Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review

Posted on June 3, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 54 Comments

Surface Go 2 is an interesting option for those in need of a secondary Windows 10 device. But you’ll want to carefully weigh the tradeoffs.

You’ll also want to really think about why you want such a PC in the first place. I see three primary use cases for individuals: A PC for a child, a secondary device for an adult, and a consumption device that would be used instead of an iPad. I kept these use cases in mind while evaluating Surface Go 2 and while writing this review.

Finally, you’ll also want to evaluate the real cost of this PC: While Surface Go 2 starts at just $400, that version is underpowered, so most will want to upgrade to a more powerful and future-proof model that will cost hundreds more. Too, I feel that most Surface Go 2 users—certainly the those in the first two of those use cases I singled out—will want a Type Cover, which costs an additional $130. All-in, you could spend almost $1000 on a fully configured Surface Go 2, which too much to pay for a device this limited.

Undaunted? Let’s dive in.

Design

Surface Go 2 is undeniably adorable and is much smaller in person than it appears in photos. In fact, it’s considerably smaller than the high-quality Surface Pro 7. Which is kind of interesting, because that PC, with its 12.3-inch display, already feels pretty cramped to me. But Surface Go 2 looks like a mini Surface Pro and that, of course, is part of the appeal. It’s an enduring and iconic design and a truly versatile form factor.

Like most of Microsoft’s other PCs, Go 2 is made entirely of magnesium, a durable material that gives the device its gray color. Some find that color somewhat bland, but I like it. Magnesium feels good in the hand, it stays cool, and when it does scratch it’s much less visible than with aluminum. And while I could see some wishing for the color choices we get with Surface Laptop (which is made of aluminum, not magnesium), remember that you can add color when you purchase a Type Cover.

Surface Go 2 also packs a lot of high-quality Surface Pro design details into its small frame, from the innovative kickstand with its wide range of stable display angles to its reflective Microsoft logo to the solid color-matched hardware buttons. I also like the two-tone antenna band on the top rear of the device, which lends a bit of contrast. It’s a good look, and the general design of the PC seems premium and not cheap in any way.

Display

Surface Go 2 provides a 10.5-inch Full HD+ (1920 x 1280, 220 ppi) PixelSense display with a 3:2 aspect ratio that is perfect for a small tablet. Being middle-aged, I find this display to be far too small for regular use and had to bump up the display scaling a bit to use it effectively, which only exacerbates the problem. But a young adult or child should have no issues.

And it’s fair to point out that this display is bigger than the 10-incher found in its predecessor, the original Surface Go. I don’t have one for comparison, but that display provided a lower 1800 x 1200 and a comparable 217 ppi count. The bezels are, of course, smaller than those on its predecessor but are still incredibly large and old-fashioned looking, a problem that dogs most Surface PCs. Maybe a future Go will provide an even bigger display with small Surface Pro X-like bezels.

Sticking to the present, however, the Go 2 display is also reasonably bright—about 400 nits, and roughly the same brightness as the Surface Pro 7—and colorful. And quite reflective, unfortunately. I’d say it’s adequate for the target audiences.

Internal components

To make the Surface Go 2’s $400 starting price, Microsoft had to cut some corners. And the most egregious of those cuts come internally: The base configurations ship with a lackluster Pentium Gold processor, while the lowest-end version provides just 4 GB of RAM and slow eMMC storage too; the combination of those three parts is unacceptable in my opinion.

But things get more interesting—if more expensive—when you upgrade. All but the cheapest Surface Go 2 configurations come with reasonably fast SSD storage, which should help performance somewhat. And if you don’t mind paying $630 or more for your Surface Go 2, you can get a Core m3 processor that really improves matters. Not surprisingly, the configuration that Microsoft provided to reviewers includes the better internals: A Core m3 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and SSD storage (along with LTE connectivity).

And that combination of components really does make a difference, in the sense that a Surface Go 2 with a Core m3 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and SSD storage constitutes what I’d call an acceptable PC configuration from a performance perspective. Those with lesser needs—a small child or someone just using the device reading and for watching videos—could perhaps get away with a lower-end configuration. But if you’re looking for a real PC that will last more than a year or two, the upgrades will make a big difference to its longevity.

To test performance in typical PC productivity scenarios, I connected a Bluetooth-based ThinkPad Compact Keyboard with TrackPoint to the Surface Go 2. And then I used it to write parts of this review and other articles while browsing the web with multiple tabs and—wait for it—even using Photoshop Elements to edit graphics. To my surprise, it worked. Sure, that combination of apps pretty much eats up the Go 2’s available RAM, but then this is a typical workload I demand from the higher-end PCs I normally use. My takeaway is that Surface Go 2 should handle reasonable tasks—a few Office apps, Edge with multiple tabs—ably.

At least in the Core m3 configurations, that is, and assuming you could get past its tiny size. But even the lower-end configurations would likely be OK for typical consumption tasks–reading, listening to music, audiobooks, and podcasts, and watching videos, mostly, assuming you could find the content you wanted—as well. I also tested Surface Go 2 in this use case, opting to read the news and browse the web sans Type Cover in the mornings instead of using my iPad. It “works,” but Surface Go 2 is much less ideal for these scenarios than is iPad, and I gave up after a few days.

Size comparison: 9.7-inch iPad vs. Surface Go 2

The issue is two-fold. First, the Go 2 doesn’t really offer the same instant-on experience that I get with iPad, and I often find that the device can’t locate the Wi-Fi network for some reason, an issue I never have with my iPad. It would probably connect eventually, but I didn’t pick it up to wait, so I just disconnect and reconnect to the network. This is not a good seamless experience.

The second issue is software related. I read The New York Times and Google News apps each morning on iPad, but neither app is available in Windows 10, and the web-based versions are terrible on tablets. I read books with Kindle, but the Windows app is a joke and the web experience, called Cloud Reader, is OK but not optimized for tablets or touch.

