With the Surface Go detachable 2-in-1, Microsoft has pushed its Surface tablet line, for the first time, into genuine budget territory. With the lowest-end model coming in at $399 with 64GB of flash storage and no keyboard or stylus, this is, at heart, a basic Windows 10 tablet with a Pentium CPU and flash-based memory. Once you’ve outfitted it with the very minimum to get it to basic laptop functionality, you’re looking at a $500 buy ($99 for the least expensive Surface Type Cover that fits it, plus the cost of the tablet itself). The Surface Pen, meanwhile, will tack on another $99 if you don’t already own one from an earlier Surface. Now you’re at $600.
So, then, you might be wondering, why would you go with the Surface Go, as opposed to certain other budget-minded Windows 10 2-in-1s that come in at well below $500, fully equipped? After all, laptop makers such as Acer, Asus, and Lenovo offer detachables and convertibles with included keyboards and styli for, in a few cases, as little as half the cost of the cheapest Surface Go outfitted with a keyboard cover and the Surface Pen. But as in most things, there’s a clear set of trade-offs when going with the cheapest option. (Also check out our comparison of the Surface Go and the Apple iPad, as well as our breakdown of the Surface Go versus the Surface Pro.)
We’ve rounded up seven of the most popular lower-cost competitors to the Surface Go here that we’ve tested. None is automatically a better choice; it depends on your budget and how you mean to use your 2-in-1. But here’s a rundown of the key things to consider as you look at this field.
The Surface Go makes use of a relatively recent Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y CPU. (It was introduced in mid-2017.) This is a two-core/four-thread chip with a 6-watt power envelope. You can’t expect a lot of processing power for media-manipulation activities or tasks that require actual CPU grunt, but the low thermal profile of this chip is necessary in a detachable like this. Because it’s a detachable device, all of the computing guts have to lie behind the screen, and the lower, detachable half is “passive.”
The real power lies in Intel’s Core series of processors, but none of these inexpensive options will include these speedier options. Some of the machines in this list opt for a Celeron chip, a modest but more affordable middle ground, while others will include the bare-budget Atom line. On the whole, these CPUs get the job done for the simpler tasks you’d tend to do on a tablet or budget laptop (web browsing, some word processing, playing music, streaming video, and the like), but don’t expect them to become your new go-to workstation. The Pentiums are tops within this group.
These budget 2-in-1s also include only the low-power graphics acceleration integrated into the CPU, not discrete cards. Gaming machines, these are not, across the board.
With 2-in-1s needing to serve as tablets at least some of the time, and detachable-screen models like the Surface Go meant to be used as tablets more often than revolving-screen ones, the screen sizes on these budget convertibles range almost exclusively from 10.1 to 12.2 inches. Any bigger would make them awkward in tablet mode. But with budget pricing prevailing here, screen resolutions are going to stay on the lower side.
These machines go no higher than 1080p (1,920 by 1,080 pixels). The least expensive among them will drop down to 720p (1,366 by 768 pixels) or 1,280 by 800 pixels, which isn’t ideal, but those resolutions are serviceable for a tiny, affordable tablet, especially if the screen is in the lower end of the size range.
The Surface Go is an outlier, with its 1,800-by-1,200-pixel display, which is roughly equivalent to 1080p in fineness. (This is a native resolution unique to this device; note the 3:2 aspect ratio.) If you care about getting the sharpest screen with the greatest pixel density in its size class, the Surface Go is a strong contender on that front. That said, a more standard 1080p display will be more than adequate for screens this small, and indeed might render things smaller than you like in default mode.
Storage capacities (and types) are a mixed bag on this class of devices, with some of the greatest variances among components. In addition, one product may offer multiple capacities depending on the configuration. (The Surface Go is one of them.)
On the low end are 2-in-1s that include 32GB or 64GB of eMMC flash memory, which may be all you need for some word-processing documents, photos, and other files. (That said, 32GB is inarguably tight, once you factor in the size of Windows 10’s own installation.) The next-larger option may be a solid-state drive (SSD), which in this price range is likely to top out at 128GB. But most inexpensive 2-in-1s opt for eMMC, which is decidedly more sluggish than a “true” SSD.
The Surface Go sticks close to the format of its competition, offering 64GB of eMMC flash on the $399 entry model and a 128GB SSD on the pricier version. A 128GB drive should suffice on a device like this, so whichever you choose in this range, you should be covered.
Lenovo Miix 320
Base system memory (the RAM amount) presents fewer options: Do you want 2GB or 4GB with that? Most cheap Windows tablets come with one or the other, and that’s basically it. Similar to the CPU situation, 4GB is perfectly fine for most of the tasks you’ll take on with these types of machines. That said, more never hurts, and the Surface Go is unusual in that it offers 8GB with its more expensive ($549) SKU. Given that it’s marketed as a bit more PC-like than some of the alternatives, it may make sense to go for the 8GB version, so your applications and load times have a bit more zip, if you mean to use this machine as more than a casual surfing and productivity-app cranker.
One area the alternatives have the Surface Go beat is the included accessories. Yes, Microsoft’s keyboard, going by the reputation of the Type Covers on the Surface Pro (and our hands-on time with the equivalents on the Surface Go), is higher quality than those of the others, but it doesn’t come with the device, and they aren’t cheap. The least expensive Type Cover for Surface Go costs another $99, the same price as the Surface Pen, so bringing the whole set together gets a bit pricey. (A premium version of the Type Cover for the Surface Go, if you want a fabric-coated version in a color other than black, is $129.)
The 2-in-1s with built-in keyboards obviously don’t have this problem, and some even bundle a stylus (usually, just a passive, nonpowered stick) on top of it. Most other models that, like the Surface Go, have a detachable keyboard include it in the price, which seems like a no-brainer. It’s one of the more frustrating aspects of the Surface Go line, and the Surface Pro before it. Not everyone will need the keyboard, but most folks will.
The pens, also, vary greatly in quality. The Surface Pen will cost you, but it is a high-quality active stylus, with its own power source and deep precision for sketching (supporting 4,096 levels of pressure). Many of the included styli are simple passive stick-style models, okay for basic drawing, poking, and object manipulation but not true artists’ tools.
Given the added cost of the accessories, its more premium build, and components that trend toward the higher end for this category, the Surface Go is not the most budget-friendly choice among low-end 2-in-1s. It’s not costlier without reason, however, offering a nicer build than most. If the extra cost (especially after adding the peripherals) sounds worth it for your needs, you likely won’t be left disappointed. If a low price is your first criterion, though, take a look at the list below of some of our favorite budget 2-in-1s.