(Pocket-lint) - The original Surface Go, released in 2018, was a super-portable machine designed for gettings bits and pieces done when on the go - emailing, taking notes in a meeting, watching a bit of Netflix on the commute home - rather than trying to be an all-powerful Surface product. It was this portability that made this 2-in-1 appealing.
The sequel, the aptly named Surface Go 2, takes the exact footprint of the original - with the same ports and all - but nips and tucks its design to offer yet more appeal. The screen bezel has shrunk, giving more display real-estate this time around. There's more speed thanks to upgraded processors - and even the option to spend more for an Intel Core M3 model if you want. But that's roughly all, as this isn't a huge overhaul.
The other obvious attraction to the Surface Go 2 is the apparently small price tag to match the device's small-scale. But, realistically, by the time you've added the Type Cover keyboard accessory and any additions (upgraded internals, Surface Pen, Mobile Mouse) to transform it into a true laptop alternative it is, well, about the same price as one. So does this little tablet-meets-laptop-alternative present true worth?
Design & Display
- 10.5-inch, 3:2 aspect ratio, 1920 x 1280 resolution 'PixelSense' display
- Dimensions: 245 x 175 x 8.3mm / Weighs: 544g (without Type Cover)
- 1x USB-C, 1 x microSD, 1x Surface Connect port, 1x 3.5mm jack
- Front and rear cameras: 8MP rear & 5MP front for Windows Hello
- Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen stylus sold separately
Visually, the Go 2 has all the successful hallmarks of Surface design and, while the additional costs of the keyboard and stylus might be annoying for your bank balace, they're integral to how you should think about using this device. Because it's rather versatile in its ways: use it as a tablet (the built-in kickstand is great) with touchscreen control; use it as a mini laptop (the Type Cover keyboard is pretty impressive for typing quality); or go to town with the Surface Pen (doodle your life away!).
We've always been fans of the Surface kickstand, but like other 2-in-1s the Surface Go 2 does present usability problems with its optional Type Cover keyboard attached. Pop it on a train or airplane table and, well, there's not really enough space to use it (unless you're in first class maybe). It's not great to use on a lap either, as the keyboard flaps about and flexes a bit too much. Which may make you lean towards getting a laptop instead.
That said, there's very little out there in the Windows space that's as lightweight as the Go 2. Sure, the second-gen device is 20g or so heavier than the original. But the total weight - the main unit is 544g, the Type Cover is 245g, the Pen a mere 20g - is well under a kilogram altogether. You could pretty much balance the whole lot on your little finger and barely notice it. Hardly any laptops weigh under a kilo - and those that do will likely cost about twice the price anyway.
The original Surface Go got a fair bit of stick for having whopping-great bezels surrounding its screen. The Surface Go 2 looks to rectify that to some degree, squeezing a 10.5-inch display into the exact same space as the original had - meaning there's half an inch on the diagonal measure less bezel than before, pushing the black stuff back somewhat. No, it's still nowhere near the Dell XPS 13's ultra-trim bezel, but it's a step forward nonetheless.
That makes the 10.5-inch PixelSense display - called as such for its 1920 x 1280 resolution - better than many in this class this time around, looking more up to date than before. It's got all the pixels, colour and brightness you could need at this scale, while the LCD panel copes well enough with viewing angles - despite some reflection irks from the glossy screen finish.
In terms of ports we had hoped for some progress in this department. There's a microSD card slot (useful for file-storage expansion if you're buying the 64GB base model), a headphone jack (handy if you're still using wired headphones), a single USB-C port and, alas, Microsoft has stuck with the proprietary Surface connector for charging - when we'd much rather have a secondary USB-C to cater for this (as we said in our review of the original product, so maybe next time, eh?).
Specs & Performance
- Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor (entry model)
- 8th Gen Intel Core M3 processor (step-up model)
- Dual Studio Microphones, 2W stereo speakers
- 64GB eMMC or 128GB SSD
- Intel HD Graphics 615
- 4GB or 8GB RAM
The second-gen Surface Go comes in a number of configurations: the entry offers the Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor and 4GB RAM; there's a step-up model which doubles the RAM to 8GB and storage to 128GB (this is the model on review); thereafter it's a step-up to 8th Gen Intel Core M3 processor - which is available in Wi-Fi only or as an LTE mobile option.
