Surface Go 2 is a dramatic upgrade from the first-generation tablet
Spoiler alert: Surface Go 2 is a really appealing little device. It’s small enough to fit into any backpack (and could even slip into some heftier handbags), it has a bright and colourful display that excels at playing games and bingeing Netflix, and it’s powered by Windows 10 – so you’ll be able to run all of the apps you’re already familiar with from your home PC or work computer.
Starting from £399, Surface Go 2 is priced to compete with the vast number of affordable Google Chromebooks on store shelves, as well as the entry-level 10.2-inch iPad coupled with Apple’s keyboard accessory for extra productivity. So, should the Surface Go 2 be your default choice when looking for the best lightweight, carry-anywhere computer?
The comparison with the iPad is an interesting one, simply because Microsoft and Apple have taken such radically different approaches with their hardware. With the iPad, Apple has slowly built-in more productivity-focused features to the iPad operating system in a bid to make it more feasible for people who want to use the tablet, which was originally sold on-stage by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as a great way to read the New York Times website, as an ultra-portable laptop replacement.
However, serious improvements to iPadOS typically only arrive once a year and since the iPad was never envisioned as a laptop replacement, there are some quirks – not least the fact that you have to keep reaching up for the Home Button to get fingerprint authentication to access secure apps, and the front-facing camera is off to the left-hand side when using the iPad in landscape mode, so you’ll always look like you’re gazing elsewhere in teleconferencing situations… neither of which are ideal.
With Microsoft, it’s almost the exact inverse.
The Redmond-based company has always started with its full-throated powerhouse desktop operating system and tried to get that software to fit into a gadget that works both as a tablet for browsing the news on your lap at the weekend – and can chug through a vast spreadsheet on the train to work. While the iPad still feels like a device designed for entertainment trying to put a suit on, the Surface two-in-one range feels more like an undercover police officer – it might be wearing casual clothes, but you get the impression that just beneath the, ahem, surface – it’s still on duty and deadly serious.
…or with the kickstand flicked out on a desktop like a traditional laptop
So, where does this leave the Surface Go 2?
Well, since it runs Windows 10, it’s probably a safer bet than any Apple iPad. If you’re headed off to secondary school, University, or treating yourself to a new machine for work …chances are, whatever application you will need, there will be a version on Windows.
As the most widely-used desktop operating system, it’s almost-always the default for applications, whether you’re in education or full-time work. Not every school or company has invested in iPadOS applications, or makes everything accessible from the cloud – potentially ruling out ChromeOS too.
And remember, if you’re hoping to keep your shiny new laptop for five years or so …it’s a safer bet that wherever you end up next will also have Windows 10 apps available to you too.
By default, Surface Go 2 runs Windows 10 in S Mode, which comes with a few restrictions. First up, you’ll only be able to run applications from the Windows Store. This means Microsoft has signed-off on the all apps you’ll be running on the machine and means it’s more confident the Surface Go 2 will be able to hit its estimated battery life of 10 hours. In our testing, that’s exactly what happened. With a dozen browser tabs, Notepad and Slack open – we were able to blitz through hours of work. If you’re only looking to watch movies when you’re on the road and away from a power outlet, the Surface Go 2 will last even longer than 10 hours – provided you take it easy on the screen brightness.
If you want to use the Surface Go 2 for work, you’ll need a few pricier accessories
Of course, if you’d rather install any apps you want from developers that Microsoft has never even heard of, you can disable S Mode. This is non-reversible. And could leave you open to potential malware attacks and other nasties – something that might make you think twice if you’re buying the Surface Go 2 for a younger family member.
There are a number of advantages when opting for a two-in-one device like the Surface Go 2 over a traditional laptop design. First up, since the tablet houses all the smarts -– it’s a lot thicker than a normal laptop screen, which has enabled Microsoft to squeeze in a much better quality front-facing camera than you’ll find on its Surface Laptop 3 or rival notebooks, like the 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro which starts from £2,399. These both have 720p webcams, while you’ll be presented in crisp 1080p HD when calling friends and relatives on the Go 2.
Since it’s a tablet, there’s also a camera on the back too. That’s not something you’ll find on a traditional laptop. It’s also tremendously useful since it means you can quickly take a snap of a document which needs to be signed, use your finger on the touchscreen (or the optional Surface Pen stylus) to add your John Hancock, then send it with an email in a matter of seconds. You can also annotate images, webpages, and presentations.
And let’s not forget the most obvious advantage of the Surface Go design – you can detach the keyboard and browse the web, watch a movie, or make a video call while in tablet mode. The Surface doesn’t feel quite as elegant as the iPad when used as a tablet – you can’t help but cover the front-facing camera when holding it in a portrait orientation, for example. And it’s also a little heavier than the similarly-sized iPad 10.2-inch (553g vs 493g).
As you’d expect from Microsoft, the kickstand is sturdy and holds the tablet at various angles
However, if you’re looking to catch-up on a show on BBC iPlayer while seated in a cramped train or aeroplane, the ability to remove the keyboard and rest the tablet on the small tray table is a huge bonus of picking the Go 2 over a laptop.
Of course, there are some disadvantages too. The trackpad on the Type Cover accessory is a little small. Microsoft has done a pretty stellar job with the accuracy on this small trackpad, so it’s not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. However, if you’re hoping to use the trackpad while editing images on-the-move, it quickly becomes pretty frustrating. Thankfully, you can plug-in any USB mouse, or pair a Bluetooth peripheral to solve that issue when you’re at a desk. And there’s always the touchscreen too.
The Type Cover is also a fraction smaller than a standard laptop keyboard, which meant we’d often catch the wrong key when hammering out a review. If you invest some time with the Surface Go 2, you will get used to the smaller keys – but it’s something that’s not obvious from the advertisements.
Surface Go 2 review: final verdict
There’s so much to love about the Surface Go 2. Despite its small size, it’s immensely powerful. It runs Windows 10, which is more flexible than Chrome OS or iPadOS when trying to get some serious work done, it has USB-A and USB-C ports for any dongles or accessories you already own, and it has a stunningly sharp webcam and gorgeous touchscreen.
Microsoft has even kept its magnetic Surface Power Supply, which will detach from the Surface Go 2 if someone trips over the cable running between you and the wall plug. This is something Apple ditched when it moved to USB-C on its MacBook range and we’re thrilled to see Microsoft keeping the idea alive.
And if you forget it at home, the Surface Go 2 can be recharged with the same USB-C you use for your smartphone, iPad Pro, Nintendo Switch, or another gadget… it’ll just take a little longer.
As a tablet, Surface Go 2 isn’t the best option out there. Windows 10 still has some frustratingly small touch-targets buried in older system menus which haven’t been given a lick of paint. And the smaller keyboard required to match the Surface Go 2’s diddy form-factor might not work for some.
However, if you’re looking for the ultimate pocket powerhouse to get work done on your commute, or get you through school – while still offering the flexibility of being able to detach the keyboard and play some Angry Birds or watch some Netflix, the Surface Go 2 is a phenomenally good choice.