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In 2013, the O.G. Surface Pro was released with a 10.6 inch 1920 by 1080 screen, a dual core 1.7GHz processor and 4 GB of RAM running Windows 8. And, 6 years later, the Surface Go 2 follows in the long line of successors to that original Surface with a 10.5 inch 1920 by 1080 screen, a dual core 1.7GHz processor and 4 GB of RAM (on the base model) running Windows 10 in S mode. The price difference? $600.
There’s so much more to this story than just a few misleading specs conveniently placed in the opening paragraph. But, as a former user of that original Surface Pro and its successor the Surface Pro 2, and even later a refurbished (but still very acceptable) base model Surface Pro 3, I really wonder if Microsoft has learned much in 7 years. Sure, on one hand, it’s awesome that we can get 2013 specs at 40% of the 2013 price, but it does beg the question: who is asking for these 2013 specs in 2020?
There are plenty of other things that differentiate the first Surface Pro from the Surface Go 2: the latter has a much nicer screen (albeit a tiny bit smaller), a better kickstand, better storage and memory options, better cameras and microphones…in fact, in every other area, the device is better than its older sibling of 6 years. But one thing that my original Surface Pro could do pretty well, that the Go 2 struggles with is getting me through a day of work. Times are different now, and considering the core specs are virtually identical between the two devices, the development team at Microsoft seem to have forgotten that the demand of a ‘normal’ day of activities has changed so much since 2013. It should also go without saying that these two devices were targeted at two entirely different audiences… I get it, but it is really, really difficult to avoid making a connection between them.
That said, given the specs (namely, a Pentium processor), I was absolutely blown away by what this device is ACTUALLY capable of. A lot of that comes via (none other than) hardware optimization through Windows 10 in S mode (which is not under scrutiny in this review) and a fanless (read: QUIET) design that does a remarkably good job at knowing what it’s good at.
A ‘day at the office’ is not something that you would think to throw at a device primarily marketed as a lightweight multitasker for homework, note taking, email and browsing—but that didn’t stop me. Surprise number one was the USB-C port which supports the same level of performance as the Pro 7 and Book 3 — devices which are far more powerful. So, output to a large 4K monitor was buttery smooth and had no lag. In fact, without the second much, much larger monitor, this device is almost useless to anyone over the age of 40 trying to get any serious work done. The screen on the device, at 10.5″ in size, is annoyingly small…and while I somehow found a way to get stuff done on that Surface Pro all those years ago, I’m not sure how; maybe I really am going to need those reading glasses soon.
Also surprising was the performance overall, thanks to a very efficient (albeit, still Pentium) processor, the “S mode” part of “Windows 10 in S mode,” and the latest version of Microsoft Edge, which seems to be a fantastic browser with not a ton of overhead (dare I say, I think it might be better than Chrome…). I’ve been able to put Google’s most recent base model Pixelbook Go through my same ‘day at the office’ testing thanks to the heavy influx of web-based applications, especially progressive web apps, that just happen to be available in my particular line of work. As such, the Surface Go 2 could quickly load most of the windows I needed, while also running full, native (non-web) versions of Microsoft Excel, OneNote and Word, all of which I use on a pretty regular basis.
Where things started to go wrong, though, is when all of these great features were used simultaneously throughout an 8-hour day, which drew significantly on the processor first. Add to that a passively cooled architecture, throttling (or something that felt quite a bit like throttling) is inevitable.
Thank goodness for its 8 GB of RAM because without it, this product would probably not have made it to lunch. So, while it’s not the ‘bottom of the barrel’ Surface Go 2, it’s the basest model I could ever recommend that someone consider buying. Still, it did get through the day (limping, mind you), and in fact through the rest of the week, only requiring me to go to my full laptop for one thing, related to sharing files from my company’s Sharepoint site which I would gather was a limitation of the Edge browser and nothing more.
All of that said, and recognizing that people who seek these out aren’t going to be throwing significant levels of multitasking at its specs, this is not as bad as you may think it is. Throughout a somewhat brief testing period when utilizing the device for more appropriate, reasonable tasks (the phrase “pick on someone your own size” comes to mind), it was actually quite a fun little device. ‘Cute’ may be an apt word.
And speaking of cute, the signature cover with its overwhelmingly Alcantara body is a very nice tactile keyboard that doesn’t flex too much when in use, and it has a surprisingly good trackpad. Admittedly, I don’t have much experience with Microsoft’s Alcantara keyboards, but have heard plenty of negative about them: they’re a good-looking but hard to clean, and overly flexible product. And while I’ve encountered plenty of them while perusing at my local retailer, this is the first real opportunity to spend some time with it.
