Microsoft has just announced a new addition to their Surface range of hybrid laptops. Although it’s the spiritual successor to the Surface 3 they are going with the name Surface Go. It has the look and feel of the Surface Pro while being smaller, less powerful, more portable and a heck of a lot cheaper. Could this be an alternative music making device to the Apple iPad?
Well, of course, like any piece of awesome computing technology it’s not built for us musicians. It’s built for surfing and email, office apps and watching Netflix and the Surface Go will do all of that in a breeze. The question is always how well can it deal with real-time audio flowing in an out. That’s not a question anyone can answer until some has had a go. With the original Surface 3 back in 2015 I was able to run pretty much all music software on it without too much trouble. The only caveat being that it could only handle so much because of the low powered processor. I did a video comparing the performance to the Surface Pro 3 which you’ll find below. The Surface Go has a more recent processor than the Surface 3 but the jury is still out on exactly how it compares so perhaps the video will give some indication of what might be possible. Provided, of course, that we can achieve glitch-free audio.
It’s a 10″ tablet with an 1800 x 1200 PixelSense Display, 10-point multi-touch and Gorilla Glass 3. Running the show is an Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y that I’ve never heard of before. It’s essentially a budget 2-core processor with Hyperthreading running at 1.6GHz with half decent Intel HD 615 Graphics built-in. There’s no Turbo Boost but actually for music making that’s not an issue because all you really want is steady, knowable performance. The Surface 3 had a 4-core Atom processor that could Turbo Boost up to 2.1GHz. The Surface Go has faster memory and better speed stepping technology. It will be interesting to see how they compare.
The Surface Go is available in two memory and storage combinations: 4GB with 64GB of eMMC storage or 8GB with 126GB of SSD storage. So the entry-level £379 price comes with slow storage and not a lot of it for your samples or multi-track recording. Although it’s very similar to what an iPad offers. The more robust and faster 8GB/128GB option is probably going to be a better bet for music making but then the price rises to £509.99. That’s just for the tablet if you want the snazzy type cover that’ll be another £99.99 and a Surface Pen will cost you another £99.99 so you’re looking at around £700 for the full kit. That’s not far away from the entry-level Surface Pro with the Core M3 processor.
Lastly, the connections. It has a single USB 3.1 type-C port. It can be used for charging which is not so great if you want to plug in an audio interface. Although your interface will have a type-A connection so you’re already looking for a hub. But it does also have a regular Surface port for a regular Surface power supply that I’m assuming at this point is included. The ability to charge it on a spare phone charger is useful though. Apparently, it can play video for 9 hours on a single charge. There’s a regular 3.5mm headphone socket (yay!) and a slot for a microSDXC card. There are no video outputs and there are no fans.
Windows 10 S
One more cause for alarm is that the Surface Go comes with Windows 10 in “S” mode. This means that it’s a bit like the defunct Windows RT – it will only run Windows Store apps and other software approved for S mode. So your DAW and all your virtual instruments are not going to install – unless you have your heart set on FL Studio Mobile. However, before we all grumble and roll our eyes you can convert to regular Windows 10 for free so it’s actually a non-issue but one you will no doubt hear thrown around.
iPad killer for music?
The iPad is a proven touch device with a gazillion apps all working marvellously in its own eco-system. The Surface Go is a touchable device in a touch agnostic eco-system but which can run desktop level DAW software, virtual instruments, audio interfaces and other musical peripherals. It’s never going to be perfect for music because it’s not designed with that in mind. But as a high-quality tablet/hybrid at a more reasonable price it could have potential.
The Surface Go is available for preorder now in the US, UK and other territories and should be delivered at the end of August. I’ve just preordered one and I’ll let you know how it goes.