Let’s talk about the Surface Go 2
Surface Go 2 and iPad are the result of two of the world’s largest tech companies attacking the same problem from opposite directions. The two devices are visually strikingly similar, but underneath the design and software choices reveal the Surface Go’s preference for productivity over the iPad’s more casual consumer focus.
When the original Surface Go was released in 2018, it marked a shift in Microsoft’s target audience for the Surface range. Where previously Surface had been the domain of the elite customer prepared to spend £800 plus on a new laptop, now the same premium build quality, stunning screen, and mature ecosystem of peripherals was available to all schools.
The Surface Go 2 takes what worked in the original and improves on it. Any schools deploying devices to students or considering BYOD schemes now have an additional device to consider.
Is the Surface Go 2 a tablet or a laptop?
The iPad successfully defined itself in the mind of the consumer as a tablet first and a productivity device second. Despite the keyboard add-ons and an update to support trackpads, for most the iPad is still just a tablet.
Yes, you can use the Surface Go 2 as a tablet, and it works well, but to really get the most out of it students are going to want the excellent Type Cover Keyboard to navigate Windows 10 and Microsoft Office in the classroom. That makes it an odd, if not understandable decision, that the base device doesn’t come with a keyboard included.
The Surface Go 2 requires you to reconsider your idea of what a Windows computer is. The Go 2 is the first Surface — possibly apart from the Pro X — which is tablet first and laptop second. You’re not going to be editing video or running Photoshop on the Go 2, this is very much about Microsoft Office, OneNote, Teams, and the standard school applications.
If you stick to Microsoft’s continually maturating range of software and Windows Store apps, you’ll have a great time with the Surface Go 2. If you stray outside of this, however, you will occasionally come across a few slowdowns.
This review is based on the £529 Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y Surface Go 2 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. It’s one of the higher end models, but I have also been able to spend time with the lower-end devices and can confirm that experiences are similar.
Surface Go 2 Specifications
- Screen: 10.5in LCD 1920 x 1280 (220 PPI)
- Processor: Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y or 8th-gen Core m3
- RAM: 4 or 8GB
- Storage: 64GB eMMC or 128 SSD
- Graphics: Intel UHD 615
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home (in S Mode) with device encryption
- Camera: 8MP rear, 5MP front-facing, Windows Hello
- Connectivity: Wifi 6, Bluetooth 5, USB-C, Surface Connector, TPM, microSD, headphone socket
- Dimensions: 245 x 175 x 8.3 mm
- Weight: 544g or 553g (without keyboard)
Physically the Go 2 looks identical to the original, the only noticeable exception being the larger 10.5-inch screen. This additional work area is small but makes an enormous difference in day-to-day use and brings it more in line with some of the mid-tier iPads.
The Go 2 is a mini-Surface Pro 7 and everything about the hardware shouts quality. The kickstand is satisfyingly solid and smooth, the metal case feels premium, and the screen and audio quality are exceptional.
There are also added benefits which students will find useful, such as a microSD card slot, for transferring data or boosting the Go’s internal storage up a notch, tucked under the kickstand. Stick a 1TB microSD card in there and you’ve got a huge storage increase at little cost.
While most of the experience is buttery smooth, there is a noticeable power ceiling if you push the Go 2 that little bit too hard. Opening multiple applications and browser tabs is no problem at all, and Windows 10 handles without stutter, but you’ll have a tough time running higher-end applications like Photoshop or anything with 3D graphics.
The Surface Type Cover Keyboard has always been the Surface’s strongest suit. I will comfortably argue that the Surface Keyboard is one of the best mobile keyboards on the market. Yes, even including the MacBook Pro, and the same holds true on the Surface Go 2.
The Go’s Type Cover is smaller than its bigger brother on the Pro 7, but after a few minutes of typing you get used to the size, and it’s better than any iPad keyboard I’ve tried.
The Surface Go 2 Type cover is available in three colours, Poppy Red, Ice Blue, and Pretentious Orange. I might have made that last one up. Each is covered with the now standard suede-style soft Alcantara covering. Perfect for sticky fingers!
One of the biggest selling points of the Surface for schools is the standardisation of peripherals, chargers, and software. When you buy the Surface Go 2 you know that it’s going to be compatible with any other Microsoft kit you already have. If your teachers are using Surface Docks, if you are using the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter in your classrooms, and if you have Microsoft Pens or Classroom Pens, you already know that the Surface Go 2 is going to fit perfectly into that ecosystem.
And the same holds true here. I plugged in my Surface Go 2 into my 4K Samsung screen via a Surface Dock and it held up perfectly, allowing me to expand use of the tiny device into a full desktop experience. It’s amazing how much power this little device can pull from such the Intel processor and limited RAM.
Microsoft claims that the Go 2 should provide up to ten hours of use from a full charge. From my testing that is quite an optimistic claim, but the Go 2 battery can certainly get you through a full school day.
Playing an HD video at 50% brightness and recommended battery mode, I was able to get seven hours out of the Go 2, which is a slight improvement over the original Go. During normal and with additional battery management you can expect to get longer.
I love USB-C charging. The Surface Go 2 not only charges via the standard Surface charging port, but also supports USB-C and USB-PD charging, which means students can charge using both a standard USB-C cable but also by plugging in a battery power bank that they likely already have for their smartphone.
