I was very lucky to have the opportunity to play with the new Surface Go this weekend. I have been looking forward to testing out this new offering from Microsoft. It has been my hope that this device would present a good option for the education market, particularly for the Primary years of schooling.
Part of my current role involves looking at age appropriate devices to recommend for the BYOD program. There is a need to find a good balance between price and performance when it comes to devices for school. For me, certain functions are very important such as a touch screen and the ability to digitally ink with a connected stylus. A keyboard or the ability to add a keyboard is essential. As much as I think touch screen keyboards are cool, they are a pain when you are getting down to some serious school-work and with NAPLAN writing tests going digital, just flat out necessary. Finally, size plays an important part. It is not good seeing little people hefting about giant laptops and school backpacks tend to be heavy enough without adding unnecessary tech weight.
Basic Tech Specs
For the spec curious out there, the Surface Go basic technical information is as follows:
The pictures below compare the size of the Surface Go to my Surface Pro and a 9.7 inch iPad Pro.
The Surface Go feels a little more rounded compared to the Surface Pro, but is pretty much a miniature version in appearance, which is reminiscent of the Surface 3. The keyboard is naturally a lot more condensed but still very satisfying to type on. The trackpad actually felt nicer than my Surface Pro - but this may be due to wear and tear on my current device. For anyone who is familiar with the Surface 3 from a few years back, this is a much more refined build. The kickstand could sit at any angle unlike the old Surface 3, which snapped into only certain positions. I pushed it right down flat and put some pressure on it - the hinges are strong and have enough give to allow this, which is good for kids who like to play rough. I would still argue protective case is 100% necessary despite the Corning Gorilla glass screen. This is not as rugged as some other devices pitched at education.
The Surface Pen experience was equal to that on my Surface Pro, which I generally find excellent. Surface Pen magnetises firmly to the side of the device unlike the Apple Pencil on an iPad. This is a small but impactful feature because, let's face it, kids lose things. I was a little sad to see that there was no USB port on the Surface Go. While I cannot say that I use it very much, it always offered a good alternative in an emergency. Admittedly, as we continue to work in more online environments and students become more skilled with cloud storage, this will be less of an issue.
I toyed with Office 365 on the Surface Go and everything performed beautifully. Even working in Paint 3D appeared on par with my Surface Pro. Nothing puts a machine through its paces like a bit of gaming, so I fired up Minecraft Education Edition. It performed well on the device but I would be curious to see how it handles being on a class server with 30 other students. The Pentel Gold chip has been a topic of much debate online, but I wasn't able to kill it during my weekend test.
At the end of the day...
When you compare Surface Go with an iPad (which was its intended competition), there are a few key differences. The first being price. I was a little disappointed when I heard the Australian pricing for the 128GB Surface Go model (I wouldn't even consider the 64GB model). I had high hopes it would be a real competitor against the iPad and offer a great first computer for my students. The new iPad is cheaper - by a lot. When comparing like devices in both iPad and Surface Go on the consumer websites, the 128GB iPad comes in at $599AUD, while the 128GB Surface Go comes in at $839AUD. When you then add stylus, keyboards and protective cases to these devices, it adds up. Naturally, education pricing is available for both through their respective stores, but it is a big investment for families either way you look at it. It comes down to bang for buck, which leads to my next point...
The second major consideration is operating system. Surface Go does run a full Windows 10 operating system which is loaded with some amazing tools that are great for learners, including Paint 3D, the deceptively capable Photos app and the Mixed Reality Viewer. The popular Microsoft Office suite is more feature heavy at home in Windows and offers more to students with learning needs. If your school or institution leverage and Office 365 environment, its a no brainer. It will just add up to a better experience.
Finally, the connected keyboard, Surface Pen and option of an additional mouse offer more to the user. If you wanted a Smart Keyboard for iPad, you would have to jump to an iPad Pro (which is $979 AUD) for a base model. Otherwise, a third party Bluetooth keyboard is required. The Surface Go keyboard is perfect for little hands and includes a trackpad. The Surface Pen sticks to the side of the machine, which offers some help in preventing loss but also makes the pen readily accessible and right there when you need it. The optional addition of a mouse also provides more opportunities for individual preferences.
All in all, I really like it. It is the perfect size for students and school - particularly primary and middle school students. It packs in all the features of a full PC in an easy to transport package. Battery life was up to a full day of use, with the Surface Go keeping up with my Surface Pro 4. The build is sleek and high quality - no student would be embarrassed to whip this out in the classroom. I would have liked for it to be a little cheaper, only to see the magic that is the Surface experience in the hands of more students.
This article is based on a personal opinion and was not sponsored.
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