5 reasons why Surface Go is better than iPad for students (and 3 reasons it's not)

Microsoft and Apple bring unique hardware and software strengths to personal computing. Microsoft's enterprise partnerships, pervasive software presence, and decades-long PC dominance make it synonymous with productivity and personal computing. Apple's high-end devices, hardware and software synergy and invaluable "cool factor" make it an industry powerhouse, the standard by which rivals are measured and a consumer and media darling.

In the PC space, Microsoft has crushed Apple's consumer and business efforts for decades. Conversely, Apple's iPhone-led charge ultimately resulted in the death of Microsoft's phone strategy. And the iPad, which dominates the tablet PC market, overshadows Microsoft's successful Surface 2-in-1, though the two devices exist in distinct product categories.

Still, Apple's newest 7.9-inch and 9.7-inch slate tablets with Apple pencil are aimed at the same education market Microsoft's targeting with its new 10-inch 2-in-1 with Surface Pen and TypeCover. Here are five reasons why Microsoft's Surface Go is best for students and three reasons why Apple's iPad rules.

Why Surface Go is the way to go

Microsoft's software and hardware solutions are preferred among schools (and businesses) around the world. According to consulting firm Futuresource, Microsoft hardware had 44 percent of the global education market in May of 2018. This market dominance lends itself to a comprehensive end-to-end approach.

Microsoft's comprehensive solution

Microsoft's hardware and software infrastructure-building forté is an important asset for any entity, including schools, to consider when weighing its options. Microsoft brings enterprise-class collaboration, Teams for Education, device management, and Intune for Education (opens in new tab) to the table with devices like Surface Go. This is complemented by an industry-leading cloud and enterprise-grade first-party software like Office 365 for Education.

Surface Go in education is backed by the weight of what makes Microsoft an enterprise success. And though Office 365 software like OneNote is cross-platform, Surface Pen and Windows Ink bring unique experiences to Surface Go.

Windows Ink is king

Though the iPad with its (eraser-less) Apple Pencil boasts digital inking, Microsoft's Windows Ink is more broadly integrated throughout the OS and other software. Microsoft positioned inking as a first-class input modality alongside keyboard, touch, mouse, voice and gaze in Windows 10 and by extension Surface Go. Thus, with its notepad-like dimensions Surface Go is a great digital notepad.

Additionally, various combinations of clicks of the Surface Pen's eraser launches Windows Ink Workspace apps as well as apps like OneNote. Students can write on Office documents, Edge webpages, emails in Microsoft's Mail app and more.

Writing is a natural mechanism of human expression, as well as recording and sharing information. Despite technology's influx in schools, it remains an integral part of a student's academic (and life) experience. Making that natural experience as much a part of the digital platforms students use is an important part of seamlessly integrating technology into education. Microsoft's system-wide inking solution positions Surface Go to consistently provide opportunities for students to naturally interact with and create digital content through writing.

In fact, earlier this year Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Classroom Pen, which was designed specifically for students using Surface Go (though it is compatible with other products). Microsoft's hardware team worked with students within the classroom to develop this pen which is shorter than the original Surface Pen, has a more durable tip, fewer moving parts and has a tether to connect it to the device.

How Surface Go is paving the road to Surface Andromeda

More versatile

Surface Go is a full Windows 10 2-in-1 PC, whereas the iPad is a slate tablet with a mobile OS. As such, the Surface Type Cover (opens in new tab) turns the base Surface Go "tablet" into a fully functioning, albeit mini, laptop like the Surface Pro. Microsoft made Surface Go a full PC so users can do whatever they want without limitations. In comparison, the 9.7-inch keyboard-less iPad that lacks full mouse support is limited. Apple has recently brought mouse support (as an accessibility option for now) to the evolving iPadOS. Though this mobile-based platform still lacks the full power of a Windows 10 PC, Apple is positioning it to do most of the things most people (including students) do most of the time and more.

