At NZ$700, Surface Go rounds out the bottom end of Microsoft’s tablet-to-laptop range. It’s a small, thin tablet with a 10-inch screen. No doubt people will compare it with another small, thin 10-inch tablet: Apple’s NZ$540 iPad.

Before going further, we should be clear, the tablets come from different ranges. They have different design perspectives. Despite the obvious similarities, few people will choose between the Surface Go and an iPad. For the most part, they aim at distinct markets. You also need to remember these are the cheapest models in each range.

That said, they are low-cost tablets from the two biggest names in personal computing. Both are versatile mobile devices. They both have large touch screens by mobile device standards. Each offers a huge catalogue of software covering almost every possible application.

Microsoft Surface Go

Size, weight

Apple’s iPad is smaller and lighter than the Surface Go. It measures 240 by 170 by 7.5 mm and weighs 470 g. Surface Go is about 10 percent heavier at 520 g. It’s thicker at 8.3 mm.

Although the frame is fraction larger at 244 by 178 mm, that’s used for a bigger screen. The Surface Go display is 10.6 inches, while the iPad is 9.7 inches. The Apple display has more pixels: you get 2,048 by 1,536. The Go is has 1,800 by 1,200 pixels. I’ll save you the maths of working out that means the iPad has 264 pixels per inch compared to Go’s 217.

Both support an optional pen for writing on-screen. Apple’s drawing tool is the Apple Pencil.

Processors

Microsoft uses a two-core Intel processor; the Pentium Gold 4415Y. Apple’s is the A10 Fusion chip. Without benchmarking, it’s hard to know which has the more powerful processor.

On paper Apple’s hardware choices give you a little more battery time than the Surface Go. How that works in practice is more a matter of how you use your tablet.

Apple appears to have an edge here, but we’d need to wait for formal tests to know. Both processors are a generation behind the top models in their respective ranges. As it says at the start of this post, people will use the devices in different ways. So their relative power is less important than the suitability for applications.

The Surface Go has a clear edge when it comes to storage. The extra NZ$140 buy double the Ram and double the built-in flash storage. The Go has 4GB and 64GB. Again it’s hard to know what these numbers mean in practice without testing, but as a rule more is better.

Surface Go expandable memory

You can expand the storage on a Surface Go. There is a MicroSD card slot. There is nothing like this on the iPad. This will matter a lot to some people. It would interesting to know how many people use a memory slot in a device like this.

Apple’s iPad runs iOS. It’s the same operating system as on the iPhone. In recent iterations Apple updated iOS to make better use of the iPad’s size and capabilities. As you’d expect it integrates well with an iPhone and the MacOS.

The Surface Go comes with Microsoft’s Windows 10 running in the S Mode. This limits your software choices, but it’s a piece of cake to upgrade this to Windows 10 Home.

At the risk of triggering angry comments, I find iOS has a better touch screen interface. Although Windows 10 handles touch, at times the old user interface peeks through. It can cause problems. Your experience may differ.

On the other hand, I find Windows 10 makes more sense on a tablet than a desktop. Again, you might have a different view.

Microsoft’s marketing makes a lot of fuss about the kickstand. This allows you to prop the Surface Go up in the landscape orientation on a flat surface. Some Surface Pro users love this feature, it’s popularity bewilders many iPad fans.

Microsoft’s Surface Go Signature Type Cover adds NZ$220 to the price. The Surface Pen is NZ$160. Apple’s Pencil is the same price. Apple has its own keyboard covers for iPad Pro models. For the plain iPad, Apple’s online store offers a NZ$150 Logitech Slim Folio Case with integrated bluetooth keyboard.

Storage options

Both ranges offer models with more storage. A 128 GB iPad is NZ$700, the same price as the basic Surface Go. For the well-heeled Microsoft has a 128 GB model with 8 GB of Ram at NZ$950.

Let’s put the Surface Go price into context. The same money will buy a Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook or one of a range of low-price Windows laptops.

