The Surface Pro 3 I bought in December is working well, but the specific SKU I own is limited mainly by the 4GB non-expandable RAM. As I stated in my original post, I was using it as a low-investment test of how practical this form factor is as a primary mobile computing device, and I’ve been mulling an upgrade. The problem is, the upgrade I would want is the Surface Pro 7, which is a >$1000 expense that’s really not justifiable right now.
The other day, I was drifting around in Super Mega Replay and happened to notice this Surface Go sitting in the “expensive electronics” cabinet. (Super Mega Replay is sort of a little slice of Akibahara transplanted into the Midwest – they have loads of retro gaming equipment and software, as well as movies and game/movie-related tchotchkes. It’s all stuff I don’t need to own, but it’s close to home and browsing it is fun). Peeking round the back I saw that this is model 1824, which is 8GB RAM / 128GB SSD. This is rather a big deal because the models with 64GB storage have eMMC storage, which is significantly slower than the SSD model. $249 is a lower price than I can find on eBay for this SKU, and it has most if not all of the enhancements I want over the old Surface Pro 3, so I went home and slept on it. In the morning, I decided to go back and grab it for next week’s trip to Europe; I figure can flip it on eBay afterwards and get my money back.
While in the car on the way home, I ordered a Surface Pen and the Type Cover for the unit. (No, I wasn’t driving). There are four Type Covers available; one basic model in black, and three high-end Alcantara models in various colors at $85 each. The Surface Pen is $36-$99 depending on model, and every single review you’ll read of the Surface line complains about the fact that the keyboard, at least, is an essential accessory that should be in the box.
Round about then, I decided to actually open the box (which was all pretty filthy, by the way – both the tablet and the box needed a solid rubbing with alcohol). To my delight I discovered that the basic Type Cover and the fourth-gen Surface Pen, in burgundy, were included! (Cue rapid cancellation of Amazon order). This makes the purchase an even better value, roughly $100 better than what I’d expect to pay on eBay for the same combination of tablet SKU and accessories. Note that the fourth-gen Surface Pen is also significantly better than the first-gen, because it uses only a single AAAA battery for all functions. The older pen used an AAAA for the stylus portion and two type 319 watch cells for the Bluetooth button on the back.
Speaking of batteries, the other feature the Surface Go has over the Pro 3 is that it has a USB-C port, which can be used either to attach peripherals, or for charging. (It also has the same proprietary Surface Port so it can share chargers with the Pro). According to the Internet, the Go will also charge, albeit slowly, from non-USB-C-PD chargers and battery banks, which is what I really wanted; the ability to eke out a little more field work by attaching my 15000mAh power bank. Having to use a USB-C to type-A adapter to attach other peripherals is a small price to pay.
Using advanced data compression techniques I transferred all my data across from the Pro 3 to the Go – most of which was simply moving my 128GB SDXC card from machine to machine. The one piece I can never remember about this operation is how to migrate Thunderbird profiles; it’s always a voyage of experimentation. But now I’m 100% migrated, the Pro 3 is reset and I’m typing this on the Go, in fact.
The keyboard is even more netbook-like than the Pro’s, of course. This is not just because it’s smaller (though that’s probably the biggest factor), but also because the keys have a rubber-dome-switch feel to them. Time will tell if this is something I can get used to or not. My typing speed is pretty much where it always is, but longterm comfort is something I can only determine through longterm usage. I will say that the key travel is surprisingly deep, which considerably raises my overall rating for the typing feel.
I’ve done a couple of hours playing in the Arduino IDE, and some Slack and Facebook – and LibreOffice – and the machine is definitely very responsive and a significant upgrade from the Surface Pro 3 in this regard. The smaller screen is noticeable but not irksome. The pen, which I’ve tested in OneNote, is very much more usable than it was on the Pro 3 – but again, this assumes you’re in the Office 365 world, which I am not. Also “more usable” does not imply “useful”.
Windows Hello face recognition is also fun, if gimmicky – I can see it being useful, for instance, when I’m in flight, with the keyboard folded back in tablet mode, and want to unlock the tablet rapidly. While the Surface Go is clearly intended to compete with the iPad, I have to say that Microsoft’s onscreen keyboard is ludicrously cumbersome and ineffective compared to Apple’s. Typing anything on a Windows tablet without a keyboard is a chore; on an iPad, it’s easily possible to reach a decent typing speed with a fair error rate. (I am aiming this comment at low-input activities like Slack or Facebook, by the way – please don’t interpret it as me endorsing the iPad as a productivity solution).
I have a few Steam games installed (as you can see from Half-Life: Blue Shift above), and we’ll see how this little beast keeps me entertained on the road to Zürich Wednesday.