Of all the low-cost tablets out there, the new Surface Go has its eye squarely focused on the Apple’s iPad.
Both touchscreen mobile devices have decent internal hardware, great screens, and are lightweight and portable. But which is best? To answer that question, we pitted the $399 Surface Go against the $329 iPad in a classic head-to-head comparison.
Note: $399 version of the Surface Go is currently out of stock on Microsoft. Whether it will be renewed, or if Microsoft is waiting to replace it with the upcoming Surface Go 2, is uncertain. However, the $550 version remains available.
The 2019 Apple iPad sports what is, at this point, the classic iPad design. It looks near indiscernible from its predecessors and while that isn’t a bad thing, this does mean it sports relatively chunky bezels compared to most of its contemporaries. The Surface Go isn’t much trimmer around the edges though. The overall look and feel of both devices is premium, but not the most cutting edge in terms of design. They feel sturdy and solid in the hand, though the iPad is a little lighter.
When it comes to external connections, the Surface Go offers a USB-C port, a headphone jack, a Surface Connect port, a MicroSDXC card reader, and a Surface Type Cover Port. The iPad is much more restricted in its connectivity options, with just a headphone jack and a Lightning port. Both the Surface Go and the iPad require an adapter if you have USB-A devices you want to connect.
The software on both systems is where the real differences play out. At WWDC 2019, Apple introduced iPadOS, a brand-new operating system that’s based on iOS but designed specifically for the iPad. We’ve given it a spin and have have been pretty impressed with what Apple’s done to build in features that really make use of the iPad’s form and use cases.
However, the Surface Go runs a full Windows 10 installation. Although it defaults to Windows 10 S — thereby restricting users to Microsoft Store apps only — you can run a full Windows 10 install on there with a few clicks. That expansive support for applications outside Microsoft’s closed garden gives the Surface Go an advantage over the iPad in that respect. It is clear from our time with the Microsoft tablet, though, that Windows 10 is still better suited to keyboard and mouse over touch control. While you can get the full Windows experience, its tablet mode is lacking some key functionality that you’ll find on the iPad, and is nowhere near as intuitive.
Both devices have optional keyboards to give you a more comfortable input method, but neither are particularly great compared to a proper desktop keyboard. The iPad also has very limited mouse control — while you can control iPadOS with a mouse, it’s a shadow of the desktop experience.
One of the most important aspects of any tablet is the display, and both the iPad and Surface Go have great-looking touchscreen panels. The Apple tablet sports a 2,160 x 1,620 Retina screen that looks sharp and has good coloring. It’s not quite as black as we’d like, but for less than $330 for the base model, it’s an impressive display. The Surface Go has a lower-resolution screen at 1,800 x 1,200 with a noticeably reduced pixel density (264.7 vs. 216.3 pixels per inch), but it still looks good in the 10-inch form factor.
Underneath their glossy surfaces, the two tablets offer quite different hardware suites. The iPad sports Apple’s own A10 Fusion core, with an embedded M10 coprocessor. It pairs that with 2GB of RAM and a choice of 32GB or 128GB of on board flash storage space. The Surface Go packs one of Intel’s dual-core (with hyperthreading) Pentium Gold 4415Y processors with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There are options however, for up to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. On paper that should give it significant memory bandwidth advantages over the iPad. However, in our testing the iPad performed around twice as quickly in the Speedometer 2.0 benchmark, which simulates web app responsiveness.
The biggest differentiator between the two is in graphics performance. While the Pentium chip does have Intel’s HD 615 graphics chip, that doesn’t give it the ability to do much beyond handle very light 3D-rendering apps like Powerpoint. While the iPad is hardly built for serious gaming, it’s much more capable of handling anything you can throw it from the App Store.
The iPad is also available with full LTE connectivity. While that isn’t quite yet a possibility with the Surface Go, we’re told it will be in the future.
At 1.07 pounds (or 1.09 pounds for the cellular model), the iPad comes in a shade lighter than the Surface Go, which weighs 1.15 pounds, or 1.17 pounds for the 4G version. It’s also a little more compact, although the two devices are very similar in terms of footprint.
Battery life was another close affair. Apple claims up to ten hours of general usage for full charges and we found that played out in our testing. However, it only last four hours and 35 minutes in our video test. Meanwhile, the Surface Go will only last you four or five hours in productivity, depending on your use case, yet it lasted around eight hours in our video loop test.
Still, general use is a better gauge of battery life than a continuous video loop, and the iPad will last you much longer in day-to-day usage.
Both devices are also compatible with styluses like the Surface Pen and Apple Pencil for on-the-go work.
The iPad knows its strengths
Microsoft’s Surface range has grown from strength to strength over the years, giving us some fantastic hardware like the Surface Book 2 and the Surface Pro X. While the Surface Go makes a valiant attempt to resurrect the low-cost, convertible tablet part of that range, it doesn’t do it well enough to supplant its main rival. Apple’s iPad has a lower base cost, a higher-resolution display, a better battery, and more impressive graphical chops. While the Surface Go might have greater productivity features with its option for a full Windows 10 operating system, that’s not what the average person usually wants to sacrifice for better accessibility.
The Surface Go is a worthy contender to the iPad’s entry-level crown, but it falls short of its classic rival.
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