By the time you add the official keyboard you could buy a ThinkPad with an Intel Core i3 processor. Of course these would not be as portable. Yet you will find a better processor, better keyboard and better screen.

If you’re already happy with Apple or Microsoft’s comforting embrace, then you’d do well to stay put. That way you can be productive from the moment you open the box. Most of the time, you will get more from your existing investments in software and services.

At first sight the iPad and Microsoft app store look to be roughly equal, after all, this is Windows we are talking about. Yet in practice many popular Windows apps are either not optimised for touch or have occasional touchability lapses. You may also find some popular, well-known apps are not there.

It’s odd, but on a personal note I find Microsoft Office works better on an iPad than on a touch screen Windows tablet. Although this could be a matter of familiarity and taste, you couldn’t say the same for MacOS where Office is noticeably inferior.

Microsoft Surface sales yet to take off

Microsoft-branded hardware has yet to strike a chord with buyers. The brand doesn’t register in the global PC sales statistics collected by IDC and Gartner. There have been reliability problems with Surface hardware.

Over the last three months of 2017 Microsoft’s Surface line made $1.3 billion in revenue. That’s impressive, but the dial hasn’t shifted from two years earlier. Sales are flat. That is despite a slew of new Surface products in 2017.

In round numbers Apple makes more than six dollars from its iPad models for every dollar Microsoft earns from all its hardware products excluding the Xbox.

There’s nothing to suggest Surface Go will change the market dynamic. The device looks neat and will meet an unmet need, but it doesn’t look like a surefire winner.

Microsoft Surface BookConsumer Reports has pulled its recommendations for Microsoft’s Surface products, citing an industry-worst failure rate.

Source: Consumer Reports: Microsoft Surface is Dead Last for Reliability – Thurrott.com

Reliability is one of the hardest things to cover off when reviewing hardware.

It’s no accident that Apple, which sits at the top of the reliability league table lends hardware to journalists for extended review periods. That makes for better reviews on two counts.

First, you can dive a lot deeper into the product and use it more like a buyer would. I often wait  until a month or more before writing about Apple kit. I write about my experiences using the product in real, everyday work.

There’s no need to run through artificial tests which is what happens when you only have something for a few days. A longer test means a better understanding of quirks and nuances, and what they mean in practice.

Testing for reliability

Second, you get a better feel for reliability. If you use a computer for a couple of months without a glitch, there’s a good chance it will last for 12 months or longer without a problem.

A third benefit of extended review periods, is that a reviewer can find something they are so comfortable with, that they are happy to spend their own money on. It’s because I spent quality time with Apple hardware I chose to buy that brand later.

Something similar happened when I borrowed the HP Spectre. I loved it so much that I’m writing this post on mine.

I didn’t see anything wrong with the review Surface Book. But I only had it for a little over a week. I did notice a minor hiccup with the Surface Pro 3, but didn’t write about it at the time because it happened once and just may have been user error. A longer review might have shown me it was a device problem.

 

Microsoft Windows 10SAt first sight Microsoft’s Surface Laptop and Windows 10S launch is all about education. That was the company’s emphasis at the product roll-out in New York.

Yet there is more at stake here than putting computers in school bags.

The announcement outlines a strategy for the next stage of personal computing. If Microsoft pulls this off, it will once again dominate the sector.

On the Surface

Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s most ambitious touch screen hardware product to date.

Previous Microsoft devices; Surface Pro tablets, Surface Book, Surface Hub and Surface Studio, are all niche products. They cater for minority tastes.

The Surface Laptop is mainstream. It competes head on with hardware from brands like HP, Lenovo and Asus. The Surface Laptop is a direct challenge to Apple’s MacBook range.

It doesn’t directly address Google’s Chromebook, but Microsoft developed the Surface Laptop with that product in mind.

