Compared: Microsoft's Surface Go 2 versus Apple's 10.2-inch iPad and iPad Air

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in iPad
The Surface Go 2 is Microsoft's second attempt to offer a Windows tablet that directly competes with Apple's iPad lineup, but how does the thin and light device hold up against the iPad Air and the 10.2-inch iPad?

The Surface Go 2 runs on Windows 10 S, a locked-down version of the PC operating system.
The Surface Go 2 runs on Windows 10 S, a locked-down version of the PC operating system.


On May 6, Microsoft refreshed its Surface lineup again, with the Surface Go 2 accompanied by the Surface Book 3. While the Surface Book 3 is more or less a direct competitor to Apple's iPad Pro lineup, the Surface Go 2 instead focuses on being a lightweight and more iPad-like device.

The original Surface Go was Microsoft's cheapest and smallest tablet, which the Surface Go 2 continues in the latest generation. Packing more restrained specifications when compared to the Surface Book 3, the Surface Go 2 is able to cut its price down to a level that it could feasibly compete against Apple's core tablet product.

Given its cost, screen size, and general appearance, we are comparing the Surface Go 2's specifications and features against the third-generation iPad Air and the current 10.2-inch iPad, to work out if it stands a chance against the most popular tablets on the market.

Specifications

iPad Air (Third-generation)10.2-inch iPadSurface Go 2
Price (Starting Configurations)From $499 to $649
Lowest iPad Air prices
From $329 to $429
Lowest iPad prices
From $399.99 to $629.99
Surface Go 2 deals
Dimensions250.6mm x 174.1mm x 6.1mm250.6mm x 174.1mm x 7.5mm
245mm x 175mm x 8.3mm
Weight456g483g544g
ProcessorsA12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine and M12 coprocessorA10 Fusion chip with M10 coprocessorPentium Gold Processor 4425Y,
8th-gen Intel Core M3-8100Y
Storage64GB, 256GB32GB, 128GB64GB eMMC, 128GB SSD
Memory3GB3GB4GB, 8GB
Display10.5-inch 2,224x1,668 Wide Color (P3) display with True Tone10.2-inch 2,160x1,668 Multi-Touch display
10.5-inch 1920x1280 PixelSense display
Graphics--Intel UHD Graphics 615
ConnectivityLightning port, Smart Connector, headphone jackLightning port, Smart Connector, headphone jack1 USB-C, 1 Surface Connect port, Micro SDXC card reader, Surface Type Cover port, headphone jack
NetworkingWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, optional LTEWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, optional LTEWi-Fi 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0, optional LTE
CamerasFront: 7MP FaceTime HD
Back: 8MP
Front: 1.2MP FaceTime HD
Back: 8MP
Front: 5MP
Back: 8MP
BiometricsTouch IDTouch IDWindows Hello
AudioStereo speakers, Dual microphonesStereo speakers, Dual microphones2-watt stereo speakers with Dolby Audio, Dual Studio microphones
Battery30.2-watt-hour battery, 10 hours of usage32.4-watt-hour battery, 10 hours of usage10 hours of typical device usage

Size and Weight

Both the iPad Air and iPad have very similar profiles, with a footprint of 250.6mm by 174.1mm. The thickness is also comparable, at 6.1mm for the Air and 7.5mm for the iPad.

Microsoft's effort is within the same ballpark, trimming the length to 245mm but being marginally wider at 175mm. It is, however, the thickest of the group at 8.3mm.

In terms of weight, Microsoft still needs to learn from Apple, as the Surface Go 2's 544g mass is quite a bit heavier than the Air at 456g and the iPad at 483g.

Even so, Microsoft has managed to make a device that is pretty close to the iPads dimensions-wise, even if it is a bit heftier to carry around. This is quite commendable, and for tablet buyers, an important factor in making their purchase decisions.

Displays

Apple's iPad lineup is known for having high-quality displays, and it is evident in both of the models under scrutiny. The iPad has a 10.2-inch IPS display with a 2,160-by-1,620 resolution and 500 nits of brightness, giving it a pixel density of 264ppi.

On the iPad Air, there's a bigger 10.5-inch display at a slightly higher resolution of 2,224 by 1,668, giving it an identical 264ppi density, with it also able to kick out 500 nits. The iPad Air also uses a fully laminated display, which allows there to be less glass between the screen and an Apple Pencil, along with P3 wide color and True Tone.

The screen may be the same size as the iPad Air's, but it lacks the resolution.
The screen may be the same size as the iPad Air's, but it lacks the resolution.


The Surface Go 2 does disappoint with its screen, as while it is an adequate 10.5-inch PixelSense display with a 3:2 aspect ratio and 1,500:1 contrast ratio, it's operating at a much lower resolution. It can display a 1,920 by 1,280 image, which is slightly better than HD, but far below Apple's screens, complete with a pixel density of 220ppi.

