Battle Royale (with Cheese): The iPad (2019) Vs the Surface Go (2)
We’ve talked about smart watches. We’ve talked about headphones. We’ve even talked about the MacBook and the Surface.
But what about their accompaniments?
That’s right; I’m talking about tablets. Alright, sure, you don’t need a tablet to go with your MacBook or your Surface laptop, but you want one, don’t you?
Yeah, I thought so.
But based on the previous Battle Royale, you probably aren’t looking to spend a whole lot on a new tablet. Not after spending $1000 on a new laptop. So let’s look at the “budget” tablets that are currently on the market.
I’m talking about the 2019 iPad (not the Pro, not the Air, and not the Mini, but the Cheap), and the Surface Go 2.
Of course there are other Windows tablets out there- not to mention 2-in-1's or tablets with detachable keyboards. But as with my previous battle, I want to try to compare apples to… Apple’s… and I think the Surface line is about as close as Microsoft gets to Apple’s high standards.
So, shall we? ……FIGHT!
Price and Specs
This category is going to be a bit more fun than usual. At least, in so far as talking about how much money you’re going to spend is.
The iPad starts off at $329. That gets you a paltry 32gb of storage, however, so it is recommended that you upgrade to the 128gb model, which will cost you $429. All models come with 3gb of ram and Apple’s A10 chip, which was first introduced in the iPhone 7 back in 2016. If you want a better processor, you’re going to have to look at the iPad Air or the iPad Pro, which begin at $499 and $799.
The Surface Go 2 begins at $399 for 64gb, 4gb ram and a Pentium Gold processor. Similarly, the Surface Go 2 can be upgraded- for a price. $549 gets you double the ram and storage with the same processor, and $649 bumps the processor up as well to Intel’s Core M3.
While storage isn’t as big of an issue at buying time with the Surface Go as it is with the iPad- all Surface Go models have a micro SD card reader to expand your given storage, while the iPad famously has no expandable storage options- the processor definitely is; the Pentium Gold is considered to be a somewhat slow- albeit power saving- chip. It is worth considering what you’ll be using the diminutive Windows computer for and whether or not that $250 savings is worth the lack of processing power. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Both tablets offer LTE versions as well- the iPad with LTE will run you $459 for the 32gb model and $559 for the 128gb model, and the Surface Go 2 is $729 (LTE is only offered with the Core M3 model).
The real fun isn’t the internal specs, however; it’s the accessories. Both tablets have optional keyboards and drawing implements, which we’ll dive into further in another section.
If you want to completely deck out your iPad, Apple’s Smart Keyboard will run you $159, and the Apple Pencil (1st generation only) goes for $99.
Microsoft’s Surface Pen also costs $99, while the keyboard attachment will cost either $99 or $129, depending on if you choose the plain black or one of the nicer Alcantara options.
Winner: Honestly, it depends on which one you go with. At the base model, the iPad has a much better processor and a better price, but dismal storage. Upgrading the iPad only costs $100, whereas it’s a bigger leap to upgrade the Surface Go 2- but the Surface Go 2 has a few more options for memory size, ram, and processor choices. But still, comparing the cheapest of each, the iPad is a tad bit better out of the gate. But for this category, I’m gonna leave it up to you, and call it more or less a tie.
So, how do these devices look? Both are… well… rectangles. That’s about it.
The iPad is made out of aluminum and comes in Space Gray, Silver, and Gold, while the Surface Go 2 is built out of a soft-touch magnesium and only comes in silver. In use, I find the magnesium body of the Surface Go 2 to be easier to handle; it isn’t as slippery compared to Apple’s polished “alumin-eum” and it doesn’t get as cold when sitting in a cooler room. They both feature 10ish-inch screens; the iPad is 10.2 inches, up from last year’s 9.7, and the Surface Go 2 was upgraded to a 10.5 inch from the original’s 10 inch panel. The Surface Go’s screen has a smaller- and more symmetrical- bezel; this is because the iPad holds onto Apple’s Touch ID sensor, which requires a little more real estate on the front of the device. While some consider any amount of bezel these days to be an eyesore, I personally like the wider bezel on the iPad; when you hold it in landscape mode, it gives you more room to hold the device without your thumb touching the screen (I’ve had a few instances where my thumb accidentally clicked on something on the edge of the Surface Go’s screen).
