iPad Air vs. Microsoft's Surface Go: Which Is a Better Laptop Replacement?

Apple's iPad Air, which was resurrected in March as essentially a tweaked version of the previous 10.5-inch iPad Pro, offers a significant amount of utility at a solid $499 price point, but how does it compare to other competitors in the market?

In his latest video, MacRumors videographer Dan compared the ‌iPad Air‌ to Microsoft's Surface Go to determine which one he liked better for on-the-go computing.


For this comparison, Dan decided to focus on using the ‌iPad Air‌ and the Surface Go as somewhat of a laptop replacement. The ‌iPad Air‌ starts at $499 while the Surface Go comes in at a $399 base price, but in an effort to look at these as potential laptop replacements Dan opted to consider the devices equipped with first-party keyboard accessories, which pushes the ‌iPad Air‌ up to $659 and the Surface Go to $529.

In his video, Dan shares his impressions on the design and features of each, including important productivity accessories like respective keyboards and styluses.

As potential laptop replacements, performance is really where the rubber meets the road, and Dan came away somewhat unimpressed with the Surface Go. He wanted to like its relatively full-fledged Windows 10 operating system, and it was fine for basic tasks like emails, web browsing, and document writing, but he found things bogging down a bit when trying to multitask.

With the ‌iPad Air‌, you don't really get a desktop-class operating system, at least for now, but it generally works very well when you need to multitask, switching easily among Safari, Messages, Notes, Mail, iWork and more with no performance issues. And with iPadOS 13 coming later this year, the iPad will become even more powerful.

So where do we come down on the ‌iPad Air‌ versus the Surface Go? It's a challenging comparison considering they have some significant spec differences and everyone's use case is different. Overall, Dan found the ‌iPad Air‌ to offer a more enjoyable user experience, although it's not quite a laptop replacement. But neither is the Surface Go in his experience, and he wonders whether it isn't better to just point someone toward a Chromebook or more traditional Windows notebook if they're looking for a cheap laptop experience.

Related Roundup: iPad Air
Buyer's Guide: iPad Air (Neutral)
Related Forum: iPad

Top Rated Comments

SDJim Avatar
30 months ago
The best laptop replacement is an actual laptop? Groundbreaking.

(Fair assessment, though)
Score: 55 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Robnsn2015 Avatar
30 months ago
The iPad Air is the superior tablet.

The Surface Go is the superior (albeit slow) laptop replacement.

I recommend waiting until the fall (around September/October) to see if there is a second generation of Surface Go.
Score: 35 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mi7chy Avatar
30 months ago
The fact that the Surface can DFU restore a bricked iPad and not vice versa makes the iPad the lesser device. iPad is a blown up iPod with the same limitations while the Surface Go is a shrunken laptop but with the same versatility. Neither would be my first choice but if I was forced to choose one I'd take versatility over blown up limitations. What's holding back the Surface Go though is choice of crappy Intel CPU with weak iGPU. Would like to see AMD APU in the 2nd gen Surface Go.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DNichter Avatar
30 months ago
iPad - better performance, better screen, better battery, better apps, better privacy, better security, better support. You could probably go on and on.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cardfan Avatar
30 months ago
I wouldn’t use either one. But of the two choices the surface go wins easily as a laptop replacement. It’s not even close.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Dave-Z Avatar
30 months ago
I have a Surface Go and a 2nd gen. 12.9" iPad. If you're looking for a laptop replacement that you occasionally want as a tablet so you can watch shows or read, the Surface Go wins every time. It's not a comparison. (I'd really recommend getting the higher model with 128 GB SSD and 8 GB RAM as the performance is much better (though the price starts to get up there).)

Having used both, I wouldn't trade my Surface Go for an iPad. Ever. The simple fact that I can keep terminal and VoIP apps running in the background all day without any disconnects while browsing the web or watching videos makes a world of difference to me. Having a web browser with a proper web inspector is awesome. I really can't overstate how great having full desktop applications is.

The video criticizes the performance of the Surface Go and perhaps that's justified as iPad's native apps (Safari, etc.) all perform amazingly well. But the Surface Go does perform amazingly well, too, if you don't multi-task too much. And the truth is that on iPad you can't multi-task much anyway so it really is the same. The Surface Go lets you load a hundred programs at once, and suffer for it. The iPad lets you open four (split screen with two, slide over, plus a video). If you restricted the Surface Go to four apps it'd run perfectly fine.