Chromebook

Chromebook is a basic, low-cost, easy-to-manage laptop. It has sold well. It is one of the few PC success stories of recent years. Chromebook sales have climbed while sales of most other computer formats have been in free fall.

It is more sucessful than Google’s rivals expected. Above all else the Chromebook is strong in education. Yet that’s only part of the story. IDC’s latest market survey says Chromebook are now selling well to commercial customers.

We can assume Microsoft understands the Chromebook threatens its PC business.

Chrome OS

Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS. In effect, the operating system is the Chrome browser.

Chrome OS is light on features. You can’t do everything with Chrome OS. You don’t have as much low-level control. But that’s a good thing for many customers.

Lots of users don’t need all the personal computer trimmings. They just want to get a limited set of tasks done in an unfussy way. This applies in spades to young school students.

More to the point, school students and their families are not willing or able to pay for a more powerful computer with a full operating system.

You can buy a Chromebook in New Zealand for less than NZ$400. Brands like HP, Asus, Acer and Lenovo all have versions. This is less than half the price of a mainstream laptop. It is about one-quarter the price of the cheapest Apple Mac.

In many schools Chromebooks have displaced Windows laptops.

Microsoft bothered

That bothers Microsoft. Aside from the impact on today’s market share and revenue, there is a risk people will get a taste for Chromebooks.

Youngsters growing up with school Chromebooks may stick with them later in life. Or if not Chromebook, something else that doesn’t involve Microsoft Windows. The no Windows habit could rub off on their families, friends and workplaces.

Microsoft wants to counter that threat.

The Surface Laptop looks great but it is not going to do that. For a start it is too expensive. It sells in the US for $1000. That’s four or five times the price of a Chromebook.

It is a premium 13-inch laptop, more a competitor to models like the MacBook, HP Spectre and Dell XPS 13. It’s lighter and thinner than a MacBook Air. It costs less and is more powerful.

That comparison is a whole other story that needs closer inspection. Maybe another post. We’re going to look at something more fundamental here.

While Surface Laptop is inexpensive compared to, say, a MacBook Pro or Surface Book, it’s not going to shake up the education market.

That job goes to Windows 10S.

Where Windows 10S fits

There are, of course, plenty of low-cost Windows laptops to choose from. Asus, Lenovo and Acer all have PCs in New Zealand that sell for under NZ$400. If you can afford a little more, there are plenty of better models for less than NZ$500.

Low-cost Windows laptops tend to be clunky and inelegant. They are not powerful by 2017 standards. But, like Chromebooks, they get the job done.

At least they would get the job done but for one problem. To claw back the dollars makers don’t earn from hardware sales, they load them with trial software. This often makes more money for the computer maker than they get from the hardware sale.

Crapware

Software makers pay to have their apps included as standard on PCs. They may call their products trial ware or use some other coy name. We know them as crapware.

The name is well deserved. These programs are ugly. They make for an awful user experience. They bombard people with messages. At times they can frighten less experienced or tech-savvy users. Some include marketing messages that border on blackmail.

Crapware often slows computers down. It can introduce security risks. More than one of these programs has included a serious malware payload in the past.

Other crapware programs report key information back to their owners behind the computer user’s back.

Even the best crapware is annoying. It can pop up with a distracting, unwelcome message at an inappropriate moment.

In effect, you can get a great deal on a low-end PC in return for accepting a steaming pile of crapware. What a time to be alive.

Windows 10S

By locking down the computer, Microsoft says Windows 10S will improve security and performance. It keeps things simple. Windows 10S makes it easy for administrators to manage fleets of computers.

And it locks out crapware.

If you choose to stick with Windows 10S, and that’s optional, then you’ll only be able to install apps from the official Microsoft app store.

Now that may not be what you want from a computer. But there are people who like the sound of this.

Remember Windows RT?

We’ve been here before. Windows RT was the Microsoft operating system on the first Surface Tablets. It had the same lock-down approach and similar restrictions. It was a commercial flop.

