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Microsoft Surface Go review: Bringing the fun back to Windows

Microsoft Surface Go
Microsoft Surface Go

Windows Central Best Award

Conceptually, taking the favorite Surface Pro 2-in-1 PC and shrinking it down to a 10-inch model seems desirable, but with lowering the price and performance of the components there are questions.

Is it usable in the lap? How good is the performance? Can you type well on it? Does it even make sense?

Luckily, the new $399 Microsoft Surface Go not only does these things well — it exceeded my expectations for hardware.

No, not everyone needs or wants a 10-inch PC, but if you are eyeing the Surface Go the performance jump between it and the Surface 3 (2015) is monumental. Microsoft has thought long and hard about how to get this device right, and the result is not only impressive, but it's downright fun.

About this review

Microsoft supplied a loaner Surface Go for this review. The unit tested features a Pentium Gold 4415Y processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage priced at $549. Also, an Alcantara keyboard was used ($129), and a Surface Pen ($99) for a total price of $777. An entry-level Surface Go with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage is available for $399 and a non-Alcantara keyboard for $99.

In the box is included a 24W Surface charger and warranty information. The Surface Go ships with Windows 10 Home in S mode version 1803 (build 17134.112). There is 95GB of free storage on the 128GB SSD model.

A version with 4G LTE (with the Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 modem) is also now available (see our review for that one).

See at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Microsoft Surface Go technical specifications

Compared to the Surface Pro, the Surface Go is a step down for hardware. That makes sense for the price-point and the form-factor, but the good news is the quality of the components has not dropped with the price or size.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the Surface Go exceeds previous mobile Surface devices in a least a couple of areas. Here are the raw specifications:

CategorySurface Go
OSWindow 10 Home in S-mode
Display10-inch 3: 2 aspect
1800 x 1200 with touch
216 ppi
ProcessorIntel Pentium Gold 4415Y (1.6GHz)
Fanless
GraphicsIntel HD 615
RAM4GB or 8GB
1866MHz LPDDR3
Storage64GB eMMC
128GB or 256GB SSD
Ports1x USB-C 3.1 (aux. charge, video out, data), microSD (up to 1TB), Surface Connect, headphone jack
Surface Pen4,096 levels of pressure, tilt suppport
Camera5MP front-facing with Windows Hello
8MP rear auto-focus
ConnectivityQualcomm Atheros (QCA61x4A)
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.1
Optional LTE
AudioDual front-facing speakers
Dolby Audio Premium
BatteryUp to 9 hours
Dimensions9.6" x 6.9" x .33" (245mm x 175mm x 8.3mm)
Weight1.15 lbs (0.52 kg) without keyboard
1.7lbs (0.77 kg) w/keyboard
Power24 W power supply
PriceStarts at $399
Keyboard $99 or $129 (Alcantara)

The Surface 3 shipped with a larger 10.8-inch 1920 x 1280 display, while Surface Go is smaller at 10-inch 1800 x 1200. However, the pixel density of the Surface Go is technically a hair higher at 216 ppi, versus the 214 ppi in Surface 3. It's a smaller display, but just as sharp.

It's a mini-Surface Pro, really

Microsoft Surface Go design

Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go

Compared to the Surface Pro, the Surface Go is much curvier on the edges with rounded corners. The smaller Surface Go is much more likely to be held as a tablet than the larger Pro 2-in-1s, so it makes sense to make it a more comfortable device.

The Surface Go is a very much mini Surface Pro

At 8.33mm thin (without keyboard) and weighing just 1.15 pounds (520 grams), the Surface Go is very light and nimble. It's a remarkably compact PC and just a smidge heavier and longer than the iPad 9.7-inch. It feels akin to carrying around a modest 200-page hardcover book. That weight is evenly balanced, and there are no creaks or weak points to speak of for the chassis.

The Surface Go is a very much mini Surface Pro – at least from a design and materials perspective.

Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go (Image credit: Windows Central)

The body is a single unibody design made from magnesium except for the area for the antenna near the top edge. That material is different to prevent interference for the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radio and is not as seamless as the pricier Surface Pro with LTE.

