Microsoft's new Surface Go lets you work well on a budget

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Tech Review: Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft's laptops and pro-level tablet hybrids have always been fairly highly regarded, but have also been priced at Apple levels. Now the company has come up with a decent, viable portable laptop hybrid at a much more accessible price.

In a nutshell, the Surface Go is no cheap piece of tat.

In the brief time (a week) I had it, I found it to be a very usable miniature work device.

So if you're looking for an ultra-portable Windows laptop that doesn't need lots of power, this is certainly worth considering. One proviso: the model I tested is the upper-end device, priced at €719 with the keyboard cover, or €619 without the keyboard cover.

This is important to note, as this version is significantly more capable than the entry-level €559 (with keyboard) model. It has twice the Ram memory (8GB), twice the storage (128GB, which should be the minimum for any laptop) and that storage is 'faster to access than the 64GB on the lower-priced model. Like its Surface Pro stablemates, the Surface Go is a touchscreen Windows 10 laptop that comes without a keyboard. For work stuff, you'll clearly need the latter piece of kit, which costs €99.

From a design perspective, Microsoft has mostly gotten it right. It's simple and elegant, with a very effective (and variable) kickstand.

From a physical standpoint, it has only two negative points. The bezel on it is a little wide, making it reminiscent of older tablets. (The trend these days is toward all-screen devices.) And it is also quite fat. It's almost twice as thick as my (slightly bigger) iPad Pro, making it a little heavier.

However, this is a budget device. And neither of these design issues impact its ability to fit into the exact same pouches or bag pockets that my iPad Pro currently occupies. So neither is a practical impediment to getting this machine.

The 10-inch screen is very impressive for a device in this price range. We watched a Netflix movie on this and it looked great, with totally adequate speaker audio. To my surprise, the Surface Pro's power turned out to be fine. It uses a lower-tier chip, Intel's 'Pentium Gold' processor, than the 'Core' i3 or i5 chips you usually see in laptops. Normally I'm wary of compromising on the chip as it can be a crucial engine room resource. However, I was able to flip through apps and functions in a pretty zippy manner.

The only place I noticed a possible lag in power was in screen latency: it seemed just a tad slower than I'm used to when scrolling through documents or web pages. On the other hand, it was never enough to really interfere with anything I was doing: I've experienced much worse.

The attachable keyboard (€99) was good and well worth getting. The touchpad (to control the cursor) is just the right size, generously proportioned in the context of the keyboard size. I might have preferred slightly larger keys, even at the expense of a smaller touchpad, but I have no complaints, except for one small niggle in that it doesn't fully work with Google Docs.

This keyboard is also very competitively priced when you look at what an iPad Pro keyboard (€179) costs or third-party devices from Logitech and Zagg.

Battery life came in at around six hours per charge. One minor niggle for me is that Microsoft has gone with its own proprietary charger (and connection) for the Surface Go, when others are widely adopting USB-C (or 'Thunderbolt') as an interchangeable standard.

Microsoft says that you can also charge the machine via its own USB-C port, but this just didn't work with the USB-C chargers and cables I tried it with.

One final observation is that the Surface Go, out of the box, uses Microsoft's 'S' mode, a straitened version of Windows 10 that doesn't allow you to use apps outside the Windows Store. A lot of people dislike this, although it didn't bother me. In any case, you can switch this mode off.

Overall, this is a hit from Microsoft. It's a decent portable laptop on a budget