RT cost Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars.

In practice, Windows RT was not an awful OS. After all Apple’s iOS is locked down in a similar way and that’s been a winner.

The issue is that Microsoft Windows users want different things from their devices to Apple users. One of them is the ability to run tons of obscure, esoteric and, in some cases, poorly written niche apps.

Creating a version of Windows that can’t run most Windows apps was a mistake.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft failed to make sure the app store was packed with all the must have apps. Using the RT store was like walking into a shop with dusty, empty shelves and few recognisable products or brands.

This time is different…?

You may ask yourself what’s different this time. The simple answer is that Microsoft will force Windows 10S on the market.

Most or at least many future Windows PCs will come with Windows 10S installed at the outset. Customers can upgrade, if upgrade is the right word here, to a full unlocked version of Windows 10 by paying US$50.

Inertia and a reluctance to spend any money means many customers will never upgrade.

Big guns buy-in

Another difference this time is that Windows hardware makers are joining the lockdown party.

Some of the biggest names will have Windows 10S laptops on sale within weeks. It’s going to be hard for PC buyers to ignore these machines. The list of companies already signed up is a who’s who of the hardware business.

With Windows 10S users will only be able to get apps from Microsoft’s App Store. That means the company gets to clip the ticket with every purchase.

Independent developers may whinge, but the same approach has worked well for Apple.

App gap

When it arrives a lot of popular Windows apps will not be available for Windows 10S. Among the stand-outs are the Chrome browser and iTunes. The pair may not be your favourite apps, but they are popular.

What happens when a user, who has paid a bargain basement price for their PC, learns they need to shell out another $50 to run Chrome or iTunes?

The deal is worse than that. When you switch to the full version of Windows, you lose a lot of the security benefits. The responsibility of managing your system returns. Again that may not worry you, but it will be a problem for some others.

Competition bashing

If you read the above section and thought Windows 10S will cause headaches for Microsoft’s biggest competitors, you’d be right.

It’s no accident Chrome and iTunes were mentioned above. Google and Apple need to put their games theory strategists onto this one. Do they invest in creating Microsoft app store versions of their software?

If they don’t they run the risk of being cast adrift from large numbers of their customers. Although it’s possible the disconnected customers might be the kind that don’t use their software anyway.

Ecosystem

If Google and Apple do build app store versions, they help Microsoft create a formidable ecosystem that may bash them again later.

Windows 10S is likely to be a hit with schools and organizations that want to impose order on PCs.

Otherwise there’s always a chance Microsoft’s customers may walk away from Windows 10S.

People don’t have many other places to go. Chrome OS is even more locked down. Apple is less so, but the nuances of its approach aren’t always understood.

Microsoft still accounts for the vast majority of PC operating systems. So it looks like it will succeed this time. But there’s always a possibility Windows 10S will be an RT rerun with even higher stakes.

lenovo-miix-510If you want a Surface Pro 4 but find Microsoft’s price too high, the Lenovo Miix 510 may fit the bill.

Lenovo’s Miix 510 has more than a passing resemblance to a Surface Pro 4. It’s a Windows 2-in-1 with a kickstand. Ignore the Lenovo logos on the front and back and you could almost be looking at a Surface Pro.

There are compromises. Lenovo’s 12.2 inch display shows 1920 by 1200 pixels. The Surface Pro 4 screen is a fraction larger at 12.3 inches and has 2736 by 1824 pixels. This is noticeable.

If the build quality of the Surface Pro is ten out of ten, the Miix would rate a nine.

Lenovo misses small details that Microsoft got right. The power brick and connector are not as well finished.

Lenovo chose an inelegant power supply arrangement. A USB-C port would be better.
There are fewer ports. The Lenovo Miix 510 has one standard USB 3.0 and one USB 3.0 type-C port. Microsoft includes an SD card readers and a Mini DisplayPort on the Surface Pro 4.

