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Surface Go 2

Surface Go 2 is Microsoft’s second generation Windows 10 tablet. Like Apple’s iPad, the Surface Go 2 is a lovely device, Yet it has more in common with ultraportable Window laptops than the iPad.

Microsoft’s second Surface Go is a fraction larger than the first version. The screen is now 10.5 inches. It weighs 545g, that’s 22g more than the earlier model.

Measurements are 245 by 175 by 8.5mm give or take a tenth of a mm. It roughly the same size and weight as an iPad Air, although not the same shape. The Surface screen is wider and shallower than the more squarish iPad.

Ideal trade-off

You won’t notice any weight difference when carrying the hardware, but you will notice the bigger screen. Depending on your application (more about this later), it could be an ideal trade off between screen size and portability.

In practice it is small and light enough to slip into a briefcase or any kind of bag almost without noticing it is there. It isn’t going to cause problems with airplane carry on baggage.

Local prices for the Surface Go 2 start at NZ$629. That buys the Wi-fi model with 64GB of storage and an Intel Pentium 4425Y processor. Pay NZ$880 for 128GB of storage and the same processor. These models both have 4Gb of Ram. NZ$1200 gets the Ram bumped to 8Gb and a more powerful Intel Core m3 processor along with 128GB of storage and 4G mobile network connectivity.

There’s little question you will want the $220 Signature Type Cover.

Add the necessary keyboard and you’ll pay $850.

While you can buy laptops with similar power for these prices, this has a much more premium feel. It is the cheapest way of getting a Microsoft Surface device.

Surface Go 2 touch screen

Keyboard

Many iPad users get by without a keyboard. It is harder, although not impossible, to use a Surface that way. An iPad spends a lot of its life being used in the phone-like portrait orientation. Everything about the Surface Go assumes you will use it like a laptop. That means the screen will be landscape apart from the odd rare occasion.

Microsoft might call it a tablet. Technically Surface Go 2 is a tablet. Yet the Surface Go 2 will likely end up being used like an ultraportable laptop.

It is a mighty fine small, lightweight laptop. The touch screen is better than you’d find on similarly priced laptops. It looks bright and responds as you’d expect to touch. The kickstand is a nice touch. Everything is built to a high standard.

Enough power, not heaps of power

The review model came with a Pentium Gold processor. It won’t break any speed records, but it provides more than enough power for the kind of work you’d expect to throw at a small computer.

I found it ideal for my writing work. It handles all the online tasks without missing a beat. I’m not the kind of user who opens dozens of browser Windows.

When I attempted this in the name of science, I got bored long before the Windows Edge browser lost the plot.

If you are wedded to Windows, live in Microsoft Office and don’t need a big screen for creative work or grunt for huge calculations, this could be the only computer you need.

Great for Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams

The Surface Go 2 is a stellar performer when it comes to video conferences. It has a better front camera than you’d normally find on a laptop selling for under $1000. It’s five megapixels and can shoot video in full HD quality. What’s more, it requires less light than a standard laptop camera which struggles with my home office.

Microsoft hasn’t skimped on the microphone and speakers. I found the mic works better than other Windows laptops for calls. It’s not noticeably better than the Apple equivalents.

The speakers are not up to the standard of the iPad Pro, but, again, are excellent by Windows laptop standards. They do OK with music, although the bass is missing in action. Yet they are great for video calls. I can hear everything at the other end. Better than that, the sound is clear enough for me to record conversations speaker-to-mike.

Other features

On the back there is an 8 megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video. This is clumsy with the Surface Go 2 format, but can be useful at a pinch.

The Surface Go 2 Type Cover keyboard is much like the earlier Surface Go keyboard. It’s about 30mm smaller than a full-size keyboard in both dimensions. In part this is because the top row of function keys are all half size.

It looked like I might struggle with pudgy fingers on smaller keys. I’m a touch typist, which means it takes getting used to, but after 30 minutes I was back to full speed. In practice the keyboard is better than anything you might see on a laptop in this price range.

