Microsoft Surface Go UK review
Hardware Laptops Reviews Surface Windows

Microsoft Surface Go UK review: a real rival to the iPad Pro?

What a curious device the Surface Go is. Not quite a tablet, not quite a laptop, it could be easily dismissed as a device that sits awkwardly between those two established stalls. In fact, it’s both unique and brilliant.

BTQ: Brief Tech Questions

How much is it?£379 for the 4GB of RAM/64GB of storage version, £509 for the 8GB/128GB version. But you’ll need to buy a keyboard as well, which costs another £100 to £125.
Does it run full-fat Windows?It comes with Windows 10 in S mode, which is a protected version that can only run approved apps from the Windows Store. However, you can switch to full-fat Windows 10 Home free of charge.
How fast is it?It’s fine for web browsing, email, Word etc, but not what I’d choose for demanding tasks.
How big is it?Think iPad and you won’t be far wrong.
How heavy is it?Again, very iPad-ish. 522g without keyboard, 767g with it. (My measurements, not Microsoft’s.)
Are the cameras any good?They’re okay for snaps and actually quite good for Skype calls, but don’t get excited – your phone’s camera is probably better.
How long does the battery last?Microsoft claims nine hours, but my experience suggests you’ll get closer to six unless you switch to the Battery Saver mode (which lowers the screen brightness).

What makes the Surface Go so damn good?

So why am I so impressed? Has Microsoft slipped me £500 and a ticket to see Taylor Swift at the O2 Arena? Nope. In fact, I bought this device with my own money, because Microsoft managed to launch the Go with zero units for review purposes in the UK.

What I love is that it’s a full computer – including compatibility with all the programs I use every single day – yet it’s the size of a dinky tablet. There are areas it falls down, which I’ll come to in a second, but I’ve never used a tablet or a netbook (the cheap, ultra-small laptops of a decade ago) that came close to what the Surface Go can do.

I also think it offers excellent value for money, which may sound odd when you have to pay around £600 to get a “proper” specification and the keyboard. But this is a premium machine, with top build quality and excellent components. I think it’s worth it.

Where does the Surface Go fall down?

This isn’t a fast computer. If you want all-out speed, get a proper-sized laptop with a faster processor and more memory. And, of course, with a 10in screen it will look tiny compared to your main machine. It isn’t designed to be a laptop you’ll sit at all day long.

Nor does it look so great if you compare it to an Apple iPad. Indeed, the strongest argument against the Go is that you can buy a 128GB iPad for £409 and a Logitech keyboard for another £90. That undercuts the 128GB Go by £110, if you buy the plain keyboard. Oh, and I need hardly mention that the Apple Store is packed with brilliant apps while the Windows Store makes a whistling sound each time you enter it.

(Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Affinity has released its Photo and Designer apps, there are quite a few decent games and staples such as Spotify and Netflix – but if you’re an app maker, you’re always going to launch on the App Store first, Android Play second, and Windows a distant third.)

Note that it only has a USB-C port, too. If you want to add old-style Type-A USB peripherals, you’ll need to buy a replicator such as the Kingston Nucleum. Although I would have preferred to see Thunderbolt support, I’m happier with USB-C than USB-A – it’s far more forward-looking. (Note there’s a microSD slot and 3.5mm jack too.)

Can the Surface Go run full-fat Windows 10? 

Microsoft Surface Go UK review

Here we come to another great thing about the Surface Go: while it comes with Windows 10 in S mode, which can only run apps from the Microsoft Store, it’s easy to switch to Windows 10 Home whenever you like.

Read our guide to switching to Windows 10 from S mode here.

The process took around ten minutes when I did it, but that’s mainly because I had to go through the rigmarole of downloading a new version of the Microsoft Store from the Microsoft Store first. Which is so very Microsoft.

How good is the keyboard?