I didn’t want to give up on Surface Go 2 as a consumption device, so I also tested Spotify, Disney+ (the web app, as there’s no Windows app), Sonos, Netflix, Audible, and a few other entertainment apps. And for the most part, the experiences were reasonably good. There are missing bits—Audible can stream to Sonos on mobile, for example, but not in Windows—but the direct interactions were fine. Surface Go 2 is small compared to a PC, but it’s around the same size as an iPad, and much bigger than any smartphone. And that really helps, even with audio-based apps like Audible and Sonos, since the controls are nice and big and easy to see.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Surface Go 2 is fanless and doesn’t have even the passive heat vents that we see with Surface Pro 7. As such, it generates no fan noise at all, and it never got noticeably hot while I was using it.

Connectivity

All Surface Go 2 models come with 802.11ax-compatible Wi-Fi 6, just like Surface Pro, courtesy of an Intel AX200 chipset, plus Bluetooth 5.0. But some of the higher-end configurations, including the review unit, also include 4G/LTE Advanced cellular data access via a Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE modem and either the internal eSIM or a SIM card.

I didn’t test cellular access because doing so would have incurred a charge, but those without a dedicated cellular data plan can select pay-as-you-go plans from GigSky World Mobile Data or Ubigi. No, I’ve never heard of them either.

Ports and expansion

As you should expect of a mini-tablet PC, Surface Go 2 provides a minimal number of expansion ports, but it’s still versatile enough for most needs. In addition to the Surface Type Cover port, you’ll find a Surface Connect port for the power cable and/or Surface Dock, a single USB-C port, and a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack on the outside of the device.

And neatly tucked under the kickstand, as with Surface Pro, you’ll find a microSDXC card reader slot too.

Audio and video

Surface Go 2’s AV capabilities are surprisingly solid given the device’s size and price range. It has Dolby Audio-powered stereo speakers that deliver great sound for audiobooks, music, and movies alike. Seriously, it’s better than it needs to be. Go 2 also provides what Microsoft calls dual stereo microphones for Cortana spoken interactions and voice/video calls via Skype and Microsoft Teams.

Speaking of video calls, Go 2 provides a 5 MP front-facing camera that offers significantly better 1080p quality than many of the 720p-based business-class laptops I usually use. This camera also provides Windows Hello facial recognition capabilities, which is a nice premium feature.

On the rear, you’ll find an 8 MP autofocus camera that also provides 1080p video.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

Surface Go 2 doesn’t ship with a keyboard, touchpad, or active pen, but you can purchase them separately, and because Microsoft provides a $130 Signature Type Cover with the review unit, I did test that, of course. (The Go 2 is also compatible with Surface Pen, which costs an additional $100.)

The Surface Go Signature Type Cover, like the Go 2 itself, looks, feels, and works like a miniature version of the Surface Pro rendition and with predictable results. It’s smaller, which inhibits typing, especially with my large hands. But the product is attractive and well made, and I like the combination of the thin Alcantara cover with the firm plastic keys and the glass touchpad.

If you can handle such a small keyboard, you’ll find a cramped typing experience but with good key throws and two typing angles. The Go’s touchpad is a precision touchpad, so its infinitely configurable, and despite being a bit on the small side, I found it to be accurate and reliable.

Plus, the Type Cover doubles as a nice protective screen cover when moving about.

Portability

At just 1.2 pounds or so, Surface Go 2 is the most portable Surface PC by far: Surface Pro 7 and Pro X both weight about 1.7 pounds. (Those weights are all sans Type Cover.) But Apple’s base iPad weighs even less, at 1.07 pounds, and it’s a lot thinner too, just .29 inches thick compared to .33 inches for the Go 2. Those numbers may seem somewhat comparable, but they’re not: With thin and light electronic devices, every fraction of a pound or an inch changes the experience noticeably.

Regardless, Surface Go 2’s relatively small size would make it a welcome travel companion if only the battery life measured up. Microsoft claims up to 10 hours of battery life in typical device usage, but in my admittedly limited experience, I only achieved between 5 and 6 hours of battery life. That kind of delta between claim and reality is not atypical, I suppose, but it’s also about an hour less than the uptime I achieved with Surface Pro 7. And I was pushing that PC a lot harder than the Go 2.

If you plan to use Surface Go 2 at home, this won’t be an issue as the device will always be close to power. But on that note, Microsoft doesn’t tout or offer any fast charging capabilities here, and Surface Go 2 comes with a small 45-watt power supply that ends in a brick that will be hard to plug-in in certain places. Other Surface PCs put the brick in the middle of the power cord, and I prefer that design.

Software

Surface Go 2 ships with Windows 10 Home in S mode. I tried to test the device in this configuration but quickly found that S mode was the source of a weird bug where it was impossible to configure a default web browser. When I disabled S mode, this was fixed, and, better still, I was able to install and use the Windows applications I prefer. (And while I was able to install the Store-based version of Adobe Photoshop Elements in S mode, it wouldn’t run until I disabled S mode.)

In addition to the software issues I discuss above, Surface Go 2 ships with some unique Microsoft apps, like Microsoft Whiteboard and the Surface app. But it also ships with the usual Windows 10 crapware, which, is getting increasingly onerous over time.

Pricing and configurations

Surface Go 2 is available in four configurations. The base model, which includes a lackluster Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor, an inadequate 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of slow eMMC storage, costs $400. But you can also upgrade to 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of faster SSD storage for an additional $150, or a total of $550.

I recommend taking at least that step. But the next configuration up gets even better with an Intel Core m3 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of SSD storage at a cost of $630, or another $80 more than the highest-end Pentium Gold configuration (and $230 more than the base configuration). But you can pay more still for a version with LTE capabilities that costs $730. (This was the review configuration.)

Remember that none of these configurations provide a Type Cover, which costs an addition $130, or a Surface Pen, which costs $100. I feel that a Type Cover is pretty much required, except perhaps for that consumption scenario, so plan accordingly. Know, too, that business pricing is even higher because those models ship with Windows 10 Pro: Surface Go 2 for business starts at $450, so you can expect to pay about $50 more per configuration.

Recommendations and conclusions

Surface Go 2 is an interesting experiment in trying to create a decent PC for about $500. But even with upgrades that include a faster Core m3 processor, more RAM, and speedier SSD storage, the Go 2’s other limitations get in the way. And there are many limitations, including its tiny display, too-small keyboard, and middling battery life. And once you get north of $750, there are just too many good choices, all of which have bigger and better displays and full-sized keyboards, and possibly better battery life too.

