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Surface Go with LTE review: A solid device despite poor battery life and a high price

Microsoft's little Surface reminds us of how far Intel and Qualcomm still need to go

Surface Go LTE
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Best Award

The Surface Go with LTE is finally available, and with it comes a steep price for the experience.

But how is the $679 Surface Go with LTE Advanced overall? I spent the last few weeks with one, and while it's even more fun to use, the overall lackluster battery life keeps it from being truly great.

What's new with Surface Go with LTE Advanced?

Surface Go LTE

If you want the full details of the Surface Go as a daily Windows laptop see my previous review, which covers the display, performance, design and more.

For the Surface Go with LTE Advanced, Microsoft offers the nimble laptop in one configuration for consumers with a Pentium Pentium Gold 4415Y processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for $679. The same version without an LTE modem is also available for $549. This version ships with Windows 10 Home in S mode.

CategorySurface Go with LTE (consumer)
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
RAM8GB
1866MHz LPDDR3
Storage128GB or 256GB SSD
SecurityTPM 2.0
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 support
Camera5MP front-facing with Windows Hello
8MP rear auto-focus
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.1
LTE AdvancedNano SIM Tray
4G LTE Advanced (22 Bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66)
GPS/GLONASS: Standalone and Assisted
GNSS, accuracy up to 3 meters
AudioDual front-facing speakers
Dolby Audio Premium
Dimensions9.6 in x 6.9 in x 0.33 in (245 mm x 175 mm x 8.3 mm)
Weight1.17 lbs (532g) without keyboard
1.7lbs (770 kg) w/keyboard
ColorsMagnesium
Power24 W power supply
Battery life8.5 hours (video loop)
PriceStarts at $679
Keyboard $99 or $129 (Alcantara)

Because Surface Go with LTE Advanced is also aimed at businesses that need a device for first-line workers (FLWs) and field operators (opens in new tab), there is a version with 256GB of storage that can be configured with Windows 10 Pro in S mode or without S mode. That version is substantially higher priced at $829 (opens in new tab) due to the Pro license and more storage.

The only difference with these models and the non-cellular version is a Qualcomm Atheros LTE-Advanced modem and a nano-SIM slot on the left-hand side of the device.

Surface Go LTE Advanced mode

Surface Go with LTE

The Qualcomm Atheros modem used in Surface Go with LTE Advanced is quite a performer. It is SIM-unlocked so you can drop in any SIM from any carrier and it should work with one of the 22 LTE bands available.

However, one area that is lacking is support for embedded-SIM (eSIM) tech. Many of the ARM-based Windows 10 devices like the Lenovo Yoga C630 ship with both physical SIM and eSIM letting users switch dynamically between the two. Having eSIM means you could also buy data in one-time chunks versus a monthly recurring SIM plan.

Data speeds with AT&T easily hit 60 Mbps to 80 Mbps with only a few bars, and uploads speed easily maxed at what is offered in my area.

Microsoft does an excellent job with the reception and antenna placement on its devices. While the Surface Go doesn't get the hidden antenna tech treatment like the more expensive Surface Pro with LTE, it still works quite well and is reliable.

Windows 10 handles a cellular connection also with ease, only switching when Wi-Fi is inadequate or unavailable. Users can configure this behavior to "never switch" and even on a per-app basis for exceptional granularity. There is an option to toggle cellular off to prevent all possible data usage, but the OS is smart enough to handle things on its own without user management.

Battery life is the killer

Surface Go LTE

Surface Go LTE (Image credit: Windows Central)

Perhaps the biggest flaw with Surface Go and the Surface Go with LTE Advanced is battery life. Battery life is pegged at 8 hours for the non-LTE version and 7.5 hours with a 4G modem. Those are idealized video-loop tests, though, and real-world usage for both versions is closer to 5 to 7.5 hours of real-world usage depending on the tasks completed.

Without using LTE at all and just leaving the cellular radio on, there is not much of a hit on battery, which is why Microsoft estimates a 30-minute difference. In my tests, that seems to hold, as I did not notice any difference between the two versions.

There's a flipside to all of this: Because of LTE, you can use the Surface Go in more places, more often than without. Waiting in line at your local diner? Fire up the Surface Go as a tablet and read the news or check Twitter. At the airport and Wi-Fi quality is terrible? No worries, you have LTE.

But it's because you can use the Surface Go with LTE more often that this mediocre battery life catches up quick. This problem is where the argument for always-connected Windows 10 PCs powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors come into play. Had the Surface Go with LTE used a Snapdragon 850, you maybe get 12 hours of battery life instead of seven.

