Contrary to belief on the net, I’ve decided to go ahead with Microsoft’s smaller, less powerful Surface Go over the bigger, much more powerful Surface Pro 7. Now that’s quite a big statement but here’s why. It’s important to have context on this matter – I’ve had my Microsoft Surface Book 1 coming up to 4 years which is still going pretty well, managing my heavy-duty tasks. But I find it cumbersome to take with me for less intensive stuff. After much deliberation and endless reviews over the Surface Pro 7 and Surface Go, I’ve decided the secondary device fit for my purpose is the Surface Go.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love the Surface Pro 7 and even considered the Pro 6. But it seemed a pricey overkill for the lighter stuff I want to do. The Pro 7 just misses out on some of the charms that makes the Surface Go a more compelling choice. I never thought I’d say that, but hey it’s 2020. Anything can happen.
Smaller is a Good Thing
One of the biggest points for the Surface Go over the Surface Pro 7 is the size itself. My Surface Book has a 13.5″ display while the Surface Pro 7 (and since the Pro 4) is 12.3″. The Surface Go screen is much smaller at 10″ and for me? That’s a good thing.
You see, I want something travel-sized, pocket-sized and small enough that is a breeze to move around with – enough screen estate for quick drafts, edits, typing and such. Side by side, no matter how portable the Pro 7 is relative to many laptops and my Surface Book, it’s still big vs the Surface Go for my nimble, agile requirements. People may point to the reduced working screen estate and sure, non-touch apps may be a slight pain.
But the small, same 3:2 aspect ratio display canvas is all I need and when you know that’s what you need, no argument for the Surface Pro will change that. The Surface Go is far more compact, lighter and smaller and I like that. It harkens back to my time using the Surface RT, 2 and 3, each a size I craved full fledged windows on, but met with lacklustre experiences. The Surface Go is the most exciting 10 inch prospect to come out of Microsoft since then.
Type Cover Experience
Downsizing to a smaller Surface has a ripple effect and that is the Type Cover Keyboard. Those too are smaller to match the hardware dimensions. Key travel is reduced by 0.3mm to 1mm vs the 1.3mm found on the Surface Pro. Keys are slightly more compressed to each other, though retains the island style keys. How much of a difference does that make to the typing experience? A little, but nothing you can’t get used to. I type fast so in the first few minutes, I made a few mistakes, over-reaching my fingers as they are closer than I’m used to.
But a few minutes after, I adapted very well and could type near enough as fast as I could on the Surface Book. I’m sure with time I’ll be up and running like normal. The keyboard is backlit with double functioning top-row keys, just like on all Surface keyboards. The trackpad is surprisingly really good and doesn’t seem any smaller which is impressive. If you can adapt to a smaller keyboard footprint, you’ll get near-enough the same great type cover keyboard experience as the larger brethren in time.
I feel the Surface Go gets a lot of flak for being underpowered with the Intel Pentium Gold. Now, the Intel Pentium Gold is 2x slower than the Core i3 processors found in the base Surface Pro configuration. But it’s actually not that bad. The OS is responsive and fluid, software like Office word or paint apps open quick enough and browsing or going through photos are good too. Multiple tabs on Chrome will start to show the limits as the browser tends to be a resource hog on any laptop, but the Chromium Microsoft edge browser is super fast, plus built with touch and inking in mind.
In short, for light tasks mixed in with a few programs to push the CPU without too many apps open, the Surface Go is actually very decent. It could be your main laptop if that’s all you did, but as a secondary device works great to compliment your workflow. I was satisfied with the speed and for the majority, I don’t think you’ll find it disappointing either. Just keep your expectations in check.
Inking is Very Usable
When it comes to inking with the pen, it all comes down to your expectations with the Surface Go. Artists wanting a solid inking experience to do professional work on the Go, may find it either barely tolerable or intolerable. The inking experience is actually good – fluid, pretty smooth with little latency delay. I didn’t see any jitters going for slow, smooth strokes. If you need to use large brushes or fast stroke work, the large gap in performance is enough to know you’ll need a Surface Pro for that.
But for me? I plan to use it for early ideation drafts, hand-drawn creations and handwritten fonts which aren’t taxing or prolonged enough. It’ll allow me to put my ideas and evolutions straight to ink and perhaps even finalise designs which aren’t heavily layered or batched. The test will be how the Surface Go handles larger files of multiple canvas designs, more of a concern for the 8GB ram and Intel Pentium Gold. But besides that, I’m relatively confident it’ll handle my inking needs based on early impressions using paint apps. I’m keen to see how it handles non-app software however.
Longer Battery Life
Microsoft rates both the Pro 7 10.5 hours and the Surface Go at 9 hours respectively. The upside of a low-powered CPU is battery usage. The Pro 7 can drain as soon as you flood intensive tasks to it, with users online rating roughly 3-6 hours depending on use. The Surface Go roughly 7-8 hours. Of course use case scenarios are completely different which I respect, however if you’re someone that prefers battery life than performance, the consistently longer battery life for light tasks is appealing. I’ll see what kind of numbers I get myself, but very promising for a secondary device focused on mobility, portability and longevity. It’s not crazy, but it’s more than enough to last a whole day of use.