The iPad has a slightly better screen resolution- 2,160 x 1,620 pixels vs the Surface Go’s 1920 x 1280 pixels. In real world use, they look about the same. While displaying the same wallpaper, the iPad looked a smidge clearer. That said, I did a YouTube test, and the iPad capped my resolution at 1080p, while the Surface Go 2 allowed 4K and 8K playback. I watched Sucre’s music video for “Inside” on both devices, and the Surface Go 2 provided much better clarity and even more vivid colors.
Both devices are relatively thin; the iPad is a tiny bit thinner than the Surface, but not as thin as it’s more expensive sibling, the iPad Air.
There’s a reason for the added thickness of the Surface, however; like all Surface tablets, the Surface Go 2 has a built in kickstand. That kickstand instantly makes the Surface more useful out of the box; you can always find the perfect angle for watching videos, writing or reading, or even drawing. If you want this functionality on the iPad, you’re going to need to buy a case, and there aren’t many that have a hinge anywhere comparable to the one built into the Surface.
Behind the Surface’s hinge is the micro SD card reader. And speaking of, let’s talk ports. Besides the micro SD card slot, the Surface Go 2 has a headphone jack, one USB-C port (which is not a Thunderbolt port), and the Surface Connect port, which is used for charging as well as connecting to Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Dock and other accessories. The Surface can also charge through the USB-C port, although it does not come with a USB-C charger in the box.
The iPad, however, only has two ports: the headphone jack (surprisingly), and the Lightning port for charging. You can get adaptors and flash drives that connect through the Lightning port, but it is definitely not as versatile as the USB-C on the Surface Go 2, and to utilize it you have to give up the charging port.
Along the bottom (if you are using the devices in landscape mode), both devices have proprietary connectors for their respective keyboard attachments.
Both feature cameras on the front and back of the devices, but the quality of them really aren’t worth writing home- or Medium- about on either device (although your Zoom meetings will look a hair better on the Surface Go 2). The placement of the front-facing camera, however, is something to talk about, especially if you are planning to use the device for video calls. In landscape mode, the iPad has the camera in the bezel opposite the Touch ID reader, meaning it is either to the left or right of the screen. This ends up causing you to appear not to be looking at the person you are talking to in a FaceTime call. By comparison, the Surface Go 2 has the camera positioned at the top of the screen in landscape mode, which is ideal for those Skype or Zoom calls you’re probably making right now.
The Surface Go 2 packs an additional feature with its front-facing camera, however: Facial recognition with Windows Hello. Where it lacks that fingerprint reader, the Surface Go 2 will unlock the device when it sees your face; that said, I found this worked only a fraction of the time. More often than not, the device spends several agonizing seconds looking around before telling me that it either A) couldn’t see me or B) couldn’t turn on the camera. I’ve gone through the steps to “improve” the facial recognition about a dozen times, trying different lighting, different time of day, but the results are always the same; more often than not, Windows Hello on the Surface Go 2 is more of a time waster than a proper function, and I’d be better off turning it off completely and typing in a PIN or password. This, to me, is a damn shame, as the same Windows Hello facial recognition worked with near perfection on the Surface Laptop 3 that I just tested. Simply put, you aren’t going to have this issue with Touch ID on the iPad.
The iPad is, basically, an iPad. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Much like the MacBooks, Apple hasn’t changed the design of the standard iPad in years; it might be fractionally slimmer than it’s predecessors (and I’m talking it’s great grandfathers, not the iPads of the last couple of years), but if you want one that looks a bit more modern, you’re gonna have to go for the expensive Pro line. It’s not a bad design by any means, but it is a dated one, especially looking at those bezels (even if I personally have a good use for them). One could definitely argue that Apple raided the parts bin to make this iPad, as nothing about it- inside or out- looks newly designed for this model.
The Surface Go 2 also doesn’t change much from the previous Go besides a bigger screen and reduced bezels, but that’s enough to make it look fresh compared to its older brother. And while it does still look like a miniaturized version of the Surface Pro series, and while that design also hasn’t changed drastically in the last few years, Microsoft has definitely been refining it with each new iteration. Personally, the Surface Go 2 (and the added keyboard) remind me of my old Asus Eee PC computer, which was diminutive and underpowered but still one of my favorite computers. But in 2020, a built in kickstand, webcam placement that makes sense for video calls, and a matte finish magnesium casing feel much more modern than Apple’s tried and tired design.
