Want the flexibility and portability of a tablet, while being able to attach and detach a keyboard at will, and use it as a laptop? Then Microsoft has a very special device for you, as our Surface Go 2 review explains.
The Surface Go 2 is a tablet computer that runs Windows, and which is a similar size and weight to a 10.5-inch iPad Pro. The basic model costs £399 and strictly speaking, you could just buy the Surface Go 2, and use it on its own... but that would be kind of pointless. In reality, you'll want to also buy the Type Cover, which costs an extra £100. This both protects the screen and features a keyboard and touchpad. Click the two together, and you have a working laptop.
We’ve already flagged the Surface Go 2 up as one of the best student laptops, but its appeal spreads wider than that. Microsoft is keen to market this as one of the best tablets for all the family, and that actually makes a lot of sense.
Tiny tots can play games on the tablet. Older kids can use it for schoolwork. Parents can attach the keyboard for organisational tasks. And the whole clan can enjoy surfing the web, listening to music and watching streaming videos.
Sounds clever, right? But how useful is it in practice, and how well does it actually perform? We took it for a spin to find out.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Design
Despite its modest price, the Surface Go 2 looks like a high-end product, with its sleek lines, reflective magnesium alloy casing, and curved edges. The bezels around the screen, trimmed down from the first Surface Go, are nicely proportioned, adding to the premium look. So even though Microsoft is pushing this as a family device, it’s a professional looking product you could happily take into a business meeting.
The icing on the cake, design-wise, comes with the built-in kickstand on the back, which can rotate from 0 to 135 degrees. It's easy to open and close, and very sturdy in practice. It can be a bit fiddly to use on your lap when you're sat on a sofa, for example; but on a desk or similar hard surface it can't be faulted.
Overall, the Surface Go is small, but perfectly formed at 245 x 175 x 8.3mm (9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches). It weighs 544g, which is a tad more than the 10.5 iPad's 469g, but not immensely so.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Accessories
Sold separately, the Type Cover clicks onto the tablet magnetically. This action is sheer joy, and couldn’t be smoother or more intuitive. Push the two halves together and you have a cover for your tablet. Draw them apart, and you have a hybrid laptop.
The keyboard takes up the top portion, and its design is pretty basic: there’s no number pad, for example. And because the material it rests on is so thin and insubstantial, and the keys so tactile and large, it feels a little like a ‘toy’ keyboard. The way it flexes when your fingers drum into the keys can feel unnerving at first, although it worked fine in practice.
Another add-on that’s sold separately is the Surface Pen, a stylus specifically designed by Microsoft to work with its devices. Note that if you already have a Surface Pen or Type cover from the original Surface Go, they'll work with this version too.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Screen and speakers
The Surface Go 2’s 10.5in LCD touchscreen is crisp, bright and clear, with vivid colours and pin-sharp 220ppi (pixels per inch) resolution. Whether we were watching a film, surfing the web or using an app, we found it all a delight for the eyes.
Do note, however, that the screen has a ratio of 3:2, making it slightly taller than standard 16:9. A cinemascope film such as Wolf of Wall Street (2.39:1) then, only takes up 75 per cent of the available screen space. This didn’t particularly bother us, though, and the superb picture more than makes up for such niggles.
Sound quality, too, was pretty impressive. The dual stereo speakers pumped out a full, rich sound with a good level of bass, enhancing our enjoyment of movies, music and casual games. The audio is not quite as polished as, say, an iPro Pro or a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7, but it’s not at all far off.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Cameras
The Surface Go boasts two cameras: a 5MP one on the front for using as a webcam, and an 8MP one on the rear to take pictures and video with. Both offer 1080p video.
The webcam impressed us enormously, providing a clear, crisp and bright picture on our Skype calls. It also worked perfectly with the thing Microsoft was most excited to tell us about: the ‘Windows Hello’ feature that lets you unlock your computer based on facial recognition.
The rear camera is capable of shooting 5MP images and 1080p video, and gave an acceptable performance for such a low-priced device. You probably won’t be using it a lot though, as most modern smartphone cameras are better, not to mention easier to shoot with.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Battery life and connectivity
A tablet is no use without decent battery life, and thankfully the Surface Go 2’s is very decent indeed, especially when compared to the original Surface Go. Microsoft claims up to 10 hours of battery life based on typical usage, and that certainly meshes with our experience.
