Microsoft released the first Surface Go tablet in August 2018. Its small size, 1.15-pound weight, and relatively low price were of interest to many at the University. ISC testing revealed that the Surface Go's low-end Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y processor made it relatively slow in an era when almost all new tablets and notebooks are fast. This slowness would typically have disqualified it from significant interest at the University. However, the Surface Go found a niche at Penn as a secondary device, where its small size, low weight, and approachable price made its slow speed less relevant to users who wanted to take a full Windows 10 system with them.

All of this changed when Microsoft released the Surface Go 2 in May 2020. For the first time, a Core processor was available, with twice the cache, better memory bandwidth, improved graphics speed, Turbo Boost, and far more configuration flexibility than the Pentium in the first-generation Go. The Go 2 also increased screen size from 10.0 inches to 10.5 inches and improved display resolution by 14% while adding less than an ounce of weight and no physical size increase. Other upgrades in the Go 2 include the addition of 802.11ax WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, and moving from a single to a dual microphone.

ISC tested a Surface Go 2 bundled with a Surface Type Cover and a Surface Pen for almost two months. This particular Go 2 included an Intel Core m3-8100Y, 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD, and Windows 10 Pro version 2004. With the backup partition, the SSD showed 119 GB available, of which 47.9 GB was used. Installed and tested software included Microsoft Office (including Teams), Broadcom Symantec Endpoint Protection (unmanaged), Box Drive, Adobe Acrobat Reader, BlueJeans, Slack, Zoom, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox.

In a change from the first-generation Surface Go, none of the applications listed above show obvious speed issues, and all load reasonably quickly. Microsoft states that the Surface Go 2 with Core m3 is 64% faster than the original Surface Go, and testing confirmed this claim. The increased screen size and resolution are also noticeable. With its 5.0 megapixel Windows Hello authentication camera in the front bezel, the Go 2 is well-suited for video conferencing with small to medium-sized groups. Video quality is quite good, but the camera shows the characteristic Surface automatic white balance flickering issues in high contrast lighting situations. The display also often feels small when conferencing with large groups. Performance of the dual microphones was very good, and the two speakers gave decent sound reproduction. Battery life was as expected, ranging from a high of 10 hours in light office use to a low of three hours in heavy video conferencing use.

ISC believes that the Surface Go 2 with a Pentium is still right on the edge between a secondary device and a primary device. Specifying the Core m3 processer makes it suitable as a primary device for users who can accept the tablet configuration and the small screen size—of course, an external monitor can be attached.

Properly configured, the Surface Go 2 with Core m3 is approved under the Value Notebook portion of the Notebook Purchasing Guide.