The Microsoft Surface Go: There is charm in balance.
I purchased this tiny little tablet/laptop just prior to a big move from the spacious lands of Texas to the cramped standards of the UK, more specifically, London.. At the time all I had was a gigantic 17.5″ MSI gaming laptop, and a very underwhelming Chromebook that my friend Jax gave me – which to be fair was good for what it was, a light-weight, minimalist internet and YouTube surfer with decent battery life – but I needed something more useful. Something allowing everyday productivity tasks to be easily handled, the capability to play an above ‘app-erage’ game, and maybe even edit the occasional photo or audio file. Basically, something that could fill in the gaps where my gaming laptop fell short; namely in the areas of portability, battery life, and the ability to conduct quick in-and-out coffee-shop fieldwork.
The Surface Go achieves all of this in spectacular form. I use this machine every single day, in fact I’m using it right now. My gaming laptop now sits in a more semi-retired state, waiting for its heavy lifting jobs to come along in the form of Premiere, Photoshop, Lightroom, and triple-A game titles where it can flex its purpose built muscles. Everything else however, is now allocated to the Go.
There are two models of the Go, one you should get, and one you should not. Of the two cousins with outwardly identical appearances, one has 4 GB of RAM, and the other, 8 GB of RAM. Go for the 8. I do not understand why computer manufacturers sell Windows 10 based machines with anything less than 8GB of RAM. Yes, it is cheaper to buy the 4GB version, but the cons of its slow performance vastly outweigh the pros of its price.
In addition to very low RAM, the 4GB version uses an internal sort of ‘SD card’ as its primary means of storage. The means a much slower read and write time than the traditional SSD drive found in the 8GB version. This begs the question: Why do manufacturers release products that will poison their reputations? Don’t they know we live in the age of reviews-a-plenty? Unsatisfied customers have a plethora of choices they can choose from to vent their fire.
It really is a shame so many PC manufacturers offer barely usable products right out of the box, and here Microsoft is doing the same thing – and with their Surface product line, no less! The Surface family should consistently be among the best tech around for the Win 10 environment, and thus yield the best experiences too. But with only 4GB of RAM the cheaper Surface Go will eventually and inevitably yield frustrating results for most users. Come on MS, focus!
But I digress…
I have the 8GB Go, which in contrast I have found to be a beautifully balanced little performer.
Screen and Body
The Go’s touch screen is just over 10 inches. It is beautiful to look at and very responsive to the touch, with brightness levels ranging from very dim to bright enough in most settings. A lot of reviews I’ve read online criticized the Go for having too large a bezel around its screen, making it look dated and ugly. I do not share these sentiments, it is fine, especially since it houses two very good forward facing stereo speakers on either side. The bezel also harbors a very good webcam and facial recognition technology which makes signing in and our of the machine effortless. Also, who the hell wants a tablet that has ultra thin bezels anyway? It is hard as hell to hold them without touching the damn screen and mucking things up!
Additionally on the body you will find a small micro SD slot for added storage to the Surface Go’s 128GB internal offerings. The lovely magnesium chassis also sports a 3.5mm headphone jack, one USB C port, a magnetic power adapter port, and a Type Cover attachment slot among the bottom. On the back you will find an infinitely variable kickstand that it so ingenious I feel it almost makes all other tablets obsolete.
My Go came loaded with Windows 10S, which is a stripped down OS that is oriented to apps from the Microsoft store. However, MS allows you to upgrade this to Windows 10 Professional for free if you want a full blown, unadulterated experience. Additionally, since the Go is a tablet out of the box you will find that without a keyboard it will run in tablet mode. It is okay. I feel MS has given up on orientating Windows 10 for tablets. Apple is leagues ahead of them in that department. However, when you couple the Surface Go to the optional keyboard, the Go shines brighter than any iPad I have ever used. Not by horsepower, but by balance.
My Surface Go came outfitted with 128GB of internal SSD storage. The previous owner (like-new eBay purchase) threw in a 256 GB Micro SD card which slips into the back for extra storage. Between the two, I have found this to be a very reasonable amount of space for this device.
The processor is a Pentium Gold Dual Core CPU that clocks in at 1.6 Ghz. These specs were relevant over ten years ago, however, given that this is not meant to be a powerhouse, and that as of yet I have not found the CPU performance to be an issue, it is not a big deal. Still, I do wish it had a bit more spring in its step! I should mention that unlike most modern processors, the Pentium Gold does not have a burst-rate, or so called “turbo” feature. This means no extra oomph when launching apps, just a straight 1.6 clock speed no matter what. Thin k of a school bus with a governor set to 65mph.