A few other points:

  • Microsoft equipped the Surface Go 2 with Wi-fi 6. If you have a suitable router you’ll have a better, more reliable wireless connection.
  • I’ve found Windows Hello face recognition to be unreliable on other recent laptops. It worked every time on the Surface Go 2.
  • Given that next to no-one leaves the store without the keyboard, it is not optional. Microsoft should bundle the two products together. Even if that doesn’t reduce price, it would reduce wasteful packaging and unnecessary stuffing around.
  • Microsoft says the battery is good for five hours. It’s longer than the original Surface go, but around half what you’d get with an iPad. You can eke out power longer by cranking down the brightness, but my old eyes struggle with this.

Surface Go 2 verdict

With the Surface Go 2, Microsoft has refined the laptop PC format into something modern and productive. You get access to a huge library of Windows apps, not all are full touch enabled, but they will work.

It’s a perfect choice for a second computer if you have, say, a desktop at home and need a light computer for the road. I’d recommend it for journalists or anyone who spends their working life in Microsoft Word or another word processor.

The Surface Go 2 is not the best machine to buy if your main need is media creation or media consumption. You would need to make compromises.

Huawei Y6P

Huawei’s NZ$3001 Y6P comes with a three lens rear camera and a 5000mAh battery. There is a 6-inch screen and 64GB of storage.

You get a lot of phone for $300. Low cost phones always come with compromises. This one is a potential killer. A US technology ban means Huawei can’t sell Android phones with all the Google trimmings.

If you prefer US surveillance capitalism over a Chinese alternative stop reading now. This is not for you. Look elsewhere.

Google free zone

There are no Google apps. Instead Huawei offers its own app gallery and a new app to help you find apps that run on post-Google Huawei phones. We’ll look at the Petal Search app in a separate post.

A word of warning: there will be popular paid for or subscription Android apps that won’t run on this phone. That said, if you use that kind of software, it’s unlikely you’d be looking for a bargain basement phone.

The phone hardware is promising enough. Huawei says that 5000nAh battery is good for 32 hours of video playback. It will handle 20 hours of web surfing using mobile data. In normal use you should go two or more days between charges.

Charging other phones

Huawei has included hardware that allows you to charge other phones from the Y6P. You’ll need to buy a separate reverse charging adapter to do this.

The adaptor is not available on Huawei’s New Zealand website at the time of writing. Finding one online shouldn’t be a struggle, but it highlights a lack of attention to detail. It’s something you wouldn’t expect Apple to miss.

Almost the entire front of the phone is a 6-inch 720×1600 display. Huawei’s specification sheet says 6.3-inches, but the image doesn’t go to the edge of the display.

Huawei calls its display Dewdrop. That’s a fancy way of saying the camera notch is tiny compared with other phones. It is, but in practice it is no less irritating.

Y6P camera

Phone makers spend a lot of time talking about cameras. This is the main area where the Y6P departs from premium phones. Keep in mind, the Y6P is at least a grand cheaper than today’s top handsets.

There’s a 13 megapixel camera on the back. It comes with a 5MP wide angle camera and a 2MP depth camera for bokeh shots. The front camera is 8MP.

No-one is going to get excited about the phone’s photography. It’s more than adequate, roughly in line with what you might find on a premium phone three or four years ago. This is more than enough for casual photography, but don’t plan to shoot you next movie on the Y6P.

It’s not a fabulous phone. Yet the Y6P is great value. The big problem is that while it looks like and feels like an Android, it isn’t.

Although you can work around the restrictions, you may not want to. There will be readers who enjoy that challenge. You may have better things to do with your time.


  1. If you’re quick you can buy the Huawei Y6P phone for $200. After August 10 the price will be $300. ↩︎

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip is the best foldable phone so far. It flips and folds like phones did 20 years ago. The difference between then and now is that today both halves are part of a full colour touch screen.

My hands-on session with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip was positive, but I ended by mentioning a potential problem with the phone.

Overseas reports say Samsung put advertising on the phone. That’s on the nose when you pay NZ$2400 for the hardware.

