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Has Surface Go lived up to our expectations?

When the Surface Pro 4 came out in late 2015, there was some disappointment that a cheaper and lower-specced and Surface 4 didn't accompany it. The beloved Surface 3 — compact, affordable, and capable — was showing its age with no clear successor. When the first rumors of an affordable 10-inch Surface tablet percolated to the surface I sketched out my hopes for the device as a modern incarnation of the Surface 3 — and that's what the Surface Go ended up being, albeit at an even lower starting price.

So, now that the Surface Go is out, did it live up to my expectations? Let's compare.

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A slightly larger screen in the same size body

The first thing I wanted to see in a new, smaller Surface was a bigger screen in the same size chassis that was the Surface 3. Unfortunately, Microsoft did the exact opposite of this. Instead of shrinking bezels and making the screen bigger, Microsoft made the display and chassis on the Surface Go smaller than its predecessor. This means it has big bezels and is physically smaller than the old Surface 3.

While I would've preferred a bigger screen in the same size chassis, I do understand why they did this. First, price. The Surface Go is $399 starting, which is no small feat. To get prices this low, Microsoft needed to make the screen smaller, but a 10-inch screen is too small for a keyboard accessory to be comfortable when in use. To fix that, it enlarged the bezels so that the keyboard was sized appropriately alongside the Surface device itself.

Updated Type Cover accessories

My next wish was that Microsoft would update the Type Covers with the new designs and fabrics found on the Surface Pro 2017, and Microsoft did exactly that! The new Surface Go features all-new Type Covers that are very similar to the designs found on the Surface Pro Type Covers, including options for Platinum, Burgundy or Cobalt Blue Alcantara covers or a standard black Type Cover.

In the future, Microsoft could also release even newer Type Covers for the Surface Go, some with a fingerprint reader perhaps, or maybe even a newer Power Cover for extended battery on the Surface Go. For now, though, I'm super happy with the new Type Covers on the Surface Go.

An ARM edition

This one was a long shot to begin with because we already knew that the new smaller Surface would be Intel-based, but I was hoping that Microsoft would also have an ARM version of the Surface Go available for those who want better battery life and instant-on capabilities. Unfortunately, it appears there will be no such option for the Surface Go, which is a real shame.

Microsoft says it will launch an LTE version of the Surface Go later this year, and perhaps that model will be available with an ARM processor, but I'm not holding my breath.

Unlimited kickstand positions

The Surface 3 had a weird three-position kickstand that felt really outdated when compared with the any-position hinge found on its big brother Surface Pro 3. I'd hoped that a new smaller Surface would adopt that same unlimited hinge, and that's exactly what Microsoft did with the Surface Go. Just like the current Surface Pro, the Surface Go has an adjustable kickstand that can fold back up to 165 degrees, allowing it to lay almost flat without any locked kickstand angles throughout.

Windows Hello integration

Windows Hello is easily one of the best new features that were introduced with Windows 10 back in 2015. Unfortunately, the Surface 3 was released a few months before Windows 10 was finalized, which meant it didn't have any of the hardware needed to support Windows Hello authentication. Naturally, I had my fingers crossed that Microsoft would add that to the new 10-inch Surface, either through facial recognition or fingerprint.

The Surface Go does have Windows Hello support through facial recognition, which is the best news. Facial recognition is easily the best way to do biometric authentication on Windows 10 devices. It's fast, and super simple, and it even works in any orientation.

So, there we have it. The Surface Go met some of our expectations, but it did miss out on things like a bigger screen and ARM processor. I think the Surface Go is the best small tablet yet, thanks to its small size, better processor and battery life!

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Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

