We compared the $1,200 MacBook Air with the $500 Surface Go, and the results were a mess

  • Apple’s MacBook Air, which starts at $US1,200, has an amazing display, but the hardware isn’t very powerful.
  • Microsoft’s Surface Go is an affordable tablet/laptop device capable of running full Windows 10.
  • How does the Surface Go compare with the MacBook Air for everyday tasks?
  • Business Insider’s Ben Gilbert tried the Surface Go to find out.

The following is a transcript of the video.

I’ve been using MacBook Air laptops for roughly the last decade, give or take, without pause. I tested out the Microsoft Surface Go, a significantly less expensive laptop solution, against my MacBook Air. The results were kind of a mess.

The majority of stuff that I do on my MacBook Air is writing and/or using the internet. I occasionally do some kind of heavier lifting, but nothing super processor-intensive. Most of what I’m doing is kind of power internet-using.

My first impressions of the Surface Go are that it looks and feels very similar to previous Surface products. The keyboard is maybe the most impressive hardware feature of it. It in every other way is a relatively budget-looking version of a standard Microsoft Surface tablet device.

There’s a kind of kickstand device on the back that you can position. It feels extremely strange to have a kind of, like, kickstand on your legs because it’s not very adjustable to different heights.

One thing that’s really excellent about the Surface Go is that it has a microSD slot that you can expand the memory with. And that’s super meaningful.

It’s perfectly capable of, you know, power internet browsing, the kind of lighter lifting that I’m usually doing. It’s a lot less capable when that starts to get on the heavier end of things. If you get over 10 or 15 tabs open in Chrome, if you’ve got Spotify running at the same time, maybe you pull up a YouTube video, things start to chug. Browsing is a little slow. You occasionally encounter the kind of thing where you go to load something or open a new tab and it just hitches.

I’ve gotten used to it, I think, is maybe the best way to put it. I expect certain limitations. I kind of cater my use around that. I’m, for instance, significantly less likely now to use, like, Spotify, for instance, while also running a bunch of tabs because I know that it’s going to result in an overall muddier experience. So I’ll close things more carefully – basically kind of treat it like I would a tablet, where you’re only running one or two things at a time because it really can’t do much more than that. It feels like you might want to watch Hulu on it or do some light web browsing, maybe shop on Amazon or something like that, but that’s the kind of thing that I would also maybe do, like, on an iPad.

I still have plenty of criticisms for the newest version of the MacBook Air. I think it costs too much money. I think it’s underpowered for what it is. But it doesn’t feel underpowered – it feels powerful and capable, and rarely do I feel like I’m overworking it. And a lot of times if I’m trying to juggle, say, Photoshop and a bunch of Chrome tabs, that can even make my MacBook feel the pressure a little bit. And on the Surface Go, I was simply just trying to mitigate around that stuff.

The MacBook Air is an overpriced laptop. That’s something I had to come to terms with personally when I bought one. Is it worth three times the price of the Surface Go? Probably not. But to me and how I use laptops and to what I’m used to, the MacBook Air is absolutely worth the money I paid. Even though I know I’m getting ripped off.

The Surface Go is significantly less expensive: at $US500, a very low-priced laptop, or laptop-esque device. That said, in terms of functionality, in terms of usefulness, it’s severely lacking. And so what you save in price – hundreds of dollars – you’re going to have to weigh that against how much frustration you’re willing to put up with in daily use. So if you were looking for a device that could play “Minecraft” and do some light internet browsing, maybe be used for shopping or watching the occasional Netflix video, this device is certainly capable of all of that. It might not be capable of all of that at the same time.

I think the Surface Go is most definitely more of a tablet than anything else. Microsoft has put in a special thing called “S mode” that essentially locks you into the Windows Store and any applications from it. It’s sort of the way that Apple devices work – on an iPad, for instance, you can only download games and applications from Apple’s App Store. In S mode on Windows 10, you’re only able to download approved apps that are kind of meant to be used with the Surface Go through the Windows Store. And the only way to turn this off on the Surface Go is to download an application through the Windows Store that then enables you to turn off that specific mode, thus freeing your computer to be a computer.

It’s certainly an inexpensive option for a student who might need a laptop for a handful of Microsoft Office tasks like Word or Excel or PowerPoint in addition to, you know, doing other stuff like research projects. The Surface Go is just simply not great at multitasking. And it’s not really built for multitasking in the same way.

As an inexpensive, perfectly capable, tablet-like, laptop-like device for the home, it’s probably fine. I would suggest a few other things before it, like, say, an iPad. If you only had $US500 to spend on a computer and the Surface Go was right in front of you, you could do a lot worse. But you could also do a lot better.

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