Looking at the product, it doesn’t look like a tiny keyboard–but it is very, very small. The size is limited of course by the body of the Surface Go 2, which is already a tiny device. The spacing between the keys, as well as the spacing from the edge of the left-most and right-most keys and the outside of the keyboard in theory could be reduced, allowing for a less cramped typing experience. Despite this, it is a surprisingly easy-to-adjust-to keyboard, although I’d be reluctant to use it for an extended writing session; longer sessions usually result in discomfort and cramping. If you have smaller hands, it would probably be fine… I just don’t fit into that category.
The keys themselves are great. They have a good amount of travel, sound great, and are in no way mushy. And despite what I’ve read and heard, I don’t find the keyboard noticeably flexible. The trackpad, similarly, presents a good experience: it is surprisingly large for a rather small device, and is smooth to use and responsive. My only minor gripe about the trackpad is the click. I’m more of a ‘tap-to-click’ kind of guy, but I found the physical click to work best in the bottom-center of the trackpad. Across the rest of the bottom of the trackpad, the click becomes more difficult; as you approach the sides and the top, it becomes annoyingly difficult. In short: it is far from a consistent click experience throughout the trackpad.
The connection between the Signature Cover and the Surface Go is as stable as they come. The connection supports the full weight of the Surface Go (although it’s not how you should be carrying it around) thanks to strong magnets. And speaking of magnets, just above the top row of keys are additional magnets that allow the keyboard to be used at a slight angle for better ergonomics–although it’s not required and can be used flat as well. These magnets are nowhere near as strong as those that connect the keyboard to the Surface Go 2, and while out of the box it doesn’t feel like a particularly strong connection, as you use the Signature Cover more the flex point of the keyboard loosens up, which results in a relatively stable connection to the base of the screen. I wish the magnets that hold the cover in a closed position were just a bit stronger, however this isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
This accessory’s other major shortcoming—aside from its physical size—is the price tag. Simply put, this is an expensive add-on at $129, although that’s pretty much par-for-the-course when it comes to OEM tablet keyboards nowadays. Thankfully, though, there wasn’t a noticeable hit to the battery life of the Surface Go 2 as a result of having the keyboard connected, even with the backlighting on. And arguably, it is a required accessory if you intend your Go 2 as a general use device, but if maximum mobility isn’t the biggest concern, you may be more content with a separate bluetooth keyboard that provides an experience closer to ‘full-sized,’ as there are plenty of options on the market that are relatively inexpensive.
What you do get with the Go 2 in terms of ports is also relatively limited; along the right side sits the proprietary charging port, and single USB-C port and a headphone jack. Behind the kickstand, as with other Surface products, is a micro-SD card slot for expanded storage. The left side of the device has no ports at all, and the top sports the power button and the volume rocker, which is still confusing as the “up” functionality when in landscape mode is actually on the left side of the rocker.
I also want to take a moment to address S mode, which is NOT a requirement for this device; a quick search on your favorite search engine will show you just how easy it is to take the remove it. I didn’t do that, though, because you will see significant performance impacts when you have the freedom to install whatever you want: S mode is Microsoft’s “Apple-ish” approach to locking down their ecosystem in a way that helps maximize performance (and, it’s nice that Microsoft actually gives you an easy way of opting out).
Overall, some things I’d like to see adjusted here and in the future would be at least one additional USB-C port, and the final retirement of the awful, awful proprietary charging cable (power delivery over USB-C works just fine on this, by the way). Oh, and let’s stop putting dual-core Pentium processors in devices that are intended to be used as ‘laptops’ in any sense of the word.
I’m sure that I’m not alone in thinking that the keyboard should be bundled with the Go 2, along with a Surface Pen. Add those things in, and that changes the note-taking game entirely (provided you use OneNote or some other app available to S mode installations of Windows 10).
The price—at $549–becomes the biggest deterrent for this product. If, however, the Pentium (shudders) model with 8 GB of RAM was available for the cost of the Go 2 base unit ($399), that may be a pretty compelling product. Moreover, if the $549 price tag of the Go 2 included the Surface Pen and a keyboard as well, it would be a much easier sell: consider that the actual cost of that bundle would be $780 before tax.
I do believe this device serves an audience, but perhaps one that is too limited. Windows doesn’t offer a really great tablet experience, so I don’t see this as a competitor to the iPad—especially since Microsoft’s app store (assuming you keep things in S mode) is comparatively underwhelming. I’d put the Surface Go 2 in the category of a slightly overpriced Android tablet: it might be a fun toy to play with, and cute for sure, but I think it will always be that device that is lacking just enough in multiple areas to ultimately find its way to a box in your basement, or handed down to your kids so you can upgrade to something for adults.
These products were provided by Best Buy and Microsoft in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author and have not been reviewed or approved by any sponsors prior to posting.