It weighs more.

The Miix 510 is 880g when the keyboard is not attached and about 1.25kg when it is. This compares with around 790g for the bare Surface Pro 4 and a shade over a kilogram for a Surface Pro 4 with a keyboard.

While extra weight is enough to make a difference in your backpack or briefcase, 250g one way or another is not a deal breaker for most people.

Backlit keyboard

There is a payoff. You get what some users will think is a better, backlit keyboard. In general I found it easier to type on and more laptop-like than the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover.

That’s saying a lot more than is apparent. Lenovo has an odd arrangement for the right shift key which takes some getting used to.

The small right-hand shift key presents problems, the full size arrow keys are a good design choice.
The keyboard is more robust than I’ve seen on other Surface Pro-like computers and doesn’t rely on Bluetooth thanks to plug connections. It flexes a little in use, not enough to trouble most people.

Like other Windows 10 2-in-1s the Miix 510 touchpad is disappointing. It feels more like an afterthought for people who don’t want to spend all their time reaching for the touch screen.

In practice the touchpad is functional enough, if you were looking for a touchscreen computer it won’t be the most important consideration. If you want or need a better touchpad you need to look elsewhere and spend more money.

There’s a kickstand to prop the Miix 510 on a desk. The hinges look neat, but in practice the arrangement functions just the same as the Surface Pro.

A grand less than a Surface

None of this should put you off. At the time of writing, Lenovo’s Miix 510 costs more than NZ$1000 less than a Surface Pro 4 equipped with the same processor and storage.

For a start, the Lenovo price includes a keyboard which it is a optional extra with the Surface Pro 4.1

Like the Surface Pro 4, the Miix 510 is a plausible laptop replacement. It offers more than enough power for most everyday tasks and is light and portable.

It misses many of the Surface Pro specifications, but not by much and not in ways that will matter to all buyers.

Everything written above compares the MiiX 510 with the Surface Pro 4. That’s a tough call. Microsoft’s 2-in-1 is the gold standard.

Compared with every other Windows 2-in-1 the Lenovo MiiX 510 is a standout.

While the MiiX doesn’t reach Microsoft’s lofty Surface Pro standard, it doesn’t fall far short. Put it this way, it is nine-tenths the computer at six-tenths the price.

Unless you need the higher screen resolution, you wouldn’t be disappointed with this computer.


  1. While I was writing this review Noel Leeming offered the Lenovo Miix 510 for NZ$1600. That buys a computer with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U dual core processor and 256GB of storage. The same basic Surface Pro 4 configuration in the same store costs NZ$2350. The Surface Pro 4 Type Cover will set you back an extra NZ$240. ↩︎

Dell Inspiron 13 5000

Apple knocked the laptop business sideways when the first iPad appeared in 2010.

It is a stripped-down computer with a touch-screen, sound and wireless connections. But there is no keyboard. It does many, but not all, the things laptops do.

The iPad is easy to use and portable. You can use one to browse the internet, write mail, watch movies and make video calls to friends. It shines when consuming media. Thousands of third-party apps extend its scope.

iPad as a computer

For many people, the iPad is all the computer they need.

But not everyone. Some need more computer. There are those who want a keyboard and those who prefer to use a conventional PC operating system.

Some iPad owners add third-party Bluetooth keyboards to use their tablets more like laptops.

About four years ago the first devices to bridge the gap between tablets and laptops appeared. Intel and Microsoft came up with computers that had elements of both.

Enter the Surface

Microsoft pitched it first Surface as a direct competitor to the iPad. It used a reduced version of Windows 8. Surface had built-in Microsoft Office. A kick-stand held the screen in a laptop-like position.

There was also a, in theory optional, keyboard that doubles as a screen protector. Almost everyone who bought a Surface also paid for the keyboard.

While the Surface looks like a tablet and has tablet-like features, it also looks like a laptop. Most people who own Surfaces use them like laptops as well as tablets.