If you’re looking for a consumption tablet—for reading, watching videos, and playing games—the iPad is the better choice, in my opinion. It’s thinner and lighter, and less expensive, and it has much better hardware, software, and services ecosystems. No one would ever regret buying an iPad.

That said, Surface Go 2 has its charms. I love the build quality and design, and that this product does nothing to diminish the premium Surface brand. I was also surprised by the quality of the stereo speakers—something that is missing on iPad, still—and how that enhances the audio/video experiences. And while the optional Surface Type Covers are tiny, too, they add a bit of color and are well-made, with real keyboards and a nice glass touchpad.

Can I recommend Surface Go 2? Not the $400 version. But if you can splurge on a higher-end model and simply want a smaller, less-expensive Surface Pro, you probably won’t be disappointed.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Premium build quality and design
  • Stereo speakers sound great
  • Windows Hello facial recognition
  • Type Covers can provide a splash of color

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Necessary upgrades are even more expensive
  • Tiny keyboard cover is optional, extra cost, and hard to use for more than short bursts
  • Performance (Pentium Gold models)
  • Battery life is middling

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Comments (56)

56 responses to “Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review”

  1. Avatar

    wbhite

    Personally, I'd pay $400 for this thing if it came with the pen. It would be a great note-taking/doodle device. Aside from that, not sure what the appeal is.

  2. Avatar

    pdhemsley

    I don't have one, but this reads like a review I can trust.

  3. Avatar

    SvenJ

    Wow, these are some of the nicest things you've ever said about a Go. I have had an original Go since it first came out, though I opted for the highest end, including LTE. Yes it was as expensive as many options with bigger and better displays and full-sized keyboards, but that was the point. It didn't have a bigger display, keyboard and associated weight. I have other things for that. As far as the short comparison with an iPad, that seems to revolve around the apps you have grown accustomed to, not being available on the Go. I know you always decried the 'it has all the apps I need' argument on Windows Phone, but consider that could be the case. I can read news, web sites (including this one), play games, and get some productivity done. I can get it done in an OS that is familiar to me, rather than having to learn a new one and get all new apps.

    I do actually have an iPad Pro and I use my Go way more often for the things I might use that for. I am comfortable with the Go. I don't find it especially slow starting up, but then I tend to leave it plugged in when I'm not using it, so it doesn't shut off. It comes on quickly, recognizes me reasonably quickly and is ready to go (Go). I keep mine in Tablet mode, so it is actually a lot like an iPad. Sea of icons, but some actually informative ones, and the density can be much greater and is user selectable. If you went all small tiles, you could get over 160 of them on the screen, which of course scrolls, rather than having pages like iOS. Bit more than the 30 or so you get with an iPad. Windows in Tablet mode is functionally not that much different than iPadOS. Tiles/icons. one app at a time, split screen, gestures.

    As far as LTE goes, my Google Fi Data SIM works just fine in it. Costs me zero unless I use it. It is usually off, as WiFi is fairly ubiquitous. Came in handy during a power outage though. Just tapped connect, and checked the Utility web site which confirmed it wasn't just me, they knew about it, and were working on it. Could tethering work as well? Sure. But the convenience is there.


    Full disclosure, I'm old (I wear reading glasses), 6ft, 260, but I don't have ham hands and importantly, I'm not a writer, and don't touch type. I don't have a big problem with the little keyboard. I fully acknowledge that could be a real deal breaker for those that do spend their day typing correctly. One nice feature, which is sort of niche, is the Surface connector. That lets me charge the Go with any of the Surface power supplies I have around, as well as hook it up with the Surface Dock (the newer two piece brick ones), for power and peripheral expansion. The USB-C is icing on the cake.

    Anyway, I'm happy with my Surface Go. Enough so I don't see the need to upgrade to the 2, though it would certainly be the choice were I to want another one. For me it performs all the functions an iPad would, in the way an iPad would, but it is Windows, with all that implies.

    Thanks Paul, for not saying the Go is of no use to anyone...well not literally anyone.

  4. Avatar

    crunchyfrog

    I love small computers and the GO series is great. I returned a SP7 to get the GO 2 and I am delighted. As good as the SP7 is, it's not great for the kind of need and usage I will use it for that the GO2 wins in spades.

  5. Avatar

    bleeman

    I'm a big time Surface fan boy. I have the Studio 2, Pro (2017), Go 1, Surface Laptop, Surface precision mouse, Dial, ergonomic keyboard and the Surface headphones. When I was still working I loved my Go even though I have the Pro as well. The Go was great for quick client trips where I just needed something to jump onto a client network to check things out, do a quick remote support issue etc. Yes, as Paul mentioned it's tiny (I'm 6'8" with the associated BIG hands) and I'm a touch typist. So it was a bit of a challenge, but overall it worked well for my needs. I also love the fact that I can connect it to my dock and use it with all the peripherals I use on my Pro. I have the 8GB, SSD model, and like others have said, my biggest issue was battery life.


    Having said all of that, I was recently trying to decide between the LTE versions of the Go 2 and the iPad Mini. In the end I chose the iPad Mini. I realized if I was still in the consulting business and traveling, going to client sites, etc. the Go made much more sense as my primary focus was Windows support for small businesses. However, having retired 2 years ago, I now spend most of my time using my Go 1 as a consumption device either out and about, or sitting in my recliner. To that end, as Paul has mentioned there are many more apps in the IOS ecosystem that meet my current needs. Overall, no regrets on getting the mini but I still want a Go 2, but couldn't justify it with my CFO aka the wife 😁.


    There are 2 things that do drive me crazy with the iPad though. I WANT A BACK BUTTON!!! and it drives me crazy when I download an app I use with my Galaxy Note 10+ only to find out it wasn't optimized or created for the iPad and is just an iPhone app with the option to "stretch" it for the larger screen. I also hate the fact that I can't make Edge my default browser and Swiftkey my default keyboard everywhere. Some apps support it, but quite often I'm in something, click on a link or an email link and find myself in Safari or it wanting to open Apple's mail client and not Outlook. So keep those "quirks" in mind if you've been a Windows person and making your fist foray into IOS. I have found a good alternative for my Windows "Fix" though when using the mini at home. I use the Microsoft RDP client to connect to my Studio 2 so I can do those really important things like play Microsoft Wordament and Microsoft Mahjong 😁 neither of which are currently available as apps on anything but Windows. Yes, I know there is Wordament for IOS and Android but it's in name only and doesn't offer the same options as the Windows version.