In this particular case, Microsoft isn't keeping up with Apple, but it is still an improvement on the previous model. The original Surface Go sported a 10-inch 1,800-by-1,200 display, equating to a pixel density of 217ppi.

Performance

The easier to nail down of the trio are the known quantities: The iPads. Under Geekbench, the iPad Air achieves single-core and multi-core scores of 1,112 and 2,875 respectively, thanks to its use of the A12 Bionic SoC.

Understandably, the A10 Fusion-equipped iPad will be slower, but its two-generations-older chip still manages to reach 759 for the single-core and 1,404 on the multi-core tests.

For the Surface Go 2, there are a few factors at play. For a start, there are two processors available: the Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y in the lower-specification model, and the Intel Core M3-8100Y. The former is a dual-core chip clocked at 1.7Ghz, while the latter is an 8th-generation dual-core chip with a base clock of 1.1GHz and a turbo-boosted speed of 3.4GHz.

Furthermore, Microsoft includes options for 4 gigabytes or 8 gigabytes of memory for the Pentium Gold configuration, rather than the three gigabytes used in the iPads, which in theory gives it an advantage. All variants with the Core M3 have 8 gigabytes of RAM.

Searches on Geekbench reveal the Pentium Gold-equipped version with 4GB of memory resides in the ballpark of 420 points for single-core testing and 970 for multi-core, far below both of the iPads. The Core M3 does better, at roughly 800 and 1,590 for single- and multi-core tests respectively.

In theory, this suggests the Pentium version performs worse than the 10.2-inch iPad. While the Core M3 just about beats it, the higher-specification model still falls far short of getting close to the iPad Air.

Cameras

Since these are tablets, the imaging capabilities of each will be quite important to potential customers. Luckily for Microsoft, it seems to have gone down the right route.

All three of the tablets have rear 8-megapixel cameras, which are capable of recording 1080p video. This is to be expected for a camera of this resolution, with Apple's iPad Pro range capable of the better 4K-resolution video recordings.

The rear camera in the Surface Go 2 keeps up with the iPad equivalents.
The rear camera in the Surface Go 2 keeps up with the iPad equivalents.


Around the front, the 10.2-inch iPad is limited by a 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera that can record 720p video, but the iPad Air's 7-megapixel version is capable of 1080p video capture.

Microsoft slots in between the two at 5 megapixels and 1080p video recording, but it also slips in a feature that the iPads don't have: facial recognition.

The included Windows Hello works with the front-facing webcam to provide face-based authentication, though it is probable that Face ID is more secure. For Apple users to gain Face ID instead of Touch ID, they would have to spend a lot of money to upgrade to the iPad Pro range.

Connectivity

On the wireless side, Microsoft edges out Apple slightly. Wi-Fi on the iPads offers 802.11ac support, whereas the Surface Go 2 boasts 802.11ax compatibility. The Surface also matches the iPad Air with having Bluetooth 5.0 support, while the iPad has Bluetooth 4.2.

In terms of physical connections, the iPads offer a Lightning port, a Smart Connector for attaching a keyboard accessory, and a headphone jack. On Microsoft's side, there's USB-C, a Surface Connect port for its accessories, the Surface Type Cover port, a MiroSDXC card reader, and a headphone jack.

The Surface Go 2 offers more connectivity options, but not by a significant amount.
The Surface Go 2 offers more connectivity options, but not by a significant amount.


LTE is also available as upgrades in both ecosystems, though only in the highest-specification model on Microsoft's side.

While it seems that Microsoft wins in terms of offering more ways for the Surface Go 2 to connect to other devices, it isn't by that much. With the Smart Connector and Surface Type Cover port serving roughly the same purpose, the only real differences are the inclusion of a Surface accessory-specific connector, the use of USB-C instead of Lightning, and a card reader.

It is also probable that those who care about inter-device connectivity will opt for a notebook or the Surface Book 3 to have extra options, leaving connectivity a relatively weak area for comparison at this price bracket.

Pricing

Unusually, for each model of tablet being compared, there are four different configuration options.

For the 10.2-inch iPad, the 32-gigabyte and 128-gigabyte capacities cost $329 and $429 respectively, while the upgrade from the Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi + Cellular brings each to $459 and $559. This makes LTE a $130 upgrade.

It is a similar story for the iPad Air, but at a higher price range of $499 for the 64GB model, $649 for the 256GB version. Again, LTE costs $130 more, making them $629 and $779.

The Surface Go 2's Pentium model is $399.99 equipped with 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage, rising to $549 for 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage. For the M3 with 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage, it is $629 without LTE, $729 with.

