Review: Microsoft’s Surface Go hits the Mark for the First Line Worker

Microsoft has been building smaller tablets for years but they never really caught on with customers like the large Pro. It started with the Surface RT and ended with the Surface 3 but along the way, the Surface Mini and a few other ideas never made it to outside world. This time around, Microsoft is back with a smaller device called the Go and the company is significantly more confident in this product.

This tablet is designed for first-line workers, education, and the lower end of the consumer market. From a hardware perspective, it’s just like the Surface Pro but smaller in nearly every way. The screen, keyboard, battery, and performance are all a slice of the bigger Pro and with a starting price of $399, without the keyboard, it’s price is much lower than that of the Pro as well.

The model that Microsoft sent to me is in the middle of the road hardware with 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD for storage whereas the entry-level device has 4GB of RAM with 64 GB of slower eMMC storage; this device costs $549.99 at retail. The device does ship with Windows 10 S, but I upgraded to Windows 10 Pro for this review.

In nearly every aspect, the Surface Go feels premium. The metal construction, buttons, the bonding of the screen to the chassis, the kickstand, and the weight of the device gives it that ‘quality’ feel without it being too heavy to carry comfortably. And at 9.65″ x 6.90″ x 0.33″ (245 mm x 175 mm x 8.30 mm), this device is ultra-portable; it’s very easy to toss this tablet in a bag and forget that it is in there.

The Go is also fanless and the only moving part of this device is the kickstand which means that while using the tablet, it is silent. This may sound simple but this adds significantly to the overall experience, the Surface Go can always be running but you will never hear it working.

The one potential downside to not having a fan is that it could get hot under load but during my time with the device, it never got hot enough to feel uncomfortable to hold.

For the past 72 hrs, I took this device on the road with me to NYC and this was the only hardware in my bag; it was Go or nothing. And after going all-in on the device, I deleted the benchmark section from this review. The synthetic tests on this device don’t really show off the hardware in any meaningful way other than saying “not as good as more expensive hardware”. But only having this machine at my disposal gave me a better look at how you should think about this device for your workflow.

chrome 2018 08 15 09 03 33The Surface Go is great for running one app, at full screen, and that’s the best-case functionality for this machine. If you are running your ERP solution full screen, mail, or a browser, run it full screen; don’t try and snap apps. Aside from the smaller screen where running two applications side-by-side makes you pull out your reading glasses, performance can be an issue.

For example, when using this machine on a Skype video-call and trying to run the Twitter app from the store, there was noticeable input lag on typing out a tweet. But if you are just running Skype, it works well. The same can be said that if you are running Chrome (I will say that Edge does appear to run better on this machine with multiple tabs open), don’t expect to be editing a dense PowerPoint presentation at the same time.

While this may be disappointing for some, I think it may play into what Microsoft is trying to achieve with this hardware; let me explain.

One gap in the Surface lineup until the Go’s release was a tablet for those who need to document and process information. What I mean is that for the service industry, testing environments, production lines, etc, had to look elsewhere for a tablet for these scenarios as a Surface Pro was overkill for the task.

The idea is simple, for those that are on the front line of their industry, they need a lightweight, input-first, performance second, tablet. As part of my review, I showed the tablet to a few different people who work in similar industries and their feedback is worth exploring.

For starters, they didn’t see the keyboard not being included as a downside, instead most agreed that a pen would be more valuable as an included peripheral. The device is best used when walking around; you won’t be using a keyboard standing up, having a pen to tap on input screens and more importantly, to sign for shipments, is of more value for these types of workers.

One downside is that the device is not waterproof and will need a case for high-collision environments like assembly lines.

Surface Go Back HeroIn the legal space, a law firm pointed out that this could be the perfect device for signing contracts, again, without needing a keyboard. While you may think that a Surface Pro may be better…they are lawyers and they type a lot, this isn’t ideal for the Pro. In this particular office, they were all using Lenovo ThinkPad T series devices and they envisioned how a Surface Go could be used as part of their digital document signing workflow while retaining their traditional laptops.

This is where the Go will shine, in simple workloads that need an ultra-mobile premium tablet, not in back-office crunching numbers.

When it comes to battery life, expect 5 to 5.5 hrs of battery life, less if you are running multiple applications. At one point, I got a measly 4 hrs out of the hardware when trying to tax the CPU and at most, I was getting about 6 hrs with only light usage.

Microsoft does not include a Type cover or a pen with this device, nor does it with any of its Surface devices, but the updated cover for this machine is better than I thought it would be when it was first announced. Despite being smaller than the covers for the Pro series of devices, my hands don’t feel too cramped when typing short emails.

The rigid cover and soft touch keys make it possible to type comfortably with the Go. I don’t think I would want to write a manuscript on this machine but for writing this post, I had no problems with finger fatigue or hitting the incorrect key. And the trackpad, which is the size of an Olympic swimming pool, is excellent.

At the end of the day, I do think there is a market for this device in the corporate world. It’s a good piece of hardware for the first line workers and the education segment. While the performance leaves room for improvement, it’s good enough for running apps at full-screen and should work well where the use-case is input and mobility first, performance second.