    • Avatar

      ndelena

      "I'm 6'8" with the associated BIG hands"


      So basically this is just a mobile phone for you? :)

      • Avatar

        bleeman

        "I'm 6'8" with the associated BIG hands"


        So basically this is just a mobile phone for you? :)


        Pretty much. I used to goof around with my Galaxy Tab E and AT&T Numbersync. Thought I could do it with the mini but found out it doesn't work cross platform 😟

  6. Avatar

    simard57

    I am trying to work through your pricing and maybe the sun has fried my brain


    The base model, Gold 4425Y processor, an inadequate 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of slow eMMC storage, costs $400.

    you can also upgrade to 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of faster SSD storage for an additional $150, or a total of $550.

    the next configuration with an Intel Core m3 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of SSD storage at a cost of $630, or about $180 more than the highest-end Pentium Gold configuration


    $400 for entry

    +$150 or $550 for 2xRAM and SSD

    $630 for M3 with same RAM and SSD -- but that is $80 more, not $180 more than the highest end Gold Configuration


  7. Avatar

    angusmatheson

    I have been thinking a lot about the universal device - a tablet, a laptop, and a docked PC with a keyboard, mouse and monitor. I use a Surface Pro and work just had an extra iPad Pro - so I have been using both. For me the Surface pro really fails as a tablet. The on-screen keyboard is a pain to use. When I flip it from landscape to horizontal - there is this awkward shrinking thing that happens and I’m never sure it is going to work right. The stylus works so much better on the iPad - the plastic moving tip and feel of the Microsoft’s feel cheap. Both work fine a “laptop” on a desk with their keyboard - but the classic keyboard covers (I don’t have apple’s new iPad Pro cover) don’t work well on a lap at all for either. The apple device is struggling when using mouse and keyboard with monitor because it cannot extend it can only mirror the iPad on the monitor - for me not a big deal, I really cannot handle more than one thing at a time, but for many people multiple screens are critical for being productive. (That being said if you have and iPad and a Mac the side car extending the screen of the Mac on the iPad is pretty cool.) So for me, the iPad Pro is a good tablet and does the other things well (now it finally has mouse support). Where I really don’t think the Surface pro is a good tablet. More of a concern for me as a surface pro user, it seems the iPad is becoming better at the other things, and I don’t see the surface pro becoming any better tablet in the future. Maybe the surface X fixes all these problems. But It seems like I don’t hearing anything about windows on ARM. Maybe windows 10X will be the tablet interface that will make windows a great tablet OS. Surface Pro is an amazingly light small laptop (that actually doesn’t work well on your lab, but whatever) that has incredible build quality. It is a PC, not a laptop. Which for me is fine. I need some legacy programs and better USB support than iPad Pro can support. But now that I’ve used the iPad Pro as tablet/laptop/docked keyboard-mouse-monitor- it really moves between them seamlessly, i find myself wishing I could just grab the surface pro and use it as a tablet in the same way. I’d really worry about the surface go 2 as just a tablet. Maybe the surface go 3 and surface pro 8 will run windows 10x and that will fix everything as a tablet.

  8. Avatar

    Philotech Mueller

    What I would love to see is a comparison of:

    • a standard iPad with a cheap third third-party keyboard
    • an Android tablet (e.g. the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e or S6 lite with a keyboard
    • The brand-new Lenovo Duet Chromebook
    • the Surface Go and one or more other Windows tablets

    To a lesser extent with regard to specs and hardware (difficult to compare anyway) except maybe built quality, but rather use cases and available software and quality.

  9. Avatar

    retcable

    These Surface devices have their strong points, but like all of them, I find the "lapability", i.e. the ability to put them on your lap and then type, to be non-existent, and useless. Nothing I do keeps them from wobbling around and the kickstand edging its way off my legs. Not good. I much prefer the origami-type cases that are much more stable on my lap, or just a plain old laptop. These things are fine on a table top, but not on a lap.

  10. Avatar

    psh_vt

    I think it's a mistake to think of Surfaces as tablets. They're fully functioning computers with a touch and pen option, not touch-only devices. And, much as I love my iPad, it's a really nice touch tablet that doesn't come close to replacing my computer.


    This is a great review. I have a Surface Go 2 m3 128 Gig as a second computer. Everything you say rings true.


    Yes, it's expensive -- I paid a lot because I wanted good quality and design. It's worth it. I didn't want a cheap computer with unnecessary design, build and performance compromises.


    Yes, battery life is middling and, for me, adequate. (It can be all-day on the Battery Saver setting, but I almost always need more performance.)


    And the performance -- surprisingly strong. I do music production/multi-media/programming. I can get work done away from home on most of the software I use on my "big" computer. The performance is snappy and responsive within reasonable expectations. That is, I can successfully work on some part of a larger project with no problem.


    As to its size -- I have no problem with the screen size and keyboard. I can work fine with them. It's not the same as a 15" screen and full-size keyboard, but that can be a good thing when you're squeezed into an airplane seat or a small table at the local tea shop.

  11. Avatar

    stephenf

    Wait for it to show up at COSTCO. The previous model there came with a special configuration using a SSD drive, pen and keyboard and was covered by their extended warranty at no charge. Bought it for 399.00

  12. Avatar

    Michael_Miller

    Intel prohibits MS from developing a fast and cheap small PC that can effectively compete with Apple. Their M3 processor is still expensive for a small device like the GO, increases the price of the unit in the process, and still can’t compete effectively with Apple’s ARM processors.

  13. Avatar

    wp7mango

    The Surface Go is actually a Best Buy in the UK independent consumer testing magazine called Which?, alongside some iPads.

  14. Avatar

    ngc224

    "And quite reflective, unfortunately"


    Sounds like a Microsoft talking point for Surface devices later this year.

  15. Avatar

    dstrauss

    Why is there such a disconnect about the Surface Go 2?


