Microsoft's $399 Surface Go hits most of the right notes to compete with the iPad and Chromebooks

Key Points
  • Microsoft just announced the Surface Go, its most affordable Surface laptop ever.
  • The Surface Go has a 10-inch display, comes with 64 GB of storage and costs just $399.
  • The Surface Go will be released in August.

Microsoft on Tuesday announced the Surface Go, the newest addition to its family of Surface-branded computers and laptops. It's the cheapest of the bunch — it starts at $399 — and is targeted directly at the Apple iPad and a crop of affordable Chromebooks running Google software.

I had a chance to check one out during a quick product briefing with Microsoft.

I like the smaller 10-inch design and that Microsoft mostly kept the same familiar form factor as earlier Surface tablets, complete with a kickstand that pops out from the back of the tablet. I've found the kickstand usually works well, although it's hard to keep on my lap.

I also like that it can be connected to a full computer display and used more like a traditional computer, which you can't do with an iPad.

The $399 starting price gets you a bare-bones model with just 64 GB of storage, which isn't much, but there's a slot for adding additional storage in the back of the computer. Microsoft still doesn't include a keyboard or one of its Surface Pen styluses, so expect to spend a couple of hundred dollars more for those if you want more than the bare-bones touch-screen experience.

I'm a bit torn on the size. It's small, with a 10-inch screen, and has big bezels — the areas around the screen — which means it's not nearly as attractive as an iPad.

Also, the keyboard seemed a little cramped during my brief hands-on with the Surface Go, though on a par with what I've used with an iPad Pro.

That said, the screen looked sharp and wasn't cheap, as one might sometimes find in more affordable laptops.

Short of a full review, which will come closer to when the Surface Go hits the market on Aug. 2, I think the Surface Go hits a lot of areas that I think Microsoft needed to address against Apple's low-cost iPad.

It's the first Surface product that's priced competitively with an iPad or Chromebook — the larger Surface laptops start at $799 — it's designed to run all Windows apps (save for high-powered ones, given it operates on a relatively low-power Intel Pentium Gold chip), and some models will include built-in LTE for a connection wherever you go.

It's too early to call this a winner for Microsoft. It'll need to be able to perform well and run multiple apps at the same time, and battery life will be a concern given its tiny form factor. (Microsoft says it should run up to nine hours.) The Surface Go looks promising, though.