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Microsoft Surface Go 2 review

A talented tablet

Microsoft Surface Go 2
(Image: © Aakash Jhaveri)

TechRadar Verdict

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 has the potential to be one of the best tablets thanks to how capable Windows can be, but falls short at performance, battery life and app support. It's still a great compact machine, but if you don't need Windows, you're better off with an iPad.

Pros

  • +

    Premium compact design

  • +

    Great for video calls

  • +

    Can run full Windows 10

  • +

    Excellent display

Cons

  • -

    Keyboard and stylus not included

  • -

    Expensive for the specs

  • -

    Limited port selection

The Surface lineup of laptops is pretty familiar territory at this point. They are Microsoft's imagination of a vertically integrated machine that is supposed to show the industry what the ideal form looks like. This has become an increasingly common, albeit difficult trend in the world of technology these days, yielding gems such as the new Apple MacBooks with M1, or missteps such as the Google Pixel series. The new Microsoft Surface Go 2 tries to balance that in a very compact form factor.

The Surface lineup is usually associated with premium products that showcase what Windows can be capable of. At a starting price of Rs 42,999, the Surface Go 2 is an alternative for those looking to enter the ecosystem at a lower price. At that point, it competes with other entry-level Windows laptops, Chromebooks and iPads. Though, one shouldn’t get too excited about the price, as the base variant is unlikely to be sufficient for most users, and doesn’t include the keyboard cover, without which, it really isn’t a laptop.

Once you look beyond the underpowered internals, there’s a lot to like here: excellent build quality, an iconic design, one of the best displays and speakers in its class and a truly compact yet somehow non-limiting form factor. Even the battery life continued to impress us, with the Surface Go 2 almost lasting us an entire day in most cycles. You might be able to work away from a plug point, but the lack of ports could be a hindrance on your way to a truly wireless workflow.

Overall, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is an enjoyable laptop to use and should serve well for students or those who are always on the move. But, if your usage calls for more power than portability, you’re likely to have a better experience elsewhere.

Price in India

Microsoft Surface Go 2 pricing
ConfigurationPrice
Pentium/4GB/64GBRs 42,999
M3/4GB/64GBRs 47,599
Pentium/8GB/128GBRs 57,999
M3/8GB/128GBRs 63,499
Spec sheet

Here is the Microsoft Surface Go 2 configuration sent to TechRadar for review: 

CPU: 1.1GHz Intel Core M3-8100Y (dual-core, 4MB Cache)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615 (integrated)
RAM: 8GB RAM
Screen: 10.5-inch PixelSense (1,920 x 1,280)
Storage: 128GB SSD
Ports: 1x USB Type-C, combi audio jack, Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover port, microSSDXC card reader
Connectivity: Intel Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth
Camera: 5MP 1080p Windows Hello front-facing camera, 8MP 1080p rear-facing camera
Weight: 1.2 pounds (0.55kg)
Size:  9.65 inches x 6.9 inches x 0.33 inches (245mm x 175mm x 8.3mm; W x D x H)

As with the original Surface Go, the Surface Go 2 is an affordable device from Microsoft, and is aimed at taking on Chromebooks when it comes to appealing to students.

This actually makes it a more interesting device than other Surface products, which usually aim for premium and high-end markets. By delivering a good looking, good performing device at a price point far more people can afford, Microsoft is doing something its rivals like Apple and Google often neglect.

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 price in India starts at a compelling Rs 42,999. That gets you a device with 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y dual-core processor.

That’s the kind of spec you’d find in ultra-cheap laptops or Chromebooks, but for a Windows 10 machine, it’s quite weak. The 4GB RAM is just about passable, but don’t go expecting to fire up loads of intensive applications at the same time. That 64GB of storage, however, is going to fill up incredibly fast, especially with Windows 10 installed.

So, if you’re planning on doing light day-to-day tasks, like browsing the web and writing up documents, while sticking with Windows 10 S Mode (which limits the apps you can install on the device to only ones from the Microsoft Store, which are usually very limited), then this model should do the job fine. But for anyone with more ambitious plans for the Surface Go 2, you’ll need to go for a more powerful model.

Moving to a variant with more RAM and storage and a decent chipset increases the price considerably, to Rs 63,499 — which is the variant we tested. To get the complete laptop experience, also account for the Type Cover. This clicks on magnetically to the Surface Go 2, and as well as protecting the screen, it features a built-in keyboard and touchpad.