According to Android Police the ads are intrusive and annoying. I decided to check this out.

Ads embedded into key apps

Vodafone ad on browser home page

We’re not talking about the kind of ads you see if you head to a web page on the phone, we are talking about ads in basic phone apps, like the one used to dial calls or get a weather report.

Take the Samsung phone call app. When it loads, a bunch of Yelp ads for cafes and restaurants show up. The choice is weird, many are a long way across town from where I live. The nearest is 19.5km. At a guess, these are the companies who paid someone, possibly Yelp, for the placement.

More worrying in some ways is that the Samsung Galaxy Store shows a gambling advertisement for a Poker app that offers 100,000 chips and 300 coins to get you started. That’s going to be a problem for some people.

The stock web browser opens on a page showing an ad for Vodafone broadband. On the notification page there are advertisements for Spotify.

Advertising everywhere

There are ads everywhere. It’s a reminder of when grasping PC makers loaded up Windows computer with unavoidable crapware that you need to remove before you can work.

Spotify ad on Galaxy Z Flip phone

Except that it doesn’t seem possible to remove, mute or otherwise bypass the ads on the Galaxy Z Flip.

You might expect to see advertising if you use free software like Gmail or the Chrome browser. That’s part of the deal. But this is among the most expensive phones on the market.

It’s another to make me rethink the last thought on my hands-on look at the phone where I said I’d like one. Make that, I’d like one if I could get rid of the ads.

Afterthought: Assuming Samsung makes a decent margin selling phones at NZ$2400, it is probably doing its overall business more harm than good when it sells ads. If normal prices apply, the Samsung phone ads can only be worth a few dozen dollars per phone per year, but once word gets out Samsung will lose hardware sales worth hundreds of dollars.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

In February I posted a short note about the then forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. This week I got my hands on one.

It is by far the best foldable phone I’ve seen to date. There’s a satisfying feel to the way it folds.

The way the screen copes with being folded again and again is also satisfying. When you hold and fold the Galaxy Z Flip you are not left wondering if you are dealing with classy engineering.

Impressive

The Flip is technically impressive, cool looking and fun to use. Sadly these three qualities do not necessarily make a great phone.

Mind you, no-one can accuse the Galaxy Z Flip of being boring.

Nor can you accuse it of being cheap.

You could spend the NZ$2400 Samsung asks for the Flip elsewhere, even with Samsung1, and get better value for your money.

The cost of folding

Samsung’s much vaunted foldability adds about NZ$1200 to the device price. Which would be fine. Yet it turns out being able to fold the Flip is not always a huge benefit.

Yes, the neatly folded square is about half the length of and the same width as other premium phones. It also happens to be twice the depth.

In other words, the Flip occupies the same volume of pocket space as any other phone. The difference is that Flip redistributes the volume.

It’s fine in the jacket pockets and loose trouser pockets that might otherwise contain a normal size phone. It’s a problem in the tighter pockets that would struggle with bigger phones.

So while folding could be helpful, it might not always be NZ$1200 worth of helpful.

Samsung Galaxy Flip shown with Apple IPhone 7 for size comparison

Flipping futuristic

Despite all of this, I find myself liking the Flip more and more. It feels right. It also feels futuristic.

Let’s not discount that emotive and subjective response. When you buy a phone you commit to spending a lot of time with the device, you don’t want it to not feel right.

One aspect of being able to open and shut a phone is the distance this activity puts between you and the device. This can be positive or negative.

Most of the time I like the fact that it requires more effect to respond to every incoming stimulus. On the other hand, you can’t surreptitiously glance at the screen without others noticing.

The Galaxy Z Flip has been around for months. You can find plenty of in depth reviews elsewhere. Look harder and you’ll find some long term test drives. For what it’s worth here are my observations:

Screen:

The display is tall and narrow. When you turn it sideways to watch a movie you get black bars unless you watch a widescreen version.