The kickstand is fully-articulating, too, like the Surface Pro with 165-degrees of movement. This lets the Surface Go lay almost entirely flat, which is ideal for drawing.

Microsoft could have cut corners with Surface Go's execution, but it did not.

Some have lamented the seemingly large bezels of the Surface Go but compared to even the Apple iPad 9.7 (which are thinner on the sides than top and bottom) they are well within the range of normal. The bezels are slightly smaller than my thumb width, which makes it ideal for gripping the Surface Go without directly touching the screen. There are also some good technical reasons for the bezels.

Everything from the buttons to the materials used on the Surface Go is first-class. Microsoft could have cut corners with Surface Go's execution, it instead stands out as another outstanding and quality design.

One of the best for Surface

Microsoft Surface Go display

Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go

Saying the Surface Go's 10-inch 1800 x 1200 PixelSense display is not as fancy as the Surface Pro's is expected. However, in our tests, the Surface Go's screen is better in some ways, which is surprising.

The screen is optically bonded and the familiar 3:2 aspect ratio of all modern Surface devices.

Microsoft says each Surface Go screen is color calibrated at the factory and I believe it. Color accuracy is 99 percent for sRGB and 76 percent for Adobe RGB – slightly higher than the 97 percent and 75 percent, respectively, of the Surface Pro's 12.3-inch display. Those are strong results for what is thought to be a budget Surface – or for any PC.

There were also concerns about screen brightness – another popular area where manufacturers save money. That's not the case here with Surface Go. Set to maximum intensity, we hit around 435 nits, which is suitable enough for outdoors (though not in direct sunlight).

Aesthetically, the Surface Go's display is outstanding. Colors are punchy, blacks look good, light bleed is minimal (if at all), and it just looks good with a 216ppi resolution.

The screen is far from being matte, so it does maintain some gloss and higher reflectivity than what Apple uses.

Type-C is here

Microsoft Surface Go ports

Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go

There are not a lot of ports on the Surface Go, but the ones included are the right choice (and all are the right side).

The 2015 Surface 3 infamously ditched Microsoft's Surface Connect port in favor of a "standardized" Micro-USB one for charging and data. In hindsight, it was one of the worst decisions made by the company as users ended up losing their Micro-USB Surface chargers and used the underpowered one from their phone instead. The result was a disaster with customer complaints about slow charging and more.

With Surface Go, Microsoft is bringing the best of both worlds to users: USB Type-C 3.1 and a Surface Connect port.

Microsoft gave the Surface Go the best of both worlds: USB-C and a Surface Connect port.

The Type-C port supports data, display out, and even charging. That latter bit means if you do lose you Surface Connect charger, or left it at home you can use any other Type-C one. If it gets more than 24 watts, it should charge the Surface Go. For this review, 45W and 65W chargers were tested with no issue (the Surface Go reportedly has a max input of 45W, USB-C allows it to communicate with the charger about what wattage it can accept).

Microsoft Surface Go

Surface Go with the optional Surface Dock. (Image credit: Windows Central)

From external Type-C storage drives like the popular Samsung T5 to hubs/port extenders, 65Wh portable power banks (opens in new tab), or even connecting to the excellent Dell 27 USB-C Monitor (opens in new tab), the Surface Go handled whatever we threw at it.

The Surface Connect port is no slouch either. The included 24W charger is adorably tiny – it fits in the palm of your hand and makes packing it a breeze.

Owners of the $199 Surface Dock (opens in new tab) can also use it with the Surface Go. Oddly, the new Surface Connect to USB-C Adapter does not work although it would be redundant on this device. Perhaps a future firmware update will enable it if there is demand.

The 3.5mm headphone jack is more toward the middle of the right-hand side now instead of near the top, which is welcomed. There is also a microSD expansion slot below the kickstand if users would like to expand storage.

As good as Pro

Microsoft Surface Go pen and inking

Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go (Image credit: Windows Central)

As with all Surfaces, if you want to use Windows Inking, you need to fork out another $99 for the most recent Microsoft Surface Pen (opens in new tab) – available in an assortment of colors. There are numerous alternative options that are cheaper as well.