    The question has been asked in the iPad universe almost since day one - can the iPad replace your laptop? The answer, even with iPad Pro 2020 and the Magic Keyboard, is no. Why? Because productivity requires: (1) real applications, not just apps that are shadows or limited versions of the real things, (2) full peripheral support, and (3) a hierarchical file system. The Surface Go 2 delivers those in spades. I have the highest end SKU (business model, m3/8gb/256gb/LTE) and have been using mine since release as my desktop replacement with the original Surface dock, two QHD monitors (2560x1440), Ethernet, HP laserjet, Surface keyboard and mouse, and Onyx Bluetooth speaker. I can connect to any resource on our network and any peripheral at my desk.


    Performance - I routinely have 4 or more Word/Excel documents open from the server at the same time, Outlook, OneNote, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, and from 4-6 Edge tabs (including Google search, Lexis, Texas State Bar legal research directory) open and running with no hiccups or lag. The performance is very little different from my HP Spectre x360 (late 2019). Am I doing Photoshop, AutoCAD, or Call of Duty - of course not. But when it's time to undock and head home, iTunes (just watched Lawrence of Arabia again), Netflix, Disney Plus, Prime Video, and YouTube all run like clockwork. Of course I stick to Edge because performance is better than Chrome with a lot less resource hogging, but I am pleased to report I haven't missed Chrome (my go to browser for years). The real secret is that when I am undocked, except for the small screen, I have my ENTIRE Windows environment on the go - basically a Surface Air.


    Is it a good tablet - no more so or less than an Android tablet (well, probably less game titles). Looking at it as a tablet only and benchmarking against the iPad is the big mistake . Apple has an insurmountable lead in tablet "apps" because of the ten year tuning of iOS hardware and software, and the insane focus they have relative to the rest of the computing world. Even Samsung and Amazon have failed to break that tablet stranglehold except at the lowest (near or sub $100 price point).


    I assume many here will dismiss this as an edge case, and I should at least have moved up to a Surface Pro 7, but I assure you I am not. Many Windows users, going back to the Toshiba Portege days, have wanted the lightest most compact device we can get, and WANT the one device solution - not a desktop/laptop/tablet juggling act. For those who sneer at that, please read Jim Seymour's article The Quest for the Least Computer in the March 29, 1988 issue of PC Magazine (didn't want to post links here - just Google it my friends) but he hit the nail on the head after listing all of shortcomings in the Toshiba T1000 (the first truly portable laptop PC):


    "All of that pales, however, every time I pick up the T1000 and smile as I wedge it into my carry-on bag. Because, simply put, it the Least Computer I've found that I am happy using. And at $750 to $800 (street price), it's an incredible bargain....'Worst computer, ' heck. If matching computing power to the task at hand is the name of the game, the T1000 is one of the best computers I've ever used."


    That "least computer" was a 6.5 lb bag cruncher by today's standards - and remarkably the street price in 1988 dollars was $800. I had one of those T1000's - it fell short as a desktop replacement - the Surface Go 2 does not for the majority of productivity workers.

    • Avatar

      Chris_Kez

      In reply to dstrauss:

      I love my Surface Pro 5, and it does everything I need at home or on a business trip, but every time I pull it out on a commuter train to catch up on some work, and in every meeting where I'm writing notes or sketching out a chart idea, I wish it was a little smaller and lighter like my iPad Pro 11. At home, I use a dock with keyboard, mouse and two external displays so the size is inconsequential; but away from the desk I really want something smaller and lighter. If the iPP 11 had a kickstand, a lightweight Type Cover with trackpad, and better multitasking/windowing for Office apps (and support for Pivot Tables in Excel) it would be my go-to travel device.

      • Avatar

        nbplopes

        In reply to Chris_Kez:


        For Excel Pivot Tables you need to use the Excel web app on the iPP. Unfortunately iPad Support of Office apps seam in many aspects half hearted ... natural coming from a company that wants to leverage their own OS and Cloud services.


        For the keyboard and mouse/trackpad you have multiple options at different prices. From cheap keyboard covers, things like brydge up to the Magic Keyboard for iPad. The later I have one and in my context is outstanding.


        Has for the windowing system, the iPad OS is designed to maximize the experience of small screens. Meaning you can have one window per work space up to 3. The point is that in such small screens the overlapping windows gives a Perception of multitasking that does not convert to actual productivity ... you will have in reality one usable app per screen.

        Its more a question of practicing your muscle memory to get the most efficient interaction. Something that you have been practicing for decades on the PC, not so much on alternative designes. It does not take that long, 15 days to a month driven by a professional learning mindset you get there and start appreciating design.


        • Avatar

          Chris_Kez

          In reply to nbplopes:

          I didn't enjoy the experience of mixing web-based and on-device Office apps on my iPad, but yes you are technically correct that the web-based Excel does provide limited pivot table functionality (but not enough to meet my requirements). Neither the Magic Trackpad nor the Brydge Pro Plus are "lightweight"; combined with the iPP 11, the total package is about the same weight as my SP5 with Type Cover (and ~30% heavier than a SG2 with Type Cover); nor do the Office apps for iPad support track pad. But I'm glad the Magic Keyboard is outstanding in your context, for you. I use an iPad Pro daily, and have used iPads in general for several years, so I understand how single and multi-screen productivity works on these devices.

          Finally, thank you for clarifying that all I need is dedication and a professional learning mindset to overcome the limitations of the iPad with regards to my particular computing needs. Nay, I suppose the limitations were always within me, and not the iPad, iPad OS or the Office apps. It is truly amazing that you know my own needs (and limitations) better than I do!


        • Avatar

          dstrauss

          In reply to nbplopes:

          "Its more a question of practicing your muscle memory to get the most efficient interaction. Something that you have been practicing for decades on the PC, not so much on alternative designes. It does not take that long, 15 days to a month driven by a professional learning mindset you get there and start appreciating design."


          This is the fundamental disconnect I was talking about - if you want a laptop performance, it doesn't start with a tablet first design. This also reflects the general attitude of Apple - just change the way you work because we know what is better for you...