You'll need to keep a close eye on what you choose in terms of costs. The entry model costs £399/$399/€459, which makes it a relative bargain. The model we have on review is £529/$549/€629 for its extra RAM and storage. Fair enough - but if you were to add the Type Cover or opt for the LTE model then that price creeps up rather quickly, making the apparent price seem a little less of a steal.
Whichever model you choose, this isn't a super-powered device by any means. The processor inside is clue enough of that: Pentium Gold (which bears no relation to their predecessors and is part of the Kaby Lake series of chips introduced at the start of 2017) slots in-between the super-basic Celeron line-up and the Core M3. That's all the lower-end of the spectrum, before you even reach Core i - which you'll find in most laptops these days, and which isn't available in the Surface Go series.
However, you don't need heaps of power for simple on-the-go tasks. You can't download mega apps from Windows Store by and large anyway. So if your primary goal here is to be browsing, typing and emailing then you'll hit no real hindrance.
It's been fine for us in everyday use - including editing photos, delivering fairly lag-free sketching, and running numerous apps simultaneously.
However, as we're used to using a more powerful device in general, there are slight lags that are noticeable - such as when selecting, say, a playback resolution in YouTube, or trying to exit full screen and having to wait the micro-second longer than another more responsive machine. All this goes to show the Go 2's relative position in the Surface pecking order.
One complaint of the original Surface Go was its lacklustre battery life. We hoped that the Go 2 would improve in this area - especially with the hardware running things - and, from our tests, think that it has a little. For everyday use you're still likely to get somewhere in the region of seven hours use.
A streaming test, however, saw a 1080p video at medium brightness and volume playback stream from YouTube for a full 10 hours before there was a hint of the battery being done. That's not bad going at all from a device of this size. It depends what you'll be doing.
Windows 10 in S Mode
- Windows 10 Home in 'S mode', can be set to Windows 10 (irreversibly)
Just like the original, the Surface Go 2 uses Windows 10, but here it's in what's called S Mode. This is a special mode of Windows that doesn't enable you to install desktop apps. Instead, you can only get your apps from the Windows Store. Microsoft claims greater security in S Mode - because dodgy applications can't be installed.
Now, it is easy to switch out of S Mode to install desktop apps - there's a special app in the Windows Store to perform the switch - but it is irreversible thereafter.
However, if you consider yourself a relatively sensible user in terms of the apps you install, we'd recommend switching it out of S Mode right away. Primarily that's because the Windows Store is limited in terms of apps - as all the apps have to be approved by Microsoft. In many cases this isn't a problem because the bulk of what you want for casual work and play is on there. But in having the ability to dig into more, should you need it, we prefer the non-S version of the operating system.
Secondarily it's because in S Mode you're restricted to Microsoft Edge as a browser and Bing as your search engine. We'll take Chrome and Google instead thanks - something that S Mode won't permit, because other browsers, like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, don't exist on the Microsoft Store.
Elsewhere the Go has cameras front and rear, which is a welcome addition for Windows Hello. This enables you to log-in with your face and works in a near instant.
The Surface Go 2 is a nip and tuck of the original model. We prefer the more impactful screen (although the bezels still aren't tiny). The battery life was pretty reasonable in our tests too. And the overall build and kick-stand design make it versatile.
As per the original, however, the Go 2 needs to be taken on balance. This isn't a a do-anything device like the Surface Book 3 - and neither should you expect it to be. Instead, the Go 2 is a super-portable machine for doing bits and pieces on the go - especially if you invest in the Type Cover keyboard to make this a viable little laptop alternative - that makes it a viable alternative to an iPad Pro or Chromebook.
All in all, while it's not super-powerful, the Surface Go 2 is super-portable and delivers as much as it ought to from a stylish little package.
Not attached to Windows? Google's little Chromebook delivers M3 and a keyboard for a little less cash than the Surface Go 2. It's nimble, lovely to use, looks great, plus it's speedy and has a battery that lasts all day without even trying.
Apple iPad Air
Don't let anyone fool you that an iPad can do more than a Windows 10 S machine - that's really not the case. But you do get great battery life, a good balance of features to price, and, if you're an iPhone user, familiar integration with Apple's iOS.