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Microsoft Surface Go 2 vs. Apple iPad: Which sub-$400 tablet Is best?

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft is heading into round two of its vision to disrupt the affordable tablet market by overthrowing the resolute Apple iPad with its new Surface Go 2, a $399 detachable 2-in-1. 

Compared with the previous model, the Surface Go 2 has a larger display, thinner display bezels and (hopefully) longer battery life. Everything else we liked about the original tablet remains, including its sleek magnesium design and an IR camera for easy Windows Hello login.

This puts the Surface Go 2 in a good place to compete against the iPad, which remains our favorite tablet for folks wanting to save some cash. While it's been around for several months, the latest iPad is a killer deal for fans of Apple products or anyone who wants a portable solution for consuming media.

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.

Surface Go 2 vs iPad: Design and ports

The Surface Go 2 and the iPad aren't visual showstoppers, but their conservative designs offer premium materials for the price.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

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 2 is made of magnesium but looks almost identical from the front (minus the Touch ID button). The main difference is on the rear where a kickstand rotates 165 degrees, letting you prop up the tablet when it's on a flat surface. 

The biggest advantage of the Surface Go 2 is that Microsoft increased the display size without changing its dimensions. As a result, the Go 2 has thinner display bezels than before, and it makes the iPad look like it's wearing thick-rimmed glasses.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

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. 

The iPad comes in Silver, Gold and Space Gray, while the Surface Go comes in only Silver. However, the Go 2's optional Type Cover keyboard comes in Platinum, Black, Poppy Red and Ice Blue. 

When it comes to ports, the Surface Go 2 has a USB-C input, a Surface Connect port and a microSD card slot, whereas the iPad includes only a Lightning connector and a headphone jack.

Winner: Surface Go 2. The iPad is thinner and comes in different colors, but the Surface Go 2's kickstand, thin display bezels and extra ports make it the more practical and modern of these two utilitarian devices.

iPad vs Surface Go 2: Specs

Microsoft Surface Go 2Apple iPad
Starting price$399$329
ProcessorsIntel Pentium Gold 4425Y/Core m3-8100YApple A10 Fusion
Display10.5 inches (1920 x 1280 pixels)10.2 inches (2160 x 1620 pixels)
Battery Life10 hours (estimated)11:58
RAM4GB or 8GB3GB
Weight with keyboard1.2 pounds1.1 pounds
Size9.6 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches9.8 x 6.8 x 0.3 inches
PortsUSB-C, headphone, Surface ConnectLightning, headphone jack

The iPad and Surface Go 2 are closely matched on the specs sheet. The Surface Go 2 has a slightly larger 10.5-inch, 1920 x 1280 touch screen display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is great for web browsing or writing documents.

The latest iPad also increased the size of its screen to a 10.2-inch, 2160 x 1620-pixel touch panel. We were really happy with the quality of the screen in our testing. It reproduced 105% of the sRGB color gamut and hit 450 nits of brightness. 

Under the hood, the base Surface Go 2 runs on an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor and comes with either 4GB or 8GB of RAM. If you want more power, you can now opt for an Intel Core m3-8100Y CPU. Storage is either a 64GB eMMC or a 128GB SSD.

The iPad is powered by Apple's A10 Fusion chip but packs only 3GB of RAM. Storage starts at just 32GB and maxes out at 128GB. 

The iPad has an 8-megapixel rear camera and 1.2-megapixel front-facing lens. The Surface Go 2 does one better with an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel selfie cam.

Winner: Draw. With similar specs, we'll need to wait for our performance lab tests to declare a winner. 

iPad vs Surface Go 2: Keyboard and stylus

Whichever device you choose, you'll need to pay extra for an attachable keyboard and stylus. With the Surface Go 2, you have two Microsoft-branded keyboard options: a standard black Type Cover and a Signature version 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.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Apple finally added support for the official Smart Keyboard Cover with the latest iPad. Unfortunately, it's not the most comfortable to type on and it still doesn't have a touchpad for cursor support. It also costs more than the Surface Type Cover.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Regarding pricing, Surface owners will save a bit of cash. The standard Surface Go 2 Type Cover and Surface Pen cost $100 each while the Signature Type Cover with Alcantara fabric is $130. 

The Smart Keyboard Cover for the iPad goes for $159 while the Apple Pencil costs $100. 

Winner: Surface Go 2. Microsoft's Type Cover keyboards include a touchpad and cost less. They're also more comfortable to type on.

iPad vs Surface Go 2: Battery life

Until our Surface Go 2 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 11 hours and 58 minutes in our battery test, which replicates continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Surface Go 2, on the other hand, is rated at 10 hours of battery life. That's not bad, but it's already lower than what the iPad achieved. We'll have to wait until the Surface Go 2 hits our labs to see if it can reach (or exceed) Microsoft's claimed runtime.

Winner: iPad. The iPad already beat out the Surface Go 2's promised 10 hours of battery life. 

iPad vs Surface Go 2: Value

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 starts at $399 and comes with an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. For $549, you can double the memory to 8GB and storage to a 128GB SSD. New to the Surface Go 2 is a premium $629 config with an Intel Core m3-8100Y CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.

The iPad costs even less, at $329, but it has only 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM. For $429, Apple matches the Surface Go's max storage of 128GB. Unfortunately, there is no in-between 64GB option.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

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

Winner: 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 2.

Bottom Line

The Surface Go 2 has a better selection of ports, a more modern design and a larger display. It also supports some appealing accessories, including a detachable keyboard with a touchpad. These perks make the Surface Go 2 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 iPadOS and its bottomless catalog of mobile apps.

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