Hands on: Microsoft Surface Go review

Surface 3 or Surface RT this is not

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Surface Go is set up to be the small-time Surface tablet we’ve been waiting for, exhibiting excellent design and the perfect amount of power for a 10-inch 2-in-1 tablet.


  • Gorgeous design and display
  • Excellently-realized Type Cover
  • Seemingly speedy
  • Great starting price


  • Keyboard and stylus sold separately
  • No Thunderbolt 3

It’s finally here: Microsoft’s fourth attempt at releasing a miniaturized Surface tablet. The Surface Go is no longer a rumor and now a reality, and while it doesn’t bring about many surprises, perhaps that’s a good thing.

What you see here is what should have been the core conceit of the Surface line since the beginning: everything you love about the Surface Pro tablet, only smaller. No half-baked operating systems, no strange app compatibility issues – just a smaller Surface that works.

Of course, there were some cuts to be made to develop a Surface of this size, namely in the power department, but your expectations should scale accordingly. The Surface Go may very well be what the Surface 3 had aspired to years ago, and it was well worth the wait.

Surface Go

Price and availability

Microsoft is selling the Surface Go at the relatively approachable starting price of $399.99 (£379.99, AU$599.99). This nets you the starting Surface Go configuration, including an Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y processor, 4GB of memory and 64GB of flash storage.

From there, Microsoft is offering configurations with 8GB of RAM paired with 128GB of storage (priced at $549.99, £509.99, AU$839.99), with either model having LTE options available later this year. All models include the gorgeous, 10-inch 1,800 x 1,200 touch display and Windows Hello biometric login via a 5-megapixel (1080p) webcam with an infrared sensor. (The rear camera is rated at 8MP with 1080p video.)

Naturally, and disappointingly, none of these options include the newly-designed Type Cover or tried-and-true Surface Pen in the box. However, Apple too is guilty of selling its iPads without keyboard covers and styluses.

Speaking of which, you likely already know that Apple sells its latest iPad for just $329 (£319, AU$469). Comparatively, that difference in price amounts to half as much starting storage and memory, and neither a USB-C port nor microSD slot. It’s worth noting, though, that Apple’s tablet has a far sharper screen at 2,048 x 1,536 pixels.

Surface Go will hit shelves and online stores August 2 (August 23 in the UK and August 27 in Australia) running Windows 10 S Mode (switchable to Home). Schools purchasing in the commercial channel will have the choice between Windows 10 Home in S Mode or Windows 10 Pro.

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Design and display

At first glance, the 1.15-pound Surface Go appears simply to be the Surface Pro shrunken down by 2.3 inches on the diagonal, and that’s largely true – excellent kickstand and all. However, Microsoft clearly put some design effort into this version, targeting it directly towards a generally wider audience, specifically students.

The first major hint toward the Surface Go’s intended audience is the rather extreme softening of the edges and angles that Microsoft has applied to the device. Gone are the stark, angled edges of the Surface Pro in lieu of rounder, softer edges that help give this version of the Surface its own identity through such a relatively small adjustment.

Of course, a smaller version of the Surface tablet requires a smaller version of the Microsoft Type Cover. The firm has taken its apparently popular Alcantara fabric and applied it to new Signature Type Covers for the Surface Go. These go for $129 (around £100, AU$170), while a basic nylon version will sell for $99 (around £75, AU$130).

Better yet, Microsoft has managed to deliver full-sized keys (now with more pronounced bowled edges) within such a small amount of space, and has included a glass trackpad that’s larger in depth than that of the Surface Pro. All told, the Type Cover feels just as excellent as it has before – we would say ‘only smaller,’ but it doesn’t feel that much smaller when typing.

Even in such a diminutive state, Microsoft managed to cram a USB-C 3.1 port and microSD card reader into the Surface Go, neither of which the latest iPad has. This means that not only can this tablet’s storage be expanded, but it has two methods of hardwired docking and display expansion to the iPad’s one, thanks to the mainstay Surface Connect port.

As for the 3:2 display, this is one area where Microsoft appears to have simply shrunk down the panel size and changed little to nothing else. The color reproduction and sharpness look nearly identical to that of the latest Surface Pro: crisp and vibrant.

Given that the Surface Pro display puts up 293 pixels per inch (ppi), and the Surface Go just 217 ppi (compared to the new iPad’s 264 ppi), we’re pleasantly surprised that the display left us with such an impression.

Ultimately, the Surface Go will undoubtedly look and feel smaller to those who have come from Microsoft’s 12.3-inch tablet or others. However, the full-sized Type Cover keys and larger trackpad go a long, long way of shoring up that difference when the tablet is on your lap.

Surface Go


While we won’t know anything concrete about the Intel Pentium Gold processor’s capabilities until we give it a full run of our benchmarks in a review, we’re optimistic about the little-known chip. Behind the Surface’s sharp display, this processor seemed to handle lots of difficult, intense tasks with ease.

Through some extensive demonstrations during our briefing on the new product, we’ve witnessed the Surface Go dock to a larger display via Surface Connect in seconds. We’ve seen the Surface Go render and manipulate 3D imagery in a biology studies app with nary a stutter. We’ve played Minecraft on the Surface Go with not a dip in frame rate.

Granted, these were all carefully-managed demonstrations, but they were all simply cued up from within the very same tablet I’ve laid hands on as we strolled about Microsoft’s New York City loft. So, rest assured that this fanless tablet is well and ready for not only the gamut of educational apps, but for media streaming as well as some (very light) gaming.

Microsoft is unsurprisingly launching the Surface Go in Windows 10 S Mode out of the box, which the option for upgrading to Windows 10 proper for free. Of course, you currently can’t go back on that decision, so choose wisely.

Now, we’ve been told that every performance demo shown will run with the same smoothness and speed in Windows 10 proper as it did in Windows 10 S Mode – not to mention that its battery will run for nine hours on a charge. Of course, we’ll be the final judge of that.

Based on what we’ve seen the latest iPad do both on stage and in the real world, the Surface Go will likely be a worthy contender when it comes to raw performance.

Surface Go

Early verdict

The Surface Go is now Microsoft’s fourth attempt at a smaller version of its Surface tablet, which would give us pause had we not seen the device first. After even just a brief time with the Surface Go, we’re plenty optimistic about it.

This is a smaller version of the Surface Pro only in that you’re getting a smaller device with less power to fit its new dimensions – not one that’s smaller in its feature set, too. While there are a lot of unknowns still, e.g. battery life, we’re confident that Surface Go will find its place.

For starters, the Surface Go is looking like a much better deal in the education sector than the latest iPad at practically all levels, even with a premium on it over Apple’s tablet. Ultimately, a full review will dictate our final judgment, but is Microsoft is looking to seriously shake up the tablet market in 2018 regardless.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.