Microsoft Surface Go: Portable and ideal for casual users

Remember netbooks? Those dinky little laptops with cramped keyboards, small screens and middling performance that were all the rage more than a decade ago?

Microsoft's Surface Go, with its modest 10-inch screen, is like an improved netbook, but with a modern twist. Like its larger Surface Pro sibling, the Surface Go can switch between tablet and laptop forms. Simply add or remove its detachable keyboard accessory.

Improvements in computing hardware since the netbook's heyday mean that the Surface Go, with its high-resolution display and fast solid-state drive (SSD), is more usable than netbooks ever were.

But make no mistake, the Surface Go still ranks fairly low on the performance totem. It is powered by Intel's budget Pentium Gold Processor. The entry-level Go comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage that runs slower than a typical SSD.

Even my higher-end review set, with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, is some way off the performance of a typical ultrabook. In the PCMark 10 benchmark, it scored 1,902, compared with 4,240 for a recent ultrabook such as the Asus ZenBook 14.

While it is not ideal for video editing or gaming, the Surface Go is good enough for casual users. Students may find it useful for taking notes with the optional Surface Pen stylus ($148).

I did not encounter any lag while browsing the Web or streaming videos from YouTube and Netflix. However, I did get the Windows blue screen of death once during my testing, resulting in a restart.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $828

    PROCESSOR: Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y (1.6GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 615

    RAM: 8GB DDR3

    SCREEN SIZE: 10 inches, 1,800 x 1,200 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: USB Type-C, Surface Connect port, MicroSD card slot, headphone jack

    BATTERY: 26.12 watt-hour


    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

It comes preloaded with Windows 10 in S mode, a locked-down version that only lets you install verified apps from the Windows Store. It means traditional desktop apps such as security app Malwarebytes and the Google Chrome browser are not supported.

It is, however, easy to remove this restriction by switching to the standard Windows 10 edition in the settings, which is what I would recommend. Do note that you cannot switch back to S mode if you change your mind.

The best thing about the Surface Go is the weight. At 520g, its matt grey magnesium chassis is only slightly heavier than Apple's 9.7-inch iPad. It is handy and not awkward to hold, unlike 16:9 tablets. Including its Type Cover keyboard (from $138), the Surface Go weighs 770g, which is lighter than most laptops.

The cover magnetically attaches to the Surface Go with a satisfying snap. The attraction is strong enough that I could hold the device upside down by its keyboard cover without worrying the tablet would break free and fall to the ground.

The keyboard feels slightly narrow and flexes in the middle. I ended up mostly pecking at the keys using two fingers, though I could maintain a passable typing rate of 60 words per minute. The decently sized touchpad is as wide as the spacebar.

With chunky bezels around the display, the Surface Go can look old-fashioned next to modern laptops with near-bezel-less screens. But the thick bezels reduce accidental screen touches while gripping the device. It also means ample room for a front-facing infrared camera that supports the Windows Hello facial-recognition feature.

It comes with a single USB Type-C port - most users will need a dongle for their external storage devices. But the upside is that, in addition to using its bundled charger to charge the Go (via the proprietary Surface Connect port), you can also charge the device via the USB Type-C port.

In the video-loop battery test, the Surface Go lasted six hours with the screen set at maximum brightness. Given its modest battery, this is a decent duration, though the latest notebooks can go seven hours or more on a single charge.

Although the base model costs an attractive $618, I recommend the higher-end model ($828) reviewed here, which is still cheaper than the iPad Pro or Surface Pro. Factor in the cost of the accessories and the Surface Go will set you back by as much as a lower mid-range notebook, which is wholly acceptable.

• Verdict: Putting portability and price over performance, the Surface Go offers adequate performance for less-demanding users.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2019, with the headline 'Portable and ideal for casual users'. Print Edition | Subscribe