Microsoft Surface Go 2 is easy to fall in love with, but hard to live with.
The small tablet contains updates that make a big contribution to resolving the issues with the original Surface Go, but not completely. The screen is bigger and there is an option for a faster processor, which makes both a better computer.
It starts at $ 399.99, but that price isn't really what you'll pay for. It would be stupid to get a Surface Go 2 without a keyboard, so add up $ 100 for it. At five hundred dollars, however, this is a category in which you can find competing products that do many of the tasks of the Surface Go 2, but are better. If you choose the faster processor ($ 730 with a keyboard), so much the more.
The only thing that these competing products can't do is a small tablet that runs Windows 10. So the question is simple: how much do you need that?
7.5 from 10
- Larger screen
- Core M3 processor option
- Runs any Windows app
- Very low performance ceiling
- Disappointing battery life
- Keyboard flex
If you're not familiar, the Surface Go 2 is a Windows tablet that's about the size of a regular iPad or 11-inch iPad Pro. However, since it is a surface, there are some features that iPads lack. It has a stand that works in every angle, a microSD card slot for expandable memory, a surface connection for the USB-C connection and a headphone jack.
Perhaps my favorite thing about surface hardware these days is a camera that is in landscape mode at the top of the screen. It works with Windows Hello to log in with your face and looks a lot better at video conferencing than laptops with measly sensors in their thin laptop covers. This is one of the advantages of putting all of your computer guts behind the screen.
Except for the enlargement of the screen, Microsoft hasn't changed anything on the case of the Surface Go 2. It still has smoothly curved corners, feels solid, and works with the same accessories – including the keyboard.
Unfortunately, this keyboard still has a bit too much flex. When I use the Surface Go 2 on my lap (where it really feels like it's part of it), when I put my hands too hard on the palm rests, the mouse clicks on me. And because the bezel has less room for magnets, the keyboard sometimes doesn't stay at an angle when you press it.
However, the screen here is the most important change: it now has a 10.5-inch diagonal (and still has an aspect ratio of 3: 2). It has a resolution of 1920 x 1280 and although it doesn't get particularly bright, I think it looks good. Although it's not much bigger than the first iteration, it feels a lot less tight. As a bonus, the bezels are no longer vague and embarrassingly large.
As is becoming increasingly common with computers these days, there are two versions of the Surface Go 2: the base model and the updated specification model that I'm reviewing.
The basic model has a powerful Pentium Gold processor, an even more powerful eMMC memory (64 GB) and only 4 GB RAM. With the keyboard, it's $ 500. These specifications are enough to get you online with a handful of tabs or to run a few office windows next to Outlook, but certainly not much more.
The updated version has a dual-core Intel Core M3 processor, a faster SSD (128 GB) and 8 GB RAM. 8 GB is the minimum amount that I would recommend to anyone buying a Windows computer to use as a laptop. With the keyboard, it's $ 730. You can add LTE for $ 100, or switch to the nicer Alcantara keyboard for $ 30 more than the basic keyboard.
All of these prices are important because they put the Surface Go 2 in context: Although this introductory price of $ 399.99 seems really cheap, the costs are actually much more comparable to a nice iPad with keyboard accessories, a nice Chromebook, an outdated (or cheap) Surface Pro or a mid-range Windows laptop. Almost all of these computers will be more powerful than the Go 2 in some important ways, even compared to the updated model.
"Slow" is not the right word to describe the Surface Go 2's performance, at least not for the Core M3 model I use. When you do a single task – stay within its limits – it feels snappy enough. A better way to put it is to say that the Surface Go has a very low power cap. If you try to run too many apps, or even a single app that is too intense, you will be informed by stopping.
For example, I ended each app and created a flyer to start Photoshop and edit some RAW photos. It worked with some delays, but it was a burden at best and I kept waiting for each subsequent edit to be applied.
If you know the limits, you will have a good experience with the Go 2 – but only for five or at most six hours. It's the best thing I can get out of the battery, even if I babysit it with fewer apps and a lower screen brightness than usual. Microsoft installed a slightly larger battery this year, but it didn't make much of a difference.
Five or six hours would be a disappointment on any other laptop, but not a big one. However, the Surface Go 2 is said to be an ultra-portable device that can be taken anywhere. And in this category, this battery life isn't really shortened.
When Microsoft first announced Surface Go in 2018, there was a lot of talk about how transformative it could be to have a full Windows experience on such a small, portable device. As an avowed lover of tiny computers, I buy this claim more than most others. But I also have to ask myself whether the compromises are worthwhile.
How much do you really want Windows in a small tablet?
This question becomes particularly acute when you look at all of the competing platforms I mentioned earlier. For five or six hundred dollars, you can purchase a very powerful Chromebook that runs circles around Go 2. Would Chrome OS work for you? An iPad feels faster and lasts longer. Would iPadOS work for you?
If the answer is no and you need Windows, ask yourself the following: How important is size to you? You can buy a reduced or refurbished Surface Pro 6 or 7 for almost the cost of a well-specified Surface Go 2. It makes a lot more sense for a lot more people, I think.
There's nothing like the Surface Go 2. Although the idea of a small Windows 10 tablet is appealing, I'm not entirely sure whether it's really practical. It's a tiny niche for a small computer.