The Surface Pen sticks to the left side of the Surface Go with powerful magnets. So strong, in fact, that you can pull the Surface Go across a table by dragging the pen. While it still could get knocked off with enough force, the magnets used here are excellent.

The remarkable thing about Surface Go is the quality of the inking experience. The Surface Go supports 4,096-levels of pressure, which is an astounding jump from 256 pressure levels of the Surface 3 just three years ago.

Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go

The Surface Go also supports tilt, which is typically a more premium feature.

The Surface Go's size makes it perfect for using as a notepad with the Surface Pen.

What the Surface Go lacks – compared to Surface Pro – is the new inking co-processor in the display to help reduce latency. However, that did not seem to be a problem at all. Using the Surface Pen with the Surface Go was 100 percent delightful. It's fast, smooth, even, and is a momentous leap over the Surface 3's experience. Combined with the size of the Surface Go, which lends itself to being held like a notepad and Windows Inking is the best it has been.

In our unscientific study of letting friends and family ink on the Surface Go compared to the iPad 9.7, everyone preferred the Surface Go's smoother experience and easier-to-handle pen.

Typing T-Rex style

Microsoft Surface Go Type Cover

Microsoft Surface Go

Surface Go (left) vs. Surface 3 (right) keyboards.

Users will need to purchase a Microsoft Type Cover to use with the Surface if they want it to be more than a tablet. It's a necessity, so budget at least $99 for the all-black non-Alcantara version, or $130 for one of the three Alcantara choices.

The Surface Go Type Cover is small – after all, it fits a 10-inch PC. The keys are slightly curved for more natural discovery when typing (plus two-stage backlighting for finding those keys in the dark). The key travel is pegged at 1.0mm with the usual scissor-key mechanism from other Surface keyboards.

The Surface Go's keyboard is excellent, if somewhat cramped. What'd you expect for a 10-inch 2-in-1?

The trackpad is the real star of the show. While the Go's Type Cover is quite small, the trackpad is roughly equivalent to the Surface Pro's – which is fantastic. Measuring 56 mm wide by 101 mm tall the Surface Go's trackpad is spacious, smooth and comfortable to use. It uses Microsoft Precision drivers giving three- and four-finger taps and Windows 10 gesture support.

Typing is better than expected for such a small device. While you may not want to write a whole term paper on the Surface Go, you can. Accuracy was outstanding and while it took a few hours to get used to, the Go's Type Cover is quite enjoyable once you factor in the apparent size limitations and trade-off.

It is easier to type on the Surface Go when it is placed on a table or flat surface, but you can use it in the lap — though I found that I was hunching over and squeezing my arms in more than with a typical laptop.

Dual speakers

Microsoft Surface Go audio

Microsoft Surface Go

Best External Monitors for Surface Go

Keeping with a similar approach in the Surface Pro, Microsoft utilizes dual-front facing speakers found on the top area of the Surface Go's display. The speaker grills are etched into the Go's display and remain virtually hidden from view but deliver sound right at your head.

Audio quality is above average with good audio separation, but the sound is a bit muddied compared to an iPad 9.7, which has crisper highs. Instead, the audio on Surface Go is rich, but more even across highs, mids, and lows with a flat affect. It's not bad and better than most laptops – especially at this price range, but it also doesn't reinvent anything.

Volume is just loud enough with music sounding fine at a setting of 60 (out of 100). Music can be played at 100 with no clipping or distortion. It's also never too loud, but again, this reflects more a size limitation than anything. For watching videos, a setting at 50 is fine.

Pro cameras and Hello

Microsoft Surface Go Windows Hello and Cameras

Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go

Ripping a page from the Surface Pro playbook are the front and rear facing camera plus support for Windows Hello facial recognition to log into Windows automatically.

The rear "world-facing" camera is 8MP and auto-focus and while it can struggle in low light situations when outdoors or anywhere well lit it can deliver some stunning photos especially if the high-dynamic range (HDR) is enabled.