  16. Avatar

    strontium74

    Hi Guys,


    First time here so sorry if this been asked before. I’m considering buying a surface go 2 but it will have to be the bottom end version due to finances. I have three questions. I’ll describe my requirements first.


    i need something very portable, running Windows, cheap, and well made. I don’t do anything too taxing. Lots of writing, some html stuff, and general web browsing plus email. Also I need to be able to charge my new device from an in-car usb charger.


    First question is performance. My current machine is an old Sony Vaio 17” laptop from 2010 I think. It’s an i5 (430m I think) with 6gb ram. This has always provided plenty of performance for me and I never notice any sluggishness with what I do. It’s just old, heavy, noisy, and the battery is obviously useless. I’m trying to find decent performance comparisons between this machine and the pentium gold surface go. Will the surface be anywhere near this Sony, considering how ancient it is? If it got somewhere near then it would be adequate for my needs.


    Question 2. I understand I can charge the Go2 via the usb c port. Would this apply to all laptops with usb c? If so I could consider cheap laptops too.


    and finally,


    If I buy from the Microsoft store, would I be able to return the surface if I found it to be too slow? Certainly somewhere like PC World (in UK) would only take it back if it was faulty. I can’t seem to contact MS to ask that question.


    Thanks in advance

    Richard

    • Avatar

      RobertJasiek

      In reply to strontium74:
      In reply to strontium74:

      In comparison to an old i5, Pentium Gold is slow. m3 might be acceptable but for heavy office tasks might still be too slow especially for multiple open programs.

      My advice: await Tiger Lake i3 Y 4.5W models, hoping manufacturers will bring some good ones. That would be fast enough for you, tablets should be silent, battery life should be ok but we have to await build quality and display ratios etc.

      Return laws differ by country. In Germany, we have 14d return option for online purchases. I do not know UK laws.

  17. Avatar

    RobertJasiek

    I would use a Surface Go 2 / Pro / m3 / 8 / 128 as a secondary Windows computer and iPad replacement in- and outdoors but don't buy it for these reasons in order of importance:

    • strongly mirroring display and slightly not bright enough
    • unreplaceable battery and missing related fair service
    • too short battery life
    • unreliable WLAN connection (thanks for mentioning it)
    • rip-off price increments for storage (and LTE)


    An iPad is more handholdable, has barely acceptable reflectance and brightness outdoors, better battery life, a battery replacement option (rip-off but not astronomic) and has reliable WLAN. I cannot use an iPad as a secondary PC because of iPadOS and missing software. The ultimate disadvantage of the iPad, however, is the terrible file management and has always been my major reason to prefer a Windows tablet if some could replace the iPad hardwarewise. Unfortunately, the Surface Go 2 is another failure for my tablet requirements.

    The Asus ExpertBook proves that 10th generation Core i7 at 6.5W total device consumption can be combined with very long battery life (16+h for light office use) in mobile devices. Maybe 10th generation i3 for fanless. 8th generation m3 is a failure.

    • Avatar

      MikeCerm

      In reply to RobertJasiek:

      The reason that the Expertbook is able to provide that kind of battery life is because the battery in the Expertbook is more than twice the size of the battery in the Surface Go 2. It's a 14" laptop, so you can fit in a much larger battery. The bigger screen uses more power, but the fact that it's not a touch screen means the difference is negligible.


      For battery performance, Intel's 10th-gen processors are actually worse than 8th-gen. The "upgrade" from Surface Pro 6 to Surface Pro 7 came with a reduction in battery list from 13.5 hours to 10.5 hours (according to Microsoft's own battery claims). The battery is around 5% smaller, but that doesn't account for the 25% reduction in battery life. This is must have been a factor in going with 8th-gen in the Surface Go 2. 10th-gen has much stronger GPU, at the expense of power efficiency. Certainly not worth it for a GPU that still isn't capable of playing anything but casual games.

      • Avatar

        RobertJasiek

        In reply to MikeCerm:

        ExpertBook: it has a bigger battery, yes. However, for a notebook, its battery is not particularly big. A Surface Go (2) could have a bigger battery by omitting the stand. You are right that touch has an impact. Altogether, we would not get the 16.5h of the Expertbook but some compromise of 10h of real light indoor use, which would be "good enough".

        Many 10th generation mobile devices with a battery similar to that of the Expertbook have shorter battery lifes than 7th generation U (8th generation was worse for battery life than 7th). That the Expertbook uses the 10th generation correctly WRT to battery life must be the result of a combination of several right achievements: run the Core at its lowest allows TDP. Use a low energy display (such as HP's use of 1W touch displays in some of its mobile devices). Use a low energy SSD. Get the cooling, mainboard and firmware right etc. For years, c't was proud of its 10W PCs (without display). That Asus achieves the Expertbook with 6.5W including display means that energy saving can be very much better than what almost all naively built mobile devices with 10th generation do.

        For 7th generation, it was mostly about choosing the right CPU model. For 10th generation, the manufacturer has a much greater responsibility of building the hardware correctly for achieving low energy consumption. We have had enough of excuses and must not let get away failures. Low energy consumption is possible nowadays!

    • Avatar

      simard57

      In reply to RobertJasiek:

      the iPad is more handholdable because it does not have a stand and you have no other option


      • Avatar

        RobertJasiek

        In reply to Simard57:

        The iPad is more handholdable because it is without stand, thin (but not razor-sharp thin), light and has (to some scope) rounded edges. Bezels contribute by avoiding too many accidental inputs but this applies to iPads and Surface Gos (both still lack operating systems rejecting first border touches on the display). The Mini is more handholdable due to its smaller size while the other models with 9.7 - 11" have comparable size. The chassis materials of iPad and Surface Go are equally handholdable. The only aspect for which the Surface Go 2 may be more handholdable is (according to Paul's report) its lower heat.

        In conclusion, the iPad is more handholdable because it has no stand, is thinner and has slightly rounder edges.

  18. Avatar

    rmlounsbury

    For some reason I still have an irrational want of the Surface Go 2. Something about the device that calls out to the irrational side of my tech lust even though I know overall it isn't going to be a great fit. I do at least have an iPad Air right now which covers me on the small and portable side.


    What does bug me is all the tech companies releasing a device at the bottom end of the price range to advertise that it starts at that price making it appear affordable. But in reality for almost everyone that entry level price isn't near enough for the users needs.