In everyday use the crease stays out of the way although I wouldn’t go as far as to say you don’t notice it. You will, but your eyes and brain adjust so it is less of an issue.

Yet, you constantly feel it with your fingers. There’s also a shallow dip at the top above the selfie camera.

External display:

When the phone is folded there is a tiny display on the outside. You can see the time and date without opening the phone. That turns out to be more useful than you might imagine if you don’t wear a watch.

The small screen will show remaining battery life. I’m not convinced that’s much help.

There are notifications on the small screen. They wizz past fast. Often before you can read them.

By double tapping the power button, you can take pictures with the camera without opening the phone. When you do this, the tiny external display works as a selfie viewfinder.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip closed showing small screen

Durability:

Open or shut, there’s a solid feel to the Galaxy Z Flip. It seems robust enough to take the kind of treatment we usually mete out to phones.

Unlike almost every other modern phone you can buy in 2020 there is no water or dust resistance. This could be a problem for many potential buyers.

I also found dirt, pocket fluff and even hair could get trapped in the fold. It’s not clear what that might mean over the long haul. In the short term it isn’t a problem.

Camera:

Phone makers usually make a great song and dance about the cameras on their phones. There’s a feeling in the industry that people choose cameras rather than phones. I’m not convinced of that. Some will. Others won’t.

Samsung has used the same camera technology as the Galaxy S10. It’s good, but not up there with, say, the iPhone 11. Few people will buy the Samsung Galaxy Flip for the camera.

Verdict

Samsung has got screen folding technology right with the Galaxy Z Flip. You get a phone that looks and feels a little ahead of its time. On paper you might not get a huge amount of phone for the price, in practice this matters less than you might expect.

After a few days with the Flip I found myself coming back to it again and again. Yep, I’d like one. But there is a big problem that I’m saving for another post.


  1. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is $200 cheaper but does more. ↩︎

Vissles wireless charger

One of the earliest memories I have of school is our headmaster coming into our class on occasion and reading stories from his Rudyard Kipling book that must have been as old as he was.

My favourite to this day was “The Elephants Child” and I can still hear the headmaster’s perfect diction when saying words like Limpopo like it was the last thing he’d ever say.

What has that got to do with reviewing an accessory you might say? Well, other than adding a bit of colour to a pretty vanilla product, this review also has a pretty major elephant. We will get to that later.

The product in question is the Vissles Wireless Charger, which is unsurprisingly, a wireless charger.

One charger to power them all

Its main point of difference is that it does something that Apple can’t; it allows you to charge your AirPods, Apple Watch and iPhone with the one accessory. The party piece for this charger is that it only requires one external power connection to charge all three devices.

The actual device is about the size and shape of an iPhone 11 Max if the designer had recently discovered rounded corners and decided to go all in. It’s finished with a futurist white plastic gloss, which should fit in with most decors, if that is your thing.

There is no actual charger supplied, so I’m assuming Vissles decided you’d use your existing Apple Watch charger, which is fair.

The Vissles charger also requires you to insert your Apple Watch cable into its housing. This is also fine, but in my case my Apple Watch cable was about 1 meter too long, so I couldn’t use it. Just be aware of this if you have a long Apple Watch charging cable.

As far as using the charger goes, it does what it says on the box. Charging three devices on something that looks like a surfboard from Star Wars is genuinely gratifying and potentially space saving as well.

Fumble-free

I particularly enjoyed not having to fumble around looking for a charge cable to poke into the bottom on my phone, and being able to have somewhere for my AirPods to “dock” permanently while charging. I can’t fault the Vissles Wireless Charger at all from a form and function point of view.

However, I promised an elephant and here it is: I just can’t workout who this accessory is for?

Sure it’s slightly annoying fumbling around for the free charge cable that came with my phone or headphones. It’s great having a central charging station, but is it something you really need? I guess that’s not for me to decide. If you think you do, then this accessory will fulfil your brief very well.

This review was written by Timaru-based James Sugrue. Who describes himself as coder, author, hardware tinkerer, father, husband and geek. James does a bit of motorsport too.