Microsoft Surface Go Review: A Really Expensive Tablet
Microsoft Surface Go detailed review
2018 was undoubtedly a busy year for Microsoft. Starting with the Surface Pro in late February, it has decided to launch its complete Surface line-up in India. The list includes Surface laptops and Surface Book 2. But that is not all. Just before the end of the year, the software and hardware giant tossed a small and less expensive version of the Surface Pro, the much-talked-about Surface Go. Clearly, Microsoft wanted to show potential iPad buyers that they have a choice. But is Microsoft succeeding on that front? Read on to find out.
What’s in the box: Not much, really
Let’s take a look at what Microsoft has to offer with Surface Go. It’s a ten-inch Windows tablet with a kickstand similar to the Surface Pro. It is powered by the 2017 14-nanometer dual-core Intel Pentium Gold processor 4415Y clocking at 1.60GHz. At Rs 37,999, you will get Pentium Mate with 4GB RAM and 64GB eMMC storage. However, if you spend a little more and invest Rs 49,999, you will get the same Pentium chip with 8GB RAM and 128GB NVMe solid-state storage.
If you want a detachable magnetic keyboard with any one of the variants, the Surface Go signature type cover costs an extra Rs 7,829. If you want an active stylus for drawing and writing notes, the Surface Pen costs an extra Rs 9,390. As software, Surface Go gets Windows 10S mode, which means apps can only be installed from the Microsoft Store. If you want to install the traditional Win32 application, you need to skip S mode, which is a one-time step. A new installation of Windows 10 will be required to return to S mode. The Surface Go gets a Surface Connect port for power, a 3.5mm audio jack for the headset, a microSDXC card slot, and a single USB Type-C port.
On the face of it, the Surface Go is certainly an expensive piece of technology, especially for a small portable computer. But even with its signature type cover, Surface Go simply Can’t A typical laptop, even seen as a convertible laptop. It’s definitely a handheld tablet with optional keyboard accessories like the iPad. In comparison, the iPad starts at around Rs 28,000 and goes up to Rs 100,000 for the Pro model. The primary goal of the iPad is to provide easy access to content through iOS, while the Surface Go aims to be a tablet like this through Windows running, originally written for desktops and laptops with keyboard and mouse input.
Build and Display: Pro follows
Yes, the Surface Go bears a lot of resemblance to the Surface Pro but is significantly smaller when hand held. It’s as if Microsoft has decided to reduce the size of the display unit only when creating the Surface Go. I say this because, when the display is markedly compressed, the bezels are vaguely thick. Like its older brother, the Surface Go gets an all-metal body and a kickstand that is quite difficult to place if you have a busy one in your hand. When the Surface Pen and Signature Type Cover are attached to it, handling the tablet becomes more complicated as there is no space to hold the device. On the bright side, the buttons on the top of the tablet body are stiff and easy to press
The front and rear cameras of the device are capable of taking fairly good pictures with an amazing amount of detail. The front camera is used to unlock the face when signing in. Our test unit, the top-end variant with 8GB of RAM, has successfully unlocked the device almost five times while holding it directly in front of the face. Overall, the Surface Go seems to be well built. Compared to an iPad, it is not difficult to hold, especially since it weighs just over 500g. I just wish Microsoft wouldn’t send out of the factory with such a thick bezel; In an age of bezel-less display design in-thing it seems old and ridiculous. Here’s a link to a Windows Central article explaining why the Surface Go’s bezels are so thick.
The Surface Go’s PixelSense touchscreen display measures ten inches diagonally. It is protected by a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 It has a resolution of 1800 x 1200 pixels and a ratio of 3: 2, which is healthy for display in that size. By default, Windows scales everything on the screen to 150 percent with the device’s native display resolution. At 125 percent, the text is still readable with some amount of squinting. At 100, you can’t read a thing. In our test unit, I set the scaling to 150 percent for use in tablet mode but switched to 125 percent when I had to browse desktop sites. The overall feeling I got was that the display was too small for Windows components like taskbar, file explorer, task manager etc. in tablet mode of windows. The Surface Pen, however, works well with the PixelSense display for drawing and scribbling notes on OneNote and Paint3D
Keyboard and touchpad: small but precise
The optional Surface Go signature type cover gets stuck close to the body of the Surface Go as it moves closer to the body of the tablet. Although the keyboard frame feels a bit dull because it’s designed to be light, its backlit keys have the right kind of character. The keyboard takes a while to get used to because the keys are incredibly small. But once you get used to its shape, typing becomes fairly easy. But the overall comfort level allows you to type only small documents and emails.