Future prep

Microsoft's IT solutions rule the business world many students will eventually join. Surface Go, Microsoft collaboration and device management tools like Teams (opens in new tab) and Office 365 for Education prepares them for this Microsoft-driven environment.

OEM options

Finally, Surface Go, as an aspirational device positions schools for more options as Microsoft's OEM partners create a range of devices, at various price points, that emulate Surface Go.

Related: Surface Go's cool factor may be its key to success

Why iPad? Apps matter

Apple's iPad has access to a breadth of apps that Microsoft's poorly-supported ecosystem may never have. Millions of developers see Apple as the standard to beat and follow the company into whatever sectors it competes in, including education. Thus, they've created a host of great apps for schools.

iPad is cheaper

At just $329 for the 9.7-inch and $399 for the 7.9-inch, iPad is cheaper than the entry-level $399 Surface Go. Adding a $99 Apple Pencil and $99 Surface Pen still keeps iPad the more affordable option for cash-strapped schools. To optimize the Surface Go's advantages schools would have to spend another $100 for a TypeCover. For struggling schools, the now $500 Surface Go may be a no deal.

Better mobile OS

iOS was built for mobility. As such it is fast and has an efficient touch-friendly tablet mode that beats Windows' tablet mode hands-down. iPad's overall hardware-software synergy is also more seamless and elegant than Surface and Windows 10.

Wrapping it up

Surface Go offers better integration into a comprehensive Microsoft IT solution, is more versatile, offers a better inking experience, as a PC it is categorically the tool businesses use and sets the stage for providing more options for schools as a device OEMs may emulate.

The iPad has much better third-party support, is the more affordable option for struggling schools and has a better tablet experience. Still, Microsoft's Surface Go likely provides the most benefits to students and school districts.

