Is the Microsoft Surface Pro or Surface Go right for you?

A decent number of manufacturers have released Windows tablets over the last decade, most in the form of detachable two-in-one laptops. Only one family of tablet PCs has survived throughout that time and continues to offer updated releases with impressive performance.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, that family is the Microsoft Surface lineup. Since Microsoft is responsible for the ubiquitous Windows operating system, it makes sense that their in-house designed laptops run it so efficiently.

There are currently two active members of the Surface lineup, the Surface Pro and Surface Go. While at first glance they look just like small and large versions of the same tablet, in many ways, they couldn’t be more different. Either one is worth considering, depending on your needs, although there’s another Windows tablet that also deserves a look, the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable.

What is the Microsoft Surface Pro?

It takes the form of a tablet, but make no mistake — the Surface Pro 8 is a full-featured laptop packed with powerful hardware. It’s built to meet the requirements of the Intel Evo certification, which designates modern laptops with a certain level of power, convenience, connectivity and usability.

What are the Intel Evo requirements?

It’s a relatively strict standard to adhere to, which makes it a good barometer of how efficient and easy to use a laptop is. The Surface Pro earns the Intel Evo badge, but the Surface Go does not.

  • 11th-generation or newer Intel central processing unit: Starting with the Tiger Lake family, Intel CPUs took a big step forward in terms of power and heat efficiency. Having a recent model ensures peak performance and minimal battery drain.
  • Respectable system memory and storage: Intel Evo laptops must have at least 8 gigabytes of RAM and 256 GB of solid-state storage.
  • Large screen and slim body: The standard calls for a 12- to 15-inch Full HD display with slim bezels. Either a tablet form factor or ultra-thin and light clamshell fit the bill.
  • All-day battery life with fast charging: Intel calls for nine hours of real-world battery life and four hours of added battery life in the first 30 minutes of charging.
  • Advanced connectivity options: USB-C charging, Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6 are all required.
  • Fast and convenient login: Biometric security must be offered, and the laptop must wake from sleep in one second or less.
  • Fanless or nearly fanless design: For noise purposes, Evo laptops must have no fans larger than 15 millimeters.

Microsoft Surface Pro benefits

There are a few important ways the Surface Pro stands out among Windows tablets.

  • Above-average battery life: For the first time in the lineup’s history, the Surface Pro 8 just barely ekes out an all-day battery life, but only under the right conditions. You’ll have to keep the brightness down and possibly the Windows battery saver option on for it to run for more than about seven hours on a regular basis.
  • Impressive performance for a tablet: Its high-efficiency Intel Tiger Lake CPU does an excellent job of performing all kinds of resource-intensive tasks. At the same time, it doesn’t draw a ton of power or generate a huge amount of waste heat.
  • Top-of-the-line display: The screen’s resolution, color volume, color accuracy and consistency from edge-to-edge rival even some of the most high-end clamshell laptops. For example, if you’re comfortable with the relatively small screen, it’s one of the most portable options suitable for photo editing.

Microsoft Surface Pro drawbacks

  • The battery isn’t perfect: While it’s better than ever, the battery is still susceptible to running out fast. If you keep the screen at peak brightness or frequently use a lot of resource-intensive programs without plugging it into the wall, you’ll find yourself out of battery before the day’s up.
  • It’s relatively expensive: It costs a lot compared to clamshell laptops with similar specs. You’re paying a premium for its high-end display panel and unrivaled portability.
  • Accessories are not included: It’s a bit frustrating that you will have to purchase the keyboard and stylus separately.
  • Not suitable for advanced gaming: There are no versions of the Surface Pro that offer the kind of performance needed for modern 3D games.

What is the Microsoft Surface Go?

In short, the Microsoft Surface Go is the smallest and most portable tablet that you can rely on running Windows dependably. It doesn’t have the firepower for most resource-intensive tasks, and even some multitasking can slow it down. But, if you need to take notes in class, entertain yourself during a commute or put together the ultimate minimalist digital nomad setup, it’s worth a look.

Microsoft Surface Go pros

  • It’s compact: There aren’t any smaller tablets that can run Windows so smoothly. Microsoft, after all, knows exactly what the operating system needs to run properly and can outfit their most efficient tablet with the bare minimum in hardware required for a good experience.
  • It’s affordable: For that matter, there aren’t even a ton of cheaper laptops that work so well.
  • There’s an optional 4G LTE model: For the ultimate in portability, consider the LTE-enabled Surface Go, which keeps you connected whenever you have cell service.

Microsoft Surface Go cons

  • Subpar battery life: There isn’t anywhere inside the Surface Go to put a large battery. It will struggle to last most of the day without plugging into the wall.
  • Limited performance: The Surface Go has limited hardware options in terms of CPU, memory and storage. Furthermore, the components’ performance is further held back by the tablet’s size and heat dissipation constraints.

To minimize the performance issue, the Surface Go ships with Windows 11 in S Mode. S Mode limits the programs you can install and the settings you can tweak. This delivers an especially secure experience that’s light on resources and keeps you from noticing that the components are a bit underpowered.

Should you buy a Microsoft Surface tablet?

If you value display quality and convenience in a highly portable and full-featured laptop, the Surface Pro 8 is definitely worth a look.

What you need to buy for the Microsoft Surface

Surface Pro Signature Keyboard

Surface Pro Signature Keyboard

It’s arguably the best two-in-one keyboard available, with a surprisingly good typing experience. However, it’s also pretty costly.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with Fingerprint Reader

Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with Fingerprint Reader

It’s identical to the standard keyboard but sports a fingerprint reader that confers complete Intel Evo certification on the Surface Pro 8.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Surface Go Keyboard

Surface Go Keyboard

Though not as premium as the Surface Pro type cover, it’s still a touch better than most other laptop keyboards.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Fintie Rechargeable Surface Go Keyboard

Fintie Rechargeable Surface Go Keyboard

Keyboards use up a surprising amount of a detachable laptop’s battery power, and the Fintie’s internal battery helps to take some of that load off the tablet itself. The drawbacks are that it’s slightly thicker and heavier than the official model.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

The best Surface Pro alternative

Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable

Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable

This highly capable tablet is the first in a while to rival the Surface Pro series. If you want peak performance plus portability and aren’t concerned with ultra-high resolution or near-perfect color accuracy, take a good look at the X12 Detachable.  

Where to buy: Sold by Lenovo and Amazon

 

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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