Microsoft Surface Go review – Does this portable PC pack enough to challenge Apple’s iPad?

Microsoft Surface Go review – Does this portable PC pack enough to challenge Apple’s iPad?

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Surface Go oozes ambition and the premise of the device is instantly appetising (Image: Express Newspapers)

MICROSOFT SURFACE GO – PRICE £509

  • FOR: Retains the familiar and functional design of other Surface models • Excellent speaker quality • Extremely functional kickstand • Incredibly tantalising premise
  • AGAINST: Sluggish performance • Hefty price tag when you factor in accessories • Unappealing bezels around the display

Surface Go oozes ambition and the premise of the device is instantly appetising to anyone looking to be more productive when they are out and about.

Microsoft has positioned the new tablet as not only the perfect hybrid of work and play, but also as the most affordable and portable Surface on the market, making it incredibly appealing to anyone looking to get their first taste of Windows 10 in a portable form-factor.

But the tablet’s ambition is ultimately hamstrung by a few ugly asterisks that prevent it from being the all-encompassing productive powerhouse it aspires to be.

Design

The Surface Go retains the design of its bigger brothers – the same magnesium body is present, although it feels slightly less premium this time around.

But the entire shell feels rugged, durable and made for being used in any circumstance.

Microsoft’s signature kickstand is present on the back and is by far the best on a tablet – being able to whip the Surface Go out at any time or place knowing it will fit like a glove is perfect for anyone looking to work on the move.

It is worth noting Express.co.uk tested two Surface Go units and the stand on both had the tendency to feel loose in certain positions – this further degraded from the otherwise quality finish of the hardware.

The 10-inch screen boasts a resolution of 1800 x 1200, a pixel density of 217 pixels-per-inch and comes with great levels of clarity and colour production.

Microsoft Surface Go review

Microsoft Surface Go makes its intentions of rivalling the iPad clear (Image: Express Newspapers)

Although the panel doesn’t hold a candle to the iPad’s Retina technology, it produces content well and when viewing video or web pages it is perfectly sufficient.

However the large bezels surrounding the display make it feel incredibly minute and are an immediate wake-up call that this is an entry-level Surface and not the best Microsoft has to offer.

The speakers on the device are front facing and sit in the perfect place to blast audio at you when the Surface is being used in landscape mode.

They get surprisingly loud and boast a level of clarity that led to us opting to put our headphones down and use them instead when consuming content.

Surface Go’s front-facing camera provides the incredibly handy Windows Hello functionality that harnesses the power of facial recognition to unlock the device without the need to enter a passcode manually.

The feature is refined and can recognise a user from a surprising distance.

Overall, despite a few notable compromises, the design of the Surface Go mostly fits in with more premium models of the tablet line.

Microsoft Surface Go review

Microsoft’s signature kickstand is present on the back and is by far the best on a tablet (Image: Express Newspapers)

Performance

The Surface Go comes with an Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y and is available with either 4GB or 8GB of RAM – for our testing we were given the latter version from Microsoft.

Performance is the most vital area for the Surface Go to excel in, but unfortunately it not only stumbles, but completely falters in some circumstances.

The tablet comes loaded with Windows 10 in S mode – in simple terms this is a version of the Microsoft operating system that only allows apps to be used that are downloaded from the Windows Store.

The premise of this mode is great; limit user choice in exchange for less bloatware and the reduced chance the operating system will stutter due to excessive downloads.

But S mode severely limits the functions of the user and means they cannot download apps they might find essential such as Google Chrome.

Microsoft Surface Go review

Express.co.uk tested two Surface Go units for our review (Image: Express Newspapers)

Thankfully the Surface Go can easily remove itself from S mode – but with extra apps and software comes more challenges for the fledgling processor inside the tablet to face.

Our initial experience using the Surface Go was not pleasant; going into the Windows Store for the first time presented us with a score of updates for applications we had installed.

Once we proceeded with the firmware updates the tablet stuttered before becoming practically unusable.

Loading up Spotify resulted in the Surface Go refusing to play any tracks – instead the tablet kept skipping songs repeatedly without any input on our end.

A restart of the device dramatically improved performance, but the processor inside the Surface Go can be seen struggling to run the hefty Windows 10 operating system at regular instances.

While the tablet gives off the impression it is coping with a few internet tabs in Google Chrome, Spotify open in the background and Netflix at the same time, it does not take much prodding to slow the entire experience down to a crawl.

Microsoft Surface Go review

Surface Go comes loaded with Windows 10 in S mode (Image: Express Newspapers)

Attempting to pinch and zoom on a Chrome web page is horribly unresponsive and led to us forgoing the feature entirely during our testing.

Microsoft’s own Edge browser fairs slightly better on the hardware, but we still found the software struggling to keep up with us at times.

Instances of slowdown are not always a nail in the coffin for the processor, but they delay actions long enough for the user to notice.

Such an experience was present on both surface units that Express.co.uk for this review.

Anyone who picks up a Surface Go can be incredibly productive, but software slowdown is a huge caveat to bear in mind while doing so.

Although the Surface Go is not a gaming tablet by any stretch of the imagination, we attempted to run the battle royale titan Fortnite on it and was disappointed the game could not run at a smooth frame rate on the lowest settings and resolution.

Microsoft Surface Go review

Instances of slowdown delay actions long enough for the user to notice (Image: Express Newspapers)


Sadly the dream of having a cheap and portable tablet running a full computer operating system smoothly remains tantalisingly out of reach

Microsoft claims the Surface Go is capable of delivering up to nine hours of video playback on a single charge.