Adding a keyboard to each tablet is also possible, as a separate purchase. The Type Cover for the Surface Go 2 costs $129, while Apple's Smart Keyboard is $159.

Close, but not quite

Comparing Microsoft's latest effort against Apple's tablet range should be an even match, with Microsoft taking advantage of the iPad's design and specifications to come up with a tablet to beat its main rival. In reality, it's not a close-fought battle.

The signature kickstand is still in use in the Surface Go 2.
The signature kickstand is still in use in the Surface Go 2.


While Microsoft can be commended with trying to keep up with Apple in the tablet stakes, the Surface Go 2 simply cannot compete against the iPad and iPad Air. Despite having potentially more performance due to higher RAM quantities and the use of an 8th-gen Intel Core M3 processor, not even the highest-specification model is able to make much headway beyond a years-old Apple-designed chip in the iPad and pales against the iPad Air.

The display, a key component of the entire device, isn't as good as Apple's version. Sure, points are scored for connectivity, but it's not a major leap and bound beyond the iPads.

As for pricing, though Microsoft seemingly is matching Apple for comparable steps in capacity and ranges, the sheer underwhelming performance compared to the iPads makes the Surface Go 2 seem bad in terms of value.

It's even hard to justify the Surface Go 2 as an ideal Windows tablet, as it is supplied with Windows 10 in S Mode, a locked-down version that forces the use of apps only downloaded from the Microsoft Store.

Ultimately, while it is fair to say that Apple continues to have the upper hand in this particular case, credit does have to be given to Microsoft for trying to take on the iPad with a device that squeezes a lot into a very thin and small iPad-like profile. It's just not quite where it needs to be to become a viable opponent.
watto_cobra

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    mr lizardmr lizard Posts: 319member
    This is a strange comparison as it doesn’t mention software. The Surface Go comes with Windows, which is desktop PC software designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse pointer. As soon as you try to use the Surface as an actual tablet it becomes a terrible experience, with click targets far too small for fingers. You have to carefully peck through menus to make sure you don’t make an accidental selection. 

    The iPad comes with iPadOS which is designed to be used with your fingers. It also adds mouse pointing support for trackpads and mice; because the buttons and icons are built for touch, it’s easy to use either your fingers or a pointing device. 

    The Surface Go doesn’t make sense as a tablet. It’s a decent laptop though, but odd to compare it to an iPad. 
    edited May 2020 dewmemcdavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 11
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,560member
    mr lizard said:
    This is a strange comparison as it doesn’t mention software. The Surface Go comes with Windows, which is desktop PC software designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse pointer. As soon as you try to use the Surface as an actual tablet it becomes a terrible experience, with click targets far too small for fingers. You have to carefully peck through menus to make sure you don’t make an accidental selection. 

    The iPad comes with iPadOS which is designed to be used with your fingers. It also adds mouse pointing support for trackpads and mice; because the buttons and icons are built for touch, it’s easy to use either your fingers or a pointing device. 

    The Surface Go doesn’t make sense as a tablet. It’s a decent laptop though, but odd to compare it to an iPad. 
    The integrated Inking / stylus experience within Win10 is quite good actually.  I agree with respect to the multi-touch experience though. It isn't that great.
  • Reply 3 of 11
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,417member
    I very much appreciate that the reviewer compared the spec sheets and came to the obvious conclusion: unless you really need Windows, the Surface Go is much less computer for the same (or slightly more) money.

    Microsoft makes better Surface products that are more competitive than the Go, and charges for them accordingly. Turns out making actual quality hardware is expensive, who knew?
    headfull0winewatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 11
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,732member
    Bottom line? Only techies care about this stuff. Regular customers buy what they know and like, be it Apple or Microsoft. Corporate IT management still skews toward Windows and it’s why you see more Surfaces these days in the hands of big company types. At least that’s what I’m noticing in the real world.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 11
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,018member
    I found this review very helpful. I feel that these products are trying to attract a very similar buyer and are close enough in price and features to justify the direct comparison. I'd also like to know how much user-available storage is available with all three units with the base OS and built-in apps loaded. I can't imagine using a Windows 10 machine with only 64 GB of storage and even 128 GB sounds dicey. The OS itself is rather bloated, at least with Windows 10 Home and above, which I would require at a minimum. I guess it depends on what you're going to do with it. 

    Does Microsoft still provide a free upgrade to Windows 10 Home from the "S" version?

    The best direct comparison for a turnkey setup would be the iPad Air with the Logitech Combo Keyboard/trackpad and Apple Pencil 1 with the Surface Go 2 128 GB with keyboard/trackpad and stylus. The problem is, once you start adding on all that extra, but still essential, stuff the total price is starting to creep closer to MacBook Air territory and the MacBook Air is a better notebook computer than both the iPad Air and Surface Go 2.

