Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review

Microsoft nails the small, light, and peppy Windows 10 PC

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4.3

Microsoft Surface Go 2

Microsoft Surface 2

Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

What We Like
  • Design

  • Size and weight

  • Performance

  • Battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Keyboard is a little cramped

  • To get the performance you need you will pay considerably more than $399

I like this little system. It’s thin, light, super-portable, and has admirable power. If you prize size and weight over all other factors, and still want a true Windows 10 PC, the Surface Go 2 might be the right convertible for you.

4.3

Microsoft Surface Go 2

Microsoft Surface 2

Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

We received a Microsoft Surface Go 2 review unit so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 expertly rides that fine line between ultimate portability and total utility.

At just 9.65 inches x 6.9 inches x 0.33 inches and 1.2 pounds (slightly heavier than the original Surface Go), and with a surprisingly peppy 8th Gen Intel Core m3 CPU, the Surface Go 2 is small and light enough to disappear into a backpack or handbag, but powerful enough to handle all your core productivity needs.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
Microsoft Surface Go 2 with Type Cover Keyboard and Surface Pen.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

I’ve been using the Surface Go 2, paired with a $99.99 Type Cover and Surface Pen for days, and am typing this review in Microsoft Word on it right now.

Granted, it took me some time to get used to the diminutive size.

Design considerations

With the Go 2, Microsoft tackled one of the chief Surface Go complaints, increasing the screen size from 10-inches to 10.5, and it did so without increasing the dimensions at all. The fact that the Surface Go 2 is roughly 22 grams heavier than the original Go is due mostly to a larger battery, which addresses another chief complaint regarding the original Go device.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
Microsoft Surface Go 2 is small enough to hold in one hand.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

In almost every way, the Surface Go resembles its larger Surface Pro siblings. It has the same magnesium body, completely adjustable kickstand (which hides a micro-SD-slot for storage expansion), and volume and power buttons along the top edge in virtually the exact same positions.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is just 0.33 inches thick. Yes, that's a SIM slot on the side.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Unlike a Surface Pro, there’s no vent channel running around the edge. There’s only one USB-C port and right above it is the 3.5 mm headphone jack. It uses the standard Surface connector port for power. On the left side is a SIM slot to support LTE (unlocked). The system also has eSim support.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
Microsoft Surface Go 2 optional Type Cover is a complete keyboard. It's also a little cramped.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

On the bottom edge is the smart connector for attaching the keyboard. That full keyboard is more than an inch narrower and a half inch shorter than a Type Cover for a Surface Pro. If you’re moving from the larger cover, it can feel like a cramped typing experience. In my case, it certainly took some getting used to, but eventually I adjusted and my typing improved. I would add that the travel on keys is effectively the same as what you get on larger type covers, meaning it’s completely satisfying.

The track pad is a tiny bit larger than the one I have on the Type Cover for my Surface Pro 6.

Screen Time

The larger PixelSense touch screen provides for more pixels (1920x1280 versus 1800x1200 on the original Go) and a slightly richer ppi (220 ppi vs 217 ppi). I’m already a big fan of Microsoft’s Surface display system. The screen is clear and, thanks to the 3:2 aspect ratio, appears larger than similarly sized, wide screen displays.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
The kickstand on the back of the Surface Go 2 is fully adjustable.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to using the touch screen even as I type on the system. I do notice that the keyboard, which uses a magnet to hug the bottom of the screen, is closer to the display than it is on the Surface Pro. As a result, my pinky and ring finger occasionally brushed against the screen as I typed. Not a big deal, but worth noting for those with long fingers.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
With the optional Surface Pen, the Surface Go 2 is an excellent drawing platform.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

At one point, I folded back the kickstand to lower the screen until it was almost parallel to my desk and used my Surface Pen ($99.99) to draw in Sketchable. Pressure and tilt sensitivity match what I get on the Surface Pro. I now enjoy drawing on any Surface almost as much as I do on an iPad Pro.