Winner: I think this round goes to the Surface Go 2. While both tablets are very nice, the kickstand and the extra ports on the Surface Go make it much more useful. The screen- despite looking worse on paper- looks better in action. And while Windows Hello isn’t as reliable as Touch ID, the front-facing camera location makes much more sense on the Surface Go, especially in 2020.
Performance and Operating System
Ah… this is where the turns are tabled.
Ignoring the fact that there is a more powerful Surface Go 2 out there, the base model- and that Pentium processor- struggles under a heavy load. If you have multiple tabs open, or a high-res video playing, or music going, you should expect some lag. It isn’t unmanageable, but it is noticeable, especially if you have a more powerful Windows machine like the Surface Laptop 3 laying around.
But honestly, the Surface Go 2 isn’t meant to be a powerhouse. And if you don’t treat it as such (or if you splurge and spend the extra $250 for the Core M3), you’ll get some decent use out of it. The small size of the device- coupled with the kickstand- has made it a constant companion when I need Windows on the run.
And that’s one of this device’s greatest selling points: it has full Windows. Well, sort of. When you first set up the device, it is running Windows 10 in S Mode. S Mode means it will only run programs in the Microsoft Store (and as app stores go, this one is pretty barren). But this is quickly resolved when you attempt to install something- such as Google Chrome- that isn’t in the Store; Windows will open the Microsoft Store, which will explain the benefits of using the device in S Mode, and more importantly, give you the option to switch to the full Windows 10. Once you switch, you can’t go back, but you shouldn’t want to. Despite Microsoft claiming the device will run smoother- and safer- in S Mode, you’re gonna want some programs that just aren’t available through the Store.
Once out of S Mode, the Surface Go 2 is a full- albeit small- Windows machine. You can install full Photoshop on it if you want to (although that’s not recommended on the base model unless you enjoy laggy performance). While not the fastest Windows PC out there, there’s no denying how useful having a full operating system in such a portable body can be.
Of course, the iPad has come a long way in terms of a portable OS. Now running iPad OS (and now with mouse support), the iPad is trying it’s best to become a computer replacement. iPad OS- which is still based on iOS- has a more robust App Store, and more programs designed specifically for it’s form factor; while the full Windows 10 experience is nice, there’s definitely something to be said for programming designed for the tablet interface.
And because the apps are designed for the iPad, they run rings around the Surface Go 2. Apps like Powerpoint and Lightroom are much faster (but they aren’t the full desktop versions and have some mobile OS restrictions). And referring back to that Sucre music video? The YouTube app- while restricted to 1080p- played the video back flawlessly and without any buffering, while the Surface Go 2 stuttered and sputtered getting the video to run even before I switched the resolution to 4K.
Both machines offer multitasking options like split screen- but this is where the Surface Go is going to take the lead again; iPadOS’s split screen elements are restricted to apps that support it, while Windows 10 will split the screen with any program. The Surface Go lacks the iPad’s nifty Slide Over, but it allows multiple instances of the same program to be open, which the iPad only supports on a small number of apps. Both can do picture-in-picture so that you can do something else while watching a video, but again, the iPad is limited to apps that support this feature, and major ones like YouTube do not. On the Surface Go, this option still seems to be experimental and is not enabled by default in Microsoft Edge, but you can easily sidestep this by downloading a different browser- such as Firefox- which already has it built in.
I do think the iPad manages its multitasking a bit better, however; you can easily switch between apps with a four-fingered swipe on the screen, or see all your open apps by double pressing the home button or swiping up from the bottom of the iPad. On the Surface Go 2, you really need a keyboard and mouse/trackpad to make use of most of the multitasking gestures- like a four-fingered swipe to move between desktops or a three-fingered swipe to switch between apps- as these commands don’t appear to have been built into the touchscreen. Next to the Start and Search and Cortana buttons on the task bar, there is a button you can press to view your open desktops, open tabs and programs, and even your timeline history of websites you’ve visited and Word documents you’ve opened, but personally finding this software icon- especially on the smaller screen- is a bit more cumbersome than using the iPad’s dedicated home button. I kinda miss the days when Microsoft included a capacitive Windows logo on the front of the screen (although that probably would have resulted in a bigger bezel and more accidental presses by my clumsy thumbs).