There is some good news for owners of previous Surface devices, as their existing Type Covers and Surface Pens will work with the Surface Go 2. So, if you already have them, this makes the Surface Go 2 a lot more affordable.

However, unless you’re happy with the lowest end model, and are going to use it just like a tablet, you’ll find that the Surface Go 2 isn’t quite the bargain it first appears.

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Starting at Rs 42,999 at amazon

Design

If you’ve seen any other Surface Pro device, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 follows the same design, just smaller on two axes. As far as budget laptops go, it doesn’t get much better than this. It feels very premium with a reassuring heft while coming in at just 8.3mm thick (without the keyboard cover). The sides and the back are made of brushed aluminium, making it great to touch and carry around. There really isn’t much to complain about when it comes to material choices or the built.

The bottom half of the back splits open to become a kickstand and can open up to around 165-degrees. The hinge enabling this is also strong enough to prop up the tablet at all possible angles, without tipping over or slipping. There’s a minimal Microsoft in the centre with a mirror finish, giving it some added character. While this works well on a table, it’s not too convenient to use on a lap.

Port-wise, you get an audio jack for headphones, USB-C port and proprietary charging port on the right-hand side. That charging port is magnetized, which means the charger snaps easily into it. The good news is that the USB-C port can also be used to charge the tablet, so you can use a charger from another device, rather than relying on the Surface Go 2’s charger. It’s a nice, convenient, feature.

As for ports, you get a combo audio jack for headphones or a mic, USB Type-C port for connections and a proprietary charging port - all of which reside on the right side. The charging port is magnetized, which means the charger easily snaps into place when the brought nearby. It can be connected from the top or the bottom, based on your setup. Charging over the Type-C port is supported, but it is limited to very few chargers. It refused to charge at higher wattage levels, which most smartphones today support.

With just one port usually left free, you might have to choose your loadout accordingly to include wireless mice or keyboards, and the leave the USB port for storage devices. A micro SD card can also be added to expand the storage by up to 1TB.

The power button and the volume rocker are on the top, offering meaty feedback and confirmation. This is a welcome departure from most other laptops which have a set of mushy buttons on the keyboard.

Display

The overall footprint of the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is not very different from its predecessor. However, it does manage to fit in a slightly larger 10.5-inch display by shrinking the bezels. There’s also a bump in screen resolution to 1,920 x 1,280 at a 3:2 aspect ratio. For most productivity-related tasks, the taller display makes viewing content and elements easier. For example, you’ll be able to see more of the document while writing in Word. It’s also plenty sharp. For web pages, I found the sweet spot to be at around 80-90% zoom to not have content cut from the sides or warp.

The tablet also scores high when it comes to display fidelity, offering rich yet accurate colour rendition. It’s not common to see such a high-quality panel on a budget offering. Even the brightness levels were adequate for the most part. In fact, all images used in this review were edited on the Surface Go 2 itself.

The shrunk bezels are just the size, offering enough space to hold the tablet but not thick enough to reduce the immersion. For video calls, there’s a 5MP camera on the front and the back. They’re both pretty good cameras, amongst the best we’ve seen on a laptop. Even the microphones and speakers are excellent. I was able to conduct hour-long meetings with it, without needing earphones or having to raise my voice. Even phones struggle with such video calls usually.

Accessories

A big part of the Surface experience is the accessories which transform it from a casual tablet to a capable laptop. First up is the Type Cover, which is Microsoft’s name for the keyboard attachment which snaps on to the bottom of the Surface Go 2 via a bunch of magnets and pogo pins. It’s pretty foolproof and doesn’t take much effort to get right. It can be attached in two orientations: completely flat or slightly raised. The latter seemed more comfortable for using on a desk as it enables a natural typing angle. 

No more eating while working.

The deck and the palm rest are covered in Alcantara, which has a velvety suede feeling. It is unusually fun to type on, but gets dirty very easily. Moreover, there’s really no way to clean it and bring it back to its original glory, so be prepared to baby it. 

As for the typing experience, the keys are surprisingly well-built with decent travel and key separation; not something we get to see often on these portable keyboards. It didn’t take me long to get used to this one, coming from a full-sized desktop keyboard. The only issue I occasionally faced was that the arrow keys are too small and close together. 

