Microsoft Surface Go: First impressions

A quick first impressions look at Microsoft's new budget tablet, the Surface Go.

​Surface Go and the Type Cover

Surface Go and the Type Cover

On paper, Microsoft's new Surface Go seems to offer some serious competition to Apple's iPad. But how does the budget tablet feel in real life?

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With a starting price of $399, the Surface Go seems pretty compelling, and could be just the shake up the market needs to reinvigorate it and get it moving forward again. The success that the iPad enjoyed, followed by how rapidly the interest in tablets as a whole waned, has left tablets feeling like yesterday's tech.

But does the Surface Go change this?

I've had a few hours of hands-on time with a Surface Go - the higher-spec version with 8-gigabytes of RAM and 128GB of storage - which isn't enough time for anything like a full review, but it is enough time to get a decent first impression.

Along with the Surface Go, I also had access to the Surface Pen and the Type Cover keyboard.

So what are my first impressions?

First off, the Surface Go arrived well-boxed. I don't value over-the-top, ostentatious packaging, but I do like packaging that offers adequate protection for the device while it's in transit but which is also easy to open and dispose of. The box the Surface Go is supplied in ticks all these boxes.

In the hand, the Surface Go feels like a bit of a contradiction.

Despite making use of glass and metal for its construction, the Surface Go feels light and flimsy. It's no iPad in the hand, but it's also no Fire tablet either, which feels like an odd statement to make given that the Fire is glass and plastic.

Same goes for build external quality. The seams between the screen and chassis seem pretty rough and variable, with some of the seams being tight, and the others not. It's hard to know at this point whether long-term this will mean the Surface Go starts falling apart from daily usage, or whether this is just purely an aesthetic issue.

But for a device that's meant to be held in the hand, this adds to the cheap and cheerful feel of the tablet.

I don't want to put too much emphasis on how robust a device feels because at the end of the day it doesn't add much to the durability, but a cheap feel is a cheap feel. And the Surface Go feels pretty cheap.

​Fis-and-finish leaves something to be desired, even for the price.

Fis-and-finish leaves something to be desired, even for the price.

Adding to that cheap feel is the kickstand and the power/volume buttons. The stand already feels wobbly, and the buttons have a rattling looseness to them that you definitely don't see on the iPad. Again, whether these are purely aesthetic issues or will end up leading to reliability problems down the line remains to be seen.

​Kickstand wobble

Kickstand wobble

Another issue I've found somewhat disappointing is that the charger interface with the Surface Connect port feels flimsy. Since the charging port is going to see a lot of use, this has me worried.

On to the positives.

The 10-inch 1800-by-1200-pixel display is absolutely stunning for a device at this price point. The colors are rich and vibrant, and the contrast and brightness is good enough for both indoor and outdoor use. The 10-point multi-touch also works great and feels natural and intuitive.

No problems at all there.

The speaker system is also very good, with the 2W Dolby Audio Premium stereo speakers offering more than enough clarity for everything from Cortana to playing movies.

It's also awesome that the Surface Go not only has a USB-C port, but also a headphone jack and a microSD card slot.

It's nice to have options.

I have to admit that I like the optional accessories a lot, but this leads to another contradiction in that the Surface Pen and Type Cover feel, at least from an aesthetic and fit-and-finish point of view, far better than the tablet itself. It feels a little bit like taking a Pelikan fountain pen and the best ink with and using them to write on the back of an old envelope.

My only real complaint about the Surface Pen is that I wonder why it needs to be powered by a disposable AAAA battery and not be a rechargeable unit. And as to the Type Cover, I wonder how that outer fabric will look after a few months of use.

​I'm surprised -- and disappointed -- to find the Surface Pen run by a disposable battery.

I'm surprised -- and disappointed -- to find the Surface Pen run by a disposable battery.

From a performance and battery life perspective, I would say that both feel adequate.

Not awesome, but also not bad. But it is enough.

I tend to find that both performance and battery life improve after a few days of usage, but I don't have any complaints about either right out of the box (note that the Surface Go I was using was running Windows 10 in S mode at the point of testing).

I feel like I've been somewhat of a downer on the Surface Go, but in all honesty, I actually like it.

A lot.

The fit-and-finish might leave something to be desired, and the buttons and kickstand might have a bit of a wobble to it, but for a table that starts at $399, it's actually very decent. And this remains the case even after adding the price of the pen and keyboard to the mix.

Surface Go - Recommended.

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