Microsoft Surface Go vs. Apple iPad: Which Sub-$400 Tablet Is Best?

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Microsoft wants to disrupt the affordable tablet market by overthrowing the resolute Apple iPad with its new Surface Go, a $399 detachable 2-in-1.

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Both devices are very lightweight, have excellent displays and are about the same size. So, which low-priced tablet is the one to get? Let's see how they compare.

  Microsoft Surface Go Apple iPad 9.7
Starting price/with keyboard and pen $399/$599 $329/$528 (Logitech keyboard)
Processors Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y Apple A10 Fusion
Display 10 inches (1800 x 1200 pixels) 9.7 inches (2048 x 1536 pixels)
Battery Life 9 hours (estimated) 10:07
RAM 4GB, 8GB 2GB
Weight with keyboard 1.1 pounds 1.1 pounds
Thickness 0.33 inches 0.29 inches
Ports USB-C, headphone, Surface Connect Lightning, headphone jack

Design

The Microsoft Surface Go and the Apple iPad aren't visual showstoppers, but their conservative designs offer premium materials for the price.

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The iPad's design hasn't changed much over the years. It's still a lightweight aluminum slab with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor under the display. The boxier Surface Go looks almost identical from the front, but its kickstand lets you prop up the display 165 degrees. The Surface Go has a USB-C input, a Surface Connect port and a microSD card slot, whereas the iPad includes only a headphone jack. The iPad comes in silver, gold and space gray, while the Surface Go comes in only silver. 

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Unfortunately, both the iPad and Surface Go's displays are lined by thick black borders, making them appear antiquated compared with the increasingly slim bezels of most modern gadgets.

When it comes to portability, the iPad wins by a fraction. While both tablets are about the same weight, the iPad is 0.04 inches thinner. 

Verdict: The iPad is thinner and comes in different colors, but the Surface Go's kickstand and extra ports make it the more practical of these two utilitarian devices.

Specs 

The iPad and Surface Go are closely matched on the specs sheet. The Surface Go has a slightly larger 10-inch display, but its 1800 x 1200 resolution lags behind the 9.7-inch iPad's 2048 x 1536 pixel count.

Under the hood, the Surface Go runs on an Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y processor and comes with either 4GB or 8GB of RAM. The iPad is powered by Apple's A10 Fusion chip but  packs only 2GB of RAM. Storage maxes out at 128GB on both devices. 

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The iPad has an 8-megapixel rear camera and 1.2-megapixel front-facing lens. The Surface Go does one better with an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel selfie cam.

Verdict: Draw. With almost identical display specs, we'll need to wait for our performance lab tests to declare a winner. 

Keyboard & Pen Options

Whichever device you choose, you'll need to pay extra for an attachable keyboard and stylus. With the Surface Go, you have two Microsoft-branded keyboard options: a standard black version and one with colorful Alcantara fabric. Both backlit keyboards include a touchpad. If you prefer to use a stylus instead of your fingers, Microsoft offers the Surface Pen in four different colors.

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There is no official Apple keyboard for the latest iPad, so you'll need to opt for Logitech's keyboard case, which doesn't include a touchpad. Apple does sell its own stylus — the stylish Apple Pencil.

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Regarding pricing, these accessories are identical. The standard Surface Go Type Cover and Surface Pen cost $100 each. The Logitech keyboard for the iPad and the Apple Pencil also cost $100 each. The Surface Go's Signature type cover in Alcantara goes for $130.

Verdict: Microsoft's two keyboards include a touchpad, unlike Apple's Logitech-branded option.

Battery Life 

Until our battery life test scores come in, we can't declare a definitive winner, but everything we know suggests the iPad is the longer-lasting device. Apple's tablet stayed powered for an impressive 10 hours and 7 minutes in our battery test, which replicates continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness.

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The Surface Go, on the other hand, is rated at 9 hours of battery life. That's not bad, but it's already lower than the iPad's. We'll have to wait until the Surface Go hits our labs to see if it can reach (or exceed) Microsoft's claimed runtime.

Verdict: The iPad already beat out the Surface Go's promised 9 hours of battery life. 

Value

The Microsoft Surface Go starts at $399 and comes with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. For $549, you can double the storage and memory. The iPad costs even less at $329 but it  has only 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM. For $439, Apple matches the Surface Go's maximum storage of 128GB.

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Factor in an optional $99 keyboard and $99 stylus and the iPad and Surface Go become significantly more expensive.

Verdict: Draw. The iPad is less expensive no matter how you cut it, but the base option offers half the storage of the $399 Surface Go.

Operating System

The iPad and Surface Go offer very different experiences. The iPad runs iOS 11, the mobile operating system you find on iPhones, but with some additional features, like split-screen multitasking. iOS 11 is an easy-to-use operating system that's great for consuming media and running everyday tasks, like email, mobile gaming or browsing the web.

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The Surface Go runs Windows 10 S, with a free upgrade to Windows 10. The operating system gives you a full desktop experience that's great for business users or students who use more intensive programs.

Verdict: Choosing between iOS 11 and Windows 10 depends on your needs. If you want a simple interface and mobile apps, go with the iPad. If you plan on downloading more robust applications and want a keyboard with a touchpad, the Surface Go is your best bet. 

Bottom Line

The Surface Go has a better selection of ports, a more flexible design and a free upgrade to Windows 10. It also supports some appealing accessories, including a detachable keyboard with a touchpad. These perks make the Surface Go the better option for work and productivity.

The iPad is the better choice for casual users wanting to check their email, play games and browse the web. Not only is it less expensive, but you get the simplicity of iOS 11 and its bottomless catalog of mobile apps.

Ultimately, both tablets are excellent budget choices that serve different needs.

Credit: Laptop Mag

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1 comment
  • Rocwurst Says:

    Microsoft is definitely not going to be stealing Apple's tablet crown any time soon. With 44 million iPads sold last year compared to sales of only a few million Surface devices and stagnant growth year on year, it’s no surprise that analysts like Canalys are predicting Microsoft will exit hardware in 2019.

    As far as the mobile Pentium CPU in this cheap Surface tablet is concerned, it’s pretty anaemic competition with a Geekbench score of only 2,050 (3,946 multi-core) compared to 3,462 (5,887 multi-core) for the powerhouse A10 Fusion SoC in the base model iPad let alone the iPad Pro with a multi-core score of around 10,000.

    You seem to think that 4GBs of RAM is good for the Surface Go, but you do realise it has to struggle under the full load of the Desktop Windows 10 OS? This is not going to be a Photoshop/Video Editing machine by any stretch of the imagination.

    And it doesn’t have a Fingerprint reader. How primitive in this day and age of TouchID iOS devices. And no GPS on the Surface Go - what?!

    Compare this to the slim, tablet-optimised iOS on the iPad with it’s million+ multi-touch optimised apps capable of live editing 4K video streams and there is just no comparison.

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