We ran an HD movie on repeat via the Netflix app, using the setting that maximises battery without affecting screen brightness, and the Surface Go kept going for an impressive 9 hours and 46 minutes. That’s going to be more than enough to keep you happy on a flight, coach or train journey,
In terms of connectivity, the Surface Go 2 is limited. There are just three ports down the right-hand side: a USB-C port, a headphone jack and a Surface connector to connect the supplied charger. Underneath the kickstand there’s a MicroSDXC card slot. And that’s your lot.
We're big fans of the charger, by the way. The cable is a thick and a generous 1.8m long, and the magnetic plug is specifically designed to slip out easily, making it less likely you'll damage your tablet if you trip over the cable.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Operating system
For many, the killer feature of the Surface Go 2 will be that it runs Windows, rather than Android or iOS. That means that when you team it with the keyboard you can really do ‘proper computing’.
Surely, you might counter, you could team an iPad with a keyboard and create something similar? Superficially, yes: but iPadOS is still basically a mobile operating system, so it won’t really feel like you’re using a laptop. Just simple things like putting files in folders, for example, can be an incredibly frustrating experience on an iPad.
In contrast, Windows on the Surface Go 2 functions exactly like Windows on a laptop; to borrow the famous slogan of Apple, it “just works”. Well, almost. There are two important caveats.
The first is that by default, the Surface Go runs Windows 10 S. This is a version of Windows specifically designed to run faster than normal, which automatically uploads everything to the cloud via OneDrive (to save storage) and which limits you to downloading only the most lightweight apps in the Microsoft Store.
If you’re happy to use only Microsoft-approved apps, that last one won’t be a problem. But it does mean, for example, you can’t use Apple Music, Adobe software, Zoom… quite a lot of things actually.
If that’s a problem, then no problem: you can just upgrade to Windows 10 Home for free. But then things start to slow down a little. Because, and we won’t sugar-coat this, the Surface Go 2 is not a particularly powerful device.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Performance and pricing
if you have experience with a high-end Windows laptop, you’re going to find the Surface Go 2 runs more slowly than you’re used to. Downloads take longer to download, zipped files take longer to unzip, and opening too many tabs can cause websites to crash. That said, you can improve things by shelling out more cash.
The basic version of the Surface Go 2 currently starts at £399 and comes with 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y dual-core processor. That’s pretty limited, but pay out £529 and you can double the RAM to 8GB and storage to 128GB. Alternatively, for £549 you can get a faster processor, the Intel Core M3, as well as 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. This is the version we were sent for review.
We won’t mince words, though: even the most expensive version is not particularly highly powered. So for example, if you want to run creative software like Photoshop or video editing tools, or play AAA games at high resolution, you’re going to run into trouble.
But again, that’s not the kind of person Microsoft is really going for here. For the kind of mixed family use it has in mind – streaming entertainment, running Microsoft Office, surfing the web – it's perfectly capable. Alternatively, you might want this for yourself as a second computer, say for doing a bit of work on the train if you don't want take your more expensive laptop, or if it's a bit too bulky for comfort.
In either case, the 8GB versions should be fine; and even the most basic version will be okay for the majority of tasks. Just don't expect it to be particularly fast.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 review: Verdict
The Surface Go 2 is something very specific, which other hybrids can’t compare with: a tablet that can double up as a Windows laptop. Beyond that, it has a first-class web cam, fantastic picture quality, decent audio and excellent battery life. And it looks wonderfully sleek and elegant to boot. To get all that for £499 is good value indeed.
That said, if you're going to do more than the most basic laptop tasks, we'd recommend paying for extra storage and processing power. And that means the cost starts to go up.
In short, if you want a powerful computer and aren’t bothered about separating into a tablet, you’d be better off buying a conventional Windows laptop. But if you’re set on a tablet-laptop hybrid, and want to do 'grown-up' computing rather than mess around in Android or iOS, the Surface Go 2 is our top recommendation.