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Microsoft Surface Go 2 vs Apple iPad: Which tablet is right for you?

surface go 2 vs ipad
(Image credit: Future)

Sure, Apple's iPad is synonymous with tablets -- heck, it helped define the category -- but Microsoft's Surface Go 2 is a strong competitor, and that made us wonder: how do they compare directly? 

In the quest to build the best tablet, Microsoft fixed some of the issues plaguing the Surface Pro 7 and delivered those fixes in a much more affordable model (though its processor isn't as fast). While Windows 10 is arguably better for productivity, iPadOS is getting better and the iPad is still the top tablet — built for touch and touch alone. The Surface Go 2 has to serve two masters: the finger and the cursor. 

Notably, we've just updated this face off with the results of our iPad (2020) review, which show Apple going for the jugular with a speedy A12 Bionic processor. So, let's dive into this Surface Go 2 vs iPad face-off, a round-by-round fight, to see which is right for you.

If you're leaning towards the iPad and can wait, you may have a bigger screen in your future. That's just one of the new features expected for the new iPad 2021. In the meantime, we haven't heard any news about the next Surface Go ... yet.

The two tablets remarkably similar in certain categories, but the Surface Go 2 can get faster, provided you pay more. Here's everything you need to know about how the Surface Go 2 and iPad stack up:

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Specs

Microsoft Surface Go 2iPad (8th Gen)
Starting price$399$329
Screen11 inches (2388 x 1668 pixels)10.2 inches (2160 x 1620 pixels)
Battery life11:3912:57
ProcessorIntel Pentium Gold 4425Y | 8th Gen Intel Core m3A12 Bionic
Storage64GB eMMC | 128GB SSD32GB | 128GB
KeyboardType Cover supportedSmart Keyboard supported
StylusSurface Pen supportedApple Pencil supported
Dimensions9.7 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches9.8 x 6.8 x 0.3 inches
Weight1.2 pounds1.1 pounds

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Price and value

The iPad starts at $329, and that model features the A12 Fusion processor and 32GB of storage. The Surface Go 2 is a little more expensive, with an entry-level $399 model that features the Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The pricing for those two models favors the iPad, because even though the Surface Go 2 has more storage, that Pentium CPU isn't that fast at all.

You can bump the iPad's storage to 128GB for $100 more, for a price of $429. LTE connectivity costs an extra $130, with a starting price of $459. Neither is utterly mandatory, though the extra space will be welcome for those with lots of apps or photos.  

The Surface Go 2 upgrades are much more about performance. An extra $150 doubles the memory and storage (to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage), but the upgrade we recommend is the Core M3 version (which also has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage), which costs a whopping $629.

surface go 2 vs ipad - iPad

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We tested the Core m3 Surface Go 2 and found its performance to be good enough, but not great to the point where we'd want to sacrifice any speed. That means to get the Surface Go 2 we recommend, you're spending $300 more than you would for the iPad — meaning you could buy two iPads for only $29 more than the Surface Go 2.

Annoyingly, neither the Surface Go 2 nor the iPad include their first party keyboard or stylus. Microsoft's Surface Go Type Covers range from $99 to $129, while its Surface Pen is currently priced between $78 and $99. The Apple Pencil costs $99 while the Smart Keyboard for iPad costs $159. 

Winner: iPad

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Design

The Surface Go 2 measures 9.7 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches, which gives it a pretty similar footprint to the 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.3-inch iPad. The testament to Microsoft's success here is shown in how they use that space, fitting a 10.5-inch panel in when Apple only ekes in 10.2 inches of screen estate. 

Another point in Microsoft's favor is seen in the Surface Go's built-in kickstand. iPad owners need to buy a case, or lean their slate against a stack of books, to make a makeshift easel. The 1.2-pound Surface Go doesn't weigh much more for it, when compared to the 1.1-pound iPad.

surface go 2 vs ipad: Microsoft Surface Go 2's smaller bezels

(Image credit: Future)

The iPad's bezels (particularly its 0.8-inch forehead and chin) are a little on the large side, especially in contrast with its 0.3-inch side-bezels. The Surface Go 2's got notably slimmer bezels, measuring 0.5 inches on the length and 0.4 inches on the top and bottom. Neither looks ancient, but the iPad's design has stayed the same for so long that it's starting to show a little age.

