Truth be told, there was really no surprise left when Microsoft finally announced the Surface Go other than a confirmation of its existence and its price. It is the affordable Surface that people have been talking about recently and the portable Surface that some may have been waiting for. Of course, Microsoft also confirmed the tough choices that had to be made to keep it small, slim, and affordable. But while it’s not going to appeal to power users, the Surface Go might actually win in its most important battle: taking on the iPad and the new breed of Chrome OS tablets.
There is no denying for what market Microsoft designed the Surface Go for. Even if, surprisingly, it wasn’t making a strong push in that direction as far as marketing goes. It is in stark contrast with its strategy for the Surface Laptop and the other ill-fated Windows 10 S edition which had “education” all over it. This time, Microsoft is casting a wider net but everyone knows who it is really gunning for.
At the end of the first quarter, both Google and Apple aimed their guns at each other. Preempting Apple’s education-centric event, Google announced the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, the first ever Chrome OS tablet and one that was squarely aimed at students. Then Apple announced the 2018 iPad, practically a watered down iPad Pro, also aimed at students. In both cases the message was clear: they want to corner the education market. This was a market that Microsoft once owned and now it is fighting for survival.
Taken in isolation, the Surface Go’s proposition isn’t exactly that strong. Sure, the design is premium and typical of the Surface brand and the 10-inch 3:2 1800×1200 Pixel Display is bound to be gorgeous. But there are better, thinner, and lighter 2-in-1 tablets with Intel Core m3 processors at least. 4 GB is cutting it very close when you’re running Windows and eMMC storage is only better than running of a microSD card.
To appreciate the fighting strength of the Surface Go, you’ll have to consider the whole package and where it stands against the competition. Primarily, that means comparing prices. The 2018 Apple iPad starts at $329 for the Wi-Fi only model with only 32 GB of storage. You’ll need to add $99 for an Apple Pencil and will have to make do with a Bluetooth keyboard. The Acer Chromebook Tab already comes with a small stylus for its $329 price tag but has the same memory and keyboard limitations of the iPad. Plus, the Rockchip RK3399 processor isn’t exactly rocking.
The $399 Surface Go does seem more expensive at first glance, despite having higher starting specs. Throw in a $99 Surface Pen and a $99 Type Cover ($129 for the Signature version) and you’re way past the other two. Both are, of course, optional which does leave you with nothing but a Windows 10 tablet, which is actually also the point. This is a full Windows 10 tablet. Not “S” edition/mode, not ARM. Just plain, old Windows 10. Which means you have access to all the PC software you need and want. Your limits are, of course, that Intel Pentium Gold processor and 4 GB RAM.
So it’s cheap (relatively speaking), beautiful, portable, and, most importantly, fully functional. Yes, the Surface Go pretty much takes away some of the dilemma schools and users have over the portability of mobile devices and the variety of Windows software. Why would you have to decide when you can almost have it all. Sure, there are some things we wish were better and some things that will never appeal to specialized use cases. But for the general, everyday computer users, which includes students, the Surface Go may have indeed stumbled on the right formula. All that’s left is to see how it actually performs in practice.