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Surface Go vs. (the canceled) Surface Mini: Two tiny Microsoft tablets face-off

I'll be the first to admit that no-one was asking for this comparison, but when the opportunity arose for us to compare the new Surface Go with the canceled Surface Mini, I just couldn't say no.

As a brief reminder, the Surface Mini is Microsoft's original tiny Surface that unfortunately never released. Featuring a 7.5-inch screen, this was going to be a Surface device aimed more at inking and media consumption, rather than productivity work. A lot has changed since 2014, which is most telling when comparing specifications.

See Surface Go at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

CategorySurface MiniSurface Go
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 800Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y
RAM1GB or 2GB4GB or 8GB DDR3
Storage32GB or 64GB eMMC64GB eMMC or 128GB SSD
Display size7.5-inch
Touch
10-inch
Touch
Display resolution1440 x 1080
4:3 aspect ratio
240 ppi
1800 x 1200
3:2 aspect ratio
216 ppi
GraphicsAdreno 330Intel HD Graphics 615
PortsMicro USB
microSD card reader
3.5mm audio
USB-C 3.1
microSD card reader
3.5mm audio
Surface Connect
BiometricsN/AIR camera
BatteryN/AUp to 9 hours
Dimensions8 inches x 5.5 inches x 0.35 inches9.6 inches x 6.9 inches x 0.33 inches
Weight0.8 lbs1.15 lbs

Surface Go vs. Surface Mini: Differences galore

Although both the Surface Mini and Surface Go are primarily tablets, the Surface Go is much more. It's also a laptop thanks to its ability to attach a keyboard and write documents and stuff. The Surface Mini can't do that, making it a device primarily for consumption. At eight inches, that's not a surprise.

A lot of people have wondered about the size of the Surface Go. With its screen being so small, how could anyone be productive while using it? The Surface Go is just about the smallest you can go on a laptop-style device before it's no longer a productive workspace. The Surface Mini didn't have a keyboard cover because it was just too small for a keyboard. There's no comfortable way to fit a full-size keyboard on a device that's eight inches in size.

This is the canceled Microsoft Surface Mini in photos

Because of this, the Surface Mini and Surface Go are devices that target two very different markets, or they would have. The Surface Go is more for students, some workers, and people who need to get stuff done. The Surface Mini was a device purely for consumption, inking, and maybe doing some very light editing in Word using the on-screen keyboard.

The Surface Go is obviously more powerful due to its newer specifications. Surface Mini featured an older ARM processor with at most 2GB RAM. In 2018, 2GB RAM is not doable. Some even think 4GBs is cutting it close to unusable, but since the Surface Mini ran Windows RT at the time, 2GB would've been fine.

The kickstand on the Surface Mini is also not as flexible as the one on the Surface Go. The Go's is just like the Surface Pro's stand, with its 165-degree hinge mechanism. The Surface Mini's is the same one found on the Surface 3, which is locked to just three positions.

The Surface Mini also uses a different material for its body than the Surface Go. The Go uses magnesium, whereas the Mini uses a more fabric-y material. It feels great in the hand, just like a Moleskine journal.

Surface Go vs. Surface Mini: Size matters

In regard to size, the Surface Mini is obviously smaller. It's also a device designed to be used in the portait orientation. That's very different from all other Surfaces on the market, which are designed and marketed primarily in the landscape orientation.

The Surface Mini would've been an excellent device for taking out with you when you just wanted to take notes on the train or in an office, or watch a movie when on the go.

Surface Go review

For a mini Surface tablet to even have a chance at competing, it would need a better tablet mode experience to go with it. Right now, Windows 10 is not great on devices that are primarily tablets, which is likely the reason behind Microsoft's insistence on calling everything a laptop.

That's why Microsoft is capitalizing more on the productivity side of things, because Microsoft has that in the bag. The smallest you can really go while maintaining productivity status is around 10 inches, so the Surface Go nails that right on the head. The Surface Go is the Surface Mini we've always wanted. If Microsoft goes any smaller, it might as well think about doing a phone.

See Surface Go at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

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.