Microsoft is in a bit of a hard place here. Intel's Pentium delivers decent performance but also just a pure Windows experience with no compromises. Windows 10 on Snapdragon (ARM) can run Microsoft Store apps just fine, but it falters when you veer towards "classic" Win32 desktop apps. The issues with Qualcomm will be fixed through software, but it's all about nine months too early for the general public. So, Intel it is, and with it comes that average battery life.

Where can you buy Surface Go with LTE?

The Surface Go with LTE is now available in the U.S. and other countries. Eventually, Microsoft will be selling this model in all the same markets as the regular Surface Go. A full list of currently availability is below.

  • US
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Hong Kong
  • UK
  • Ireland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Poland
  • Taiwan
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand

Areas in the Middle East and India are liking coming in later months.

So should you buy Surface Go with LTE?

Surface Go with LTE

Surface Go (Image credit: Windows Central)

Using the Surface Go with LTE is even more fun than without having 4G connected. I've said this about previous Windows devices with LTE, and they become significantly more useful when you have an always-connected experience.

The Surface Go fits into that mold, but it also stands out because it's so diminutive. That small size makes you want to take it everywhere, as the 1.7 lbs feels like nothing in a small bag. With decent standby battery times and the ability to hop onto the internet by just turning it on, the Surface Go is truly a useful and productive machine. There's just no other Windows 10 option on the market like the Surface Go with LTE.

There are two issues though with Surface Go with LTE Advanced: price and battery life. Pricing is $679, but that is without the keyboard ($99 to $130) or optional Surface Pen ($99). Were you to get all three items, the price nears $900. That's a high price point for something that will fall short of eight hours of battery life. For $100 more, you can pick up the Samsung Galaxy Book2, and for $100 less you could get the Lenovo Yoga C630 – both of which will nearly double the battery life of the Surface Go. Users could even pick up a Samsung Chromebook Plus with LTE for $599 (opens in new tab); sure, it has a Celeron processor and just 4GB of RAM, but that price is easier to swallow with those compromises. Even a 128GB iPad 9.7 with LTE is "only" $560 beating the Surface Go by nearly $120.

The idea behind Surface Go is excellent, and the execution of that idea is nearly perfect. But for $900 with somewhat ungainly bezels, a merely OK processor, and battery life below eight hours, it gets increasingly hard to justify. That's a shame, because using the Surface Go with LTE Advanced is fun for personal use, and it could be nearly essential for some workers.

The uptick is that Type-C port makes it easy to charge on the go with an external battery pack or even a phone charger. But, ideally, this is not something people should have to think about or plan for when heading out.

In other words, if you can live with the compromises and don't mind shelling out the cash, the Surface Go with LTE Advanced brings an all-new experience to the world of computing. But for most consumers, the era of a truly always-connected, always-on nimble Surface is just not here yet.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