Jason Ward

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

58 Comments
  • and basically all the fancy stuff that can be done on the surface would dam well need to be advertised in the right way, because if they don't mum and dad aint going to know any better. This is where apple wins time and time again.
  • It is 2018. People know what Windows is and it's capabilities.
  • That is why daily local press offers apps to download to get rid of the blue light on your screen for both MacOS and Windows rather than its built-in functions. Today's article.
  • I think people know Windows 7's capabilities. If you asked people about Windows 10's features that weren't on Windows 7 I bet a lot of people wouldn't know about them.
  • Windows 10 has no meaningful features compared to Windows 7. It is mostly fluff. Nothing has been added that really sets it apart.
  • Says the android fan....
  • A delusional one at that.
  • Just OneDrive sync of PC configurations and files between all your PCs alone is worth switching to W10 but some other features...
    * Touch - You might not find this useful but millions do and it has spurred and explosion of designs and form factors such as Surface Pro and Studio, Yoga book, etc
    * Advanced clipboard and sharing between PCs and phone
    * Snap Assist - I use it ALL the time
    * Timeline / Task View - Application and web history sharing between all PCs, includes Task switcher and Virtual Desktops
    * Storage settings - Auto redirecting app installs to various drives and SD cards, auto Windows update cleanup, etc.
    * Microsoft Hello - More then just facial rec, a entire identity management foundation
    * Setup as Kiosk - This use to be done via GPO/gpedit/registry, etc and now just a GUI setting
    * Delivery Optimization - Allows sharing of update streams on PCs on the same LAN - HUGE bandwidth saver
    * Reset this PC - Set your PC back to setup, includes data wipes
    * Built in Security - I don't load AV on my families PCs anymore, what comes with W10 with deprecated rights is all they need Etc and so on. Some would put dark and light mode, night light, notifications, etc on their list. W7 just looks as old as it is and the underlining tech is long in the tooth.
  • But most people including the education sector doesn't know or need to know if this. All they know is that you have some kinda password username security OS that can do web browsing , Office product related stuff and run their propietary software
  • I don't know why people are so mad. He is right. If you know what Windows 7 does you know what Windows 10 does. 10 doesn't bring so many features that are so different.
  • I would argue not. How many people know Skype does simultaneous translation, and voice to text? Cortana can control you home iot devices but also query you azure datasets and create charts on the fly? Virtual desktops, virtual machines, Linux shell, edit word documents with a stylus etc. Put an address into a sticky note it pins a map, phone number you can make a call. There is a lot in there people just don't know about
  • The Surface uses the full Windows OS, while the iPad uses iOS, a mobile OS which may not have all the features that Windows has. So, you maybe able to do things on the Surface that cannot be done on the iPad.
  • You undoubtedly can do things on a Surface you cannot do on an ipad. Even a simple pivot table or external links do not work on the ipad. Perhaps for students on a creative course the ipad would be sufficient, but if your course is numeric an ipad is not a viable option. It may sufficient as a companion device but that offsets the cost saving.
  • This is reversed as well. I can do many things on an iPad that I cannot do on a Surface. Legacy Windows applications are just that, legacy. There is no future development on that platform. Try finding home automation, language learning, etc. application on Windows. There are very few if any to choose from. To use any modern service or product on Windows, you need to open a web browser, which is a terrible experience for a tablet.
  • Why would a student want to do home automation :/
    Seriously, I've got Huetero on my PC - but I also have my phone with me - so it doesn't really matter that those apps aren't on my PC device.
    What is more important, is that I can use a mouse. Or have another user log into my device without messing (or seeing) my stuff. I've _never_ been able to survive on just my iPad in the office. Without a mouse its just too slow to use. Its a consumption device, that's it. I love my iPad but its just not a workhorse. This Surface Go is the closest thing to my ideal device. Right size. All the Windows goodness. I'd prefer a decent ARM version, but I hope that comes later.
    I'd like more UWP apps, but I have everything I need - Office. Citrix Workspace. Paint.Net. Token2Shell. Live in OneNote. Spotify etc I already know it will surpass an iPad for work usage easily. I have a MacBook Pro 13 inch, but its not quite small enough for ultra portability.
  • Can we all just agree that one person's personal experience isn't necessarily the same as someone else? This is a stupid argument you are both having.
  • There is only ONE thing I cannot do on my windows device, that I CAN do on my ipad. Use texture app for magazines. THAT'S IT. Windows is way better than ios or macos in every other way.
  • You must be delerious........ What software do you think kids are learning in university these days? They aren't being taught how to use mobile versions of software, or viewers - that's what you get on an iPad. Engineers, Architects, Graphic Designers, etc - all creative in their own way, all need a full pc. Hell, an accounting major needs fill excel, not the mobile version. How about a marketing major....... Full PowerPoint, or Indesign, required. Computer Science........ Good luck coding on an iPad........ The only profession that can "get by" with IOS only would be a writer/ blogger/journalist, you only need a text editor. Even then, it's a gimped experience. I'd say the same thing for a chromebook as well.
