Two years ago, I was really interested to see how Microsoft’s Surface design would translate to a smaller device that was more clearly aimed at taking on Apple’s lower tier iPads. I bought one and I still have it today. While my initial impressions of it, especially the hardware, were positive, they definitely diminished over time. At the end of the day, the poor touch user experience of Windows 10, lack of apps that are geared toward tablet use, and lackluster performance ultimately killed my interest in the Go.
Bear in mind that I didn’t have the almost universally panned base model of the Go, with its slow processor and even slower eMMC storage. I had the more expensive version with an actual SSD and more RAM. It was better, but still only passable in terms of performance. The base model was completely useless in my opinion.
Fast forward to today and my Surface Go is still hanging around the house, but I really don’t use it much anymore. My wife uses it for household tasks and my middle son occasionally for homework. Unfortunately, because of its inherent limitations, that’s about all the Go is good for. But that has been enough to keep me from getting rid of it.
When I heard about the new Surface Go 2, with its bigger screen and faster processor option, it piqued my interest enough for me to get one to try out. If nothing else, I wondered if it would be worthwhile to replace the original with this newer, bigger, faster version. I’ve spent a week with the new hardware, which has told me all I need to know.
The answer to whether the Go 2 is worth keeping is ultimately very simple- no. The improvements, while helpful and beneficial, aren’t enough to overcome the deficiencies of Windows 10 in a tablet form factor or provide enough value to make it worth the price. More on that in a moment.
There are certainly strong points for the Go 2. The bigger screen is nicer and a little more modern looking without the original Go’s giant bezels. The higher screen resolution is a small bonus, as well.
The hardware of the Go, like all Surface devices, features quality construction and a solid feel. That’s never been an issue. Personally, I prefer not having an integrated kickstand because it is negated when I use a case for protection, which usually do. I much prefer a good stand or hinge integrated into the case, which gives me the option to leave it behind when I choose to. However, the kickstand is a hallmark of the Surface Pro and fans of the platform love it. I’ll say this. It does work well and it gives users a wide range of positioning.
The new Intel Core m3 processor option is a noticeable step up from the previous Go. I couldn’t do any work tasks beyond marking up blueprints with that tablet, and even that was difficult, as good pen and touch enabled software is still hard to come by on Windows. In contrast, I was able to load several of my engineering applications for work on the Surface Go 2 and actually use them. This wasn’t optimal, but my work laptop has a current gen i7 and 16 GB or RAM, so the Go 2 is still pretty anemic in comparison.
And that’s where the problems start. While the more enticing starting price of the Surface Go 2 is $399, as with the original, that model is completely useless. The slow eMMC is an anchor on performance. I spent $640.38 for the Core m3 model, and that was without the extra $100 or so for a Type Cover, which I already had from my original Go. So that’s a total of $750 for most users to buy a usable and somewhat versatile Windows 10 machine with an undersized screen.
And that’s the biggest problem with the Go 2. Despite the new processor option and bigger screen, it’s still a device in search of an audience. Who needs a Windows tablet that costs this much money when you can get a Surface Pro with a better Intel i5 processor and a more usable screen size with the same form factor for a little more? You can get a good deal on one on sale or as an open box or refurb pretty much any time. If you don’t want or need the Surface Pro’s 2-in-1 design, you can get a LOT more laptop than the Go 2 these days for $750.
If you are looking for an actual tablet, you can buy a new 10.2″ iPad for $250 pretty much any time on sale. Unlike the Go 2, it will work great for its primary purpose without a $100 accessory that it doesn’t come with. If you do need a keyboard, an extra $100-$150 will get you one for the iPad that works well and still keeps you significantly under the price of the Go 2 and Type Cover. iPadOS also gives you the advantage of an overflowing library of applications that are actually designed for touch.
Speaking of the Type Cover, this was a big attraction to the Surface Go for me two years ago.
I have never liked Apple’s Smart Keyboard or Smart Keyboard Folio, especially the feel and performance of the actual keyboards. The Type Covers run rings around them in my opinion and they also have integrated trackpads. All that said, I no longer have Type Cover envy as an iPad user. While you pay out the nose for it and it isn’t perfect for all users, I find the Magic Keyboard’s actual keyboard and trackpad to be far superior in feel and stability. Without this incentive, I find myself even less forgiving of the Go 2’s flaws than I was of the Go’s.
The Surface Go 2 is a peculiar device. It isn’t bad at all when viewed in a vacuum. The hardware design is quite good and the new processor option has acceptable performance. If you are in a position where you have to use Windows and require a less-expensive device in a tablet form factor, the middle tier Go 2 is the way to go. If the cost isn’t a barrier, the Core m3 model is even better.
The issue is that this market is extremely small. Almost non-existent small. Like the original Go, some people will buy the base model Go 2 because the base price looks attractive. Unfortunately, if they expect performance beyond a Chromebook, which can be had cheaper, then most of them will be disappointed.
The simple fact is, no matter which direction you turn, there is a lot more computing power and value to be had for less money. A cheap browsing machine? Check out the new Lenovo Duet Chromebook that comes with a kickstand and keyboard for only $299. A tablet? Again, the iPad and iPad Air provide better touch experiences. If you want a touch-capable laptop, take your pick. There are hundreds with better specs and a touchscreen for less.
The Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Laptop all have more clear-cut positions in the Windows 2-in-1 device and laptop markets. Microsoft has done a very good job of positioning each one of them. The coming Surface Duo at least has novelty on its side. The Go 2 is just stuck in a black hole. A bigger, better screen and a better processor option can’t create a market that barely exists.
Maybe one day Windows 10X will improve the OS’s touch experience and developers will embrace ARM for their apps so a device like the Go 2 can run a more suitable processor for a mobile device. I’m not holding my breath, but it could happen. The Windows user side of me is pretty cynical these days, but I do hope Microsoft somehow changes things and gets there one day. However, until then, the Surface Go 2 isn’t going anywhere. In my case, the only place it’s going is back to Microsoft.
Do you have any thoughts on the Surface Go 2, on its own or compared to the iPad or other products? If so, let me know in the comments section below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.