The build quality of the Surface Go is absolutely awesome. Right on par with iPad. Kickstand is amazing. The bezels are large, for sure, but I actually prefer that in a tablet because it gives me something to hold without covering the screen, or if I'm resting the device on my chest while laying down, there's a bit of space so the screen isn't obscured shirts, blankets, etc.

If you're just planning to write an occasional email, read, or watch shows; the iPad is the best device. For a laptop replacement, it's not even a comparison, it's the Surface Go.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
macos catalina legacy system extension alert

Apple Begins Warning Users That 'Legacy System Extensions' Won't Work With a Future Version of macOS

Wednesday March 25, 2020 9:53 am PDT by
Apple has shared a new support document that indicates kernel extensions — which it calls "legacy system extensions" — will not be compatible with a future version of macOS because they "aren't as secure or reliable as modern alternatives."System extensions are a category of software that works in the background to extend the functionality of your Mac. Some apps install kernel extensions, which...
General Spotify Feature

Spotify Pauses Plans to Add AirPlay 2 Support to iOS App [Update: Spotify Clarifies]

Friday August 6, 2021 9:07 am PDT by
See update at bottom of article Spotify this week confirmed that its plans to add AirPlay 2 support to its iOS app have been placed on indefinite hiatus. In an online discussion forum post, a Spotify representative said the streaming music service had been working on supporting AirPlay 2, but the company has paused the efforts "for now" due to "audio driver compatibility issues." The...
apple privacy

Apple Publishes FAQ to Address Concerns About CSAM Detection and Messages Scanning

Monday August 9, 2021 1:50 am PDT by
Apple has published a FAQ titled "Expanded Protections for Children" which aims to allay users' privacy concerns about the new CSAM detection in iCloud Photos and communication safety for Messages features that the company announced last week. "Since we announced these features, many stakeholders including privacy organizations and child safety organizations have expressed their support of...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
m1 macbook air

Kuo: Mini-LED MacBook Air Coming in Mid-2022

Thursday July 22, 2021 7:48 pm PDT by
Apple will release a new version of the MacBook Air around the middle of 2022, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in note to investors seen by MacRumors. The upcoming MacBook Air will feature a 13.3-inch mini-LED display, which would make it the second Mac to gain mini-LED technology after the 2021 MacBook Pro, which is rumored to include a mini-LED display and is expected to launch later ...
Apple Films Tom Hanks Finch First Look

Apple Original Film 'Finch' Starring Tom Hanks to Premiere November 5

Thursday August 12, 2021 8:52 am PDT by
Apple today announced that the original film "Finch," starring Tom Hanks in its titular role, will premiere on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 5 and shared a first-look image from the film. The first look at "Finch," shared by Apple. The film, which is anticipated to be an awards season contender, revolves around a man, a robot (played by "Get Out" actor Caleb Landry Jones), and a dog that form ...
whatsintheboxiphonexs

Apple's iPhone XS, XS Max and XR Won't Ship With Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter

Wednesday September 12, 2018 12:58 pm PDT by
Since the headphone jack was removed from the iPhone with the launch of the iPhone 7, Apple has bundled iPhones with a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter for customers who continue to have 3.5mm headphones. With the launch of the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR, Apple is discontinuing this practice and will not include the Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter. On the...
macbook air m1 first benchmark

Apple Silicon M1 Chip in MacBook Air Outperforms High-End 16-Inch MacBook Pro

Wednesday November 11, 2020 4:43 pm PST by
Apple introduced the first MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini with M1 Apple Silicon chips yesterday, and as of today, the first benchmark of the new chip appears to be showing up on the Geekbench site. The M1 chip, which belongs to a MacBook Air with 8GB RAM, features a single-core score of 1687 and a multi-core score of 7433. According to the benchmark, the M1 has a 3.2GHz base...
iphone 13 teal with text

Apple Begins Preparation for iPhone 13 Production Ahead of Fall Launch

Monday June 28, 2021 3:29 am PDT by
We're just a few months away from when Apple is expected to reveal the 2021 iPhone, dubbed the "iPhone 13." In preparation for its launch, it has been pulling in shipments of different components needed to produce the new iPhones, according to a report from DigiTimes. In years past, Apple released its latest iPhone lineup, alongside a new Apple Watch, during a September event at Apple Park....