Why I Ditched Surface Go 5 Hours After Purchase
I cannot deny how much video I stream on a daily basis. In fact, my monthly data usage has been consistently exceeding the 1TB limit. And salute to Google for inventing Chromecast so I can watch many videos in the living room on my cozy sofa. While the majority of the videos I watch can be casted, there are still plenty of websites that offer video content don’t support Chromecast. Luckily, if you use Chrome you can cast any tab to your TV. I’m not sure how it works but it works darn good. The only limit is that you can only cast a tab from desktop (e.g. Windows or Mac).
Since my PC is not on the same floor as living room, every time I need to cast a tab to watch it on TV I have to run down stairs or use some remote desktop software (that works 90% of the time) to start the cast. This doesn’t sound like a big deal but it’s getting increasingly annoying over the time. As a result, having some device that can cast a tab right in the living room seems the logical step to follow.
As you can tell I don’t need anything remotely powerful. iPad was the first consideration but since the iOS chrome app doesn’t have the cast tab functionality I had to skip it. A cheap 2-in-1 Windows laptop seems perfect for this task. TheWireCutter recommended Asus but it’s out of stock on Amazon. After some more research Surface Go came into eyes. Watched several popular reviews on Youtube and everybody recommended it. Read Amazon reviews, same story. Okay, I was pretty sold. Anyway MS tablet in theory should have better quality and integration than 3rd party one. I wanted it so badly that I rushed to the nearest BestBuy to get one.
Problem solved? Not quite.
The build quality is actually really good and exceeded my expectations. Microsoft has been doing a great job designing the Surface family and I can understand the success behind it.
The speakers are the best part of this device. It’s powerful and simply better than the mono channel speaker on iPad 6th gen.
The hinge is also great. I missed it after switching to iPad and it frustrates me that I had to buy another accessory to make my iPad stand.
Impression on Windows 10
I use Windows 10 on my gaming PC. I like it and don’t understand the hate many people have. Isn’t it impressive that Win10 is versatile enough to run on a tablet with a similar form factor to iPad with reasonable battery life (although real life usage would reveal it’s much worse than an iPad)?
The beginning was a little bit awkward as Surface Go doesn’t power on, even after charging. I had to resort to hard reset (power + volume up at the same time).
The tablet experience feels like a good idea but flawed execution. For example, the Cortana guided initial setup is great for less tech savvy users, which are the majority of Windows’s user base. However the experience is not as smooth as it should be. And bugs like Cortana asks to “enter your WiFi password” for 10+ times make it even worse. One would also expect Win10 would run in tablet mode by default since I wasn’t using the keyboard cover. But no, you have to enable the tablet mode manually.
Chrome, probably like the most apps made for desktop, is not optimized for tablet mode. The UI controls are small and hard to tap on (I didn’t find a setting to make them bigger); the virtual keyboard doesn’t pop up automatically when I need to type username or password. Edge has better integration (e.g. virtual keyboard pops up when I need to type). It’s also said to be better for battery life.
Before we continue, I want to make it clear that I had very realistic expectations. The tablet doesn’t need to run PUBG at 60fps. It doesn’t need to run Photoshop and Word at the same time. It doesn’t need to handle 5 chrome tabs. It just needs to play a single video stream at 1080P. Period. But the constant micro lags and infrequent sluggishness really irritated me as a user. Everything works but the experience is not enjoyable. Maybe I have been indulged by Apple hardware too much. And switching to iPad after this is such a wonderful experience.
The S Mode
I can understand the rationale behind the S mode. MS wants to make something similar to iOS, a more closed ecosystem where MS can exert tighter control. And arguably it’s also better for the average user as it’s less likely to get viruses. I was actually going to experience S mode and see how good it works and then decide whether to turn it off. But hey, it’s hard to experience it when there’s no official app for Youtube or Twitch in the app store. Twitch does have one but you need to opt out S mode first in order to use it. And it’s just a wrapper of the website and has terrible integration with Windows. For example, in full screen mode some UI elements just don’t disappear. Twitch full screen works as expected in Edge but there’s other problem (will discuss later). Youtube on Edge also sucks. Live stream just stops after 4-5 minutes. It was literally unusable. As a result of all these I had to opt out of S mode.
This is my main use case. In all honesty it worked mostly fine. Although it takes quite some time (30s+) before the cast control appears but once the cast starts there’s no lag or stuttering. Another nitpick is that you cannot turn off display and let cast run in the background. As a result, I had to keep Surface Go connected to power so its battery doesn’t run out.
Since my primary use case is to watch live streams, not having a way to watch streams without lagging or stuttering is a real deal breaker for me. And considering the overall suboptimal experience (remember I already set my expectations pretty low), I decided to return it and switch to an iPad.
Before the return I did full factory reset to wipe out my personal data. It’s a nice feature and kudos to MS for a feature respecting user’s privacy. It was slow though. It took 2 hours(?) to wipe everything off the 128GB SSD.
During the return Surface Go refused to power on again. The BestBuy employee seemed surprised. I showed him the reset trick and he said “I kinda understand why you want to return the device.” I guess maybe it’s not a widespread issue. But even if that’s the case, it shows a quality control problem.