at it. I had a Surface Pro 4 as well that I bought in December 2016 that was showing similar results. Took it in and they were going to look at it when we noticed it wouldn't lay flat on their counter. That's when they realized the battery was bulging. Since I had bought the extended warranty I was still covered. As it turned out they had no available Surface Pro 4's nor any in the pipeline coming in, in a reasonable time. So the manager opted to give me a Surface Pro 2017. I'm not sure if you're having similar issues and I'm assuming you're most likely out of warranty as they only offer a 1yr add-on, but it might be worth checking into.

  13. sscywong

    Maybe next time Huawei can distribute battery pack to those buying Surface Go so they can recharge the Go using the batter pack to extend its usable life....

  14. jdmp10

    I'm waiting for the new generation of ARM based Windows machines to be released. The Lenovo shown at IFA if it retails in the states for under $1000 will be very enticing. I also think sooner than later, Microsoft will find a workaround for x86 emulation on the SD850 and SD1000 SoCs that are going to be powering devices this year and next. 15+ hours of real world use battery life on the ARM machines is just too good to give up for a slightly smaller, a slightly more portable Surface Go with less than 7 hours of real world battery use.

    • locust infested orchard inc

      In reply to jdmp10:

      There have been leaked Geekbench benchmarks recently for the SD850 and SD1000, and whilst we're gunning for ARM to give Intel a great big thumping, sadly those benchmarks are poor, particularly for multiple cores.

      Of course the caveat here is that Geekbench is far from being a clear guiding indicator between OS, and then there's Geekbench running under emulated mode.

      It would therefore appear neither the SD850 nor SD1000 will be able to challenge Intel on either performance or price.

      What's needed is a low-cost, low-TDP (4.5W), with decent performance CPU from Intel – Amber Lake-Y may be the answer, though it's not cheap as chips (the salty variety, not the silicon x nm variety).

      Amber Lake-Y may be ideal for the Surface Foldable™ / Andromeda, but not for the considerably cheaper Surface Go.

    • skane2600

      In reply to jdmp10:

      IMO, unless MS did a particularly poor job implementing x86 emulation, I doubt we will see a lot of performance improvements from software updates. On the other hand, if future ARM processors are twice as fast as similarly priced Intel chips, then ARM-based PCs with emulation could rival Intel-based PCs. Of course, I'm not particularly optimistic for that scenario either. Intel won't be standing still either.

  15. Andi

    “We weigh processing power heavily when we’re evaluating laptops,”

    If they were cycling through Maya, Matlab, Visual Studio and Photoshop and expecting the Go to be super snappy they were doing it wrong. The GO is deliberately light and follows the moderate success of the Surface 3 which was even more resource hampered.

    • locust infested orchard inc

      In reply to Andi:

      Absolutely agree.

      Well at least the humble Surface Go, for all its sluggishness in multitasking heavy GFX, 3DFX, and mathematical modeling software, can actually execute these applications, for neither the ChronicBook or iFad can do any of the above.

  16. Stocklone

    I have the Go and love it. I'm basically carrying next to nothing to meetings in terms of weight and have all the capability I had with my Surface Book. It's actually a better note taking experience because I don't have to make a huge weight sacrifice to bring the keyboard and the stand gives a lot more flexibility when I have to write on my lap. It also takes up very little space on a workbench in the lab. My Go goes with me to work everyday. My work bag has never been lighter and I've never been happier. My two co-workers who bought it also love it. I guess if you are buying it for the wrong reasons you might not be happy with it but it definitely is a great device for a certain segment of the market.

    • bleeman

      In reply to Stocklone:

      I too bought a Surface Go, the 8GB/128GB model along with the burgundy keyboard. I already own a Surface Pro 2017 and have loved it. However, when I just wanted to sit in my recliner to surf the web, read my twitter feed, play a few casual games, the Pro gets heavy after awhile. Like Stocklone says, carrying next to nothing makes it really nice. I also use it as my eReader with the Nook and Kindle apps. I've even opted to leave it in Windows 10 S mode as my main uses for it all have the apps I need in the store. While it doesn't have the specs of my Pro (i7, 16GB/512GB) I still think of it as my Surface Pro "mini me". I love the smaller form factor for on the go issues (Not as many these days as I've retired after 40yrs in IT) and the best part is it's completely compatible with all my Surface Pro accessories. It's rather funny looking when I plug it into my Surface dock and it suddenly has a floppy drive, DVD burner, external speakers and a 34" monitor :-)

      I have no regrets on the decision. It's everything I originally hoped the Surface Mini was going to be. Yes, it's not a blazing fast workhorse, but it does what I need and I have the Surface quality with it.

  17. chrisrut

    Paul, I just returned from a trip to EU, and my opinion about the battery life being adequate proved wrong. Oh, it worked as expected, but the charging port at my seat on the 11+ hour return flight didn't work, so I couldn't recharge and ran out of juice halfway through a lengthy read. It wasn't mission critical, and I had other options - but...

    On the plus, the small, light form-factor was great, and processing power, anemic though it may be, was adequate for my workloads - mostly remote desktop and reading.

  18. ccalberti

    I am very happy with my Surface Go, as a replacement for my iPad Mini and a complement to my regular computer, a Surface Book. Light and portable, and fully functional laptop for most simple tasks and media consumption. I emphasize complement, and not replacement, for more powerful laptops, realizing for me the potential the iPad (or Samsung tablets, which I also tried) can't realize because of limitations with their phone-based operating systems.