Gear Review: Surface Go Tablet/Laptop Hybrid Solution For Travel Blogging

  • Updated: May 16, 2019
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

If you follow my site regularly you've no doubt noticed that I often go for weeks at a time with no updates only to release a flood of new posts at seemingly random intervals.  That's mostly because I spend most weekends running around outdoors and often the weeks in between see me doing everything but sitting down in front of my desktop to write.

This site is just a hobby but it does bring me a lot of enjoyment and I've always has this ideal in my head of being able to do the actual write-ups while I'm still out in the field.  This has led me to purchase a series of keyboards and accessories for my iPhone, iPad, and a few sub $100 tablets in the hopes of finding something that was functional while not costing so much that I'd be afraid to take it out.

Up until this point each of the solutions failed to meet my needs in one or more major ways and I've been stuck just making notes to myself in my iPhone and fleshing out the articles when I'm back home.  And then I came across the Microsoft Surface Go.

The Surface products are hybrid laptop tablet touchscreen devices.  The first one came out in 2012 and the gadget lover in me has wanted one ever since.  The idea of a touchscreen tablet with a functional keyboard + touchpad cover seemed like the perfect combination considering I'd been carrying an iPad + laptop around when I traveled for years.

So I'd eyed them for years but each time I looked the cost was just too much to commit to especially considering I needed something I could drag around to trail heads, busy classes, and the occasional dive boats aka I didn't want to be risking a several thousand dollar device.

Then came the Surface Go which is the cheapest model Microsoft has ever released starting at $399.
But before you get too excited please be aware that the price is completely disingenuous because it doesn't include the type cover which is something you are really not going to want to do without.

Adding in the higher end touch cover (which is made of nicer material and back-lit vs the lower end) adds another $129 plus there's a highly recommended option to bump up the hard drive space to 128 GB and more importantly the memory from 4 to 8 GB.

That brought the total cost with tax up around $700 which isn't quite as appealing but keep in mind the Macbook Air I'd been eyeing as an alternative started at $999.

(For the record the last device I used primarily while on the road was a 2013 15 inch MacBook Pro. I loved that thing due to the construction and the fact I could use the trackpad just as well as a normal mouse.  It's also gotten so slow as to be all but unusable and so I've been eyeing a 13 inch MacBook Air or similar for years.  But as much as I loved the MacBook I just couldn't justify paying the Apple tax.)

So having been burned before by devices that ended up being unsuitable I decided to take the drastic step of going out to an actual mall and visiting the local Microsoft store so I could get my hands on the hardware directly. (The trip was worth it just to witness my girlfriend Jen innocently quiz the MS store employees on how they could get away with ripping off the Apple store like this)

Pretty much as soon as I sat down in front of the device I knew it was what I was looking for.  The form factor I already knew but what really impressed me was the feeling of the keyboard which is pleasantly springy and doesn't seem to suffer from the annoyances every other small keyboard seems to have where vital keys are either combined with something else or moved just enough to so as not to work with my years of muscle memory built up on standard keyboards.  Here I can basically type without thinking which is what I was after.

It's not the fastest, running Lightroom Classic on it for example works but isn't something your going to want to do regularly.   The screen resolution is also 1800x1200 and feels a little cramped coming from Apple and desktop land but I found it was functional.  More importantly the 13 inch footprint means it fits in almost any bag and I can use it in really cramped quarters like an airplane.

My other concern had been if it could be used on my lap. Reviews online were mixed but seeing as how I'm typing this on the couch with the Go sitting on my lap I'd argue it works quite well. You just have to have the kickstand on your knees but it's stiff enough to allow a fairly wide range of adjustments to the screen angle.

So I bought a 8 GB Platinum Surface Go and gleefully ran home to start playing.


I intentionally bought the lower end Surface instead of one of  the burlier models because most of what I need it to do is just run a web browser.  Google Blogger (which is what I use to host this site) is a simple browser interface and I run my life with a combination of gmail, google calendar, and google docs.

Also if I'm anywhere I can get an internet connection I have my home pc set up so I can remote desktop into it and run anything that requires more processor.

