A gorgeous machine and an improvement on the original, but it still isn’t powerful enough
- High quality webcam
- Surprisingly usable keyboard
- Excellent screen
- Not fast enough
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 represents all the best and worst things about 2-in-1 laptops. It’s tiny and lightweight and spans the worlds of laptop and tablet with effortless ease. You can use it to watch Netflix in bed in the morning and then attach the keyboard and sling it in your bag to do some work on the move and you’ll barely notice its presence.
As a dual-purpose ultra-portable machine there aren’t many better products on the market. Yet it is still, in many ways, a compromise device. It isn’t as powerful as dedicated laptops at the same price and it isn’t as cheap as a dedicated tablet running Android or the bog-standard iPad which runs iOS. And, despite the fact that its main appeal is its split personality, Microsoft still insists on selling the keyboard separately.
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Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: What you need to know
The essential premise of the Surface Go 2 hasn’t changed a bit, then. It’s still a miniaturised version of the Surface Pro, complete with tiny detachable keyboard (don’t let Microsoft tell you this is optional, you will have to buy one to make the most of this tablet) and built-in kickstand.
As before, the laptop is supplied with Windows 10 in S mode (although it can be switched to regular Windows 10 easily) and there’s support for Microsoft’s Surface Pen, which attaches magnetically to the left edge of the tablet, and charges as it does so. Again, however, the stylus is a costly optional extra.
So what’s new this time around? Well, you’re getting narrower bezels, so the slightly larger 10.5in display doesn’t result in more bulk to lug around. There’s now a Windows Hello-compatible webcam built into the bezel above the screen and upgraded far-field microphones for better performance during video calls. And the Surface Go 2 has improved internals, too; according to Microsoft, the new Go is 64% faster than the original.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Price and competition
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is available in three variants. The version tested for this review comes with an Intel Core m3-8100Y CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. It costs £619 for the tablet alone or a whopping £719 if you want 4G connectivity built in.
The cheaper models are powered by a Pentium Gold 4425Y CPU and come with either 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage for £399, or 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for £529.
If that sounds quite reasonable, remember that for all models, you’ll need to factor in buying the Type Cover keyboard, which costs either £100 for the standard black model or £125 for the Alcantara-clad Signature keyboard, which is available in “Platinum” grey or “Poppy” red. So, in total that’s £499 for the cheaper Surface Go 2, £719 for the Core m3 and £819 for the 4G model. If you want the Surface Pen, too, add another £100. Ouch.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 models
|Intel Pentium 4425Y||Intel Core m3-8100Y|
|4GB RAM||8GB RAM||8GB RAM||8GB RAM|
|64GB eMMC||128GB SSD||128GB SSD||128GB SSD|
|£499 (inc kbd)||£629 (inc kbd)||£719 (inc kbd)||£819 (inc kbd)|
|£599 (inc kbd+pen)||£729 (inc kbd+pen)||£819 (inc kbd+pen)||£919 (inc kbd+pen)|
What are your alternatives? Thoughts immediately turn to the excellent Apple iPad. No, not the iPad Pro but the standard model. It’s a lot cheaper and supports the addition of both a keyboard and stylus, just like the Surface Go. The iPad costs £349 for the 32GB model and £449 for the 128GB model, and Apple charges £159 for the keyboard bringing those prices up to £508 and £608 respectively.
Next in line is Samsung’s range of excellent Android tablets. We love the Galaxy Tab S6 for its incredible OLED display but the attachable keyboard (again optional) isn’t as good as the Surface Go 2’s Type Cover.
Prices for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 are higher than the Surface Go, too, although it does come with a stylus in the box, which makes up for that in part. Prices start at £619 for the 128GB tablet and the keyboard cover is another £159, bringing the total cost to £778 for the whole package.
Finally, you might want to consider a regular Windows laptop instead. The Honor MagicBook 14 offers much more bang your buck at a mere £550 and while it may not have a touchscreen it is much faster than the Microsoft Surface Go 2 and has a bigger 256GB SSD.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: New features and design
I’ve already gone over the key design features of the Surface Go 2 so I’m not going to labour the point too much here. It’s essentially a shrunken Surface Pro with a larger screen than the original Go but squeezed into a chassis that’s essentially the same size. I’ll jump straight into the new features instead.
Let’s look at the new display first: it’s half an inch larger than before and fills the body slightly more, leaving narrower bezels surrounding it. The overall effect is that the Go 2 looks a little more modern and up to date than before. Don’t kid yourself that the extra screen real estate is going to give you loads of extra space to work with, however; this is still very much a one app on-screen at a time device.
Still, the display is a good one at least. It’s perfectly sharp at 1,920 x 1,280 in resolution, measures up exceptionally well, covering 97.2% of the sRGB colour gamut, and has exceptional colour accuracy. It’s bright, too, peaking at 391cd/m², which means it’s good enough for working outdoors on and the screen offers an impressive contrast ratio of 1,411:1. It may not be a match for the stupendously good OLED screen of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 but it’s at least as good as the display on the regular iPad.
Next up, the new webcam, which is now Windows Hello compatible. This allows you to unlock the Surface Go 2 with your face so you don’t have to faff about tapping in PIN codes or passwords and it works well. What’s perhaps even more impressive is the image quality of this new camera. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, stunning. It records video at 1080p at up to 30fps, colour fidelity is exceptional and auto-exposure, even in tricky light, is spot on. It’s among the best built-in webcams I’ve used on any laptop.
