The Surface Go is intended to bring Microsoft’s polish and excellent overall design characteristics to a much lower price point, while simultaneously replacing the now-aged Surface 3, which debuted back in 2015. On the surface, there’s a lot to like about the tablet — but reviewer opinions on the device now that they’ve spent time with it aren’t very positive.
Before we round up the device, let’s quickly review the product. The Surface Go is a 10-inch tablet with an 1800×1200 screen in the device’s typical 3:2 form factor. The base configuration ships with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, but MS appears to have mostly sampled the higher-end model, with SSD-based 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. The CPU, in all cases, is a Kaby Lake-derived Pentium Gold 4415Y. The major appeal of the Surface Go is its price — at $399, this is a tablet primed to move in volume, if the chip is good enough.
And is the chip good enough? Not so much.
Mashable smashes the Surface Go as “barely better than a netbook,” stating “I applaud Microsoft for lowering the Surface entry fee, but the Surface Go’s too underpowered and the full Windows 10 experience isn’t optimized well for such a small screen.” The small size of the keyboard gave VentureBeat fits (YMMV here, as one man’s perfect keyboard is another’s eldritch horror). The complete lack of USB-A connectivity means you’ll need a converter dongle; the Go has just one USB-C port. The Surface Go is generally praised for its continuation of some MS design trends. But the thick bezels are a major turn-off, the power plug is a serious wall wart, and while the size and weight make it great for certain applications, typing on the keyboard can be cramped and the screen is small.
Most of the points reviewers raise as possible negatives ultimately depend on what you want to do with the device. Maybe you don’t mind thick bezels or find the keyboard perfectly acceptable. But the performance issues on display are serious, and they’re raised by almost every single reviewer. At the same time, however, the Surface Go does unambiguously improve on the performance of the Surface 3, as shown by this excerpt of a chart from Engadget:
Tests from PCMag show a similar split. The Surface Go is faster than the old Surface 3 and similar low-end devices, but not quite up to the speed you’d expect from a higher-end and more expensive system. In other words, don’t buy the Surface Go thinking you’ll do much “real work” with it.
ZDNet found the system to be zippy enough for their purposes, as did Gizmodo, but both publications also warn against trying to do any kind of serious work on the machine. Ars reports that Intel has apparently pulled the 1.6GHz dual-core Pentium CPU inside the system down to a 4.5W TDP, which means it runs at its 1.6GHz base clock only on occasion and generally throttles below this point. That means yes, the Surface Go falls afoul of our “Don’t ship machines that run below base clock,” rule.
The system runs Windows 10 S by default, but you can (and should) switch it to Windows 10 Pro as soon as possible. Actually using the device in one’s lap remains problematic, but this is common to the entire Surface family. Battery life, meanwhile, is middling. Mashable reports 4 to 7.5 hours of battery life depending on workload. Battery life when watching video is excellent, even exceeding Microsoft’s 9 hours, but Engadget states that doing any actual work with the tablet cut battery life to around six hours. ZDNet reports 5-7 hours based on typical workloads.
Overall opinion on the device is pretty mixed. Its price point, overall size and weight, design, and features are well regarded, but performance, battery life, and certain annoyances like the lack of ports all got the system dinged for points. Typically reviews tend to coalesce around a general “view” of a product, but opinions on Surface Go are split in somewhat unusual ways. If you’re considering the hardware I definitely recommend reading more than one review to get a sense of what it can do and what it can’t.
When I write these articles, I aim to channel the voices of the reviewers first and foremost, holding back my own opinion or commentary. But I’ll say this: Having just written an article demanding that manufacturers stop shipping systems that drop below their minimum base clocks, I feel obliged to stick to it. If the Pentium Gold 4415Y can’t hold its base clock, then the Surface Go isn’t a system ExtremeTech recommends. Period. I’m not going to pretend that we’re Consumer Reports, but somebody somewhere has to take a stand for the idea that customers deserve the performance they pay for. Going forward, we will not recommend a system that can’t maintain its minimum CPU clock under ordinary test conditions that represent standard workloads.
Now Read: Microsoft Announces New Surface Go, Consumer Reports Yanks All Microsoft Surface Recommendations, It’s Time to Call Out Laptop Manufacturers for Their Bullshit CPU Throttling