Big thanks to Microsoft Singapore for providing the review unit.
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a significant upgrade to the first Surface Go which was released in August 2018. Almost everything about the tablet has improved, namely display, performance, drawing experience and battery life.
In this review, we will see if it can be used for digital illustration, and whether it can be used as a digital sketchpad.
The Surface Pen is an essential buy if you want to draw. There are many Surface Pen alternatives out there but the one from Microsoft performs, not surprisingly, the best.
I don't recommend the base models with Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y, 4GB or eMMC storage.
Intel Core m3-8100Y is better because it can boost to three times its speed. 4GB RAM is definitely not enough. With just a web browser and a few tabs opened, it's already using more than 4GB of RAM. eMMC storage speed is as fast/slow as 7200RPM spinning hard drives from decades ago.
The base model comes in at US $400. In Singapore that's S$648.
The model that I recommend with Intel Core m3, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage, Wifi cost US $630 (S$868). That's not including the US $99 Surface Pen yet. If this is too pricey, then I recommend getting the the iPad 7 or Samsung Tab S6 Lite instead.
The higher spec model competes with the iPad Air 3 (S$749 for 64GB model).
The display has increased from 10 to 10.5-inches. Resolution is 1920 x 1280 with a 3:2 aspect ratio.
This display can now play 1080P videos. The previous model was limited by its 1800 x 1200 resolution which can only play upsized 1280 x 720 videos. The extra sharpness and details i noticeable when playing videos.
Overall display sharpness is quite similar to previous model since the pixel density is rather similar. There's noticeable pixelation but not a big issue.
The 1920 x 1280 resolution is very usable.
Colours good good out of the box. I measured 100% sRGB, 77% AdobeRGB, 71% NTSC, 77% P3, and an impressive maximum brightness of 360 nits. Even with the display at 50% brightness, the tablet was still bright enough for indoor use. Maximum brightness is definitely enough for outdoor use, even under sunlight.
Display is very reflective, but the brightness is enough to shine through slight reflections.
This is a laminated display so there's no gap between the glass surface and LCD beneath. When writing or drawing, the lines will look like they appear directly beneath the pen tip.
The LTE model weighs 553g and the Wifi model is 10g lighter. The tablet is as thick as the Surface Pen. Overall, it's a very compact tablet that's easy to bring around.
The stand is built in.
That's the lowest angle.
There's no lock for the stand so when drawing, you'll press against the screen and the tablet will go to the lowest position, which is not the best angle to draw with unless you want to be a hunchback.
I recommend getting a laptop stand to prop up the tablet. You can find cheap functional laptop stands from US $20.
Surface Pen can snap magnetically to the left side of the tablet.
Ports at the top are power and volume.
LTE sim card slot is on the left.
There's Wifi 6. I was able to download 1GB in under 1min 30s. But download speeds really depend on your network.
On the right are the 3.5mm audio jack, Surface port for charging, and USB-C.
The USB-C can output video and audio.
You can charge the tablet via the USB-C port with a charger that provides enough power.
At the bottom are the connectors for the Surface Go Type Cover.
Hidden behind the stand is a microSD card slot. This should be included in all Surface devices since it increase the appeal for the products.
The actual usable storage for the 128GB model is actually 118GB and 12GB is taken up by Windows OS so you're effectively left with just 106GB storage. Nowadays, you can get up to 1TB storage sizes with microSD cards. Get Sandisk.
These are the three colours available for the Surface Go Type Cover.
The red and gray have palm rests and cover made with Alcantara which is a material with cloth-like texture. The black has some rubberised surface for the palm rest and Alcantara for the cover. I've read reports that Alcantara can stain with usage. So if you want something easier to clean, perhaps go with the black option.
The Type Cover snaps onto the tablet with strong magnets. Typing experience is good. Keys have good travel and feedback. Trackpad is a good size with firm click.
There's backlight so you can use this even in the dark.
The keyboard is smaller than a standard size keyboard so it will take some time to get used to it. I keep hitting the wrong keys because my muscle memory is for standard keyboard sizes.
Note that there's no Control button on the right side, so keyboard shortcuts on the right side will be difficult or impossible to reach with just your right hand.
I still prefer my Logitech wireless keyboard though because of the size and right-side Control key.
Also when drawing, I can place the Logitech keyboard on the side which is more comfortable for me when using keyboard shortcuts.
It's good to have an external keyboard because the virtual keyboard is small, and takes up a huge portion of the display.
The NVMe SSD is faster than the eMMC storage but it's not as fast compared to SSD on other Surface devices. Booting the system, launching apps and opening large files will take some time. But after launch, the performance is smooth, mostly, with occasional lag when you start to push the system.
Surface Go 2 comes with Windows 10 S which is a stripped down version of Windows that can only install apps from the Microsoft App Store. When you try to install incompatible desktop apps, eg Photoshop, it will ask if you want to switch to Windows 10. I recommend switching over to Windows 10 so that you won't be limited by the variety of apps from the app store.
You can certainly do graphic design with Photoshop but it just does feel nice working on such a small display.
Photo editing is possible too since the display has good colour accuracy. As mentioned the storage speed isn't that fast so it takes time for Lightroom to load previews.
I exported 100 24MP RAW files and it took 5min 22s which is maybe 25% more time taken by the Surface Book 3. I can definitely with 6 minutes to export 100 RAWs.
I probably won't want to edit any videos on this tablet but 1080P videos should be fine, if you have time to wait for the export.
Drawing performance has improved.
With the slow diagonal line jitter test, I was actually able to get straight lines. The earlier model has problems with wobble and jitter so this is an excellent improvement. For some reason, this line quality is even better than the Surface Book 3 which has wobble/jitter.
Initial activation force of the Surface Pen is higher than tablets made by Wacom, XP-Pen, Huion. This makes it difficult to produce thin lines when you choose a big brush.
In the drawing above, you can see that the lines are mostly medium and thick. It's difficult to produce thin lines with light pressure. Just press a bit harder and you'll get obviously thicker lines.
For the uncoloured line art sketches, you can see a rather random mix of line thickness. I was actually trying to draw with consistent pressure, basically trying to get lines of consistent thickness. But when I press too hard, it's becomes thicker, and too light, the lines become too thin. The transition between thin and thick is too abrupt, not smooth as all.
Lines also don't taper that nicely with Photoshop.
There were some issues with finger gestures. I wasn't able to undo with double finger tap. And there are misses whenever I use certain finger gesture shortcuts.
So drawing performance really depends on the app you use.
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 may have many improvements over the previous model. It's a much better tablet now – I'm referring to the model with Intel Core m3 and 8GB RAM.
It has a better display with good colours and brightness, the resolution is higher, performance is better and 8hr+ battery life is good.
If you're looking for a tablet for general usage, this is a good one to consider. If you need more power, consider the Surface Pro 7.
When it comes to drawing, the performance could certainly be better. I don't think it's the fault of the tablet. Maybe the Microsoft Surface Pen is just not good enough. Microsoft needs to lower the initial activation force, and get the pen to be more sensitive so that you can get smooth thin to thick transition, so that smooth line taper is actually possible.
Compared to the iPad Air 3, Samsung Tab S6 or Samsung Tab S6 Lite
The main selling point here is the Windows 10 which has the familiar file system, and you get to use all desktop software.
My advice has always been to buy based on the apps you want to use. If you don't have any specific apps in mind, they you can probably go with iPad or the Samsung.
Where to buy
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is available from Microsoft Singapore online store.