  • You can do language learning on Windows machine. What he is going even about . I learn English and Japanese using Rosetta Stone on my olde Windows laptop.
  • The key phrase in this article, which is such a problem, is that the pen is king. I only wish they invested half as much energy in touch as they did pen. I have zero interest in using a pen. If I ever bought a surface, I would it with touch 90% of the time. Since the touch experience leaves so much to be desired, I wouldn't ever consider buying one. It's just a shame they ignored the most important input method.
  • Pen is one of the input among many other, such as USB C (charging, connect devices including monitor) mouse, and touch. I am curious what is it you do? For student who want a career as Graphic design, photography, accounting, programming, web design, Linux or even IT. What apps does the school use that choose iPad instead of PC?
  • Channeling Steve Jobs? The most important input method for content creation is either a pen or a keyboard. A finger is not a replacement and never will be. Without Jobs around to block a stylus, even Apple came to this conclusion.
  • The pen is an excellent tool once you start using it. Ink to text support, note taking, even sketching a simple thought map. I use my pen a lot more than touch
  • Almost no one needs iOS exp. to get a job in most business or government. But almost every office related job have requirements for MS Office and some want Windows knowledge. These are on the electronic job applications, don't check those off and you maybe filtered out. Some design or other jobs might want Mac OS knowledge but that is very niche. MS has done a much better job at building configuration management solutions such as InTune and quick imaging to help education IT staff quickly and effortlessly deploy these solutions now. The days of needed a domain and SCCM are pretty much over. And BTW, there are cheaper Surface Pens to be had, Logitech makes one for $29. If the Go proves to be popular then 3rd party keyboards may also appear.
  • For me the big difference is that the Go is a standalone product. In order for me to get the most out of my iPad, I need to connect it to a PC and run iTunes. The Go doesn't need to be connected to a PC because it is the PC.
  • Why do you need to connect it?
  • iTunes exists as an app that comes pre-installed on every iPad. Why would you need to connect it to a PC to run an app that's already on the iPad? I'm not even going to bother asking why you'd need to run iTunes first before running other apps, because that doesn't even begin to make sense.
  • I think what @Vongruetz meant to say about using iTunes to transfer media using iTunes between his PC and ipad. If only the latter devices has USB capability
  • You would have to do that with any new PC if you have files you want to transfer. In 2018, you are probably better off using the cloud for that. One Drive makes it quite easy.
  • The overwhelming reason to avoid any kind of Surface is the execrable mess called windows 10.
  • so why are you at windows central then ???
  • More fun than making that statement on Android Central or iMore I expect.
  • It’s thousands of times better then the shitshow that is macOS. That’s for sure.
  • Explain the 'mess'?
  • A very reasonable article, Jason.
  • Thanks raytiger. :-)
  • As an educator. The Surface wont even crack into the stronghold that is elementary education. Apple is having trouble as well. Chromes are slowly entrenching themselves in education and Microsoft's current strategy is weak at best. With that being said, chromes are a hot mess and I feel that they are a horrible investment for school districts.
  • Not teaching these kids to use real software is in-directly gimping their education, all so the school districts can save 200$/student....... Do yourself a favor, teach your kids how to use a mouse, teach them to use a PC, not just an IPad. It will be in their best interest to learn all inputs, and the full software. That's what I plan to do with my kids.
  • Because typing in Google docs is so much different than Word? They aren't using Chromebooks for heavy tasks. The labs have Macs or PCs if they need special software. Chromebooks are used in the classroom for everyday tasks because they are cheap and easy to use for students and faculty. Having one available for every child is possible, unlike Windows. The hardware costs as well as management makes them very expensive.
  • Chromes are still utterly useless. They lack the use of full time apps, and are nothing but giant internet portals. I have spent countless hours trying to find useful web sites, and most if not all of them are cluttered with links to other sites. I spend 90% of my computer time redirecting kids away from YouTube videos that they stumble on.
  • Microsoft abandoned its developer community in 2015. The day Nadella shuttered Windows mobile he sent a clear message to any developer under the age of 30, with maybe the exception of core gaming devs... "you're not welcome anymore!" That's why the only new apps coming out on the store are Centennialized versions of "legacy" Win32 apps. Microsoft itself seems to realize this and is putting all its efforts into iOS and Android versions of its own software. Let's face it "legacy" means "old"! Developers don't like to be associated with "old". And unless M$ pulls its head out of its derrière and starts investing some of its billions in cash reserves into its own App Store, Windows will remain an old man's OS.