While the Surface Go 2 is available only in silver, the iPad is sold in silver, gold and Space Gray. Get with the times, Microsoft, give us color options for more than just your Type Cover keyboards.

Winner: Surface Go 2

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Ports

Both the iPad and Surface Go 2 have headphone jacks, but that's where the similarities end. The Surface Go 2 beats the iPad on connectivity, with USB-C, a Surface Connector and microSD ports, whereas the iPad has just the Lightning port.

(Image credit: Future)

So, the Surface Go 2 lets you charge and use a wired accessory, while the iPad makes you choose. No fun at all, that one.

Winner: Surface Go 2

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Display

Thankfully, both the Surface Go 2 and iPad have bright and colorful screens. While I watched the Wonder Woman 1984 trailer on both slates, side by side, I barely could tell a difference between how they reproduced Diana's gold and red armor, blue skies or green forestry. Kristin Wiig's magenta shirt may have popped a little more on the iPad, but the differences were negligible overall.

Both tablets offer a great range of viewing angles, with colors not dimming when viewed at 45 degrees to the left and right.

surface go 2 vs ipad: Microsoft Surface Go 2 display

(Image credit: Future)

The Surface Go 2’s 10.5-inch PixelSense display measures 1920 x 1280 pixels, and while that's nice, the 10.2-inch iPad's got it beat on resolution, with its 2160 x 1620-pixel panel. That works out to the iPad featuring a 264 pixels-per-inch density, beating the 220 ppi Surface Go 2.

According to our colorimeter, both tablets emit offer similar color output, with the iPad netting 97% of the sRGB gamut and the Surface Go 2 producing a slightly higher 107%.

The iPad gets brighter, with a 484-nit panel that outshines the 408-nit Surface Go 2.

Winner: iPad

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Keyboard and Stylus

Annoyingly, neither the iPad nor the Surface Go 2 include the keyboard nor stylus that Apple and Microsoft make by default. However, the Surface Go 2 wins a point for a better way to dock the Surface Pen, which snaps to the side, with magnets. 

The Type Cover keyboards may have a slight learning curve. When I tested out the Surface Go 2's Type Cover, I noticed that when they keyboard wasn't flat to the table — its magnets practically default you to an incline — the sensation of tapping my fingers against a keyboard that moved down was a little odd. This does not differ across either model.

(Image credit: Future)

Similarly, the iPad Smart Keyboard Folio has pretty shallow keys, which also makes for its own growing pains while you get used to it.

Winner: Surface Go 2

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Performance

The high-end Surface Go 2 gave the 2019 iPad a run for its money on performance power — but the 2020 iPad has arrived for revenge, erasing that loss.

We tested the up-spec'd Surface Go 2 (Core m3-8100Y and 8GB of RAM) and the A12 Fusion-based iPad (which doesn't let you spend more to get a faster version).

surface go 2 vs ipad: ipad

(Image credit: Future)

On the Geekbench 5 general performance benchmark, the 2020 iPad scored 2,685, beating the Surface Go 2's 1,563. However, keep in mind that each iPad has the same A12 Fusion processor, while the less powerful Surface Go 2's Pentium Gold version would not likely score as high.

The iPad's 132.5 score on the JetStream 2 benchmark, which measures performance in web applications, easily beats the Surface Go 2's 74.9 score. including those running JavaScript. 

Winner: iPad

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Cameras

While using a tablet as a camera might sound weird for some, it's still an option used by many folks, and the Surface Go 2 proves the value of great cameras. First off, its selfie-shooting 5-megapixel front camera captured much clearer photos of myself than the iPad's 1.2-megapixel camera did, with more even skintones and a lot less contrast. 

While the iPad's selfie-shooter might prove OK for your next Group FaceTime or Zoom call, the Surface Go 2 captures much better image quality for your next group call or vlog.

