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)

Top Rated Comments

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

(Fair assessment, though)
Score: 55 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Robnsn2015 Avatar
23 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
23 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
23 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
23 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
23 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)

Top Stories

april 2021 event coverage feature

Apple Event Live Coverage: New iPads, AirTags, and More Expected [Event Over]

Tuesday April 20, 2021 9:07 am PDT by
Apple's virtual "Spring Loaded" event kicks off today at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time, with Apple expected to debut updated iPad models and perhaps some other hardware such as AirTags or iMac models based on Apple silicon. Apple is providing a live video stream on its website, on YouTube, and in the company's TV app across its platforms. We will also be updating this article with live blog...
m1 imac colors

Apple Announces Redesigned iMac With M1 Chip and Seven Color Options

Tuesday April 20, 2021 10:22 am PDT by
Apple has announced a new, redesigned 24-inch iMac, featuring an M1 chip, a 4.5K display, and a range of color options, as well as an improved cooling system, front-facing camera, speaker system, microphones, power connector, and peripherals. The new iMac features a completely new compact design, and comes in a range of seven striking colors, including green, yellow, orange, pink, purple,...
Ports 2021 MacBook Pro Mockup Feature 1 copy

Stolen MacBook Pro Schematics Confirm Apple's Plans to Add More Ports and Remove Touch Bar

Wednesday April 21, 2021 10:31 am PDT by
Schematics stolen from Apple supplier Quanta Computer outline Apple's plans for the next-generation MacBook Pro models that are expected in 2021, and clearly confirm plans for additional ports and a return to MagSafe. MacRumors saw the schematics after they were leaked online, and some of them feature the logic board of the next-generation MacBook Pro. On the right side of the machine,...
iphone 12 preorder purple

Apple Launching iPhone 12 and 12 Mini in New Purple Color on April 30

Tuesday April 20, 2021 10:08 am PDT by
Apple today announced that the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini will be available in a new purple color starting April 30, with pre-orders starting this Friday. Apple is also releasing a new MagSafe Leather Case and Leather Sleeve in Deep Violet, a Silicone Case in Capri Blue, Pistachio, Cantaloupe, or Amethyst, and a Leather Wallet in Arizona, all available to order beginning today. iPhone...
13 inch macbook pro m1

14-Inch and 16-Inch MacBook Pro Models With XDR Displays Expected to Launch Later This Year

Wednesday April 21, 2021 7:08 am PDT by
Apple yesterday unveiled a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a Liquid Retina XDR display that uses mini-LED backlighting to achieve up to 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and up to 1,600 nits of peak brightness. With over 10,000 mini‑LEDs grouped into more than 2,500 local dimming zones, the display also has an impressive 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. Apple has so far branded its mini-LED...
14

Apple Says iOS 14.5 Will Be Released 'Next Week'

Tuesday April 20, 2021 11:08 am PDT by
Apple today in a press release about its new AirTag item tracker announced that iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 will be available starting "next week." iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 are packed with new features, including the ability for iPhone users who are wearing an Apple Watch to unlock the iPhone with Face ID while wearing a mask. iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 will also be the minimum software versions...
ipad pro with m1 chip

Apple Introduces Next-Generation iPad Pro With M1 Chip, Thunderbolt, 5G, XDR Display, and More

Tuesday April 20, 2021 10:40 am PDT by
Apple today announced the next-generation iPad Pro with the same M1 chip found in the latest Macs, Thunderbolt and USB4 support, 5G connectivity on cellular models with mmWave support in the United States, and more. With an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, Apple says the M1 chip in the new iPad Pro provides up to 50% faster performance and up to 40% faster graphics compared to the A12Z Bionic chip ...
f1618938547

Apple Announces AirTag Tracking Devices Starting At $29 Each

Tuesday April 20, 2021 10:10 am PDT by
Apple today announced AirTag, a Tile-like Bluetooth tracking device that's designed to be attached to items like keys and wallets for tracking purposes, letting you find them right in the Find My app. AirTags are accessories for attaching to backpacks, luggage, and other items. Any U1 device like the iPhone 12 can be used for precision finding to guide you right to the item you're looking...
airtag engraving 69

Apple Tries to Limit Offensive AirTag Engravings... With Mixed Results

Wednesday April 21, 2021 3:16 am PDT by
Apple's AirTag item trackers can be custom-engraved using text, numbers, and even emoji, but users looking to express some college humor will likely need to look elsewhere, because Apple's online AirTag personalization tool is easily offended. An AirTag is just big enough to fit up to four characters or up to three emoji. That might seem just enough to get dubiously creative with your...
maxresdefault

Apple Event 2021: Everything Apple Announced at Its 'Spring Loaded' Event in Just 6 Minutes

Tuesday April 20, 2021 4:23 pm PDT by
Apple today held its first event of 2021, and it was one of the most exciting events that we've seen in some time. Apple announced a whole slew of new products, including an M1 iMac, an M1 iPad Pro, a refreshed 4K Apple TV, and the long-awaited AirTags. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. It took Apple an hour to introduce all of the new devices during its virtual...