Microsoft's range of Surface computers typically command a premium price to match their high-end features.
Now Microsoft is attempting to broaden the market for its Surface range by launching the Surface Go, a new tablet-laptop hybrid that is significantly cheaper than the Surface Pro.
It's not Microsoft's first attempt to crack the low-end of the PC market, so what sets the Surface Go apart from the other machines in the range?
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What is the Microsoft Surface Go?
Basically a budget Microsoft Surface. The Surface Go offers the same tablet-laptop hybrid device but drives the starting price down to $399—that's $400 less than the cheapest Surface Pro. It is the first Surface-branded 10" tablet since the Surface 3 was introduced in May 2015.
- Microsoft takes aim at schools, consumers and businesses with Surface Go tablets, starting at $399 (ZDNet)
- Microsoft Surface Go: What the pros need to know (TechRepublic)
- Photos: The smaller, less-expensive Microsoft Surface Go (CNET)
How does the Microsoft Surface Go compare to the Microsoft Surface Pro?
As you'd expect given the price cut, the Surface Go's specs are a good deal weaker than the $799 Surface Pro. The Surface Go's 10-inch screen is smaller than the Surface Pro's screen, and its 1,800 x 1,200 resolution is lower than that of the Pro.
The processor, an Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y, has been found to have "significantly worse single thread performance" than the faster Intel Core m3-7Y30 CPU found inside the cheapest Surface Pro. There's also less storage—64GB for the Surface Go compared to 128GB for the Surface Pro—and battery life is lower, with Microsoft estimating around nine hours for the Surface Go compared to about 13.5 hours on the Surface Pro.
But the Surface Go still shares many features with the Surface Pro, including the 5MP front camera with Windows Hello facial recognition and 8MP auto-focus rear camera, as well as the adjustable kickstand, the touchscreen display with Surface Pen support, and a smaller version of the detachable Type Cover keyboard. It also retains the Surface Connect magnetic charging and dock port. If you don't want to rely on the Windows Precision Trackpad, which supports five-point, multi-finger gestures, there is also a new smaller Surface Mobile Mouse.
The Surface Pro looks similar to other machines in the Surface range, but it weighs 1.15 pounds, slightly lighter than Microsoft's last 10-inch tablet, the Surface 3.
The Surface Go even improves on the Surface Pro in some areas, by including a USB-C 3.1 port alongside the microSDXC card reader and a 3.5mm headset port. There are also plans to release versions with a 256GB SSD and LTE connectivity at a later date.
- Microsoft Surface $400 iPad rival has Intel Pentium, Windows 10, benchmarks suggest (ZDNet)
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Which operating system does the Surface Go run?
The base Surface Go will run Windows 10 Home, although it can be upgraded to run Windows 10 Pro, which will likely be the default choice for businesses.
Windows 10 Home will be locked to S mode, which will limit the operating system to only running apps from the Microsoft Store.
PCs can be switched out of S Mode for free, although once it's switched out the device can not be switched back.
- Windows 10 S Mode U-turn: Unlocking PCs will be free, says Microsoft (TechRepublic)
- Why did Microsoft build the Surface Go? (ZDNet)
How does the Microsoft Surface Go compare to the Apple iPad?
The best comparison within Apple's tablet range is the $329 iPad, which clocks in at a slightly lower price. That said, this iPad has only 32GB storage compared to the Surface Go's 64GB, and Microsoft's tablet is also packing a USB-C port and a micro-SD expansion slot.
One fact that counts in the Surface Go's favor is the wide range of software it will run. While Apple's App Store is stocked full of decent apps, the Surface Go will be able to run Windows software stretching back decades—a factor that may appeal to firms whose line-of-business software runs on Windows. The downside, of course, is that the bulk of legacy Windows software also wasn't designed to run on a tablet, so getting the most out of this software on the Surface Go will require shelling out an additional $100 for a Type Cover keyboard.
SEE: Can Microsoft's Surface Go unseat Apple's iPad? (ZDNet)
The big unknown that could kill the appeal of the Surface Go is how well Windows runs on the budget device. Microsoft has had mixed success with budget Surface machines in the past, however, they typically suffered from limitations not shared by the Surface Go. For example, the Surface RT was hard locked to the Microsoft Store in a way the Surface Go isn't.
The budget end of the PC market is a crowded space, however, and the Surface Go is competing with far more than the iPad, with a wide range of well-reviewed laptops, including Google Chromebooks, falling into that price category.
How well does the Microsoft Surface Go suit businesses?
J.P. Gownder, principal analyst at Forrester, believes the Surface Go "has a particularly strong play in the enterprise space"—especially given how widespread Windows is within businesses.
"Its light weight combined with enterprise-friendly security and manageability will make it a desirable choice for equipping mobile workers," he said.
"For example, a manager walking around a call center could hold the device all day, or a retail store associate configuring products and executing mobile point of sale could use it with customers."
The modest specs of the Surface Go mean it would likely need to be used in combination with more powerful machines to serve the needs of certain professionals, however. For instance, it lacks the GPU to handle the rendering needed by 3D artists and the CPU needed by developers to compile heavyweight code. For other professionals, the 10-inch screen may be too small to comfortably work on and the Type Cover keyboard not robust enough for a main keyboard or rigid enough to enable the machine to be used as a true laptop device. There are also reports from earlier Surface devices of the Type Covers wearing out over time.
ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley also highlights Microsoft's decision not to bundle Microsoft 365—which includes Windows 10, Office 365, and Intune mobile-device-management service—with the Surface Go, something she says could be a missed opportunity in the enterprise space.
Can the Microsoft Surface Go replace your laptop and tablet?
"The consumer picture remains a little more up in the air than the enterprise," says Forrester's Gownder.
"So many consumers already love their iOS and Android smartphones that iPads and Android tablets often make sense. And it's unclear if the Surface Go can act as a truly viable replacement for a laptop (as the Surface Pro does so well)."
Gownder says the Surface Go's success as a consumer device will be heavily dependent on its performance.
Ranjit Atwal, research director with analyst house Gartner, believes the "attractive price" of the Surface Go will increase the install base of Microsoft Surface machines and could meet demand not being served by the current crop of devices.
He said the Surface Go "serves a specific segment of the market that wants mobility (not portability) and the same Windows experience but do not need the price tag and full performance of notebook," adding the Surface Go "may attract those tablet users looking for content creation and not just consumption at this price point."
The idea that the Surface Go will meet demand for a new type of device is echoed by Mary Jo Foley on TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet, who says it has the potential to appeal to users who wanted a Surface but who were shut out by its premium price.
- Microsoft's Apple iPad beater? $400 Surface tablet backed up by FCC filings (ZDNet)
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How does the Microsoft Surface Go perform?
As mentioned, the Surface Go's CPU has been reported as "significantly worse single thread performance" than that in the cheapest Surface Pro device, which relies on an Intel M3 processor.
That said, the cheapest Surface Pro device reportedly "runs quickly and smoothly," so there is room for performance to be reduced without it being too noticeable to the end user.
One encouraging note is that, in a brief hands-on with the Surface Go, TechRepublic's sister site CNET said the device "felt like it hit a sweet spot between design and functionality."
- Microsoft Surface $400 iPad rival has Intel Pentium, Windows 10, benchmarks suggest (ZDNet)
- Can Microsoft's Surface Go unseat Apple's iPad? (ZDNet)
Who is the Microsoft Surface Go's target audience?
Microsoft has a fairly broad audience in mind for these devices. It has named school and university students as a key target for the low-cost machine, as well as consumers and businesses looking for affordable, portable machines to distribute to employees.
Microsoft may be looking to the Surface Go to significantly broaden the userbase for Surface devices. Despite three major new product launches in the Surface range last year earnings from the devices were relatively unchanged, with the company's Surface devices division reporting a revenue increase of just 1% in the year to the end of Q2 2018.
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How much is the Microsoft Surface Go?
The Surface Go is available for $399 with 4GB RAM, 64GB of eMMC storage, and Windows 10 Home. Various upgrades are available—paying an additional $50 will get you Windows 10 Pro, and an extra $150 will secure a device with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD.
The new Surface Go Type Covers cost $99, or $129 for the version covered in Alcantara fabric, while the Surface Mobile Mouse costs $34.99.
- Microsoft Surface Go: 10-inch Windows tablet coming Aug. 2 for $399 (CNET)
- Microsoft Surface Go Prices (CNET)
When can I get the Surface Go?
The Surface Go will begin shipping from August 2, 2018 and is available to pre-order today in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.
Pre-orders are coming to Japan, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and China in the coming weeks, with more markets to follow.
What are the specs for the Microsoft Surface Go?
Operating system: Windows 10 in S mode
Software: Microsoft Office 365 Home 30-day trial
Dimensions: 9.65" x 6.90" x 0.33" (245 mm x 175 mm x 8.30 mm)
Weight: Starting at 1.15lbs (522g), not including Type Cover
Storage: 64GB eMMC drive / 128GB solid-state drive (SSD)
Screen: 10" PixelSense display with 1800 x 1200 (217 PPI) resolution, 3:2 aspect ratio, 1500:1 contrast ratio, 10-point multi-touch and Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Battery life: Up to 9 hours of video playback in Microsoft tests
Processor: Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y - dual-core processor running at up to 1.6GHz
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615
Security: TPM 2.0 for enterprise security, enterprise-grade protection with Windows Hello face sign-in
Memory: 4GB / 8GB RAM
Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
Connections: 1 x USB-C, 3.5 mm headphone jack, 1 x Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover port, microSDXC card reader
Cameras: Front-facing Windows Hello face authentication camera, 5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p Skype HD video, 8.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video
Audio: Single microphone, 2W stereo speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
Other: Adjustable kickstand, Windows Precision Trackpad
Accessories (not included): Surface Pen, Surface Type Cover, Surface Mobile Mouse
Exterior casing: Magnesium
Physical buttons: Volume, power
Sensors: Ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer
What's in the box: Surface Go, power supply, quick start guide, safety and warranty documents
Warranty: 1-year limited hardware warranty
Support: 30-day return policy, 90 days of free technical phone support, 12 months in-store support and technical assistance, 1 free training session to transfer data and optimize performance
- Microsoft to launch smaller, low-cost Surface devices (ZDNet)
- Microsoft Surface Pro: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
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- Fewer than 1 in 100,000 new Surface devices go wrong says Microsoft (ZDNet)
- Rescuing tablets from the abyss: Can education and field applications save them? (ZDNet)
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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.