Battery life is decent. While MS states it can last up to 9 hours, I’ve found the surface usually tops out at 5 hours. The unit does have a fairly short charge time, however, with zero to 100 percent full in about an hour and a half.
It has a headphone jack. THANK YOU!!! I meditate on a daily basis these days, and use the Go to play whatever suitable audio I can muster up for my thirty minute session. I love the fact that i can just plug in my very large and bulky Sennheiser HD650’s right into the side of this thing with no issues at all.
The lone USB C port is great. For this, I purchased a $40 dongle with SD slots, USB 3.0 slots, a headphone jack, and an Ethernet port all in one. The dongle is aluminum and looks great up until the point that you attach it to the Go. Then it becomes rather ugly as port placement is rather high up on the Surface’s side, making the entire set up hang in the air clumsily. But it works.
Magnetic power supply, like the Old Macs. Its a great design and charges this puppy up in no time. Apparently you can purchase a docking station for the Go as well.
The 24 watt power supply is an area that I hope MS improves upon with later variants of the Go. Unfortunately I am unable to use my ASUS portable monitor with the Go due to inadequate power, even if plugged into the wall. I have also found that running 12v phantom power for a quick recording session using my condenser mic is just barely manageable for the little Go. I can get it to work, but cannot have any other peripherals attached else risk the setup becoming unstable.
The 1800 x 1200 touch-screen monitor is beautiful to look at, with great touch sensitivity and responsiveness. Today is the first time I have sat outside with the Go, and under full sun here in the UK, I did find it hard to see the screen at times, even at max brightness. In Texas Sun, forget about it! But for indoor use, it does the job with a very nice brightness range.
I purchased my Go with the following accessories:
Keyboard: I have the non-alcantera version, which is a $100 dollar accessory if purchased new. You MUST get the keyboard to get everything out of the Go. It is a lap-top first and a tablet at a very distant second. For that reason, it is a bit odd that Microsoft does not bundle the keyboard together with the Go. Perhaps in the future they will, but I doubt it. There is gold in them thawr hills.
The keyboard snaps confidently into place using magnets that guide themselves perfectly in to the Go. The adjustable illuminating keys have a wonderful tactile feel and offer great feedback. The glass mouse-pad is among the best I have ever used, seamlessly gliding through tasks with ease. I give this five out of five stars.
Surface Pen: Seemed like a must have if you buy a Surface. I dont use it that much, but when I do I love the weight, feel, and functionality of the pen. Due to the Go’s limited performance specs, use of the pen in high end drawing apps will usually result in some form of lag in performance. Like the keyboard, it contains magnets that snap it conveniently onto the side of the Go.
Surface Knob: An interesting device that shows a lot of promise if future software developers will integrate its usefulness. It is weighted nicely, it turns with just the right amount of resistance, and it offers feedback through minute vibrations. Currently, the most use I get out of it is for changing or increasing the volume of tracks on spotify from the kitchen. Like the pen and the keyboard, it too is magnetic. Which makes it ultra handy for using its remote features around the house. I kept it on the fridge for the longest time to turn up the volume on the Go in the living-room. I hope to use the knob more in the future as developers (hopefully) incorporate it into their applications,
Surface Arc Mouse: A nifty little bluetooth mouse that folds straight for slipping into a pocket for transport, or snapping into an arc that conforms surprisingly well into the palm of your hand. Great for productivity…not so much for gaming! Just not enough DPI.
Dongle: (see gallery images) I purchased this dongle on Amazon for just under $40. It works very well and is a ‘must have’ for the Go. As discussed earlier, it features 3x USB 3.0, 1 x USB C, 1 headphone jack (in addition to the Go), an Ethernet port, multi SD card reader, and HDMI port.
Sleeve case: (see gallery images) This is a very well made product for the Go. My only wish is that i could fit the power supply into it. The pocket is just not quite large enough to accommodate its size when also stowing the pen, dongle, and mouse.
All in all, I have been very pleased with the Microsoft Surface Go. While it may be tiny, sport a fairly archaic CPU, and feature only 8GB of RAM at its highest spec, this little machine is more than capable of handling 95 percent of your daily computing tasks. The other 5 percent however, include gaming, video editing, and other high intensity applications which are areas you just dont want to ‘Go’ into. So while the Surface Go is not a replacement, it is a superb extension to my computing capabilities. It is tiny, light, affordable, looks and feels great, has a decent battery life and performs well for its size. It really is a charming example of perfectly balanced technology. Or in the words of my new limey neighbors, it’s bloody good!