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Surface Go: Tempting, but no iPad challenger

At NZ$700, Surface Go rounds out the bottom end of Microsoft's tablet-to-laptop range. It's a small, thin tablet with a 10-inch screen. No doubt people will compare it with another small, thin 10-inch tablet: Apple's NZ$540 iPad.

Before going further, we should be clear, the tablets come from different ranges. They have different design perspectives. Despite the obvious similarities, few people will choose between the Surface Go and an iPad. For the most part, they aim at distinct markets. You also need to remember these are the cheapest models in each range.

That said, they are low-cost tablets from the two biggest names in personal computing. Both are versatile mobile devices. They both have large touch screens by mobile device standards. Each offers a huge catalogue of software covering almost every possible application.

Microsoft Surface Go

Size, weight


Apple's iPad is smaller and lighter than the Surface Go. It measures 240 by 170 by 7.5 mm and weighs 470 g. Surface Go is about 10 percent heavier at 520 g. It's thicker at 8.3 mm.

Although the frame is fraction larger at 244 by 178 mm, that's used for a bigger screen. The Surface Go display is 10.6 inches, while the iPad is 9.7 inches. The Apple display has more pixels: you get 2,048 by 1,536. The Go is has 1,800 by 1,200 pixels. I'll save you the maths of working out that means the iPad has 264 pixels per inch compared to Go's 217.

Both support an optional pen for writing on-screen. Apple's drawing tool is the Apple Pencil.

Processors


Microsoft uses a two-core Intel processor; the Pentium Gold 4415Y. Apple's is the A10 Fusion chip. Without benchmarking, it's hard to know which has the more powerful processor.

On paper Apple's hardware choices give you a little more battery time than the Surface Go. How that works in practice is more a matter of how you use your tablet.

Apple appears to have an edge here, but we'd need to wait for formal tests to know. Both processors are a generation behind the top models in their respective ranges. As it says at the start of this post, people will use the devices in different ways. So their relative power is less important than the suitability for applications.

The Surface Go has a clear edge when it comes to storage. The extra NZ$140 buy double the Ram and double the built-in flash storage. The Go has 4GB and 64GB. Again it's hard to know what these numbers mean in practice without testing, but as a rule more is better.

Surface Go expandable memory


You can expand the storage on a Surface Go. There is a MicroSD card slot. There is nothing like this on the iPad. This will matter a lot to some people. It would interesting to know how many people use a memory slot in a device like this.

Apple's iPad runs iOS. It's the same operating system as on the iPhone. In recent iterations Apple updated iOS to make better use of the iPad's size and capabilities. As you'd expect it integrates well with an iPhone and the MacOS.

The Surface Go comes with Microsoft's Windows 10 running in the S Mode. This limits your software choices, but it's a piece of cake to upgrade this to Windows 10 Home.

At the risk of triggering angry comments, I find iOS has a better touch screen interface. Although Windows 10 handles touch, at times the old user interface peeks through. It can cause problems. Your experience may differ.

On the other hand, I find Windows 10 makes more sense on a tablet than a desktop. Again, you might have a different view.

Microsoft's marketing makes a lot of fuss about the kickstand. This allows you to prop the Surface Go up in the landscape orientation on a flat surface. Some Surface Pro users love this feature, it's popularity bewilders many iPad fans.

Microsoft's Surface Go Signature Type Cover adds NZ$220 to the price. The Surface Pen is NZ$160. Apple's Pencil is the same price. Apple has its own keyboard covers for iPad Pro models. For the plain iPad, Apple's online store offers a NZ$150 Logitech Slim Folio Case with integrated bluetooth keyboard.

Storage options


Both ranges offer models with more storage. A 128 GB iPad is NZ$700, the same price as the basic Surface Go. For the well-heeled Microsoft has a 128 GB model with 8 GB of Ram at NZ$950.

Let's put the Surface Go price into context. The same money will buy a Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook or one of a range of low-price Windows laptops.

By the time you add the official keyboard you could buy a ThinkPad with an Intel Core i3 processor. Of course these would not be as portable. Yet you will find a better processor, better keyboard and better screen.

If you're already happy with Apple or Microsoft's comforting embrace, then you'd do well to stay put. That way you can be productive from the moment you open the box. Most of the time, you will get more from your existing investments in software and services.

At first sight the iPad and Microsoft app store look to be roughly equal, after all, this is Windows we are talking about. Yet in practice many popular Windows apps are either not optimised for touch or have occasional touchability lapses. You may also find some popular, well-known apps are not there.

It's odd, but on a personal note I find Microsoft Office works better on an iPad than on a touch screen Windows tablet. Although this could be a matter of familiarity and taste, you couldn't say the same for MacOS where Office is noticeably inferior.

Microsoft Surface sales yet to take off


Microsoft-branded hardware has yet to strike a chord with buyers. The brand doesn't register in the global PC sales statistics collected by IDC and Gartner.

Over the last three months of 2017 Microsoft's Surface line made $1.3 billion in revenue. That's impressive, but the dial hasn't shifted from two years earlier. Sales are flat. That is despite a slew of new Surface products in 2017.

In round numbers Apple makes more than six dollars from its iPad models for every dollar Microsoft earns from all its hardware products excluding the Xbox.

There's nothing to suggest Surface Go will change the market dynamic. The device looks neat and will meet an unmet need, but it doesn't look like a surefire winner.

Surface Go: Tempting, but no iPad challenger was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.  

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