While the iPad is really aiming itself at becoming a laptop replacement, it still feels very much like a mobile OS; while mouse support and split screen are nice- and very welcome- additions, it still lacks a file system as robust as Windows File Explorer, and unless you are using split screen or Slide Over, apps always take up the entire screen- there’s no option to have them in loose windows.
Where it lacks in being a true laptop competitor, however, the iPad makes up for in other aspects. For artists, for example, the iPad is a much more powerful tool. There are hundreds of apps available for things like photo and video editing, music writing, and illustrating. While it can’t run full Photoshop, I think you’d be hard pressed to find something Photoshop can do on the Surface Go 2 that an app can’t do on the iPad. Likewise, it will do much better at playing games and streaming movies and music.
To put it simply, the Surface Go 2 is better for productivity, and the iPad better for creation/consumption.
Winner: While the iPad and it’s A10 chip definitely outclass the Surface Go 2 in performance, the real question here is what you plan to use it for. If you are going to be playing games, watching movies, and working on art, the iPad is a much better choice. But if you are planning to use the device more for productivity such as writing, the Surface Go 2 is probably the better option. It really just depends on whether you want a full computer operating system or a mobile OS tailored to the tablet experience. In terms of sheer performance, however, the iPad takes the cake.
The biggest selling point with both of these tablets are the things you can use them with. Between pens to write and draw with and keyboards to type on, you’re going to end up wanting to buy a peripheral for your device.
When Apple introduced the Apple Pencil, it was exclusive to the iPad Pro line. That’s changed in the last couple of years, however, and now the regular iPad (along with the iPad Air and iPad Mini) have support for the Pencil as well.
Unfortunately that support only applies to the original Pencil and not the newer Generation 2 Pencil, which is still exclusive to the Pro iPads, but the original is a very useful device. The Apple Pencil supports things like tilting and shading, and can be used in a plethora of illustrating and notetaking apps. It is rechargeable so you don’t have to go fumbling for replacement batteries, however, bizarrely Apple chose to have it charge by plugging into the iPad’s Lightning port. Thankfully it charges rapidly- just a few seconds should give you enough juice to get drawing for half an hour- but while it is charging it looks like the iPad has a stick up its… well, you get the idea. It does come with an adaptor to allow it to use your Lightning cable instead, but that piece- like the cap that covers the Lightning plug itself- is easily lost. And if it matters, the Apple Pencil comes in either glossy white or glossy white.
The Surface Go 2 supports the Surface Pen, which is supported on all Surface devices, from the tablets to the laptops to the Surface Book, which means if you have a Surface Pen for one device, it works on all of them. Unlike on the Surface Laptop, the Go 2 supports tilting and shading with the Pen. The Surface Pen also has two buttons- which is two more than the Apple Pencil for those of us counting. The side button is basically a right click when you are using the Pen as a pointer, while the button on the back end serves as an eraser while drawing or writing (something I wish the Apple Pencil had), and also has programable shortcuts when you click it, double click it, and hold it down. The Surface Pen can be used on multiple devices simultaneously and seamlessly, although the extra shortcuts built into the eraser will only work on the device you’ve paired it to via Bluetooth.
You can pick up additional pen tips for the Surface Pen, which will allow it to mimic different types of pens and pencils in certain applications. Unlike the Apple Pencil, it does run on a AAAA battery, which Microsoft says should last one year under normal use. It is a bummer that you have to buy a battery, but at least you don’t have to charge it stupidly. Sorry… not sorry. The Surface Pen also comes in colors- specifically, Platinum, Black, Poppy Red, and Ice Blue. You can also spend $50 more to get the Surface Slim Pen, which was designed for the Surface Pro X, and which does charge wirelessly in a proprietary cradle.
In use, both the Apple Pencil and the Surface Pen are very handy, but I’ll give an edge to the Surface Pen for a few reasons. I find that I have to press the Apple Pencil on the screen harder to get a dark enough line while drawing, which makes me feel like I’m going to scratch or crack the screen. The second reason has more to do with the Surface Go’s screen, because the iPad’s screen isn’t laminated, which means there’s a decent gap between the glass I’m touching and the actual screen. This causes the Apple Pencil to tap rather audibly, and also makes it appear in some cases that the line you are drawing is slightly off from where the Pencil is touching the screen. Finally, the Surface Pen can magnetically attach to the side of the Surface Go when you aren’t using it, meaning it won’t easily get lost.
