Surface Go review: The goldilocks of convertibles
There's a good chance that mileage may vary but the Surface Go was the first Windows 10 convertible PC that really *clicked* for me.
Traditionally, I’ve always favored a clamshell form-factor over anything else. Sure, a convertible PC might make more sense if you’re planning on using it as a tablet or doing the kind of work where the inclusion of a stylus actually matters. But as someone who spends most of their day typing into a web browser, I’ve yet to meet a convertible keyboard that can come close to matching the tactility and convenience that even a proper laptop keyboard offers.
The point I’m trying to espouse here is that, until very recently, convertibles have been largely defined by their limitations. At least, in my eyes. The difference between a Microsoft Surface Pro and a Samsung Notebook 9 (which is my current go-to laptop) is more defined by what the former isn't capable of than what it is.
The Microsoft Surface Go is the first convertible I’ve ever really used that made me begin to rethink those assumptions. Part of the reason why is that Microsoft themselves have been doing some rethinking of their own. The Surface Go sees them quietly tinker with what the core promises of a modern operating system should be in ways that are immediately compelling.
Through devices like the Surface Go and initiatives like WCOS, Microsoft have been working to conceive and deliver a software experience tailored not just to the hardware but the specific, real-world ways in which users utilise them. And that's an exciting development to watch unfold.
Rather than being defined by what the hardware can and can't do, the Surface Go sometimes feels like it's shaped by what its user's habit, routines and expectations.
It doesn’t always necessarily get there but, at its best, the new Surface Go feels like the first Windows-powered PC to truly nail that future-ready flexibility. It's not the kind of PC that'll fit everyone but if it's the right fit for you, it's a hard option to pass up at the asking price.
Specs - Microsoft Surface Go
The specs for our Surface Go review unit were as follows:
Processor: Intel Pentium 4415Y
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615
Storage: 128GB SSD
Display: 10-inch, 1,800 x 1,200 PixelSense touch display.
Ports: USB Type-C, 3.5mm Headphone Jack, Micro SDXC card reader, Surface Connect Port
Dimensions: 245 x 175 x 8.3mm
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi (802.11ac)
Webcams: 5-megapixel (front-facing) + 8-megapixel (rear-facing) with autofocus
Price: Starts at $599
Design - Looks, Feel and Features
Like the name suggests, the Surface Go is being pitched as a Surface device that’s just that little bit more portable.
Sitting at the bottom-end of the larger range, it’s the option most obviously intended for the most on-the-go of Windows users. The kind of people who dig the form-factor of an iPad but don't want to buy into the Apple ecosystem. And, to Microsoft's credit, the Surface Go absolutely strikes this balance. It's stripped down enough to ensure portability but not so much that it ever feels like corners have been cut. It feels like the Surface Go is something that you could get away with stuffing it into a bag just as easily as you could carry it around with you.
The material design involved here makes for a really snazzy feel-factor. If you’re holding the Surface Go and using it like a tablet, there's a sense of texture, clarity and purpose to it. It doesn’t feel cheap and it doesn’t feel disposable. It feels significant and it feels reliable. It feels like it’s got weight. But it doesn’t feel heavy. It's technology that feels like a natural extension of yourself.
From the moment you pick it up, the Surface Go feels like the kind of device that’s going to be what you make of it. And in the right hands, that’s a compelling quality.
And regardless of how you plan to deploy the Surface Go, most will probably come away impressed by the kickstand on the PC. It’s super simple to use and gives you enough degrees of freedom that it can adapt to both your preferences and the broader environment in which you set up and use the PC in. The Surface Go's kickstand also serves to hide the device's MicroSDXC slot from view when not in use.
The sum total of the above is that the Surface Go ultimately comes sort-of across like an iPad that runs Windows 10. What's more, it comes across as one that blends those two somewhat-incongruous ideas of what a portable computing experience should look like and doesn't suck to actually use. It’s got that same sense of slick aesthetics and polished hardware that doesn’t usually make it outside of an Apple store - and it leaves most other convertibles wanting by comparison.
That said, there are a few things here that I wasn’t all that massive on. For all the fanfare that the Surface brand has attached to it, I still came away pretty underwhelmed by the keyboard - which doesn’t even come bundled with the Surface Go. It costs an extra $199. The keys super mushy and the experience of typing felt very cramped, very quickly. I also loathed the fact that you can't recharge it using USB Type-C. You have to rely on Microsoft's proprietary Surface charger.
By contrast, I came away a little more impressed with the Surface Go’s stylus. Again, this is a separate add-on that adds an $139 to the total asking price for the Surface Go. However, it does fit really nicely into the grooves of my hand and made drawing on the Surface Go a pleasantly intuitive experience. Even if that's not something that I usually find myself doing on a portable PC all that often, it was still quite solid accessory.
Unfortunately, the fact that neither accessory comes bundled with the Surface Go really does hurt the more affordable image of the thing. Once you factor in those additions, the asking price of the Go goes up pretty significantly. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of user who doesn’t necessarily want or need the stylus - it’s nice to have the option to save a little money.
Next Page: Performance, Battery Life and The Bottom Line
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