  19. Avatar

    jgraebner

    Having been somewhat critical of Paul's first-look article, I definitely want to comment here to say that this review is one of the most well-balanced and fair reviews of the Go 2 that I've seen. I don't really disagree with much in the review and it really reads like Paul gave the device a very fair evaluation despite his skepticism going into the review.


    I'm very happy to have upgraded from the original Go to the Go 2 (I bought the same configuration Paul tested) and I've been using it extensively every day, but I also completely realize there are better options for many potential use cases. The "Recommendations and Conclusions" section of the review is pretty much spot on, in my opinion.

  20. Avatar

    christian.hvid

    I'm glad you didn't do one of those iPad vs. Surface Go reviews - that would have been, well, apples and oranges. I see the Surface Go as a device you bring along when you don't really expect to do much work on it, but still need to have it available in case something comes up. For that use case, it doesn't matter if the keyboard is small or the battery life is mediocre. What matters is that it's as small and light as practically possible, that it's durable enough to be tossed around in a backpack, and above all that it runs the same operating system and applications as your main computer, so you don't have to change your workflow when on the go.

  21. Avatar

    Shehzad Joss Yousaf

    Paul,


    Thanks for the considered and thorough review, I think it really does cover the key points of using this quite unique hardware offering and will give prospective buyers pause for thought.

    I ended up with the Surface Go 1 last year and I found the size and portability led to me using it far more than I anticipated. Is it underpowered? Yes. And battery life is poor (considering what can be achieved on other models of tablets).

    The biggest bugbear I have is with Windows' responsiveness or lack thereof. I'm a patient man, and can put up with delays, but to be honest, I really can't figure out why the company that makes both the software and hardware can't get a slick responsive experience to the end user. Lag bringing up the touch keyboard, and latency when typing. Tap and wait.... did that touch interaction work? Should I tap again? (Mine is a Pentium powered 8GB model with the SSD, so I dread to think what a 4GB user + MMC user has to put up with).


    They had this figured out with the doomed Windows Phone experience almost a decade ago; bring some of that expertise and user experience to desktop Windows for crying out loud!


    It feels like they were just shy of a "home run" (as you lot across the pond might say :) ), maybe with a more touch-focused Windows experience, and a longer lasting battery, it would be a definite recommendation. As it is today - accept it with its known limitations. Overall, I love it, despite its flaws.

  22. Avatar

    hellcatm

    I was trying to look up the price of a mobile Pentium Gold processor compared to a 3000 series AMD processor. I know the AMD's are at about $99 for desktop, but not sure how much for mobile.


    I just have an Android tablet and it does what I need. If I had to do writing I'd consider a Chromebook. If Microsoft can get the price of the higher end Go down then I'd get one of those but at $1000, I'd rather buy a used Surface Pro (probably last years model or referb if I wanted to save money).

  23. Avatar

    Andi

    And yet according to adduplex it is the 2nd most popular Surface and not without reason. This is not an ipad and will not unseat the ipad from its spot as the top tablet. This is Microsoft's version of a hybrid netbook. You said the emmc/4gb ram/pentium combo for 400 is unacceptable. I beg to differ. There isn't anything of this quality in the PC landscape at 400$.

  24. Avatar

    nbplopes

    It’s piece of beautified junk that plays on the over sold fallacy a PC is an efficient shape shifter. Pocket PC is gone, when will people realize they are being taken for a ride on anything PC but a Desktop?

    • Avatar

      scan

      In reply to nbplopes:

      On the hardware side, your point in more than debunked, I am only unsatisfied that Microsoft is still sticking with "good" old rusty Intel(m3 and 4425Y still on 14nm), they are having a lot of problems with the lower more efficient lithographies, hindering potential battery life and TDP improvements. AMD is only now entering the <10W TDPs game on 7nm, a lower clocked Ryzen 3 4300U in the same ballpark 6W would work wonders in a chassis like the SGo's. Surely the x86-64 architecture needs this new AMD blood, this forced reliance on only one competitor (Intel) for all these years took its toll and it is showing.

      • Avatar

        nbplopes

        In reply to scan:


        It seams that we have a different definition of what Hardware is.


        Also I’ve heard Surface X / ARM performance it’s a dream.


        I guess AMD will save the day.



        • Avatar

          Paul Thurrott

          The next thing is always going to fix everything.
        • Avatar

          scan

          In reply to nbplopes:

          I just read depreciative accusations without facts. Lets just be real, you are speaking about a 10" device with a little more than a pound in height. The battery is small, smaller than any ARM counterpart, and the system efficiency is a tradeoff between running a dumbed down simplified and highly optimized system that only runs in a specific set of devices VS a more generic kernel that runs in almost every x86-64 combination and is compatible with an infinite amount of APIs and runtimes, some from the 80s and back. That amount of retro-compatibility takes its toll, but if you don't need it, then Windows is not the platform that will fit your needs. For the Windows centric people, it is a great choice with its natural limitations. Of course that it is always easy to fall to nonsense expectations, I guess it depends on your intentions or even if there is any hidden point in your rhetoric to be proven.

          • Avatar

            nbplopes

            In reply to scan:


            How does all that mambo jambo help me using this ultra smart system? On the other hand the OS maybe tailored to run on 1000 x86 combinations as for MS business model, meaning more revenue streams for them, that I don’t use right now, just payed for one and my money is very specific. Your may be generic but not mine. I bet most peoples money aren’t generic.


            These are also facts.


            Dumbed down? I think consumers and professionals need to Smart up as they have done with the Smartphones!


            You will be paying $750 minimum if not a $1000 for an MS Office machine, that you also need to pay.. So the reality of this solution way dumber and far more specific. And will be shoved in lots of schools based in the same kind of argument you are presenting.


            Its stupid to accept something not that good based on the premise that on something’s else is better. This fundamentally the base of your argument once we get through the technical rhetoric.


            This solution is ... well I will not repeat myself.


            PS: Should I mention the entire Surface line, probably with the exception of the Surface Laptop ... ?

            • Avatar

              scan

              In reply to nbplopes:

              That vast hardware support that you so despise allows a great number of competitors into the platform, in such a competitive market where you find devices for every wallet and specification. As a consumer, I largely prefer the tradeoffs of a more generic system than a closed ecosystem in a cash cow ordeal. Don't like the Surface line? There's more to choose from!