23 Comments
  • Yes. I know this is a useless comparison. No, I do not care.
  • Lol 😋
  • Don't knock yourself! I think this is an interesting comparison and gives insight into how Microsoft recalibrated the Surface brand. I'm thinking this was one of Nadella's first major calls in dumping the Mini and RT and marketing the Surface as a productivity device.
  • This article was actually a good one...but I have seen other useless articles specially under "Chime in" titles @ WC!
  • slow news day I guess
  • I had a knockoff tablet that was roughly Surface Mini size (more iPad mini to be specific). It was my couch companion. Reading magazines and manga, playing podcasts on headphones or BT to the home theatre system. Absolutely loved it. You're so right about that size being more about consumption than creation. That said, the iPad mini I've got now has taken over because the tablet interface for that is more "compatible" with that specific form factor. I think you nailed the comparison.
  • Looking forward to the comparison between the Surface GO and the Surface Phone...
  • The what?
  • thatsthejoke.gif
  • Great details Zac - The current CEO needs to be removed as he hates equal pay for women, killed Nokia phone, killed the MS Band and killed the long running music service. Seeing the Mini shows that putting a sale person at the top of a Tech company was a poor choice.
  • I'm glad you're not in charge of anything important. Microsoft now has a market cap of $830 billion. Nadella is not against equal pay for women, despite whatever out of context comment you're referring to and he has only killed off products that didn't make any money. He's also not a salesman.
  • But here's the thing Darkness, the surface lines took a number of iterations to become uswful and profitable for MS. Great CEOs have vision and can stick with products until the marketplace catches up. Nadella is not one of those types. Nadella seems to not look beyond the US for his market , especially for consumables, and that is just myopic. Sure the market cap is up but it appears to be at the expense of the company's future expansion.
  • I always get a kick out of people complaining about wages. Take charge! Change your way of thinking. You are selling a service. The employer is your customer. Set any price you want on your service. The customer will either pay the price or not. If so, great! If not, find a different customer or lower your price or increase your service level. You are empowered!
    As a customer, why should they offer to pay you more for your service than you are asking? Pay you more just because one of their other vendors (employees) is charging them more? Seems odd to think that they would.
  • @Biff, a perfect explanation. Very well said. And to add to that -- what makes wages go up en masse? Low unemployment, because that means the supply of people working is low relative to the demand. And when demand increases by more than supply, prices go up. All of us who do work are selling our services/labor to companies who are our customers. Complaints about wages so often lead to policies that have a long-term negative effect on wages, because regulation hurts economic growth and increases unemployment, reducing the demand for labor. It amazes me that people don't grasp such a fundamental concept of economics.
  • You two totally missed the point of the person bringing up wages. He means if a male and female does the exact same job inside Microsoft, the male makes more money. Which btw is ****** up and wrong.
  • Sounds like you only skimmed your econ material as your view is vastly simplistic that leads to some wrong conclusions. 1. While yes, low unemployment initially leads to wage increase, At some point wage increases will lead to inflation, which will negate much of the wage increase... UNLESS you can do something that offsets the increased labor costs. Ironically, the best way would have been to Nationalize Health Care, which would take the Health care burden off of businesses (approx. 18,000 savings per employee). This would have allowed room for wage inflation of $9 an hour before causing real inflation. 2. Regulation doesn't hurt economies, bad regulation hurts economies. Net Neutrality would have been an example of good regulation, because it actually increased competition, but build out requirements are an example of Bad regulation because they reduce competition. However there are cases of Good Regulation that will also harm economics in specific markets, but these are largely tradeoffs to other positive effects. A good example of this is environmental protections, which undoubtedly hurt economics but make our environment better. I know I wouldn't trade a slightly better economy for bad air, water, and safety regulations like China has. Capitalism is great, but laissez-faire economics however is not. It is a self destructive cycle that will destroy an economy if left unchecked.
  • Good to see this comparison. At the time I would have paid $600 for the Surface Mini. I had the cash in hand for it. Now I am willing to pay at most $900 for the LTE, 256gb version of the Surface Go.
  • That sounds about right. I paid $800 for my Surface 3, LTE with 128G. If the LTE Go was $650 - $700 with 128G, that would suit me just fine. With the LTE, and SD card, the built in storage isn't that critical.
  • With devices like these you cannot modify them after you get them. So, I like to max them out if my budget allows it.
  • trim the fat bezel and you have the surface mini
  • What a pity they never did the Surface Mini!... obviously contextualizing it at the time..
  • Put a hinge on the Mini horizontally in portrait mode. Make it with the same materials and modern internals, slim as hell. Slap WCOS and here we go :)
  • Of course you cannot actually choose between the Surface Mini and the Surface Go, nevertheless I find the comparison useful (also entertaining!) because it gives you a better understanding of the reasoning behind the Surface Go, and why so many reviews state that with the Go Microsoft for the first time nailed it as regards a device that can be both tablet and laptop. At this stage Microsoft can't compete with iOS or Android as regards media consumption due to the app gap. However, Microsoft has considerable strength as regards productivity and creativity. So in order to make sense any Surface device has to be excellent for productivity and creativity. The Surface Go completely meets those criteria, which is also recognized in the reviews that stress the excellent keyboard and how well the Surface Pen performs on the Go. The Surface Mini would never have been able to play this role, as you state it's more like a phone (the screen size of phones are quickly approaching 7 inches). So the Surface Go offers productivity and creativity that are not available in Apple or Android tablets, and it can also be used for media consumption and light gaming, just with a more narrow selection of apps.