Microsoft Surface Go UK review

There’s only one type of keyboard cover, which is almost a halfway house between the Type Cover and Touch Cover of old. It has the soft fabric finish that Microsoft is so fond of, and comes in four different colours – £100 for plain black, £125 for, say, burgundy.

There is a small amount of travel on the keys, but nothing like what you’re used to from a proper keyboard. It’s also substantially slimmer than normal, with an inevitable knock-on effect for key sizes. 

Still, I found that I could hit decent touch typing speeds if I concentrated. I also like the fact you have a choice between using it raised (my preferred option) and flat, while a backlight is both useful and surprising.

It’s a quiet wee unit too. You won’t feel embarrassed tapping on this while everyone else is asleep on the plane. Also note that, while you need the kickstand to keep it upright, it’s so compact that you can type with it on your lap if needs be.

How good are the screen and speakers?

The Surface Go’s screen is excellent. Although this wasn’t immediately obvious: on first loading, the Go is stuck in “Best battery life” mode, which involves cutting the brightness by around a third.

Step up to “Better battery” mode (click on the battery symbol on the taskbar and then use the slidebar) and its full 426 lumens brightness kicks in, which is plenty for most occasions. You’ll have to squint in sunlight, but apart from that it’s fine.

It sailed through our technical tests, but the key thing to note is that colours are vivid without being oversaturated, while blacks look suitably black. Microsoft clearly knows this, with its wallpaper picture of a woodpecker against a black background looking simply superb (see below).

I watched a selection of Netflix favourites – Black Mirror, Altered Carbon, Final Space – and they all looked suitably lovely. Altered Carbon in particular is a good test of contrast, and it didn’t disappoint.

Even Christian Slater’s downbeat delivery shone through: despite the Go’s tiny dimensions, the two speakers tucked into the left and right bezels do a great job. I wouldn’t listen to Mozart on the Surface Go, but it would be fine for a bout of Danny Baker of a Saturday morning.

Microsoft Surface Go UK review: should you buy it?

The truth is that I like the Surface Go far, far more than I expected to. Sure, it looks revoltingly slow if you compare it to proper laptops, and if you compare it to the iPad the paucity of apps make it appear very backward indeed.

However, this is a brilliant second machine. It’s the first “tablet” that I would take on my travels, because I know that I can do 100% of the things I can do with my main machine. With the iPad, I’d be lucky to reach 75%.

It’s also a brilliant sofa companion. Light and small enough that you can keep it by your side, but because you have a keyboard you can switch into “doing mode” rather than “consuming mode” with the greatest of ease. Plus, the always-on cover protects it from everyday life.

So, congratulations Microsoft. This is a unique device and I love it.

Microsoft Surface Go technical specifications 

  • Processor: Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y
  • Memory: 4GB for the £379 model, 8GB for £509
  • Storage: 64GB eMMC (£379), 128GB SSD (£509). Note the 64GB storage is slower eMMC technology, so will make Windows feel laggy on occasion.
  • Screen: 10in with 1,800 x 1,200 resolution
  • Cameras: 5-megapixel front, 8-megapixel back
  • Ports: just one USB-C plus a headphone jack and SurfaceConnect port. There’s a microSD card reader too
  • Wireless: 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.1
  • Dimensions: 245 x 175 x 8.3mm (width x depth x height), but height increases to 13.3mm with cover on
  • Weight: 522g tablet only, 767g with cover

Microsoft Surface Go benchmark results

  • Geekbench single core: 2050
  • Geekbench multicore: 4026
  • 426 lumens measured brightness
  • 90.3% measured sRGB gamut coverage
  • 1,379:1 measured contrast
  • 1.44 measured Delta E average (together with the 90.3% sRGB gamut coverage, indicates high colour accuracy)

Read this next: Microsoft Surface Book 2 review

Microsoft Surface Go
  • Flexibility
  • Portability
  • Power
  • Value for money
4.3

Summary

Eat your heart out iPad: this is a brilliant second screen for those who need to create as well as consume

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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