One downside is that, out of the box, the Surface Go 2 doesn’t appear to offer decent palm rejection while using the Pen; this resulted in some accidental marks while using the pen to draw in Adobe Fresco. You can amend these settings- and I encourage you to do so- by going to Pen Settings in Windows 10 Settings, and selecting the option to “Ignore touch input while I’m using my pen”. Personally, I think it is kinda bonkers that this setting isn’t enabled by default- the iPad just naturally rejects your palm while you are using the Pencil- and even more bonkers that I had to Google this issue to find out that there even was a settings option for this. When I tested the Surface Pen out with the Surface Laptop 3, I didn’t have to manage this setting even once. After I turned this setting on, the Surface Go 2 for the most part ignores accidental touches by my palm and my fingers so long as the Pen is touching or hovering over the screen, but as soon as the pen is more than a couple centimeters from the screen, my palm starts drawing again. It’s not bad; just annoying, and the iPad definitely manages this better.
Now, let’s talk keyboards. Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover looks very similar to the regular Smart Cover available for iPads- except that there is an extra flap inside that folds out into a keyboard. Once set up and connected magnetically, the iPad is supported by the same triangular stand that the regular Smart Cover converts into. This means, unfortunately, that the iPad has exactly one viewing angle while in typing mode.
The keyboard itself is pretty nice, and definitely unique; the keys are covered in the same rubbery material as the rest of the case, and they have reasonable travel for a travel-sized device. That said, if you aren’t using it on a flat surface, it is rather wobbly, since the majority of the weight is in the iPad itself. And while the keys have decent travel, it isn’t the best typing experience; in a 10 Fast Fingers test, I got my lowest typing score in a long time (55 words, 75% accuracy). This keyboard seems to be prone to mistypes, and again that is especially prominent if you aren’t using it on a flat surface.
Like the Apple Pencil, the Smart Keyboard Cover comes in a singular color, this time a very dark gray, which I think is rather boring; I wish the Smart Keyboard came in the same array of colors Apple sells the Smart Covers in.
The Surface Go’s keyboard, on the other hand, comes in several colors and even two different finishes. There’s a basic black keyboard cover, made out of a similar material to the Smart Keyboard from Apple, and then there’s Microsoft’s signature Alcantara Keyboard covers, which come in Platinum (silver), Cobalt (dark blue), Burgundy, Poppy Red, and Ice Blue. While I wish the Surface Go 2 itself came in more than one color, the wide selection of keyboard colors more than makes up for it.
If you have another Surface device- like the Surface Laptop 3 or the Surface Pro 7- the keyboard will be extremely familiar, though you’ll think that Rick Moranis aimed his shrink ray at it. The keys, while more compact, are the exact same you’ll find on the Go’s larger siblings, and it doesn’t stop with the visuals. Despite being so small, the Go keyboard has excellent responsiveness and travel. While I didn’t reach the record high typing scores I got on the Surface Laptop, I still managed a respectable 75 words per minute and a 96% accuracy rate on 10 Fast Fingers. As a writer- and one who appreciates small, ultra-portable writing devices- the Surface Go 2 coupled with the keyboard cover is a perfect writing tool for on the go. No pun intended.
The Surface Go’s keyboard also has something that the iPad’s does not: a trackpad. Despite iPadOS now supporting the use of a mouse or a trackpad, the Smart Keyboard doesn’t include one (it was released before iOS supported a mouse). You can get a Logitech keyboard case that does include a trackpad, and it even has a kickstand similar to the Surface Go’s and a loop to slide the Apple Pencil in, but it adds a bulky case to the iPad that makes it thicker than the Surface Go, and it connects through bluetooth rather than the connectors built into the iPad. The Surface Go’s trackpad follows the same principle as the keyboard- it is the exact same, extremely reliable trackpad included in the bigger Surface products, just smaller.
Coupled with the kickstand, the keyboard cover makes this a very easy device to use in your lap as well- something that my older Surface Pro 3 was never capable of- and I’ve even been able to use it and type on it propped on just one leg. Whether you set the keyboard flat or prop it at the slight angle that the built in magnets provide, the keyboard is very sturdy and makes this a very reliable device to use on the go.