Cameras and security

On the back of the Surface Pro is an 8 MP camera that I’m fairly sure few use. The 5 MP camera on the front, which is capable of 1080p video, will get a lot of use in our new Skype- and Zoom-connected culture. Microsoft has consistently beat Apple on webcam camera resolution. There is a world of difference between 720p (see your MacBook) and 1080p.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
There's an 8 MP camera on the back that I bet you almost never use.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Next to the front-facing camera is Windows Hello camera, which lets you use your face to log in. It took me a few seconds to register my face (I can register other faces for other accounts on the system). It’s always a pleasure to open the Surface Go 2 and have it instantly recognize me and unlock the computer.

Performance

I wish I could tell you how well the $399 entry-level Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y Surface Go 2 performs, but Microsoft supplied me with a $729 review unit running the more powerful 8h Gen Intel Core m3. It also comes with double the base memory and 128 GB of storage, as opposed to 64 GB. All configurations run Intel’s UHD 615 graphics.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 and Surface pro 6
The Surface Go 2's bezel (left) now matches the size of the one on the much larger Surface Pro 6. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff 

Benchmarks for the Core m3 appear to be roughly double what you’d get with the cheaper Pentium silicon. That could translate to either sluggish performance or an inability to support multiple concurrent apps.

My experience, though, with the Core m3 model was generally excellent. It was powerful enough to run multiple apps and support a second screen.

Windows 10 S and the Edge factor

Microsoft’s idea with the Go is a light, peppy, and super-secure system for students and those who demand portability over top-level performance and screen size.

Part of that formula includes running the locked-down Windows 10 S, which only allows users to install Apps from the Microsoft Store. This means you can’t install, for instance, Google Chrome, and it also prevents you from visiting random download sites and installing apps (with the malware that might piggyback with them). It’s also a way of preventing viruses from quietly installing on the system. As a result, you can run the Surface Go 2 without third-party security software (Microsoft’s own Windows Security is running by default).

For students and some workers, this might be the preferable scenario, but I also understand those who want more control over their system.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
This 1.2 lb device is small and light enough to go anywhere. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff 

Even if you could install Google Chrome on Windows 10 S, I'm not sure you'd want to.

This is the first Windows 10 S system that comes with the new Chromium-based Microsoft Edge pre-installed and I am loving it. It’s faster than Chrome and, more importantly, does a much better job of managing CPU usage and releasing memory when you close a tab. I’m not a fan of Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which Edge defaults to, but was able to switch the address bar in Edge settings to Google.

Browser performance
I tried to open the same number or browser tabs and the same sites on both Chrome and Edge. Notice that whule the memory consumption is slightly higher on Edge (for more threads), the CPU usage is far lower.  Screenshot

I tired of the Windows 10 S restrictions and, fortunately, found it easy to switch to Windows 10 Home. After that, I installed Chrome for comparison purposes. When the system failed to install an HP Printer driver from within Windows 10 Home system, I was able to visit the HP site and side-load the driver, something I couldn’t do in Windows 10 S.

Battery Life

Microsoft increased the battery life and promises 10 hours of performance on a charge (the original Go had 9 hours). In my battery rundown test, which comprised of running through as much as possible of the Better Call Saul series on Netflix, the system ran for 7.5 hours. I didn’t not do anything to adjust the screen brightness or other background tasks.

Microsoft Surface Go 2
I did the Netflix binge battery rundown test.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

In mixed use, the Surface Go 2 does run all day. It can also run down more quickly if you have a dozen or more browser windows and multiple apps open at once.

Bottom line

I like this little system. It’s thin, light, super-portable, and has admirable power. The baseline Surface Go 2 will certainly match my test system on design and style, but I don’t think it can match the performance of my Core m3 system. As a result, my recommendation is for my $729.99 system (plus the $99.99 Type Cover keyboard) and not necessarily the baseline Surface Go 2. You can buy the Wi-Fi-only Surface Go 2 with the Core m3 for $629.

Keep in mind that a baseline 12.3-inch Surface Pro 7 starts at $749 with an Intel Core i3, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. Essentially, the choice then boils down to portability. If you prize size and weight over all other factors, and still want a true Windows 10 PC, the Surface Go 2 might be the right convertible for you.

Check out my video review!

Specs

  • Product Name Microsoft
  • Product Brand Surface Go 2
  • Price $729.99
  • Release Date May 2020
  • Weight 1.2 lbs.
  • Product Dimensions 9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 in.
  • Color Gray
  • GB 128
  • RAM 8
  • CPU 8th Gen Intel Core m3