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Before getting too deep into details just yet, let’s make it clear that you generally shouldn’t buy a tablet or laptop for this price and expect a powerhouse. However, you should get something competent enough to handle basic workloads and casual games, and the Surface Go does exactly that – but not much more.
Here’s how the Microsoft Surface Go performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
3DMark Sky Diver: 3,113; Fire Strike: 806; Time Spy: 302
Cinebench CPU: 164 points; Graphics: 33 fps
Geekbench 4: 2,076 (Single-Core); 4,148 (Multi-Core)
PCMark 8 Home: 1,923 points
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test; W10 S Mode): 5 hours and 54 minutes
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test; W10 Home): 6 hours and 42 minutes
The Surface Go, with its Intel Pentium Gold processor, can handle basic browser-based workloads, like word processing and content management, as well as the suite of Office 365 apps, with ease. With 8GB of RAM in the higher end model, you could even run several tabs-worth of projects and websites and media players.
However, don’t expect this processor to handle high-resolution image or video editing and rendering in the same way that a proper laptop does. That’s not this tablet’s forte.
That said, the CPU inside employs Intel’s HD Graphics 615, which isn’t far off from the integrated graphics inside the Intel processors used in gaming laptops. This allows for some surprisingly powerful 3D rendering on the Surface Go, to the point that Minecraft runs like a dream on the tablet. Furthermore, education apps that use 3D modeling – particularly in the science field – run without issue here, as does Microsoft’s own Paint 3D tools.
Now, the Intel chip here isn’t all that comparable to the latest iPad’s A10 processor, as both were made with entirely different architectures and on different chipsets. Also, Apple literally designs its own chips to work the absolute best they can with iOS – Microsoft cannot do this to the same degree. So, yes, the iPad processor is more powerful than the Surface Go’s, but it’s an apples to oranges comparison.
The iPad ousts the Surface Go in pure speed tests, like Geekbench 4, but the Surface Go is a far more versatile device – even in Windows 10 S Mode. Speaking of which, unless you’d like to keep your device on lockdown for security or simplicity reasons, just upgrade to Windows 10 Home for free once you get this device.
The performance hit to the system with the overhead of full Windows 10 Home ranges anywhere from negligible to nonexistent. At that point, all that Windows 10 S Mode is giving you is peace of mind, which is easily found in Windows Defender and smarter web browsing habits.
Microsoft promises up to 9 hours of continuous use from the Surface Go. Shocking no one, those aren’t the numbers we could reproduce in our testing, but they’re not awful. What’s weirder is how we’ve found the device to actually last longer in Windows 10 Home than in S Mode.
The difference in our tests is less than an hour, and at any rate, expect the Surface Go to last around six hours on a charge, and perhaps a bit longer if the Battery Saver feature is used.
For folks in fields that are light on hardware requirements and heavy on travel, this device could be a go-to for you. Stay tuned as we test the battery even further in both modes of Windows 10.
Software and features
The Surface Go ships with Windows 10 in S Mode. Because this device uses an Intel processor, however, this is largely fine for day-to-day use. While the app selection on the Microsoft Store is paltry in comparison to the software available to download from the internet, at least the device can run every app designed for Windows 10 natively without issue.
Windows 10 devices with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip installed can’t say the same, as their processor architectures aren’t compatible with how many Windows 10 apps were built. Windows 10 S might bring with it more security, but if you're careful online (and have Windows Defender installed) you should be alright.
The Surface Go doesn’t have many other standout features to speak of, but we especially appreciate facial recognition login via Windows Hello. While it doesn’t operate in the same way, Microsoft has essentially beat Apple to bringing hands-free, secure login to its tablet.
Microsoft’s implementation here works fantastically, which is buoyed by a very good 5MP webcam and 8MP camera on the rear. The webcam shoots 1080p video that’s crisp and detail-rich, making Surface Go also ideal for video meetings. For comparison’s sake, the iPad uses only a 720p FaceTime camera.
The Surface Go may very well be a niche device, but it’s a niche that’s only growing. With every major hardware vendor focused on smaller productivity tablets, Microsoft has finally nailed the concept of the smaller Surface device, once again showing the world how it’s done.
While you could reduce the Surface Go to being just a smaller Surface Pro, the truth of the matter is that the market is trending toward smaller and smaller computing devices. Now, the Surface Go is there to meet them with a full-blown, 10-inch computer.
Of course, we could complain about how there are still no accessories included, that it’s technically less powerful than the new iPad and that the screen could be sharper, and they’re all valid complaints. However, if you’re looking at the new iPad or another 10-inch tablet to be your next primary computing device next to the Surface Go, or even a secondary gadget, it’s tough to beat this gorgeous machine that’s truly a computer in every sense of the word.
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Joe Osborne is the Senior Technology Editor at Insider Inc. His role is to leads the technology coverage team for the Business Insider Shopping team, facilitating expert reviews, comprehensive buying guides, snap deals news and more. Previously, Joe was TechRadar's US computing editor, leading reviews of everything from gaming PCs to internal components and accessories. In his spare time, Joe is a renowned Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master – and arguably the nicest man in tech.