    The saving grace for the iPad Air is that it is always a wonderful tablet computing experience with a plethora of great tablet-optimized apps. I've never found any of Microsoft's Surface products to provide anything better than an "acceptable in a pinch" tablet experience. I'd even go as far as saying that not including a keyboard/trackpad with all Surface "tablets" is non-defensible. It's not a nicety, it's required.

    I have no problems running the current generation MS Office 365 apps on the iPad with a keyboard/trackpad, so Office compatibility doesn't differentiate the competitors for me. YMMV. On the other hand, you could install a full version of Visual Studio on the Surface Go 2 if you really needed to, and if you could live with less-than-stellar performance. The iPad Air has no such option for XCode. Not yet, and maybe never. But that's what MacBooks are for.

    If I absolutely needed a portable Windows 10 device to run a specific set of Windows-only apps I still think I'd opt for a mid-range, non-Microsoft branded, traditional form factor notebook rather than the Surface Go 2. But the Go 2 still seems like a decent little machine that's fairly affordable compared to the Surface Pro lineup. 
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 6 of 11
    KITAKITA Posts: 382member
    It's even hard to justify the Surface Go 2 as an ideal Windows tablet, as it is supplied with Windows 10 in S Mode, a locked-down version that forces the use of apps only downloaded from the Microsoft Store.

    Ultimately, while it is fair to say that Apple continues to have the upper hand in this particular case, credit does have to be given to Microsoft for trying to take on the iPad with a device that squeezes a lot into a very thin and small iPad-like profile. It's just not quite where it needs to be to become a viable opponent.
    Malcolm, Windows 10 in S Mode is not what you're thinking of. S Mode can simply be switched off, they just happen to have it on by default.

    You also didn't bother discussing the key advantage the Surface Go 2 has over the iPad, the fact it's running full blown Windows 10 and can run anything you throw at it (as long as the core m3 meets the requirements)! It can run the full version of any application, you could even create light weight virtual machines or run Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL 2) with Microsoft's Linux kernel.

    At the end of the day, if you want a device for consumption and light workloads, the iPad is great. However, if you want a device of this size for productivity, the Surface Go 2 is without rival.
    dewmewilliamlondonjkr284
  • Reply 7 of 11
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,560member
    lkrupp said:
    Bottom line? Only techies care about this stuff. Regular customers buy what they know and like, be it Apple or Microsoft. Corporate IT management still skews toward Windows and it’s why you see more Surfaces these days in the hands of big company types. At least that’s what I’m noticing in the real world.
    I'm also seeing more Surface devices on college campus (Pre-COVID anyways)
    edited May 2020
  • Reply 8 of 11
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,695member
    One runs iPadOS, one runs Windows. That's all you need to know.
    planetary paul
  • Reply 9 of 11
    temperortemperor Posts: 56member
    IPads with LTE have GPS so you can use it to navigate, does the surface Go 2 has that? On the software front, in the past I would have hesitated and probably would have gotten both of them, one for games, AR and media consumption the other to create text and presentations ... Today however with iPadOS 13.4 I only use the iPad to do everything, mouse support transformed the iPad in the ultimate mobile device ... My laptops only get powered if all the iPads in the family are occupied ... enough said I guess.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 11
    psh_vtpsh_vt Posts: 1member
    First, a quick correction:

    The Surface Go 2 is not limited to Windows 10 in S mode -- it comes supplied with both versions. If you want full Windows, the setup takes only a few seconds.

    I have an iPad Pro 2017 and a Surface Go 2. I agree with other posts here that these are different kinds of devices. 

    I love iPads but they are very focused on being tablets. The majority of my computer work, though, requires desktop applications for programming, music production, multi-media production and so on. There are individual apps I love to use on the iPad, but it doesn't come close to replicating the larger application environment I use on a regular laptop. 

    The Surface Go 2 is a second computer for me, an ultraportable for travel. It doesn't equal my main computer in performance (of course) but it does a surprisingly good job running those desktop applications, and lets me get work done on them while travelling, something my iPad can't do.
    KITA
  • Reply 11 of 11
    jkr284jkr284 Posts: 1member
    temperor said:
    IPads with LTE have GPS so you can use it to navigate, does the surface Go 2 has that? On the software front, in the past I would have hesitated and probably would have gotten both of them, one for games, AR and media consumption the other to create text and presentations ... Today however with iPadOS 13.4 I only use the iPad to do everything, mouse support transformed the iPad in the ultimate mobile device ... My laptops only get powered if all the iPads in the family are occupied ... enough said I guess.
    Yes the Surface 2 with LTE has GPS so you can use it to navigate.
    The iPad OS is amazing, it's nearly there. It just doesn't have the pro apps/functionality I need in a mobile device compared to Windows 10 on A Surface Go 2.
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