Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review

Microsoft’s sophomore is not a slump. After a mixed outing, the company returns with the latest Surface Go 2, a slimmer, faster, and more durable hybrid tablet. Microsoft found a new way to deliver a larger display, thinner bezels, and better performance without incurring the Surface Go 2’s $399 starting price (reviewed at $729 or $860 with the Type Cover). This is our Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review.

Last updated on July 7, 2020 11:09 am

Tablets might not be in demand during the ongoing pandemic, but the Surface Go 2 makes a compelling case. The tablet’s 10.5-inch display is excellent for viewing content, the premium and the portable design feels great when worn at home, and the twin cameras offer sharp image and video quality for conferencing. Best of all, the Microsoft Surface Go 2’s battery has blossomed so that you won’t get stuck on an electrical outlet.

With Surface Go 2, Microsoft has created a tablet that can withstand the iPad Air so that you can rethink extra spending on Surface Pro 7.

Specifications

Microsoft Surface Go 2
Starting Price:$399
CPU:Intel Core m3-8100Y
RAM:4/8GB
Storage:128GB SSD
Display:10.5-inches, 1920 x 1280-pixels
GPU:Intel UHD 615
VRAMN/A
Battery life:11 hours and 39 minutes
Size: 9.7 x 6.9 x 0.3-inches
Weight: 1.2-pounds (1.8 pounds with keyboard)

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review: Design

The Surface Go 2 looks almost identical to the original Surface Go, except for a few subtle but remarkable design updates. Microsoft retained the same physical dimensions but expanded the Surface Go 2’s display from 10 inches to 10.5 inches. This was achieved by cutting off the screen rings, although the narrower frames around the screen are still crumbly by today’s standards. Ignoring the larger display and the cut edges, Surface Go 2 is a likeness of the previous model.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review

It has a silver magnesium body with a kickstand at the back, which shows an attractively mirrored Microsoft logo. Physical buttons have volume control and an on/off button on the top edge. The modest design of the Surface Go 2 won’t turn heads, but it has a more first-class look than comparable priced tablets or laptops. The built-in kickstand, which can rotate 165 degrees, also makes the Go 2 more functional than its rivals. With the extended kickstand, the tablet can be strutted or transformed into a laptop via the optional Type Cover keyboard.

By integrating a kickstand, Microsoft gave the Surface Go 2 the flexibility that other tablets only have when they are attached to either a folio cover or a keyboard mount. It works brilliantly on a desk, but the Surface Go 2 is not particularly comfy to use on your lap as only the bottom of the kickstand makes contact with your thighs. As a result, the tablet bends and bobs as you type or tap the screen. In comparison, Apple’s iPad Pro feels more stable for lap use because the optional Magic Keyboard has a flat, stiff bottom.

Surface Go 2 has the same choice of ports as the previous model. On the right side, there’s a USB-C input, a Surface Connect port (for charging and docking), and a headphone jack. Microsoft also has a microSD card slot hidden under the kickstand, and our LTE version has a Nano-SIM tray on the left.

Type Cover Keyboard and Surface Pen

Microsoft makes some of the best detachable keyboards, but the Type Cover for the Surface Go 2 feels tight. The keyboard is 9.4 inches from key to key compared to 10.8 inches on the Surface Pro 7 keyboard. This makes the keys jammed together, making them harder to type. If you have big hands, the Surface Go 2’s narrow keys can be a deal-breaker. I had to be careful to avoid typing errors, and even then, my sticky fingers would occasionally tap two keys at once.

I also like the plush Alcantara fabric that covers the wrist rests and is now available in several new colors, naming Black, Ice Blue, Poppy Red, and Platinum. If you want to use the Go 2 as a work device, I strongly suggest you buy the keyboard, although we are still dreaming of a day when Microsoft bundles the Signature Type Cover rather than making you pay an extra $129. Under the keys of the Type Cover is a sensitive touchpad. The smooth, glass surface is a little small (3.8 x 2.2 inches), but I had no problem navigating the web and using Windows 10 gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling.

If you’re an artist looking for a tablet to make digital drawings, or if you’re a student who prefers to take handwritten notes, consider spending another $99 on the Surface Pen. You can use the Surface pen to jot down or sign documents, sketch drawings in Paint 3D, or take a few notes in class or at a meeting. The Surface pen has 4,096 pressure points, making it one of the best and most sensitive pens. It also supports tilt for shade and has an adjustable button and tail eraser.

Microsoft did not supply a Surface Pen with our Surface Go 2, but we have used the stylus before and found it to be quite responsive and sensitive to our movements.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review: Display

This is where it gets interesting. Microsoft expanded the Go 2’s display from 10-inches to 10.5-inches, an increase of 10 inches. This is not a significant upgrade, but extra screen real estate is always welcome if there is no impact on portability or price. The Microsoft Surface Go 2’s 10.5-inch, 1920 x 1280 touch screen display has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which makes it great for viewing documents or scrolling through web pages. But don’t stop there. Vivid colors and sharp details mean you can watch your favorite TV shows or even edit photos on this budget tablet.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review

The panel is so sharp that I could see the little details in Tom Hanks’ Navy hat insignia in the trailer for Greyhound. In the scene where a boat erupts, the sparks of vibrant orange flames seem to burst out of the screen like thick plumes of smoke rising into the night sky. During a three-volley salute, the red and blue of the American flags draped over stretchers with dead soldiers popped against the gloomy grey warship and the grey-blue ocean.