26 Comments
  • I love my Surface Go, but the battery and connected standby has been a poor experience since the October update. Even with the FW update (helped a little) I still have standby issues. Pulled off the charger about 6pm yesterday, used it for about 20 minutes and put it away. It was dead this morning.
  • I would run a battery report to check which process is causing this. That's not normal for the October update (powercfg /batteryreport).
  • I have the same experience and the battery has become a major problem for me as I depend on the device for note taking during meetings. Today I had no option but to move to the new iPad Pro. MS has done a great job with the device but IMO it is just not there yet.
  • Some the November update messed up my Surface Book 2 too. But glad it was fixed 1 day later with an update. The dGPU was hovering on 51 celsius idle (for the whole day while doint only Word/Edge), downloaded a new update then bam back to 31-35 celsius. It surely drained my battery somewhat faster than usual ofc, haven't it been for the big battery on SB2 it would actually cause and issue.
  • Awaiting mine to be delivered today ( pre-ordered from Best Buy). Great review btw.
    You tried this on AT&T. Was this contract or prepaid?
  • Does anyone know if the GPS works without a sim card installed but connected to wifi?
  • I can't speak to the LTE version, but my non-LTE version does locate me on wi-fi and seems to off of wi-fi, though it may have logged my location before I disconnected wi-fi.
  • Well, yes a device without a GPS chip will approximate geocoordinates based on the ip address. What I'm wondering is if the GPS chip thats part of the LTE chipset can pull GPS data if the device is on wifi and doesn't have a sim card installed. Or if not on wifi as well.
  • Mine has a SIM in it (Fi data), but I turned off WiFi and cellular data, then opened Maps. Nailed my position and noted it was within 26ft. Turned on Airplane mode as well and got even better at 16'. I've had cell phones that you couldn't put it in Airplane as it seemed to shut of the GPS receiver as well. Seems like it works without the radios on. Which it should. Not always a given though.
  • Thanks for the review Dan. As you state, we're just not there yet. But... I anxiously await your report from Hawaii. Also, it is interesting to see your changing of thought on bezels ever since the latest iPad was revealed :)
  • I'm glad I chose the Galaxy Book 2 vs waiting for this. No regrets and it's been awesome on battery life and for my usage.
  • Have to agree on the battery life. The price is something you need to justify to yourself. I find the size, weight and autonomy of LTE worth it. YMMV. Just wanted to note that I have a Google Fi data SIM in mine. Only uses T-Mobile but only costs when I use it, unlike the AT&T data SIM I had in my Surface 3. That was $15/mo for the privilege of having it. (site will say $10, but that is before taxes and fees)
  • Out of all your fine points I think the lack of eSim is the most disconcerting to me. Microsoft should really be leading the charge here... and no better way than with the Surface line. I get the Intel choice... hence the mediocre battery... and can live with it... but no eSim???????? Really?
  • Just get Surface Pro LTE if you want eSim. Does that answer your question?
  • Happy with my SG LTE. Battery life is not great but it charges easy with usb c. I carry a battery pack for a cellphone anyway and so it isn't an extra weight. Since I carry the SG instead my 15" SB2 now, I actually carry a much lighter bag even with a battery pack. LTE on T Mobile is great: unlimited, can hotspot and free roaming in many countries. I find the form factor excellent for reading in tablet portrait mode. Typing emails and getting light work done is some much better than a phone. You can save 10% on the edu store if you qualify. Can also use any prior surface pen so you don't have to buy a new one either. In comparison, the battery life is still better than the SP3. So even though it isn't like SP6, SB or SL, it is still fine.
  • Nice feedback and glad you're liking it, thanks!
  • Well, that is simply an astonishing price increase just for a modem. MS need to get an ARM version out there at a proper price so they don't have to include one of these incredibly expensive discrete modems they seem to have stocked up on. Problem is, they seem to want to charge a premium for a mobile CPU as well? MS need to take a good look at their pricing and their value.
  • Apple iPad, non-LTE to LTE, $150.
    Galaxy Tab S4 non-LTE to LTE, $100
    $130 seems right in the ball park.
  • I am in Hong Kong but I don't see the LTE variant being available no matter in MS online store or local retailers, though HK was on the list. How true is the actual availability?
  • likely "coming weeks", but it is planned to launch in something like 25 markets.
  • Thx for the comment..did you have the chance to try out how useful the Surface GPS is on Windows apps (metro/classic ones)?
    I've had ThinkPad 10 with GPS but had no luck getting Windows Map app to work properly like a normal map app.. Would be interested to see if the GPS fares well under Android x86 too :)
  • Thank you for providing a detailed review as it simply confirms that my choice to purchase a Snapdragon based Lenovo Miix 630 was an excellent choice. As I typically get about 21 hours at 100% brightness, hearing how the Intel based processor has once again epically failed is not a shock to me. When I consider that I have successfully ripped over 10 DVD's the consistent under educated comments that windows 32-bit programs really run poorly on a Snapdragon processor is simply an example of ignorant people who can do nothing but throw mud and actually never buy any equipment. What is humorous is that no one is actually covering the Snapdragon space as well as you are, however, there are a key set of talking points that still everyone is missing since they don't actually use a Snapdragon. First off is even at 0% battery the system can be completely charged up in 2 hours. I would laugh my a** off if I ever thought that an Intel based system could ever even get close to something like that! Additionally, with the October update to Windows 10, the system is now benchmarking faster, and based upon what I have seen on geek bench I am now posting the fastest numbers available. Simply look for the user ID of Taco Bell. Congratulations to the Microsoft team for making the WOS Operating system the most superior implementation of the entire computer ecosystem.
  • I don't suppose you could try running it at 40 to 50% brightness for a day or two and post in the forums how much battery life you get?
  • I was able to go from near zero to full charge in about or less than 1 hr via USB C. I have a 45W battery pack.
  • Great review Dan, answered all my questions. Looks like I'll be waiting for next iteration as that battery life is just meh... especially for that price point. Which is a pity as it has everything I need in a small form factor, well almost... the lack of e-sim is also another pain point. Which is surprising... I just hope the omission of e-sim and the price point are not two fiscal decisions governed by the profit grabbing mentality - to offset overheads (if it is I get it but it's still poor fiscal management never the less). If it is than Microsoft is getting way out of touch as they are just pricing themselves way beyond into their own Surface Pro line up when you add all the costs up. I might need to have a second look at the Lenovo C630, but it doesn't have a NFC reader. Which was the main draw for me with the Surface Go.
  • I think I will buy the 2nd generation Surface Go. The Microsoft devices teams seem
    to fix the problems of the debut device in the 2nd or 3rd Generation product.'
    The Surface Go is the size most people who review Tablets like. it's nearly the
    size of a model of the Ipad Air Tablet which is a great tablet to hold in your hands,
    It's a PC too and that makes it a bit more useful for some things than an Ipad.