Microsoft Surface Go: 10-inch Windows tablet coming Aug. 2 for $399 USD

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It's smaller, more portable and less expensive. But it's also less powerful and still drives up the real-world cost by excluding must-have extra accessories. In other words, the new Surface Go from Microsoft is the answer to about half your PC tablet dreams. But starting at a very reasonable $399, that may be more than good enough.

The Surface Go has a smaller 10-inch display than the 12.3-inch Pro, making it feel a bit like an iPad ($329 at Walmart). But it also swaps the Core i-series Intel CPUs for lower-end Pentium processors. That means this new Surface may feel more like a budget laptop and less like a full PC. It's a step down in processing power, but the potential silver lining is that for most of what people do on their PCs today -- surfing the web, media playback, using online tools and services -- there may not be much of an experiential difference. 

The closest comparison is a similar Microsoft product called the Surface 3(minus the "Pro" designation), which was a 10-inch variant released in 2015 with an Intel Atom processor. At the time, I referred to it as "trickle-down computing," and said it wasn't powerful enough to be your full-time computer. We'll have to spend more time testing and using the Surface Go to determine whether the same is true here.

In person, during a brief hands-on demo session, the 1.15-pound Surface Go felt like it hit a sweet spot between design and functionality. The smaller body was perfect for toting around easily in the hand or in a small bag. The best parts of the Surface experience -- the excellent kickstand, the best-in-class keyboard cover, the great stylus support -- are all here in miniaturized form. It also takes a step into the future (some would say present) by adding a USB-C port. Power can be connected via your own USB-C plug or with the included magnetic Surface-style power connector.

Key specs

  • Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y CPU
  • 10-inch, 1,800x1,200 display
  • 4GB or 8GB RAM 
  • 64GB eMMC storage, or 128GB/256GB SSD storage
  • 5MP Windows Hello face sign-in camera
  • 8MP rear-facing autofocus camera
  • USB-C, microSD card and headphone inputs
  • Windows 10 S, Home or Pro

Still sold separately

Here's the bad news. While Microsoft has crafted a perfectly scaled backlit version of its excellent keyboard cover, which I've always considered the most impressive part of the entire Surface ecosystem, it's somehow still not included in the purchase price. Like the keyboard covers for the larger Surface Pro models, you have to buy it separately, starting at $99 (presumably £99 or AU$139) for plain black or $129 for the Alcantara-covered color versions. That's about $30 less than the keyboard covers for the full-size Surface Pro.

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The Surface Pen stylus is also $99, and it's the same one as you'd use on the Surface Pro. That means adding a keyboard and stylus could bump the price up by 50 percent, which dampens some of the appeal of that low starting price. While the Surface Pen is the same one Microsoft introduced last year, there's a new, smaller Mobile Mouse ($35), that also comes in matching colors. 

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The need for a new Surface

Microsoft's Surface line has taken some big evolutionary steps in the past couple of years, moving past the original Surface Pro tablet to the heftier Surface Book (with its Nvidia graphics hardware), the slim Surface Laptopand even the all-in-one Surface Studio desktop

But the Surface Pro line has been only minimally updated over its past few iterations. The processors have been updated, the LTE model is now available to consumers, and fancier accessories take on the Alcantara fabric look of the Surface Laptop ($684 at Amazon.com). But there's been nothing big to make you feel the pull to upgrade, or to consider jumping on Surface bandwagon if you weren't already sold.

The new smaller Surface takes the laptop-like Pro and shrinks it down to an iPad's size and price. Running Windows 10S or full Windows 10 ($100 at Amazon.com) (there's a no-cost upgrade option) and an Intel CPU, even if a low-end one, this at least makes more sense than the original Surface RT, which used an ARM CPU and the very limited (and now largely forgotten) Windows RT operating system.

Give me the keyboard cover with the system, and I'm potentially sold on the spot. As it is, we'll have to run the Surface Go through our testing process to see if it'll stand up to the rigors of student or on-the-go business life as well as a similarly priced clamshell. 

The Surface Go will be available starting August 2, initially in Wi-Fi models, with LTE-equipped models coming later. Preorders start immediately in most countries.