The new Studio microphone setup is equally good, capturing your voice with impressive clarity and even the speakers, which aren’t normally great on such small laptops, are of good quality. You’re not going to get any bass out of them but they put out clear, full-bodied sound that’s perfectly good for conference calls and listening to podcasts.
The rest of the design is pretty much as it was before. Ports are limited – as you’d expect on such a slim chassis – to a single USB 3.0 Type C port and the magnetised Surface Connect charging port just next to it. There’s a microSD card slot hidden under the kickstand for a cheap storage boost and, in a surprise move, you now get WiFi-6 support courtesy of Intel’s 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi 6 AX200 adapter. Microsoft also offers a 4G version of the Surface Go 2, equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 modem for on the go connectivity.
Oh, and there’s also a semi-decent 8-megapixel camera on the rear, although I can’t see this being useful for anything other than the odd business card or document scan.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Keyboard and stylus
You have to pay £100 for it (or £125 for the Alcantara-clad Signature model) but, every time I sit down to type on the Surface Go 2’s Type Cover, it surprises me with how good it is to type on. At first glance, it looks far too small but that turns out to be far from true.
Its small size does require some adjustment in muscle memory but Microsoft has made compromises in all the right places here, with decent sized Enter, Backspace, right Shift and Tab keys, thus minimising the number of times you need to look down and hunt for commonly used keys. Coupled with a fantastically positive feel and a slightly concave surface to each key top and you have pretty much the perfect compact keyboard.
Even the small touchpad below the keyboard works effectively. The sensitivity is good, the surface feels slick and smooth under your finger and it’s just about wide enough to make three- and four-finger multitouch gestures practical. For all-day use, you’ll still want to supplement your Surface Go 2 with a decent Bluetooth mouse but if you’re forced to use the touchpad it shouldn’t frustrate too much.
Another option is to purchase the Surface Pen. It’s a fairly pricey £100 extra but does work rather well and clips onto the left edge of the tablet, where it charges. This is the same Surface Pen as the Surface Pro 7 supports, with tilt-to-shade and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity it feels as good to use as any stylus I’ve used with just enough friction between the nib of the pen and the screen. There’s a right-click button on the barrel and another button on the top, which can be customised to perform various shortcut actions. The top button also acts as an eraser in drawing and handwriting applications, just like a regular, analogue pencil.
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Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Performance
One of the other upgrades, aside from the screen and the camera, is performance. And, yes, the Intel Core m3-8100Y CPU in the more powerful Surface Go 2 is a big step up. Before you go getting too excited, however, be aware that this improvement is made from a pretty low base.
While the Surface Go 2 is perfectly fine for office-based tasks such as word processing, emailing, browsing the web and streaming, there’s a limited amount of power on offer here, so more demanding tasks such as Raw photo editing will slow things down dramatically.
Even having multiple tabs open in Chrome and working on large Google Sheets can have a negative impact on how responsive the Surface Go 2 feels to use and you can forget about video editing or rendering and anything other than basic games will prove beyond it. I ran the ageing Dirt Showdown benchmark on it at a mere 720p and it achieved an average frame rate of just 14fps. This is clearly no speed demon, and the cheaper Surface Go 2 is likely to be even less so.
Battery life is a touch more impressive but it still isn’t anything, in particular, to write home about. The Surface Go 2 lasted 7hrs 17mins in our video rundown test with flight mode engaged and the screen set to a brightness of 170cd/m², which is about middling by modern ultraportable Windows laptop standards.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Verdict
All of which puts the Surface Go 2 in an awkward position. From a design and usability standpoint, it’s a gorgeous little thing. You can type for hours in comfort on the Type Cover keyboard, the display is stunning and the whole package is about as portable as laptops of any ilk get.
It’s the careful attention that Microsoft has paid to the finer details, though, that I really love about it: the top quality webcam, excellent microphone and surprisingly good speakers.
But the Surface Go 2 suffers from one big, unsurmountable weakness: it simply isn’t powerful enough. Indeed, the lack of performance means I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone for use as anything other than a second laptop – a companion device to use for the occasional job, maybe, but certainly not for all-day work.
If that’s what you’re looking for, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 will do a sterling job albeit at a rather high price; those hunting for the maximum value, however, will be better off with a proper laptop like the Honor MagicBook 14 or a Google Pixelbook Go.
Microsoft Surface Go 2
|Processor||Intel Core m3-8100Y|
|Additional memory slots||No|
|Graphics adapter||Intel UHD Graphics 615|
|Screen size (in)||10.5|
|Screen resolution||1,920 x 1,280|
|Pixel density (PPI)||220|
|Touchscreen||Yes (10-point multitouch)|
|Pointing devices||Touchpad (on optional keyboard); Surface Pen stylus (optional)|
|Memory card slot||microSD|
|3.5mm audio jack||Yes|
|Graphics outputs||USB C|
|Other ports||Surface Connect|
|Web Cam||1080p (Windows Hello compatible)|
|Dimensions, mm (WDH)||245 x 8.3 x 175mm|
|Weight (kg) – with keyboard where applicable||0.54|
|Battery size (Wh)||27|
|Operating system||Windows 10 in S mode|
A gorgeous machine and an improvement on the original, but it still isn’t powerful enough