The only complaint I could make against the Surface Go’s keyboard is that it doesn’t come with the device; unlike the iPad, the Surface Go 2- and Windows 10- almost demand that you have a keyboard and mouse to go with it. But while many reviewers will detract the fact that the Surface Go 2 doesn’t include the keyboard in it’s $399 price and talk about how this makes it much more expensive than the iPad, I have to counter with the fact that the iPad’s keyboard is a more expensive $159, meaning that with the keyboard cover, the Surface Go 2 is only $40 cheaper than the iPad with it’s keyboard. And frankly, that $40 saved is not worth the less reliable typing experience on the iPad.
It is worth mentioning that you can get a good third-party keyboard for the iPad that mimics the Surface Go 2’s winning features; Logitech recently released a keyboard case ($149, again only in gray) that comes with a keyboard that looks startlingly similar to Microsoft’s own, which attaches magnetically and is removable just like the Surface Go’s keyboard, and even features a trackpad that looks about the same in size and quality. There are two minor downsides with the Logitech case, however; the keyboard can only lay flat- it doesn’t have the additional magnets that allow the Surface Go keyboard to prop up at an angle- and it requires a somewhat bulky case that fits around the iPad- which houses a similar kickstand and even a loop for the Apple Pencil. While the case does provide some decent drop protection for the iPad, it makes it so much thicker than the Surface Go, and while the kickstand appears to have some solid build quality, it still appears a bit flimsy compared to the one built into the Surface Go. Unlike the Surface Go’s keyboard, the magnets that attach it to the iPad- and Apple’s keyboard connection- aren’t very strong, and it will get dislodged much easier than the Surface Go keyboard.
Winner: Surface Go 2. The Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard Cover definitely make the iPad a very useful device for creating, but the Surface Pen and the Surface Go Keyboard are just better. The keyboard in particular makes this tablet a fully functional Windows PC in a microscopic body and really completes the package. I could be mad that it is a separate required purchase, but its usefulness with the Surface Go 2 is just fantastic. If Microsoft knows how to do anything, it’s the keyboard.
Both Apple and Microsoft state that you should get up to 10 hours of battery life on their respective tablets. In real life use, however, I’ve found that to be something of an exaggeration.
The iPad does a decent job getting close to that estimate most of the time- of course it will depend on your usage. You can definitely drain the iPad’s battery down in just a few hours if you tax it hard enough.
I’ll admit that I’ve always had a battery problem with Windows 10. I always feel like the battery drains faster than the estimates suggest. It was true for the Surface Laptop 3, and it is true for the Surface Go 2. I seem to get around 5–6 hours out of the Surface Go 2, which is abysmal compared to Microsoft’s claim of 10 hours. If you are using this a a supplemental device to your main computer- something you can take on the… ahem… go- and not your daily driver, I don’t think that’s too bad a lifespan, but between the iPad and the Surface Go 2, I think the latter is more likely to leave you in the lurch if you find yourself without a charger.
That said, charging this thing is a dream. As I said previously, you can charge the Surface Go 2 through either the Surface Connect port or the USB-C port. Included in the box is the Surface Connect charger, which supports fast charging; if you have the tablet in sleep mode, it will charge from zero to 80 in under an hour. If you have other Surface devices, the Connect chargers are interchangeable.
The iPad comes with the same Lightning cord that most Apple products use, so again, if you have an iPhone or AirPods or whatever, it is the same cord. While it does come with a higher watt charger than the iPhones ship with, it is still a very underpowered brick compared to what the iPad is capable of charging with. Charging will take a couple of hours with the iPad on this charger, but if you opt to buy one of Apple’s bigger charging bricks, you will see an improvement in charging speed.
Winner: I’m calling this a tie. The iPad definitely outlives the Surface Go 2 in most day-to-day uses, but the Surface Go 2 will get you charge up and ready to go in no time. This one depends more on your preferences and use cases. Are you going to be out and about all day with your tablet and unable to plug in? Or do you spend most of your tablet-using day within reasonable distance of an outlet?
The last thing I want to talk about is the respective ecosystems for these devices. Of course, they work fine on their own- and depending on your computer needs, they might even be all you need for day to day life.
But how well do they work with their respective ecosystem?
