Microsoft does not do tablets. The company might have largely created the 2-in-1 trend and made some interesting attempts at a tablet, but Microsoft doesn’t actually do tablets—it does Windows machines that fold up real pretty but function best with a trackpad and keyboard rather than your finger. The Surface Go 2 is a refinement of Microsoft’s cheapest 2-in-1, and while it’s a wonderful machine that’s nearly perfect in so many ways, it also suffers, brutally, from Apple Syndrome.
You know what I’m talking about. With Apple hardware, we all tell ourselves it’s OK to spend a lot more money because we’re getting a device that “just works” and designed far better than anything with superior speed but a similar price point. The same applies to the Surface Go 2: You’ll find yourself paying more for aesthetics and build quality than performance. But in an uncertain world where financial hardship too often feels just around the corner, justifying the price of luxury is a challenge. When that luxury is positioned at as low a price point as the Surface Go 2, it becomes nearly impossible to ignore the price versus power.
This might sound rich coming from me. Last year I reviewed the Surface Go and simply loved it. For $500 (a $400 Go plus a $100 keyboard case) I got a touch of premium luxury completely absent from any other laptop sold at the price point. It’s a gorgeous product, and the Surface Go 2 is similarly beautiful. The bezels are smaller and the microphone is a little nicer, but for the most part the only real difference between the Go and Go 2 is what’s on the inside. The Go 2, also starting at $400, has moved up to an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor, but kept the same offensively small amount of RAM and storage—just 4GB of RAM, and a 64GB eMMC drive. When you can get a traditional laptop, like the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 with a faster processor, bigger display, and more storage for just slightly more, the Go 2's luxurious build doesn’t feel quite as worth it.
And here’s where I have a theory. While I know Microsoft lauds the Surface Go 2 as an affordable device for students, I don’t think that’s actually the audience, not really (and that Dell will last them longer). I think the Surface Go 2 is meant to be a secondary device for people who want a fun, smaller computer to use when they’re not at work. Or maybe it’s for people who don’t need a computer most of the time because all their work can be done on a phone.
That sounds sort of like a tablet, right? But it’s not really, because Windows 10 isn’t actually a very good tablet OS. Because the Surface Go 2 is clearly not meant to compete with budget laptops like that Dell Inspiron 14 5000, it doesn’t feel fair to pit them against one another. Apart from build quality and display quality, the Surface Go 2 is going to lose that battle on every front—sort of like an iPad.
Which is, I think, the best product to compare it to. At $400, the base Surface Go 2 is a fine rival to the $330 iPad. With Logitech’s new keyboard, the iPad will cost you $480 for a laptop-like experience, while you’ll need to spend $500 to get the same experience on the Surface Go 2. Unfortunately, I have the much more powerful and expensive variant of the Surface Go 2, which gives you an 8th-gen Intel Core m3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD for $630.
I love that it feels fast enough for the things I want to do on a device like the Surface Go 2. I can work in Slack and the web browser (the primary tool of us journalists), and also do plenty of cloud gaming. After a long day of staring at my computer, it’s nice to mix it up and spend long nights finally playing Red Dead Redemption 2 via Stadia.
The specced-out Surface Go 2 is faster than a Chromebook, too. I have a big, nearly 200-page document, complete with hundreds of editor notes, that Google Docs is incapable of handling. It consistently crashes my browser when I try to open it in Chrome or Chrome OS. Yet Microsoft Word, which has been optimized to work with wimpier processors like the Pentium and Core M3 ones found in the Go 2, handles it just fine. There’s no lag or hiccups, just the ability to get my work done.
But the Surface’s versatility doesn’t extend to battery life, which is on the low end compared to most stuff in the price range. The Surface Go 2 lasted 7 hours and 19 minutes in our battery test. Our favorite sub-$1,000 Chromebook, the $570 Asus Chromebook Flip C434, lasted 8 hours and 24 minutes. The $800 iPad Pro lasted over 12 hours. The Go 2 feels pretty wimpy by comparison.
But, again, the Surface Go 2 is a full, if sluggish, Windows 10 laptop. It’s handling a lot more processes and can theoretically do a lot more than an iPad or a Chromebook. But I keep all three in my apartment and use them all for the same sort of thing—farting around on the internet, reading comics (I have a dedicated e-reader for books), making video calls, using Slack, and doing some light word processing. When I’m in work mode, I find myself drifting to the Go 2. Its front camera isn’t awkwardly placed like those on the iPad and iPad Pro, and it gives a nice clear picture with plenty of light even when I have the shades drawn. It also lets me use multiple browsers (unlike the Chromebook) and doesn’t rely on web and mobile apps for stuff like Slack and Airtable. It’s not my daily driver, but I don’t feel frustrated when I use it for work like I do when I’m on my iPad or Chromebook.
And here’s where we have to start talking about price again. Because the Go 2, Chromebooks, and all but the most expensive iPads are built for doing the same thing. They’re supposed to be devices that let you get most of your work done.
This whole set-up is meant to undercut the big, bulky, and often ugly budget laptops you can find with Windows 10 that usually have similarly shameful specs. The Surface Go 2 is supposed to stack up to fancy Chromebooks like the $650 Pixelbook Go (which can’t even be used in tablet mode), and I suppose it’s intended to compete with the iPad, which starts at $330 with 32GB of storage or $430 for 128GB of storage, and still requires another $160 for a Smart Keyboard case/keyboard. But you’re paying a lot more for the quality of craftsmanship when you pick up a Go 2.
If you’re looking for just one slick budget device to handle your work-from-home needs, I’d be wary of the Surface Go 2. It’s a good device, but you’ll get more use out of that Dell. But if you’re looking for a slick budget device to handle your secondary computer needs—a machine to support your work computer rather than replace it—then the Surface Go 2 is an excellent choice. It may be a little pricey, but if you’ve got the cash to splurge, go for it.
- The $500 version is probably the one you should buy, but the $640 m3 version is the smarter option if you can afford it.
- This really is just a lovely-to-use device that most people don’t need.
- The battery life could be better.