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad - rear camera

(Image credit: Future)

And while both tablets have 8-megapixel rear cameras, the Surface Go 2 wins again by how much better it deals with natural light. The iPad's photos in my apartment, with natural light coming in from the windows, looked much more washed out in their lighter corners than the Surface Go 2's shots did. 

Closeups on books and my sneakers looked similar on both.

Winner: Surface Go 2

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Battery life

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad - battery life

(Image credit: Future)

Both of these tablets will last all day. The new 8th Generation iPad, though, outlasts the Surface Go 2 by a better margin than the previous iPad did. On our battery test, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness, the 2020 iPad endured for an excellent 12 hours and 57 minutes (almost an hour longer than the 2019 iPad's 11:58), a runtime that clearly beats the 11:39 from the Surface Go 2. 

For even better battery life -- if you're not tied to Windows or Apple's ecosystems -- check our our best Android tablets round-up, which has a ton of tablets that last even longer than 12 hours.

Winner: iPad 

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Software

While Windows 10 is a more capable operating system than iPadOS, the Surface Go 2 is limited out of the gate as it runs Windows 10 S Mode. This, if you don't know, means that it will only allow Windows Store apps, and push the Edge browser pretty hard, until you opt out (which is free).

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad - Windows 10

(Image credit: Future)

Personally, I'm on the iPadOS side of the debate, as its user experience was built for touch, while Windows 10 still has to serve both masters and has plenty of redundant menus for settings. The reason to get Windows is the ability to run more desktop applications, provided you upgrade to full Windows. 

The iPad is getting even better with iPadOS 14, which makes the Apple Pencil a much better stylus, thanks to Scribble's writing to text integration. iPadOS 14 also makes the tablet's user interface 'fit' its larger screen more than ever, moving items around to maximize space for your content.

Winner: Tie

Surface Go 2 vs. iPad: Verdict

Surface Go 2iPad
Price and Value (10 points)49
Design (10 points)109
Ports (5 points)53
Display (15 points)1315
Keyboard and Stylus (5 points)54
Performance (20 points)1819
Cameras (10 points)97
Battery life (20 points)1820
Software (5 points)44
Overall (100 points)8690

There you have it, the new iPad breaks the tie we got from last year's model. The Surface Go 2 and iPad were so good at certain things, and so similar at others, that this was more or less a toss-up.

Those who want a tablet for the ultimate amount of productivity — for it to be their secondary laptop, maybe — should consider the Surface Go 2. Those who are a bit more value driven, and prioritize a tablet above a laptop, well, the iPad is a great slate for them. 

The Surface Go 2's sharper cameras, particularly the webcam, are a key differentiator to explain why some should definitely be picking it over the iPad.  If you live in Zoom calls these days, or plan to record video of you talking, you'll present yourself in clearer and more natural light with it.  

But by getting adding a faster processor and getting an hour longer battery life, the iPad has taken the win here. We can't wait to see the Surface Go 3.

Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past six-plus years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • dstrauss54
    This review really lacks context, as it primarily reviews the two devices on a pure tablet basis (with a brief nod to Windows 10 Home). Because of an insurmountable lead in the pure tablet app universe, the iPad comes in strong as just a tablet. However, if you are looking for a productivity device, the Surface Go 2 wins hands down. Even with PadOS 13.5 trackpad support, the keyboard, mouse, and most importantly file management is a shadow of what Windows provides. Add to this that SG2 is great at iTunes (videos), Netflix, Disney Plus, Prime Video, and YouTube, and you have a good overall experience. It lacks as a reading and gaming device, but then even Samsung has made little inroad into pure Android tablet space against iPad.

    If you want a pure tablet experience, stay in the walled garden. If you need more, SG2 is much better than a tie with iPad.
  • Doon1
    I'm reading this article because my iPad is no longer receiving system and security updates after 2.5 years. You didn't factor that into the cost of the iPad. You HAVE to buy a new one every 3 years; after they intentionally slow it down a couple of times before they make it prematurely obsolete.
    I'm writing this on a 9 year old laptop.