As most of my readers know, I am a fan of tablet computers. Especially those that have a pen input option. I first became interested in them after seeing Bill Gates show off a Windows XP tablet edition device on Good Morning America. I like technology and I also enjoy writing, but some part of my brain does the latter better with a pen or pencil in hand. A system that combined the two was just the thing for me.
I spent countless hours mastering the specialized Graffiti input on my Palm Pilot PDA but it just wasn’t the same as scribbling something on paper. What Mr. Gates demonstrated on that show was true handwriting recognition. I convinced my boss at the time to get me one of the first devices and I haven’t looked back since. I have owned and used nearly every pen enabled computer since then.
This weekend, I picked up the Surface Go. I’m writing this article with it. The last Surface system I bought was one of my favorite computers of all time. Why get a Go if I already own a Pro? In-short, size and weight are a pen writers biggest enemies with this type of tech. Until recently it has been difficult to find devices that are small enough to comfortably hold in a single hand but powerful enough to run real-time handwriting recognition. Most of the tablet devices are large enough to require a table or knee to lean on. The Galaxy Note phones were some of the first devices to allow handheld writing and I still love mine. The Galaxy Book 10.6 was among the first tablets light enough to hold and write but powerful enough to be useful. It’s a great device but the Surface Go has some district advantages that drew me to it.
Foremost in my mind is the integrated kickstand. There’s just nothing else that competes with it, even with HP and Asus trying to copy it. The other manufacturer’s versions don’t stand-up. The Surface Go keyboard has the same fold and attach ability that its big brother does which makes the keyboard more rigid on your lap. It’s one of the few 2-in-1 designs that works well on your lap, on a table, and on the arm of your chair.
Next on are the size and weight. The Surface Go weighs 1.15 pounds and feels the same as holding a 9.7″ iPad. It’s light and has a small foot print. The Go is just the right size to slip in your day pack or a purse but still big enough to be worth carrying the extra device. Even as a long time Galaxy Note fan, I find myself tossing this thing in my bag for the extra screen space. It’s comfortable to hold in one hand and write with the other. Every ounce less that a tablet weighs, improves its usability in this regard. The Go is light enough that I find myself reading books on it which is not something I have normally used a tablet for.
Some of the reviews that I had read before purchasing the Go indicated that the processor was weak. I’m not a huge fan of benchmark testing, I find that it is largely irrelevant in the real world. In my very un-scientific testing the Surface Go opens some popular everyday apps like the browser, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, a fraction of a second slower than it takes the current iPad to launch the same software. However, Apple has spent considerable time and capital optimizing the iPad for those specific tasks. If we switch our testing to apps like Word, Excel, Onenote, and WordPress, the Surface Go is much faster at launching these programs in some cases several seconds faster. The Surface Go was faster at launching every “Productivity” app that we tested: Sketchbook, Photoshop, Evernote, and Homebudget, all opened faster on it. Full disclosure, my testing method consisted of my wife grabbing her iPad and us launching the same app after a 3-2-1 countdown. In my opinion, this is the only kind of speed test that matters for these types of devices.
For me, one of the true tests of a system’s power is to load up a game and see how it plays. The system easily handles “App Store” games like Candy Crush, Modern Combat, and Fruit Ninja so I decided to throw something harder at it. I installed Steam and downloaded Borderlands 2. I let the game auto-dected the resolution and graphics settings (1152 X 854) and was floored by how well it played. It looked good, and was fully playable. I actually enjoyed playing on it and was also able to play Sims 4 (on high at 1080P) along with Stardew Valley. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a gaming system. It couldn’t play Destiny 2 at all and you won’t be hooking up a VR headset to it, but for a college person or to play on your lunch break at work, it’s surprisingly good.
Microsoft says that the battery can last up to nine hours. I’ve been using it all day for the last three days doing everything from writing and surfing to playing and drawing and I haven’t needed to plug-in except for its nightly charge. I also have the 2018 iPad and the battery life seems comparable in real-world use. I am enabling battery saver mode when reading or doing other low demand tasks.
Overall I’m very happy with this system. It would be nice if it were a little less expensive, but it’s an incredibly good small computer and you’re always going to pay a premium for that. The 128 GB iPad comes in at $429.00 and the 128GB Go is $549.00, for the extra $120 you get a full Windows operating system that can run the full versions of software like Office in a similarly sized package. I’ve already installed Visual Studio, written a PowerShell script, loaded PhotoShop and edited a picture, written countless emails and a few Word documents.
The keyboard is fantastic but I disagree with a lot of the tech blogs that say it is required. If you plan to use this system for “tablet” tasks, it’s on-screen keyboard is leagues above Apple’s. It has multiple sizes and modes that allow it to fit almost any situation. The predictive text is spectacular. If you want to type 100 WPM then you’re going to need a keyboard. If you want to take that keyboard with you, I recommend the one that Microsoft made but you can use any with bluetooth or a USB C adapter. The purpose made keyaboard is nearly perfect as far as small keyboards go. I’ve never used one that was better.
I already owned the new Surface Pen and have written an article about it. It works really well on this tablet. If I had to choose between the keyboard and the Pen I would have picked the Pen! I still think the Norris pencil for the Samsung Galaxy Note is the best stylus I’ve ever used, but this one is a close second and it’s more functional.
I’m very happy with the Surface Go and think that if you mostly use a high-end desktop or big-laptop and need something more portable, this tablet is a great fit. If you’re a college student, home user that doesn’t edit video/play AAA games, or 95% of office workers, you could likley use this as your only computer system with a dock. Microsoft will be releasing a business edition and an LTE equipped version in the near future. I expect this device will be quite popular over its lifetime.