Microsoft Surface Go vs. Apple iPad: Inexpensive Tablets ComparedJuly 10, 2018
Microsoft Surface Go
Microsoft Surface Go
Apple iPad (2018)
Apple iPad (2018)
Microsoft’s new Surface Go 2-in-1 tablet is an affordable, accessible way to jump into the Surface ecosystem. It doesn’t have the beefy performance of the Core i7-powered Surface Pro, but it’s half the price. Apple took a similar tack when it cut the price of its baseline iPad to $329 (and even further, to $299, for educators). Again, it’s no iPad Pro (and certainly no MacBook Air) in terms of power, but it’s much less expensive and therefore much more appealing for everyday users.
They’re different devices that come from families with very different audiences, but they’re facing down each other in the under-$400 tablet realm. If you’re looking for a flexible device with a big touch screen and a massive software library, and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a professional model, both the Surface Go and Apple iPad are worth considering. Here’s how they stack up against each other on some key aspects.
Tablet-to-tablet, the iPad is slightly slimmer and lighter than the Surface Go. Apple’s 9.4-by-6.6-inch tablet is just 0.29 inches thick and weighs a scant 1.05 pounds. The Surface Go, meanwhile, is a hair thicker at 0.33 inches thick, a bit larger in footprint at 9.6 by 7 inches, and weighs a tenth of a pound more (1.15 pounds).
Of course, cases and accessories make these minor differences in size and weight irrelevant. If you’re going to protect either tablet with a sleeve, or use any kind of keyboard case, your choice of accessory will make much more of a difference in bulk than the tablets’ measurements.
Software: Windows 10 vs. iOS
At heart, this is the biggest difference between the Surface Go and the iPad. They’re both 10-inch tablets with optional keyboards and stylus pens that let you use a lot of different productivity and entertainment apps, but one is from Microsoft while the other is from Apple. What that ultimately means: That’s two very different ecosystems, and in the case of the Surface Go, that’s more than one ecosystem.
The Surface Go ships with Windows 10 S, the scaled-down version of Windows 10 designed for tablets and education scenarios. It’s similar to Windows 10 Home in terms of design, but it’s limited to using apps from Microsoft’s Windows Store app store; you can’t readily get software from other sources. However, users can upgrade to Windows 10 Home for free and treat their Surface Go like a full Windows system. The drawback is that you can’t then revert to Windows 10 S later for the original pure-tablet experience. We’d recommend the upgrade, because full Windows is a lot more flexible than tablet-only Windows. There’s plenty of software on the Microsoft app store, but nowhere near the selection you’ll find from other sources of Windows software, or the Android or iOS app stores.
The iPad, of course, uses Apple’s iOS, the same OS used by the iPhone. That means using the iOS App Store, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary and features millions of apps of every kind. On one hand, that means a massive library of apps, games, streaming services, and more. On the other hand, unlike the Windows 10 Home upgrade on the Surface Go, there is no equivalent to getting access to full-fat macOS or OS X Mac software on the iPad. Your choices are limited to native iOS software. Still, at this point, that’s a ton of software for anyone, with nearly every major name for every major category offering a presence.
Display: PixelSense vs. Retina
Both tablets feature roughly 10-inch screens and are stylus-friendly, but Apple has the edge here in resolution, Microsoft in sheer size. The Surface Go boasts a 1,800-by-1,200 10.6-inch PixelSense display custom-built for the tablet, and it supports an optional pen accessory with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. The iPad’s 9.7-inch Retina display has a narrower aspect ratio and a higher resolution (2,048 by 1,536 pixels), and, as of 2018, supports the Apple Pencil stylus that was originally only compatible with the iPad Pro. That means, while the iPad’s screen is slightly smaller, it’s crisper, with a pixel density of 264ppi to the Surface Go’s 217ppi.
Processor: Pentium Gold vs. A10
The Surface Pro uses, in its base model, the Intel Core m3, and can be upgraded to laptop-grade CPUs up to a hefty mobile Core i7. That’s a lot of power in a tablet. The Surface Go uses the Pentium Gold 4415Y CPU, which, as a two-core Pentium processor, is a notable step down from a Core series chip. We won’t know exactly how they’ll stack up against the other Surface Pro tablets until we get the Surface Go into the lab for full testing, but we would expect modest performance.
The iPad, meanwhile, uses Apple’s A10 Fusion chip. It’s the same system-on-a-chip (SoC) that the iPhone 7 used, and it still offers impressive performance for a tablet. It’s a generation behind the A11 Bionic chip used on the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, though, so it does make compromises, as well. That said, we have put the current iPad through its paces, and have been pleased by its speed and power, considering its price.
RAM and Storage
Here, the extra $80 for the Surface Go pays off. The baseline Surface Go features 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard flash storage, twice as much as on the baseline $329 iPad (which comes with 2GB RAM, 32GB storage). The Surface Go also has a microSD card slot so you can expand storage, which Apple has never made possible on the iPad.
Having 2GB versus 4GB of RAM is not an apples-to-apples situation on iOS versus Windows 10, so we wouldn’t put much weight on that. But the storage expandability is a big deal.
Which Tablet Wins?
We won’t know just how well the Surface Go stacks up against any tablet until we put it through its paces in the lab. On paper, it’s an accessible device that should offer a strong experience considering its price. Our big question is how the Pentium Gold CPU fares against the Surface Pro’s Intel Core m3 or greater Core chips, as well as against the iPad’s A10 Fusion processors. Beyond that, the iPad has an edge in display specs, while the Surface Go’s ability to use Windows 10 Home gives it an advantage in ecosystem for those loyal to Windows 10.
Ultimately, though, the question between them is the same question as “PC versus Mac” or “Android versus iPhone.” These are two similar tablets that enable you to do similar things, but they work on very different design and feature philosophies. We’ll get a better sense of how they compare when the Surface Go crosses our test bench.
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