              • Avatar

                nbplopes

                In reply to scan:


                So this device is a good and cost efficient solution because by buying it I’m supporting a great number of competitors into the platform unlike being a cash cow for a few. So it’s kind of a tech welfare system right?


                That must be the reason why a $800 Desktop PC circles around, bellow and above and beyond the performance of a $3000 Surface right? What a great solution a Surface Go is for people with tight financial constraints.


                Great. Absolutely great.


                What a great reality distortion field you have there. How closed a culture can get?

    • Avatar

      Chris_Kez

      In reply to nbplopes:

      Desktop PC certainly provides a better price:performance ratio, but what if you need to a use a PC somewhere other than your desk?

      • Avatar

        nbplopes

        In reply to Chris_Kez:


        The first thing, it’s not just better. It’s a HUGE difference. Especially if you go for a white label Desktop PC. An option very common in the 90s and first half of 00’s. White label Desktop PCs. was the business model that popularized IBM PC Compatibles across the world. This is something that is gone in the Laptop PC space That is why Laptops are being pushed so hard by top vendors and MS.


        Secondly the challenge is not described as simple as that. You don’t buy bike, a car or plane based on what if you need to go out? You go out, that is a fact! So it’s al rhetorical question. Albeit it might not look like it is, well it is!


        The reason we do it’s down to Perception. A Perception steered by Marketing, a reality distortion field if you ill that points us to the idea that a PC is the same thing everywhere, what changes is simply shape of the device and power, no side effects.


        That is not true at all. Prices go up considerably, longevity drops (buy more often), harder to fix, not infrequently underpowered. The later wether you buy one for 500 or 3500. Amongst many other things out of bad designs to make it look like a SmartPhone or a Tablet.


        So it comes the expression “the next thing will fix everything”. And good enough? Since when 500, 1000 or 3000 for good enough? How is that for an example of the Stockholm Syndrome? The fact is the same problems come back, over and over again. Why? Because it’s systemic. The year is 2020 people!


        In the Smartphone Space we managed to overcome this erroneous perception. Look at the ultra vibrant market. No player or two players dominate the all thing. Some surpass in performance Laptop PCs of 2000 by a margin actually significant. And all of these kinds even with fundamentally different OSs communicate quite well with each other don’t they?


        The reason why we did so was because we were not afraid of ... LEGACY. Legacy is the boogieman that the mobile PC banks on. Wintel applied the same perception game on Smartphones but we said, thank you very much but we want something better. Legacy is the thing that lead us to phrases such as “Real Apps”, “Real Computers” vs Toys. This legacy thing it’s a multi billion dollar Industry steered by Professionals. So don’t expect disruption from Professionals and Enterprises.


        In fact, the Smartphone revolution was empowered by tech designers and engineering visionaries as much as the consumer. It was the consumer and prosumer choice that forced Professionals to move ....Of course Profession institutionalized it with BYOD. Basically meaning “You Pay for It”


        The reality is that mobile PCs (Windows or Macs) have very explicit and serious limitations. We can read them over and over and over again on every product launch for decades already. So we discuss how good is the keyboard. the display. ... number of ports, the limitations are given, unquestioned in the face of the boogie man called LEGACY. So where is the digital transformations applied to the digital? Oh, no, that we don’t like say the Professionals ... that is for analogs ...


        Unfortunately no tech journalist is writing seriously about them as very few can see past this perception. They are as dismissive as Professionals as it disrupts they systems of beliefs ... fundamentally their audience and the companies launching the initiatives that justify their existence..


        They are simply unable to believe in anything else. To challenge this. It takes time. A time and practice that can’t be limited by the need to spawn the article or the video needed to drive more audience, more revenue while fundamentally staying in the same place as we were 15 years ago in the mobile PC space.


        • Avatar

          Chris_Kez

          In reply to nbplopes:

          Sweet Christmas. While you're off on your quest for revelatory techno-ideological transformation, some of just have work we need to get done, often away from desk, often-- GASP-- using "legacy" software. I'm glad that computers have gotten smaller, lighter, faster, with better screens and keyboards and better battery life, all while prices have remained in the same range.

  25. Avatar

    innitrichie

    When I evaluate the pros and the cons in your at-a-glance list, I get the sense you had a harder time putting together the "pros" column. :) I'll add that the colorful type covers are not exactly reeling me in.


    I do find it aggravating that tech companies are no longer satisfied with the old base model trick. Buy a better spec, and then you still need to buy a bunch of necessary and completely overpriced accessories. That's the Apple influence on this industry.


    Coming next: a MacBook Pro shell without the display, keyboard or trackpad shipped as standard.

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      In reply to innitrichie:

      Well. There's a real advantage to the whole Surface design/build thing for sure, and to the form factor in general.

      • Avatar

        RobertJasiek

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Modularity is fine - rip-off for modular components is terrible.

        A 2-in-1 keyboard is of much lower quality than very good desktop keyboards. The latter cost €55 so the former ought to cost less.

        A stylus is a nice piece of technology so we cannot expect it at a bargain. However, current prices are rip-offs. Fair prices should be in the €45 to €75 range.

        When praising the Surface design and build quality, do not forget its included planned obsolesence as to battery and repair! Do not sing the manufacturer's song of visual impression and haptic feeling but perceive the whole picture incl. the internals! Battery replacements at about the cost of a newly purchased model are the most terrible. Furthermore, they are unnecessary for the outer design, build quality and form factor.

  26. Avatar

    ccalberti

    I was an early adopter of the Surface Go, as I jettisoned all Apple iPad because Apple stopped allowing syncing photos (I have 20,000 digital images organized in folders) directly from PC (Surface Book) to iPad and forced use of iCloud (inferior consumer product). I tried a Samsung tablet, which was ok. But the Surface Go (top model with 256 gig storage chip) gave me a decent (only) secondary computer that is highly portable and usable for the basics (browser, Office 365 email, simple spreadsheets and ppt; not photoshop) and very good content viewer. I use the Surface Go every day for personal and business.


    My question: Is the performance of the new Surface Go 2 as a PC sufficiently better than the original to merit an upgrade?

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