As I discussed (at great length) in my last battle, Apple’s ecosystem is very well implimented- the iPhone and iPad and MacBook lines all talk to each other. If I take a photo on my iPhone, it shows up instantly on my iPad. In the rare event something doesn’t just cross over, I can Air Drop it to and from the iPad. And if you have a newer MacBook, you can even use the iPad as a second screen with a built-in feature called Sidecar. True to Apple’s motto, it just works, and when the iPad is displaying a second screen, you can use the MacBook’s keyboard and trackpad to operate whatever the iPad is displaying, and in some cases you may be able to use the Apple Pencil as well. Activating this option is as simple as tapping the icon in the taskbar that looks like an iPad; when I first discovered it, it was entirely by accident and my iPad was already displaying a second screen for the MacBook before I even knew what was going on.
The Surface Go 2 similarly can mirror documents from your other devices- so long as you are storing them in OneDrive (or using a third party like Google). It does require extra downloads, installations, and log ins to get this working, and depending on your devices, you may have to physically open the OneDrive app to see the synced files and photos; on the iPhone, OneDrive won’t automatically transfer photos to my camera roll, which means there’s an extra step if I want a picture from my Surface Go 2 on my phone (but it will automatically back up photos from the iPhone into Microsoft’s Photos app on the Surface Go).
As for using the device as a second screen, you can use Microsoft’s Miracast (I think it’s still called Miracast) to use it as a second display; that said, since it is running full Windows 10, I find it more useful just to use it on it’s own side by side with another computer rather than forcing it to connect as another display. If I’m working on a Word document, I can have the same document open on the Surface Go 2 and see edits appear in real time, or I can have additional documents I need to see open. The primary benefit of using Miracast in this case would simply be to use the same keyboard and mouse on both devices. That said, the option is buried in Settings; even using the shortcut on the Notifications panel, I couldn’t figure out how to get it working in the time I spent testing the device. Apple’s implementation of this is far superior.
It is worth mentioning that there are third party options to use the iPad as a second screen for Windows 10; the best option I’ve tried is Duet Display, which is a free download on Windows but costs $9.99 for the iPad app. And unless you pay extra, the iPad has to be connected to the computer through your Lightning cable.
Depending on your phone choice, one tablet may be a better option than the other. The iPad will mirror the iPhone’s iMessages and can even use your iPhone’s data plan if you are without WiFi. While the Surface Go 2 can mimic most of the inter-connectivity features that the iPhone has with the iPad through apps, it can’t do a damn thing about text messages. The reverse, however, can be said for Android users. The Surface Go 2 can receive and reply to your text messages, while the iPad will more or less ignore your Android device entirely (again, unless you use third party apps on your iPad like Google Drive and Google Photos).
Winner: This one really just depends on what ecosystem you are already in. If you have an iPhone or a MacBook (or both), the iPad is the obvious choice. But if you use Android, or your main computer is a Windows 10 PC, the Surface Go 2 may be the better option. But from a pure functionality standpoint, I think Apple’s designed a better ecosystem with their devices than has Microsoft.
After my very lengthy comparison of the Surface Laptop 3 and the 2020 MacBook Air, it feels like I’ve left a lot out in comparing these two devices. But at the same time, I knew this was going to be a relatively short battle, at least by comparison.
I could talk more about specs- I could talk about a lot of things- but despite these being very similar tablets in size, I really think these are two very different birds with two very different use cases.
And even this particular battle would agree; it more or less came out at a tie, although you could argue that the iPad comes out on top where it counts- performance. But performance isn’t everything- and it isn’t the thing that everyone needs.
While underpowered, I think the Surface Go 2 is an exceptional tablet for the right person- a person who just needs a portable PC to do the very basics, or who wants it as a secondary device. It does everything that a Surface Pro does- just slower at times.
As someone who already owns the iPad, for me the Surface Go 2 may not be a replacement so much as an accomplice; I would seriously consider dropping both of these devices in my bag to have the best of both worlds- the iPad for drawing and editing photos, and the Surface Go 2 (and its keyboard) for writing. But if you are someone who hasn’t purchased either device, I think it is best to consider what you are planning to do with the device.
Don’t buy the Surface Go 2 if you need something with some processing power in a small package; it won’t be any good at gaming, and besides some light drawing with the Surface Pen, don’t expect it to be capable of creating your next masterpiece.
Don’t buy the iPad if you want a full computer experience- complete with an excellent keyboard and trackpad- in a tablet’s body (or if you prefer that the tablet looks more modern than iPads from half a decade ago).