But during our testing we found battery life to be slightly disappointing with us typically being able to achieve around five hours before needing a charge.

It is worth noting however that when attempting to run multiple intensive applications at once the Surface Go told us it was only going to deliver around two hours of power on a full charge.

Although the Surface Go is not going to be a gaming powerhouse and it will stutter when running tons of Chrome tabs mixed with other applications, the experience is certainly usable as long as you are prepared for an experience that is less than polished.

Microsoft Surface Go review

Express.co.uk found battery life of the Surface Go to be slightly disappointing (Image: Express Newspapers)

Software

Despite a somewhat inconsistent experience at times, the Surface Go provides users with an entire Windows 10 operating system.

This means Microsoft’s suite of productivity apps can be harnessed to get work done anywhere.

Moreover the software is incredibly intuitive and provides a ton of customisation options that will please users.

Having an entire computer operating system brings very few software compromises and is the reason the Surface line is hugely popular.

Although the hardware limits the diversity applications that can be utilised, using Windows 10 on the Surface Go doesn’t feel like a diluted version of the software.

Microsoft Surface Go review

The Surface Go Type Cover doubles up as protection for the 10-inch display (Image: Express Newspapers)

Price

Although Microsoft has been eager to label the Surface Go the cheapest in the product line there has ever been, costs can start to mount when accessories are taken into account.

The Surface Go starts at £379 for the entry level model that comes with the same Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y as the more expensive version but only comes with 4GB of RAM instead of 8GB.

The version of the tablet with better internals comes in at £509.

But the Surface Go Type Cover is an essential for anyone looking to be seriously productive on the move.

This comes in at a whopping £99.99 for the regular version or £124.99 if you want it coated in Microsoft’s signature Alcantara fabric.

The keyboard has been especially designed to fit onto the Surface Go and doubles up as protection for the 10-inch display.

Keys are noticeably closer together on the accessory than other Surface models or a regular keyboard for that matter, meaning you will certainly have to adjust to typing on it.

While we eventually got used to the reduced distance between keys, we did find ourselves making more mistakes when typing on it overall.

However, the keyboard has to be commended for providing a premium feel and satisfying travel distance.

The trackpad on the accessory is small but perfectly functional – pressing down on it provides a noticeable click and multi-finger gestures work as expected.

Microsoft have also designed a mobile mouse to accompany the Surface Go and while it is not necessary in the same way the keyboard is, we used it over the trackpad on every occasion we could.

Microsoft Surface Go review

The idea of the Surface Go is incredibly promising (Image: Express Newspapers)

But this is another cost on top of the tablet itself, coming in at £29.99.

While users do not have to opt for Microsoft’s own hardware, it is still another expense for users to consider.

Surface Go also has support for the Surface Pen – this allows creatives to draw to their heart’s content or for those who are less artistically talented to take notes.

The tracking of the pen is incredibly precise and manages to keep up with the quickest of motions across the screen.

But the functionality of the accessory is somewhat dampened by the sluggish performance of the Surface Go.

When using a notes application the tablet frequently stuttered when we attempted to scroll down to make space for more information.

What’s more, Microsoft Whiteboard, an app specifically designed to harness the power of the Surface Pen, crashed on a couple of occasions when attempting to jot down a few scribbles.

Such instances highlight the dissonance between the Surface Go’s promising and exciting software with its lacklustre internals.

If customers opt to purchase the more capable version of the tablet, a Type Cover and a Surface Pen they are looking at a minimum total figure of £708.80.

Such a cost feels incredibly expensive for the often frustrating user experience that comes with using the Surface Go, especially when Google’s Pixelbook and Apple’s MacBook line come incredibly close to such a price point.

And although the iPad offers more software compromises overall, the productivity features that are present are incredibly smooth and responsive.

Moreover Apple’s iPad Pro starts at £619 for the 10.5-inch model with 64GB of storage, making it incredibly alluring for customers looking for portable performance.

Microsoft Surface Go review

The keyboard has to be commended for providing a premium feel and satisfying travel distance (Image: Express Newspapers)

Verdict

The idea of the Surface Go is incredibly promising, but sadly the dream of having a cheap and portable tablet running a full computer operating system smoothly remains tantalisingly out of reach.

Microsoft needs to be commended for its ambition with the hardware, but ultimately the product is let down by its disappointing internals.

For £509 users should not have to deal with the frustrations Surface Go delivers – while the device is capable for a small number of simple tasks, it repeatedly feels like it is only a matter of time before the next app or internet tab will prove too much for it to handle.

For that reason we certainly cannot recommend the £379 version of the Surface Go that comes with 4GB of RAM instead of the 8GB present in Express.co.uk’s review units.

Surface Go lacks that last bit of horsepower to make it the ultimate portable machine – minor design compromises in the form of bigger bezels and a slightly less premium feeling exterior are to be expected, but stuttering performance is not.

So while the device’s software offers little dilution, the hardware holds it back from greatness and makes the iPad’s trade-off of less productive tools for better performance seem more appealing.

But all of this is not to take away from the premise of Surface Go – when the product worked flawlessly we really envisioned it being the perfect portable workstation.

Microsoft needs to take time to refine the internals of the Surface Go to ensure its demanding operating system runs smoothly.

After experiencing noticeable dips in performance during the testing of our initial review unit Express.co.uk asked a representative for Microsoft whether it was aware of such issues.

They insisted issues may have been limited to our review unit but this publication found they were replicated in our second Surface Go device.

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