The touchscreen of the Surface Go 2 is sensitive. I had no problem tapping small exit symbols or using the on-screen keyboard to store URLs. That said, you may want to change the default scale as some icons are small on the 10.5-inch display. According to our colorimeter, Surface Go 2’s display covers 107% of the sRGB color gamut, making it less colorful than the iPad Air (132%) and Surface Go (129%) screens, but livelier than the category average (92%).

The Go 2’s screen becomes exceptionally bright, reaching an average brightness of 408 nits. It’s significantly more vivid than the average display (293 nits), but again, the iPad Air wins this round with 425 nits.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review: Audio

The dual speakers on the Microsoft Surface Go 2 are located at the top left and right of the display. They became loud enough to fill my small office without any distortion when I played the “Dreamland” of Glass Animals at 100% volume. I was quite satisfied with the sound quality; the vocals sounded clear, there was the right amount of detail in the middle area, and the treble was never penetrating. I forgive the speakers for not having the slightest hint of bass and throw up my Sennheiser headphones if I need some low-end kick.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review: Performance

The performance of the Surface Go 2 is a mixed bag. Equipped with an old Intel Core m3-8100Y CPU and 8GB RAM, the Surface Go 2 is ideally suited for everyday tasks, but it will buckle under the weight of a heavy workload. I experienced some minor delays while loading two dozen tabs into the new Microsoft Edge browser. The last few pages took a fraction longer to appear, and images and photos took a few extra seconds to render.

Despite those occasional delays, I went Livestream from the Microsoft Build 2020 virtual event without any delay or buffering, even with two other 1080p YouTube videos and a few Twitch streams in the background. When we benchmarked the Microsoft Surface Go 2, the results were omnipresent. The tablet did great on the Geekbench 4.1 performance test, scoring a 6,815 compared to Surface Go’s base 3,735 (Intel’s Pentium Gold 4415Y). Apple iPad Air (11.471, A12 Bionic) and the category average (12.882) scored much higher on this test.

Storage speeds are a problem. The 128GB PCIe SSD in Surface Go 2 took 28 seconds to duplicate 5GB of multimedia files, representing a slow transfer rate of 180.5 megabytes per second. The average category crushes that mark (293.2 MBps), just like the budget Acer Aspire 5 (248 MBps) laptop. Our video transcoding test proved difficult for the Surface Go 2, which took 48 minutes and 14 seconds to convert a 4K (ultra-HD) video to 1080p resolution using the handbrake app. By comparison, the Aspire 5 took 32 minutes and 53 seconds and didn’t even beat the mainstream category average (22:54).

You shouldn’t try to play AAA games on the Surface Go 2 because it relies on weak Intel UHD 615 graphics. Dirt 3 stagnated at a drizzly 16 frames per second while Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm lagged at an unplayable 5 fps.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review: Battery Life

The Surface Go 2 delivers well in an area where its predecessor failed the most by providing 11 hours and 39 minutes of battery life in our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits). That fantastic result destroys the original Surface Go (6:06) and the category average (8:10) but is only minutes short of what the iPad Air (11:54) achieved.

Price and Configuration Options

The Surface Go 2 is available from $399, the same price as the previous model. The basic Wi-Fi model comes with an Intel’s Pentium Gold 4425Y CPU, 4GB RAM, and 64GB eMMC storage. You can spend $549 to double the RAM 8GB and double the storage to 128GB. There is a more expensive version for $629, which comes with an 8th generation Intel’s Core m3-8100Y CPU, 8GB RAM, and 128GB of SSD. You’ll need to choose a 4G LTE model if you need the internet on the go, but you’ll spend $729 on the model we’ve reviewed.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review

These prices do not include the optional (and suggested) Type Cover keyboard, which costs $99 for the basic version or $129 for the Microsoft’s Signature Edition. And you’ll have to spend another $99 for the Surface Pen stylus.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review: Conclusion

The Surface Go 2 is not fundamentally different from the Surface Go, but it solved the big problems we had with the original tablet. The most significant area of improvement is the battery life, which has almost doubled to 11+ hours. Besides, the Surface Go 2 delivers a larger display, smaller bezels, and faster performance than the previous model, all for the same $399 starting price. It’s an excellent alternative if you want a Windows 10 tablet for basic tasks and watching content, but I wouldn’t use the Go 2 for work because of its mediocre performance and sluggish keyboard.

If you can increase the budget, the Surface Pro 7 10th generation Intel CPUs give you a bigger screen and a more comfortable keyboard (at the expense of battery life). Compared to the iPad Air, Surface Go 2 isn’t as slim or as fast, but it costs less and has a more functional keyboard with a touchpad. It’s a pity the keyboard costs extra ($129) because our top-of-the-line model with LTE and a Type Cover costs a not-so-budget of $860. Still, Windows 10 is a more robust operating system than iPadOS if productivity is your primary concern.

Which brings us to a question consumers should consider before buying the Surface Go 2: does it make sense to buy a budget tablet at a time of strict travel restrictions? For me, the answer is yes. The Surface Go 2 feels first-class, and its lightweight magnesium chassis makes it easy to carry from bed to office in the morning and from office to sofa after work. It also has a beautiful display, a handy IR camera for Windows Hello login, and a fantastic webcam. For these reasons, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a convenient tool to have at home, even if it doesn’t replace your laptop.

8 Total Score
Our Verdict

With long battery life, thin bezels, and decent performance, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 addresses the shortcomings of its predecessor, but don't expect any miracle from this $399 tablet.

PROS
  • Vivid 10.5-inch display
  • Sleek magnesium design
  • Long battery life
  • Excellent webcam
  • IR camera for Windows Hello login
CONS
  • Last-gen CPUs
  • Cramped Type Cover keyboard
  • Keyboard and stylus sold separately
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