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Microsoft Surface Go hardware Review


Summary

Smaller and cheaper than the Pro models, some issues still leave it as Microsoft's best Hybrid yet.

3.6
  • Build quality
  • Screen size & quality
  • Performance (Desktop)
  • Performance (Games)
  • Value

Microsoft deliver the best value hybrid yet?

This is a big time of year for laptop, tablet and general multi-function devices for release as kids go back to school or University. The popular hybrid is the best of both and can make all the difference in these vital years, step forward Microsoft and its gradual penetration into this market and as a hardware vendor. It’s new for 2018 Surface Go has a name that matches the Pro model it gained Apples attention after a couple of failed starts, now the Chromebook, Samsung and Ipad market is the next target.

From the off this is not a high performing, slim-line device like the Pro models instead being a much cheaper and more all-round device perfect for the High school or Uni generation that caters to all needs without breaking Mum and Dad’s bank balance. Pricing first and it comes in 2 models that look identical with the same specifications we cover shortly, £379.99 and £509.99 respectively. The main change is the cheaper model here sports 4GB of LPDDR3 and a cheaper/smaller 64GB eMMC storage driver. The £130 more expensive model sports x2 this amount with 8GB and a larger 128GB full SSD which will improve the hybrid for both storage and multi-tasking. Not that the base model here is bad for that as it can multi-task well enough with browser, Excel and PowerPoint open this will quickly bog down if you push beyond 3 or 4 apps at once though. Both models also sport a MicroSD slot at the back which will help expand the small storage space they come with, the 64GB model here has about 56GB of real space once Windows has taken its seat.

Aside these 2 areas both models are identical which gives the £510 model the edge in performance at a great deal more cost, 35% more. In addition to this is the excellent cover style keyboard that magnetically connects with ease and folds over to protect the screen when not in use. It is a responsive and solid keyboard considering the reduction from the Pro model and the touch pad is equally as good. The dual fold modes and pop out fully flexible stand mean you can position this on the table, lap or bench as required. Ergonomically it does feel the best balance between function and form, almost.

What is under the hood?

This is powered by a dual core/4 thread Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y clocked at 1.6Ghz paired with Intel’s own 615 GPU. You can see the specs in the box out below or within the video itself, this is not a powerhouse and gaming performance should be kept in check which I cover later. It has access to around 25.6GB/s bandwidth from the DDR3L modules which is shared with the GPU & CPU, which itself has a 2MB cache. Single threaded performance is ok but the 4 threads can be quickly maxed out once you fire up games or multi-threaded applications such as excel. That said it will power through a few thousand record Database VBA script I have written to test the performance and it handles it well. Certainly not up to a half decent desktop or Thinkpad for sure but within 10’s of seconds to not really be an issue for day to day use within the student target this is aimed at. Simpler functions such as Index-Match or Vlookup can quickly calculate in real-time with no disruption to your work flow, again remember how many applications you have open as filling the RAM will result in page swapping with the flash storage or SSD which you will need to keep in mind.

 

Screen, sound and image quality

The PixelSense touchscreen is good quality with great contrast and blacks hold up well on documents and movies. It can handle 4K/60 streams from Youtube which look very good within its 3:2 ratio sporting an 1800×1200 native resolution at 60Hz makes it perfect for streaming HD movies or TV. The biggest downside is the huge Bezels which reduce the useable viewing space, I think a 13.5” screen and or much thinner bezel would really help although you do grow accustomed to it. The touchscreen is responsive with the flip out stand making it a great option to save time on clicking or swiping pages when on more casual apps. You can add a wireless mouse and stylus pen to the device if you wish for some extra cost, the USB-C connector does reduce the ease of plugging new devices in. The 2 cameras (5MP front and 8MP rear) allow video to be taken at 1080P or likely Skype chats. The CPU and GPU enable it to run semi 3D applications with ease and on the whole it can run may desktop work applications with ease.

Sound is functional, this is a tablet after all so do not expect cinema sound with the included 3.5mm headphone jack enhancing this if you need some quiet time away from the world. Matching the simplicity of the magnetic keyboard is the power cable that is bidirectional allowing you to plug in easily from both sides and trail behind or down as needed. It also helps if little brother or sister decides to use it they cannot plug in the wrong way. The thin build of it means a USB 3.0 socket is not an option with an A to C converter required to allow connection for other peripherals or storage options. Built in Wi-fi supports most bands alongside BT 4.1 and speed to the router was good and consistent walking around my house.

 

Games

Moving into games testing it holds up better than expected all things considered, you can play lighter titles fine with modern classics such as Limbo holding close to 60fps at a native resolution. Pixel Monsters 2 is also playable, dropping the resolution close to 540P it can hold around the mid 20’s to 30. The biggest limits come from the RAM allocation with 4GB total system and around 1GB maximum on the GPU titles such as Arkham Knight or Doom will simply not run, lighter titles such as Arkam City or the physics based battler Deformers will with a similar 600P or lower resolution and a 30fps target being enough to still enjoy them. Obvious stutters from Bandwidth and storage space can affect streaming or camera spins with the Intel driver also showing some scary haircut sacrifices to Harley Quinn, it is still impressive that the quality and frame-rate is as good as they are. Lighter mobile based store apps such as Asphalt all run much better and look good and Fortnite can still be enjoyed for those study downtime moments. If you are desperate you can still stream form your desktop and partake in some mobile Doon the choice is yours. The more expensive model would likely perform better, maybe not at a maximum but more consistent due to the larger Ram pool and SSD, likely not to a level that is in line with the price increase mind as none of these are really gaming machines.

What is beneath the surface?

As a mixture of laptop functionality and the versatility of a tablet Microsoft have come as close as ever to achieving that. Without testing the higher packed version, I cannot be 100% sure, that said I am confident that this version is the best value for the market it is aimed at. It’s mixture of High quality screen, multi-tasking functions and complete access to all PC applications, so long as you make the free step through the one-way gate of the S mode. This locks the hybrid to Windows store applications only by default. I recommend activating the S mode switch, so you are not locked to UMP applications, Win32 exes need a look in and it has no effect on the performance.

Not everything is a win, the bezel edges on the display are obtrusive and the screen could be slightly bigger as could the keyboard. Likely not a problem for the intended audience, what may be is the temperature the device can reach, running games can see the back become very hot as the chip can reach 68c, a toasty warmer if being used in tablet form. For prolonged runs like this it could reach an internal TDP safety level and shutdown, unlikely with its intended aims but still possible. The price tag, although slightly higher with the extra £100 for the required keyboard, is still adaptable to deliver on real workloads and tablet ease with its light weight and portability. The separate cost for the required keyboard and scribe does push the cost up a lot, a reduced bundle with them included would help. I can recommend it for school or University workloads that allows it to replace your Ipad as an all in one solution with much larger storage and cheap expansion options. If you are looking to do any video editing, music mixing or any serious gaming then this will certainly fall down fast, in reality though this was never on the agenda.

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