26 Comments
  • Was impressed w the build quality during a recent hands on at ms store. Definitely will be interested in getting an LTE version when it comes out.
  • Would it have been possible to create a digital bezel in order to maximize screen realestate? The digital bezels would activate during the appropriate setting. Laptop/Tablet. There was an article here, (WC) that said this type of function may be implemented in the next iteration of the Surface Pro. It was noted in same article that this function was just speculation. It would be awesome though!
  • Even if possible, it would mean a higher price, and I'm sure they were intent on hitting that $399 starting price point. That sounds like something more likely to make its way to a Pro model.
  • "Microsoft could also release even newer Type Covers for the Surface Go, some with a fingerprint reader perhaps" Why would one want a fingerprint reader for a device with Windows Hello facial recognition?
  • Some don't want to use Windows Hello... I still prefere to use a pin code to unlock my Windows smartphone and Surface 4 Pro 🙂
  • Using Hello is not required. You can continue with your preferred method. Also, the fingerprint reader is just an alternative Hello input.
  • I prefer the fingerprint. In some areas cameras are restricted, even infrared cameras. Cameras in general can be a security risk and privacy issue, especially if you're leaving it on all the time so it can authenticate whoever is in front of it.
  • I am dumbfounded as to why Microsoft chose not to release an ARM device. Why make a small, mobile device, but then not put a portable CPU in it? If people want to use legacy software, why would they want a surface go? If people want to more speed and can't deal with an emulation layer, why get a surface go? Can any company please create a mobile, lte enabled device, with an arm processor, windows hello, pen input, with a rugged case available? As far as I know, this product does not exist and I don't understand why. This seems like the ideal combination, is it not?
  • Because these Intel processors are just better than Qualcomm's and still have way better battery life than i5, celeron or normal Pentium processors. They chose right in this case. Maybe when Qualcomm releases the 850 or the 1000 processors the story will be different but for now the 840 while good the Intel processor that the Surface Go has is just better. Better battery life is just not worth it (like 1 hour difference at best).
  • Even a Snapdragon 835 SoC is quite a bit faster compared to what is inside the Surface Go - and this is while you get a significantly better battery duration.
  • Based on actual comparisons, the battery life isn't a huge difference between Intel and ARM laptops. You get maybe 15-20% better battery life but you lose a lot of performance and features by comparison. Also, Microsoft's commitment to Windows On ARM seems to be another issue. A lot of people are saying it's another Windows RT which is may very well be with how much Microsoft seems to care about it. That being said, WoA doesn't have all the limitations of Windows RT so it's definitely in a better position, but going with an x86 Pentium CPU was a no brainer this time around.
  • I'll pass on this, even though this is the exact form factor I want. The reason is lack of apps in the Microsoft Store. But back to the hardware. I think the larger bezel is nice, gives more real estate to grab on to when using as a tablet. Way back when I had the Surface 2, I used more as a tablet then a laptop. The biggest issue I have is the low amount of storage. I think 256 GB would have been a better choice here. RAM (8 GB) and CPU seem fine to me, no complaint there. Still really disappointed to see the keyboard isn't included at the base price. It's just too expensive for a device that has so few apps. I really hope Microsoft takes the App Gap seriously, it's keeping this cool hardware from being useful.
  • Yeah, the app gap is real. Whatever propaganda people want to throw out about it, the fact is media consumption apps are nearly entirely absent on Windows tablets. Which means putting up with using web interfaces via touch and giving up features like video downloads for offline playback. Even the Kindle Windows app is ancient and not touch optimized and missing features they added years ago. Basically it means whenever I try to use my Surface 3 as a do-it-all travel device, I'm still faced with bringing an Android tablet or iPad if I want to have entertainment with me.
  • Not true, because these tablets are x86, you can run any of the millions of windows programs that exist from the past several decades. The legacy of windows tilts the app gap in favor of Windows. I'm sure you can find some win32 app for offline video viewing, etc
  • That's absolutely not true. Those are legacy applications. No one develops for Windows legacy anymore. Or UWP. New apps and services are only available on iOS & Android.
  • No, what you said is 100% not true. It entirely depends on what business you are in. My work can't be done on iOS or Android (or Windows S for that matter), full Windows or nothing.
  • Can you get the same app functionality you want by using it in Home mode and using one of the million+ x86 programs that are available?
  • You'll pass on any Windows PC anyway because you have said you don't need it. Fine. Stop. Go back to your iPad.
  • Ok, keep pretending that the app gap isn't a real issue. And when Windows is gone because it has no apps, and no one can use it, it will be the fault of people like you who aren't living in reality.
  • That's a cute device but those bezels.. kinda kill the deal for me.
  • I don't mind bezels but I'm still a little iffy on the 3:2 display. I have a Surface Book and I guess the display is alright, but I still kinda prefer the 16:9 display on my old Surface RT tablet.
  • I'm ok with 3:2 on smaller screens, but on Monitors I need 16:9 or 16:10 for productivity.
  • If I upgraded my Surface RT to this Surface Go, would my touch keyboard for the Surface RT still be compatible with the Surface Go? I understand the size of the keyboard is wider and wouldn't be a perfect fit to cover the screen but that's a non issue for me. I just don't want to buy another keyboard right away if I can reuse my old one.
  • Nope, the connector is different so any prior Touch/Type Covers are incompatible.
  • The Go demonstrates the competition between CISC and RISC chips. RISC chips (popularized by Qualcomm) are used extensively in the smartphone ecosystem and provide acceptable compute power at low energy consumption. CISC chips dominate the desktop/data center ecosystem. Intel has worked hard to lower the power consumption of CISC based systems because the power bill at a Datacenter is the highest operational cost. The Go shows that Intel is starting to release CISC chips that can compete in the Mobile market. If you lower your screen brightness to 40%, it sounds like the Go can do most of what you would do on a desktop (not including your high end gaming/photoshop, etc. workloads) in a 6 hour time window. I guess in a year, we may see a RISC Chip that can meet the same compute power as the 7th gen Pentium chip in the GO. I wonder what would be the power consumption of this device? about equal?
  • Did realize that the 2 year old Cortex A73 found in the Snapdragon 835 already outperforms the Surface Go SoC? All while taking significantly less power?
    Intel did show nothing besides that they had to limit the clock frequency to 1.6GHz in order to fit the power budget despite having only 2 cores. We are easily talking factor 2-3 in power consumption at ISO performance.