OS wise the Surface Go comes with Windows 10 S which will only run apps from the Microsoft app store which is a pretty extensive selection these days. I honestly could have probably gotten by with S except that I'm a geek and I hate having restrictions on what I can run on my computers.

Fortunately it's a simple matter to upgrade to Windows 10 Home at which point you have an unrestricted desktop version of the OS.

The change from S to Home was surprisingly quick. From Windows Settings -> Activation there is a link which will take you to the Microsoft app store where the app "Switch out of S mode" can be downloaded for free. A few seconds later I was good to go.

You can also upgrade from Home to Pro for an extra $99 but at least for me there's no benefit.  I only use Pro on my desktop because it supports RDP'ing into the machine which I usually don't need with a laptop.

I installed the Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive so I could sync files on and off the device without having to do something drastic like use a thumb drive. (#firstworldtechproblems)  And then I promptly disabled Google Sync because the new version uses a surprising amount of resources.

Next I installed the Office 365 suite so I could work in a pinch though I usually use Google Docs for most things these days.

I installed Garmin Basecamp so I could work with my Garmin Oregon GPS. Note that since the Oregon uses a mini USB cable I needed to either but a USB-C to mini USB or buy a hub that provides standard USB.  See below for that solution.

I also installed Adobe Lightroom Classic which is my preferred image editor and catalog.  I could write a whole article on the various ways I've bent this application to my needs on my main computer but my goal here was just to be able to do some basic processing of images while I'm on the road and then import the temporary catalog once I get home carrying over all the edits.  And it's slow enough that I'm not going to be tempted to make this my primary photo editing machine anytime soon.

Another piece of software I use all the time is Photosync.  It's useful for quickly transferring a large amount of images and videos from a phone to a another device and it's the closest thing I've found to the convenience of AirDrop able to work with devices outside the Apple ecosystem.

It also has another very useful feature which is it can covert the HEIC image format that the newer iOS devices like to use to normal jpgs when you transfer which saves me time since Windows for example doesn't support it out of the box at this time.

And of course Google Chrome aka the only web browser worth messing with.


The standard Surface Go charger is a proprietary connector that's like a flatter maglock. The AC adapter is reasonably small but still who wants to carry something like that around and risk being stuck if you loose it in some remote place.

Fortunately the USB-C port does allow for charging. I ended up buying a USB 3 to USB-C cable so I could run the Surface off my usual traveling battery pack. But since the Go only has a single USB C that means you can't plug in any other devices like an external hard drive, monitor, ect. Which leads me to...


So the first problem to solve was the lack of ports.  The Surface Go only has a single USB-C port and at first I bought a few $8 adapters on Amazon that allowed me to plug in a single standard USB or HDMI cable and just figured I could get by.

But what happens when you want to connect to a projector, plug in a presentation remote, and you need to load a PowerPoint presentation off a USB stick?  And then of course your battery runs down half way through so you need to charge as well. That's when I came across the HOGORE 7-in-1 hub.

This thing is bloody brilliant! The Go already has a MicroSD reader but this adds a standard SD card, an HDMI port, another USB-C, and three standard USB 3.0 ports. And it's tiny!

Charging via the USB-C on the hub works and so I can either use that battery pack I mentioned above or plug into a standard iPad charger that I usually have along anyway.

The only other thing I had to add was a cheap VGA to HDMI adapter because some of the places I do presentations still only have VGA hookups.  I was actually surprised this thing works but it does and it has allowed me to use my Surface as a full on presentation machine.

Next up I needed a way to carry it that was smaller than my normal laptop backpacks while still being big enough to carry the cables and a few accessories.

I ended up buying the tomtoc Shoulder Bag Sleeve Case which is a little pricey at $39 but I liked it better than the others I found. The pocket on the front is expandable but well designed to avoid catching on anything and the understated look in general fits well with the Platinum colored Surface Go.

My only real annoyance thus far is completely unreasonable and that is that I can't fit full sized 8.5x11 sheets of paper inside without folding it up.  Which is a silly thing to complain about considering this is sized for the Surface Go but would have been useful for meetings and such where people seem to always want to hand me printouts. Granted these days I'm more likely to take a quick picture with my phone and let OfficeLens OCR the thing so I can just toss the paper anyway so maybe this is just preventing me from accumulating trash.