Thicker Bezel but Better to Handle
I had mixed feelings about this, but the Surface Go just about manages to convince me. First, I do like things to look nice aesthetically and back those looks up with substance. Admittedly, the Surface Go didn’t strike me as much as the Pro. The big bezels felt like a step backwards from Microsoft when compared to the Surface lineup, made even more glaring against my Surface Book, Surface Laptop and the futuristic Surface Pro X.
Big bezels look outdated, which the Go is unapologetic about. But, from an ergonomic standpoint and hands-on with the Go, surprisingly it didn’t feel like a grudge I’d hold onto. In the hands, my experience holding the Pro 3, 4, 6, 7, Surface 3 and Surface Book tablet did remind me of the uncomfortable nature holding a tablet can be. They look great, but hand fatigue and discomfort in the palm from edges digging into my hand flooded back memories.
The light weight addresses fatigue, but the corners and sides are quite sharp to hold. The Surface Go on the other hand is gentle, comfortable in the hand and a pleasure to use in both tablet and laptop mode. Tapered, rounded edges are more satisfying to feel and because of that, the glarizing bezels became less of an issue. Of course, I’d still like to see them downsized going forward, but I’m ok with those hand-friendly bezels.
Wait for the Surface Go 2?
So what are some of the reservations I have about the Surface Go that could be addressed in the Surface Go 2 (perhaps)? Well the bezels could be narrower, an additional USB-A port would be useful to connect more peripherals, longer battery life, instant wake-up seen in the Laptop 3 and Pro 7 which feel slick, a version in black and of course, more performance at the minimum a Core m3 or i3 processor.
Some of those in my wishlist are unlikely, given the entry level of the Surface Go that would eat into the proposition of the much more pricier Surface models. There isn’t too much wrong with the Surface Go and I’m quietly confident of the prospects using it.
Cheaper Type Cover Keyboard
If you like the concept of the Surface Pro form factor but need to keep costs down, one area you can cut down costs are the Type Cover Keyboards, which are pretty much an essential. The Pro cover keyboards cost a bit more than the ones for the Go, offering a near identical experience save for the smaller, compressed layout. The Go Signature Type Cover is $30 cheaper than the Pro counterpart, $129 vs $159. Not a huge amount, but a little palpable when you add the extras.
Pricey and Niche
Now one of the reasons I didn’t mention about why I’d choose a Surface Go over the Pro series is price. That’s because there isn’t really an advantage here. The Surface Go is pricey. For me, the 128GB SSD, 8GB RAM model is the one to go for and that’s $549 / £469 / 699,000 KRW. Add the $99 Pen, $129 Signature Type Cover and possibly the $99 Arc Touch Mouse and you’re close to $1000. The Pro 7 base model has an i3 which is superior to the Intel Pentium Gold, but you’ll have to make do with 4GB RAM which feels restrictive. Or you can go the Surface Pro 6 route, but there isn’t much price difference if you want to go brand new, all while missing out on the USB-C port which is important for me. There are plenty of alternatives when you add everything up, but there’s a niche out there for those wanting Windows on a compact, capable tablet… the Surface Go is a decent choice.
Committed to the Surface Go
If I’m willing to invest into a Surface Go and overlook the Surface Pro 7 et al, I have to really want the Surface Go. And after spending countless days researching, watching and spending time with it, IthinkI do. The Surface pen and arc touch mouse are universal so they will work with my Book and for the next Surface device I upgrade to, so there’s that for one. Plus my older generation arc touch mouse is wearing itself down, so that add’s another reason.
As for the Surface Go, it’s the fact that it is smaller, it is lighter and it is uncomplicated that wins me over. This is intended as a secondary device to be productive, type, light photo edits, light sketch and design. Anything more and it starts to encroach on what my bigger, heavier Surface Book is for, which is heavy lifting video editing, batch photo edits, larger screen estate to work with and for long hours plugging away. A more comfortable, settled type of workflow.
The Pro series will continue to get more powerful and possibly the Surface Go 2. But Microsoft will never let the Go 2 outshine the Pro so performance will also be a sticking point. I doubt we’ll ever see 16GB RAM in there, but an Intel Core m3 or i3 is possible. Subjectively, there’s enough power for me to be productive on this, in a shell that is Surface through-and-through, with a similar great typing experience. It can fit inside a small bag, carried on its own or even in my coat pocket. And for that, the Surface Go is enough for me.
There’s a real lack of details and experiences of the Surface Go on the net, so expect a lot of coverage of my thoughts using the device. Let’s see how my decision process above translates once I actually use it daily, install the software I want and expose the limitations as expected or surprising they may be. Stay tuned and keep being awesome world.
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