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 (Buy Now)
Related Forum: iPad

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Top Rated Comments

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

(Fair assessment, though)
Score: 55 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Robnsn2015 Avatar
64 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
64 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
64 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
64 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
64 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: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)