One two three... Go: Long Pig Microsoft avoids cannibalising Surface

It's an Office runtime, for students

Microsoft has avoided cannibalising its boutique, premium Surface line by making one that's a lot less boutique and premium – at around half the price.

Steven Sinofsky at Surface launch event

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In May, when word of the initiative first leaked, we warned that it risked tarnishing the Surface's upmarket image.

"Can Microsoft sufficiently differentiate a 'cheap' Surface from a Surface Pro, and sacrifice the margins the hardware business needs?" we asked.

If it tarnished the brand, it risked the wheels falling off. But I think Microsoft has successfully dodged that bullet. The Surface Go retains the looks of the Marketing Director's favourite presentation tablet, while pitching to a completely different segment of the market, mainly students. With Apple investing heavily in its iPad line, successfully halting a long-term decline, Microsoft needed to add some quality where cheap has rarely meant cheerful.

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The Go hits the UK high streets on 23 August, priced at £379.99 (64GB/4GB) or £509.00 (128GB/8GB), excluding keyboard. Eligible students, teachers, parents and members of the Armed Forces get a slight discount: £360.99 or £484.49 respectively. So it is far from the cheapest, but it's about half of what Surface used to cost.

"For the use case for which this has been designed which will be 90 per cent+ of the usage, I do not see the weakness of the processor as a real problem," wrote Edison's Richard Windsor.

Microsoft has been able to do this thanks to the Pentium 4415 CPU, which is an affordable option. Benchmarks put this slightly behind 2016's i5-5200U part.

The firm took an ultra-cautious approach. There was a significant performance gap between the pauper and the prince: 2015's Atom-powered Surface 3 fairly creaked along. Microsoft hasn't revisited this territory since.

But the rise of Chromebooks and Apple's impressive work on turning around the iOS for the iPad left it little choice.

This time, the performance gap should be narrower – but it's the optimisation drive, sending Office through the Windows Store for a Windows S machine, that makes a difference, Windsor noted.

(As with the Pro you can upgrade to Windows 10 in a free, one-way migration.)

And it has retained some of the build quality of the Pro. The 10-inch 1800 x 1200 (217 PPI) resolution is impressive. There's no LTE, but that will come.

Older readers will recall how when Microsoft was trying to promote Excel on the PC in the 1980s, the discs shipped with a "Windows 2" runtime. A Windows that only ran Office. That's the best way to think of Go. It's an Office runtime for students. ®

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