Microsoft's Surface Go takes a shot at the multibillion-dollar education market

Technology Editor
Yahoo Finance

Microsoft (MSFT) is making a bid for the $17.7 billion education market with a new low-cost Surface device that the company hopes can win back consumers who have switched to inexpensive Google (GOOG, GOOGL) Chromebooks.

The Surface Go, which hits the market August 2 for $399, is the smallest and least expensive product in Microsoft’s stable of Surface offerings. Similar to the Surface Pro, the Go is a 2-in-1 tablet-laptop hybrid. With that functionality and that price tag, the Surface Go is perfectly situated to take on the vast array of Chromebooks on the market, not to mention Apple’s (AAPL) own student-friendly iPad.

A smaller Surface

The Surface Go packs a petite 10-inch display, and measures just 0.33 inches thick without an attached keyboard cover. Add a cover on and you’re looking at a device that’s 0.51 inches thick. The Go is equally lightweight at just 1.15 pounds (1.69 pounds with a keyboard cover), making it ideal for students and consumers on the go.

And make no mistake. Like Apple’s iPad and Google’s Chromebooks, Microsoft’s Surface Go isn’t just for classrooms. This slate is just as much a mass market product as it is a device meant for education settings.

Like the Surface Pro, the Surface Go features a built-in kickstand that allows you to use the tablet as a laptop when you connect a Surface Type Cover, or simply watch movies without having to hold the slate the whole time.

Basically, the Surface Go is a Surface Pro that Microsoft fired a shrink ray at. The one difference you’ll notice between the two, and you’ll really have to know what you’re looking for, is that the Go has more rounded edges than the larger Pro. Microsoft even managed to cram its gorgeous PixelSense Display in to the Surface Go, which offers a resolution of 1,800 pixels x 1,200 pixels.

Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad, however, tops that with a display resolution of 2,048 pixels x 1,536 pixels. Still, the Go’s panel is stunning to look at.

In terms of ports, the Surface Go gets a USB C slot, Surface Connect port, microSD card input and a headphone jack. The Go also gets rear- and front-facing cameras, the latter of which works with Microsoft’s Windows Hello biometric login system.

What’s inside?

The Surface Go is a small, lightweight device, so don’t expect the kind of performance you’d get out of a full-size system like the Surface Pro. Microsoft says the Go will come equipped with an Intel Pentium Gold processor, your choice of 4GB or 8GB of RAM and either 64GB, 128GB or 256GB of onboard storage.

The Surface Pro, meanwhile, can be outfitted with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, which is far more powerful than the Pentium chip. Still, Microsoft claims performance from the Pentium is 33% better than that of the Core i5 found in the older Surface Pro 3. That’s an impressive claim, though, we’ll have to wait and see if it holds weight.

During a brief demo, the Go looked relatively speedy. It was able to open apps without any delay, and casual games ran well. That’s not the same as trying to open 50 tabs in Chrome while running an antivirus scan and playing “Overwatch,” but it’s certainly something. In fact, the Go will be able to output video to a compatible 4K display, so you can use it as a workstation on the job.

It’s worth noting that the Go will come loaded with Microsoft’s Windows 10 Home in S mode, though you can change it to full Windows 10 for no charge.

What’s missing?

Microsoft has this nasty habit of showing off its Surface products, like the Surface Pro, with a keyboard attached, which, naturally, would lead any consumer to believe that the keyboard comes in the box. After all, this is a Windows machine.

But in reality, the Go, like the Surface Pro, doesn’t include a keyboard cover. Instead, you’ll have to fork over an extra $99. Want that sweet Surface stylus so you can write directly on the Go’s display? That’ll cost an additional $99.

Apple, obviously, doesn’t include a keyboard or stylus with the iPad, but it also doesn’t show the iPad dressed up with them very much either.

Taking back the education market

Microsoft’s attempt to fight back against Google’s leadership role in the education market and Apple’s new, less expensive iPad isn’t such a crazy idea. The company still controls about 22% of the segment, which is nothing to sneeze at. With 60% of the market, though, Google will be hard to beat.

Snagging a chunk of that multibillion-dollar market isn’t just about getting serious cash. It’s also a chance to make loyal customers out of student users who could stick with the company for years to come. And that could be far more valuable down the line.

NOTE: The reporter’s spouse works for a company that does work for Xbox, a subsidiary of Microsoft.

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowleyFollow Yahoo Finance on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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