Fully charging the Surface Go 2 with the included charger took two hours 25 minutes, reaching 55% in an hour. A 45W power adapter cut the full-charge time by about an hour.
Windows 10 and apps
The Go 2 comes with Windows 10 S installed as standard. This is a version of Windows that only runs Windows Store apps, which is very secure but can limit use. If you apply your school’s software assurance licensing through Microsoft Intune, however, you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, allowing you to install any Windows software, using Microsoft Intune without so much as a reboot.
Microsoft Intune MDM Management
If you’re deploying Surface Go 2 in your school, it goes without saying that you must follow the Microsoft Modern Desktop concept and use Microsoft Intune to manage them. Intune is such a light touch management system for Windows 10 that it has no noticeable effect on performance but allows you to control and secure your devices wherever they are.
The most important feature for schools looking to buy Surface Go 2 is the price, and this is where Microsoft has really hit the target.
The prices below are based on the retail cost. Contact Microsoft or your preferred supplier direct and you will get an educational discount, but they give you a good idea of the ballpark you’ll be looking at.
The Surface Go 2 starts at £399 / $399 with an Intel Pentium 4425Y processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage or £529 / $529 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of faster SSD storage. An Intel Core M3 flavour is also available, giving you an additional boost in processor speed.
Whether you think the upgrade in processor and storage is necessary is down to opinion. If you’re using mostly Microsoft apps, like Office and Teams, and most of your data is held in OneDrive, the additional power is personal preference rather than a necessity. You can also give your Surface Go 2 an after-market storage boost by plugging in a microSD.
Also bear in mind that these prices do not include the Surface Go Type Cover, which is essential to get the most out of your new device. The Surface Go Type Cover costs £99.99 / $99.99 or £124.99 / $129.99 depending on colour and material.
The Microsoft Pen is also optional, and if you’re deploying to students, consider contacting Microsoft or your supplier to ask about the Microsoft Classroom Pen, a much cheaper and much more solid alternative.
An LTE 4G version of the Surface Go 2 is also available, but realistically most schools won’t choose this option. For comparison, the Surface Pro 7 starts at £719, Apple’s iPad starts at £349 and the iPad Air starts at £479.
Surface Go 2 Cases
Whenever you’re investing in new hardware, you’re going to want to protect it from accidental drops and damage. By far the most effective case I’ve found is the UAG range of cases, which are great for protecting devices from rough students or accidental drops.
Microsoft has also released a new official Surface Go 2 Sleeve which I haven’t been able to get my hands on yet. The new cover is a slip case which would be great for protecting the device in a bag, but not so good at protecting from falls and knocks.
It’s an interesting addition to the Surface line and I’m keen to see if it has any value for schools int he future. But for now I recommend schools sticking with the UAG or a similar rugged case.
How easy is it to repair the Surface Go 2?
Smashed your screen? It’s going to cost you, I’m afraid. I’m a huge fan of low-cost Chromebooks because they are so easy to repair yourself. Devices like the iPad and Surface, however, are another story. To be fair, Microsoft is taking small steps towards making user repairs possible by adding some modular components to the newer models, but it’s still nowhere near good enough.
If you don’t have insurance, or an arrangement with a repair company, you will be looking at out of warranty costs of around £236 to have Microsoft repair your Surface Go 2.
Buying computer hardware is never going to be entirely environmentally friendly, but I do like the recent move from Microsoft to package educational hardware in plain, recyclable cardboard packaging.
It should go without saying, but the Surface Go 2 comes with Microsoft’s exceptional warranty and support as standard. The standard warranty is only for one year, though, so you may want to considering investing in an extension. Go a problem? They will sort it out quickly and efficiently. Just option a ticket.
Should you buy Surface Go 2 for your school?
The Surface Go was my favourite computer of 2018, even besting the Surface Pro X. It was brilliantly portable, powerful enough to run full-fat Microsoft Office, and was great to type on in the classroom. The Go 2 takes this same basic model and improves on it with a larger screen, slightly beefed up processor, and the same low price, which makes the Go 2 a viable consideration for most schools deploying BYOD schemes.
- Quality hardware & solid build
- Amazing screen
- Audio is great
- USB-C charging
- Typing on the keyboard is great
- Windows 10 with full desktop Office
- Micro-SD card reader
- Enough battery for a full school day but with careful management
- Processor can top out when you move away from Microsoft applications
- It’s still too easy for students to lose their Microsoft Pen/Classroom Pen — the magnet isn’t strong enough.
- Keyboard and Pen sold separately
Is there room for improvement? Yes, the battery life is acceptable, but takes some management when compared to iPad, the Windows Store needs a more mature range of apps to really support Windows 10 S, and there’s still not reliable way to hook your Microsoft Pen onto the thing. But the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is still a great low-cost device for students and schools. It won’t run heavy applications like Photoshop and Premiere, but then it’s not designed to. I’d love to see a Surface Pro X/Go 2 hybrid bringing some of the Pro X feature to the Go such as the Pen storage.
If you’re looking for a device for your students to run web apps like Kahoot, and Microsoft 365 software like Teams, Office and OneNote, the Surface Go 2 is one of the best devices around.