The trackpad is fine too but will seem cramped if you’re used to using both hands. It doesn’t lose clickiness even to the top, which is surprising for a keyboard this slim. There’s complete backlighting available too for using at night, a feature that is notably missing from Apple’s keyboard offerings.

Then there’s the Surface Pen stylus, which too magnetically attaches to the side of the Surface Go 2. It offers touch control and low latency to use as an alternative to your finger for precise inputs, sketching or taking notes. I enjoyed using it but it’s definitely not essential. Windows is not a touch-first operating system, and it won’t take you long to realise this. Unless you’re looking for an artistic tool, it can be skipped.

Performance

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 surpassed my admittedly low expectations when it came to the processing power. Powered by the dual-core Intel Core M3-8100Y clocked at 1.1GHz, it does handle most tasks well enough. For the target audience of students or businesses who might not need to do a lot simultaneously, it should suffice. 

So, for basic tasks, the Surface Go 2 runs fine. It’s a similar level of performance we’ve seen in Chromebooks at this price point, but the Go 2 has a slight edge thanks to its ability to switch to full Windows 10, giving you a much wider range of apps to choose from, compared to Chrome OS on Chromebooks.

As long as you set your expectations appropriately, then you should be reasonably happy with the performance of the Surface Go 2 as a budget device. The newer Intel processors offer a performance boost from the original, and for day-to-day tasks and schoolwork, it does a fine job.

Needless to say, video editing and gaming are off the table. I was able to edit a batch of photos with relative ease and no discernible lags, but your mileage may vary. Getting it to slow down isn’t difficult. Just open a bunch of Chrome tabs and a couple of other files in the background and you’ll be greeted with some stutters.

Long story short, you shouldn’t be getting the Surface Go 2 if you’re looking for the best performing laptop for the price. 

Battery life

Another surprise victory, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 actually offers decent battery life with moderately heavy usage. It’s another reminder of how the chipset prioritizes efficiency over performance. For simpler tasks such as watching movies or reading, we were able to cross the 8-hour mark. You can always change the battery profile and brightness levels to try and take it further. For my daily work, which revolves around the Google Suite, I could get over 5 hours worth of work on a single charge, which is above average. If you’re already on the go again, you might not be able to travel without the charger.

Verdict

In a time when computers have quickly gone from cool-to-have to essential, one would think that the Microsoft Surface Go 2 will be an easy recommendation. But, in reality, there are far too many specific constraints that hold it back from being the best tablet around. In some ways, it has the potential to be the most capable tablet due to everything Windows 10 can do, but on the other hand, the performance, interface and app selection shackle it down. If portability and design are your top priorities, it doesn't get much better than this. But for everyone else, look elsewhere.

Buy it if...

You're looking for a compact computer

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is amongst the few tiny Windows computers that don't suck. Yes, it has its limitations but is definitely usable for many tasks with more comfort than most others.

Video calls are important to you

Tired of having to connect a mic, earphones and a webcam just for a call? The Surface Go 2 takes care of all of those with ease, subverting the need for any peripherals.

You're looking for a convertible

Imagine wanting to watch a movie in bed or a small space. nearly every other laptop will be too big and heavy to be enjoyable. With the Surface, you can just detach the keyboard and move around with a tiny tablet when needed.

Don't buy it if...

You want a powerful device
The Surface Go 2, especially at its base configuration, is not a powerful device, which means you need to make sure you keep your expectations in check. If you’re after something powerful that can also play games, this isn’t it.

Windows is not a necessity

While Windows is arguably the most capable operating system, Apple has made tremendous progress with iPad OS. Getting one of the new iPads will give you a much more consistent and reliable experience, with apps that will always work.

Portability isn't the most important

Yes, the Surface Go 2 is a cute little thing, but it cuts too many corners which are unlikley to be acceptable by most users. If you dont mind something bigger or heavier, you'll have plenty of options to choose from.

Aakash Jhaveri
Aakash Jhaveri

Aakash is the engine that keeps TechRadar India running, using his experience and ideas to help consumers get to the right products via reviews, buying guides and explainers. Apart from phones, computers and cameras, he is obsessed with electric vehicles.