Microsoft created a new device format distinct from the laptop and the tablet: the hybrid PC.

Moving from a clamshell Windows laptop to a Surface is less of a wrench than moving to an iPad.

All computer

Hybrids evolved since the first Surface. Today’s Surface Pro 4 is a direct descendant. There’s nothing you can do on a Windows laptop that you can’t do on a Surface Pro 4.

The Surface was Microsoft’s first own-brand PC. Other computer makers have since developed their own hybrid models.

There are two distinct types of hybrid. Detatchables are tablets with a keyboard case like the Surface or a docking keyboard.

When you connect the keyboard, you have something close to a laptop. You can remove the keyboard and use the computer as a tablet.

Convertable hybrids

Convertables stay attached to their keyboards. In most designs a hinge lets you fold the keyboard out of the way under the touch-screen. It then acts like a tablet. You can usually fold the hinge to other positions, such as propped up on a table for a presentation.

There’s much to like about hybrids. They could be the way of the future. Yet despite growing sales numbers, customers remain unconvinced. Today hybrids of all types only account for between 10 to 15 percent of laptop sales.

Three reasons stand out for their relative lack of success to date.

Conservative PC owners

First, PC owners are conservative. Perhaps not in a bad way. People invested a lot of time and mental energy mastering keyboards, trackpads and mice. They know their way around a conventional PC or laptop and know how to get the productivity they want from it.

Touch screens have not captured thier imaginations in the way Microsoft anticipated. The botched Windows 8 introduction made that clear. Little has changed since.

Second, the hybrid features and touch screen add to the cost of a computer. You might pay 20 to 25 percent more for a hybrid which, otherwise, has the same specification as a laptop. Many people don’t see any value in that extra price.

Satisfied elsewhere

Another reason is that a hybrid’s tablet functionality is often satisfied by another device. A laptop owner may already have an iPad or another brand of non-Windows tablet. There’s a better chance they’ll have a mobile phone with tablet-like qualities.

Computer buyers may yet move to hybrids if hardware companies can convinced them there’s extra value to justify the cost.

Help for this has come from an unexpected direction. Apple’s positioning and marketing of its two iPad Pro models goes a long way to making the case for hybrid PCs. iPad Pros are still more tablet than PC. But they also have a lot in common with the best detatchable Windows hybrids.

Keyboard shortcomings

Hybrids are often better than you might expect. Yet even the best still have signification shortcomings.

Few detachable hybrids have great keyboards.

Typing ranges for just-about-ok to horrible. This doesn’t matter to all users. But for those who write a lot of words, a good keyboard means greater productivity.

Most detachable hybrid keyboards flex. Making a keyboard that doesn’t flex often means making it heavier. That is bad news for portability.

Clunky convertibles

Convertable hybrids tend to be more solid. That makes for a lousy tablet experience. You always carry a hefty keyboard along with the touch-screen tablet part of the device.

Most convertibles are too thick and heavy for comfortable one-handed use. This undermines the tablet functionality you paid extra for.

All the electronics and battery in a detachable hybrid need to be in the screen part of the device so it works as a tablet. This means it is top heavy when used as a laptop with the keyboard. For this reason most can’t work as laptops in the strict sense of sitting the computer on your lap.

Big bets

Intel and Microsoft bet the Windows 8 move to touch screens in 2012 would trigger a wave of upgrades. Not only did that not happen, it was the start of a long-term slide in PC sales that continues.

Now the pair hope a move to hybrids will pay off with a renewed buying cycle. To do this they must not only convince customers of the value of paying extra for greater versatility. They must also show that buying a new device will make their work easier or their lives more fun.

This is something Apple excels at. Cynics talk of Apple’s fairy dust or a reality-distortion effect. The truth is Apple knows how to articulate technology’s less tangible benefits. Now Apple is selling something that is almost a hybrid, some of the magic may rub off on the Windows hybrids.