  • apps are needed for mobiles that have low powered hardwares. because of that, mobile must use high performance application rather than browsers, thats all. mobile having countless of application is the sign of weak hardware, not anything else
  • That is why they didn't bought Xamarin because they just showed any young developer the middle finger.
  • If you already have a window based laptop or Desktop and 2 in one. you Should go with the Surface Go.
  • My wife is in education and I work IT. In the two state area that we live the schools don't use iPads. It was tried a few years back but did not work well. What they use are Chromebooks and MacBook Air. So, at least for my area, marketing against the iPad is useless for Microsoft. In the school my daughter goes to they have a BYOD policy. About 80% of the kids use a MacBook Air and the rest are divided between Windows devices and Chromebooks. iPad's aren't even an option for them to use.
  • Availability of certain apps and familiarity with iOS will be a good reason for many to prefer the iPad. But I think the Surface Go would be the better choice for me because I'm familiar with and like Windows 10, am a heavy user of OneDrive, OneNote, and Office 365, prefer the designs of the Surface Go keyboard and kickstand, and prefer the 2017 Surface pen (after the August 8 firmware updates anyway) over the Apple pencil (which is also very good). The iOS touch UI is arguably more polished than the Windows 10 touch UI. But as an Android phone user, which I believe has a decent touch UI, I really don't find much to complain about in the Windows 10 touch UI in tablet mode. And finally I would not want to give up the desktop (trackpad + mouse + keyboard) UI in my 10-inch device.
  • Neither one is good for schools at all. Way too expensive and fragile. No school should be purchasing either device for regular, day to day use. Having a handful for specific uses might make sense though.
  • I would love to get a Surface Go, but the fact I cannot play any of my touch games is a deal breaker. In fact, touch on Windows 10 in general is a terrible experience. Since I would use something like the Surface Go in touch more than keyboard and mouse, the iPad is a better way to go. I really hope to see Microsoft address touch gaming someday, but don't think that will happen until they let you install Android apps.
  • If you really want to play touch games just install Bluestack or any other Android emulator.
  • But we are talking productivity not games
  • Are schools with their bulk purchases really paying list price for MS hardware? Hell, I recently bought a Surface Go bundle on Amazon that was $450 for the 128GB SSD version with a black type cover. This was the seller's usual price, not a Prime Day special. I imagine schools and other organizations can get advantageous pricing for volume purchases.
  • Haha, Daniel's freudian slip at 0:39 in the Ipad vs Surface Go comparison video always makes me chuckle.
  • I thought it was interesting that the article notes an app gap divide. I would generally disagree with this since the Surface Go is running full Windows 10 it has access to any app in the market for Windows. The app divide is certainly there in reference to mobile/touch centric apps so I could understand it from that perspective. I do think Microsoft should have waited on the Surface Go and launched it instead with an ARM processor and Lite OS built for this very purpose. Fortunatley, the Surface Go seems to have been received generally well so the brand itself is still good. Hopefully the follow up for the Go is that ARM LiteOS device. Maybe with the fabled foldable unicorn that keeps getting discussed.
  • If they did this they wouldn't had those same apps that you mentioned.
  • Apple still has cheaper iPads with Pen support, so this isn't going to play put too well. I would definitely buy the cheap iPad over a surface, and then a Windows PC over a Mac IF I were not an iPhone user. Surface Go is pretty bad for things like iBooks, for example, where Apple Books just works way better there than Kindle works on a PC (or Mac, or iOS device). Also, Apple has a really good setup for classroom work with its services. And their privacy focus plays very well there, along with the nice and easy to use Parental Controls. Yea, I'd prefer Apple in that market.
  • I am an elementary school teacher in a district that will have a 1:1 student, device ratio this year. Ipads for K-6 and Windows 10 laptops for grades 7-12. Most of the apps we use with elementary students are not available in the Windows store. Students still have easy access to PCs in our computer labs, but for day to day teaching in my environment, the iPad has been a better choice. I love that the students move onto their own laptops by grade 7, which fits their learning and application requirements better.
  • I find my Surface Go is getting used a lot. That makes it a great value since I got the $399 model. I documented my experiences in this review: https://walletcard.org/2019/06/15/surface-go-review-delivers-far-more-th...
  • Just found this old article; not sure if anyone's still listening. I've just started to try inking my teacher comments into my Class Notebook students pages, and it's a super messy affair. Whenever I write a decimal number, like 2.245...as soon as I write the decimal, everything goes haywire, and my 'cursor' goes flying up the page and my lines get all goofy. I've tried all sorts of settings; i've watched YouTube vids; this, along with the super annoying pop-up 0n-screen keyboard...which I still can't get rid of, is driving me crazy!