In my experience, there were a few annoyances on the keyboard of the test unit. The first is that the keyboard is longer than the display (due to the thicker bezel), so it looks like I’m typing on an old Apple Powerbook Duo. This makes the tablet look smaller than this. The other was that the top row was particularly narrow. I often stared at the display in an attempt to hit one of the function keys (and to touch something unintentionally).
The optional keyboard on the Surface Go is as wide as its display, like the old PowerBook.
The touchpad at the bottom of the keyboard is a perfect unit. It works smoothly and responds exactly as you would like. A breeze to use multi-finger taps and swipes. At times the touchpad may seem a bit small but in the long run it doesn’t feel too narrow. Clicking on the touchpad is easy for left- and right-mouse clicks. Microsoft has certainly done a great job with the Surface Go’s touchpad.
Performance: up to mark
The Intel Pentium Gold processor 4415Y on Microsoft Surface Go is enough for most everyday tasks like emailing, document editing, video playback and web browsing. There are moments when the Surface Go hiccups and shows signs of stuttering but only when you tell it to do multiple things at the same time or in quick succession. For example, when the processor is already loaded on a task, pressing Win + Tab together to pull up the task view causes a noticeable stuttering.
Our test unit, with its 8GB RAM and 128GB NVMe solid-state storage, was able to handle a considerable amount of pressure. I’ve been able to switch between apps like Chrome, Word, Excel, WhatsApp for PC, OneNote, Paint 3D and multiple examples of File Explorer across multiple virtual desktops without any hassle. There were occasional fights in the animation but it was not something to be disappointed with. Although I’m not a fan of Surface Go. The Intel HD 615 internal graphics card works for videos but is not suitable for gaming.
Software: There is a lot of work to be done
From my experience with the test unit, I’ve learned that the Surface Go’s display isn’t necessarily too small for Windows 10 — rather, Windows 10 is still too large for small tablet displays. The 33-year-old operating system has not yet fully adapted to small screen tablets. That’s true. Let me tell you how painful it can be to simply rename a file to Surface Go using Screen Touch. I booted the test unit to Landscape Orientation, enabled tablet mode, and set the scaling to the recommended 150 percent.
The context menu cannot be swiped to scroll down
In a maximum file explorer window, I long pressed a file icon to bring up the context menu, which for some strange reason kept resizing every time it popped up. The name change option is usually found at the bottom of the Windows context menu. So I’ll be able to swipe up to reach the bottom of the menu — right? No. I was repeatedly forced to press a small down arrow at the bottom of the list to scroll down. When I was finally able to tap on the rename, the file name was highlighted for renaming but the keyboard did not pop up automatically.
You need to press that small down arrow to scroll down
When I tap on the keyboard icon to the right of the taskbar, the keyboard quickly presents itself but covers the entire half of the screen, including the highlighted file name. I had no choice but to blindly start typing new file names on the keyboard. Hitting backspace took me to the previous folder position. Retrying the process in portrait orientation worked better but finding the option to rename the file was a pain. Performing other tasks using just touch, such as browsing and reviewing documents, was not such a big deal. Still, some Windows components, especially the in-window buttons, are still requested for use with the mouse and keyboard.
Highlighted text does not automatically pop up on the keyboard
The point is, Windows is still far from easy to use on tablets. Microsoft is trying its best to promote Windows 10 as a hybrid PC + tablet operating system but the truth is that it is not one yet. Even Task View – Microsoft has made a good feature in Windows 8 after deciding to combine PC and tablet UI – the user has to hover the mouse pointer over a virtual desktop thumbnail to see what windows it has.
The keyboard eats half the screen but the content on the back does not go up
In addition to the problems with this UI design, I found other annoying software bugs in the Surface Go test unit. The default camera app in Windows 10 shows an unknown error and shuts down after taking two pictures in a row. On average three times out of five, the display’s brightness control failed to work. After finally reinstalling the display driver in Device Manager I was finally able to regain control.
After two shots the camera goes off
To sum things up, Windows 10 on a ten-inch tablet with only touch input is a really bad idea. If you want to be productive with Surface Go, you need to get that optional signature type cover. And that means spending thousands of dollars just for a keyboard and touchpad. Even more frustrating is that Surface Go fails to provide a seamless Windows experience, considering that it is from the Windows manufacturers themselves.
Summary: A tablet reserved for Windows loyalists
Let’s add Surface Go Up. This is a ten inch tablet powered by a 2017 Pentium chip with the lowest variant priced at Rs 37,999. For that price, neither the Surface Pen nor the signature type cover is included with the device. The tablet’s performance is good for most everyday tasks but Windows 10 has an unpleasant UI on a display that is small enough to impede your productivity.
If you can’t do without Winodws 10 on your next tablet then Microsoft Surface Go is for you. Your other options include the Apple iPad range, which has been updated with the recently refreshed iPad Air and iPad mini, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4.