These were all fairly inexpensive and initia. But then the gadget addict in me struck again.

This is the Surface Arc Mouse which I got to play with at the Microsoft Store when I bought the Go.  As I said the trackpad on the Touch Cover was the main thing that drew me to the Surface but I'm also a big fan of having a normal mouse for situational needs.

It looks a little funky because when not in use you bend it so it lays flat making for easy storage and is also how you turn the mouse off and on. This just feels extremely satisfying to do even if the mouse itself isn't the most functional. Also the $60 price tag from Microsoft made me balk but it made enough of an impression I soon ordered one off Amazon.

So how does this compare usability wise to something like my workhorse Logitech M or MX's?

Honestly, it's not as good.  It does have left and right buttons but since it's a touchpad vs physical buttons it doesn't feel as natural.  It does have a middle zone that can work as a scroll wheel but again since it's just a touchpad vs a physical wheel it feels a little awkward to use.

Also I'm very used to clicking the mouse wheel when browsing the internet to launch link in a new tab and at first I was greatly annoyed that I couldn't do this.  After a bit of digging I found you can download the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center application (shown above) and turn on a three finger click to perform the middle click action. Which works but again just doesn't feel natural.

It also just doesn't feel as comfortable in my hand as my various Logitechs including the smaller travel sized versions.

So other than the cool factor it's hard to recommend this when there are so many more functional travel mice options out there.  I'm still carrying it for now because I like how well it fits in the case but I find myself mostly using the trackpad on the keyboard cover.

Which should have satisfied the gadget addict in me right?  Not quite...

Tablet pens are another thing that's appealing in concept but never seems to work out for me.  In theory taking notes on a screen freeform and having the ability to safe the results digitally sounds great. I'm a pretty big OneNote user both at work and for my outdoor hobbies and I hate accumulating piles of paper.

I've previously purchased the Apple Pencil and found that in the end it just didn't feel right trying to take notes with it. So again I balked at the price of the Surface model in store as nice as it seemed to feel when I tried it. And then an Amazon gift card balance and a frustrating day at work resulted in another whim gadget purchase.

After a few months of periodic use I can confidently say that the pen is...fine.  (Keep in mind I am in no way artistically gifted so drawing is just an exercise in frustration and I'm specifically using this to try and take handwritten notes.)

Similar to my experiences with the Apple Pencil and iPad the sensation of writing on glass with a plastic tip just doesn't feel as satisfying or precise as a fine point pen on paper to me.  In addition handwriting on the small screen of the Surface Go means you don't have a lot of space and I've found myself just defaulting back to typing.

There are a few neat touches though.  The pen attaches to the side of the tablet screen magnetically which is convenient.  Also you can turn the pen around and use the nub on the end like an eraser.

Additionally the nub can be clicked once, twice, and a long click to trigger different actions.  This is nice since I can quickly pull up the MS Whiteboard app to annotate the screen or jump into OneNote quickly.

So while it is situationally useful I can't really say it's been worth the $70 I paid.

Jen on the other hand had a ball drawing with it so if your more artistically inclined it might well be worth it.


After a few months of use I'm very still very happy with the Surface Go. I've started carrying it with me to work when I'm on site since it's useful to have a personal machine without restrictions and it's also been great not having to drag around a boat anchor of a laptop when I'm visiting family but might have to connect in to work.

As expected I've probably spent 99%+ of my time using the Go with the Type Cover attached though I have taken to occasionally undocking it while showing people maps on The touch screen interface makes it rather convenient to scroll around and zoon while discussing trips though I end up wanting the Touch Cover back if I want to make actual edits to get access to the right click.

The battery life has proven to be enough though it's a big downgrade from my old MacBook. I've taken to carrying a battery pack around in the shoulder case and it's been easy enough to plug it in.  I've yet to run out of battery power running off the pack.

This summer will be an even bigger test as I'm taking a bit of a hiatus from gainful employment and will be spending the next few months living out of my vehicle in the Sierra between backpacking excursions and an occasional trip further afield.

So hurrah for *finally* finding a device that will suit my needs and now I can stop buying gadgets.  For now. At least until the next awesome thing catches my eye...

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