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July 14, 2018

Microsoft’s Surface Go can learn from past Chromebook blunders

by John_A


There are plenty of bad ideas and bad implementations in the Chromebook world, and Microsoft should be looking at all of them.

Have you checked out the Surface Go? If you haven’t, it’s Microsoft’s latest answer to the iPad and Chromebooks and while it’s not yet available, it’s already doing a lot of things right.

We’re going to talk a bit about it here today, not because I’m interested in using one, but because it’s a smart move that will be good for the entire tech industry the same way Chromebooks have been. Maybe you’re not interested in using one, either, but you can bet that a good many people will be, which means Microsoft has a chance to disrupt. That means Google and Apple have to shake things up a little bit, too, and when things get all shaken up, a product or idea that we really love will be born. When the big dogs scramble and fight over our money, we, the consumers, always win in the end. Except for the release of the Surface RT, that is.

A strong showing from the Surface Go means the next Pixelbook has to be even better.

And the Surface RT is the very first thing I thought about when I heard the news about the Surface Go. Not because the two are similar — the Surface Go will be an Intel product that can run real Windows applications instead of some unloved bastardized hybrid like the Surface RT was. I thought about it because I know Microsoft had to have spent a lot of time and money to make sure they didn’t make the same mistakes. Microsoft needs this to compete in both the education market as well as the low-cost PC market.


There are also a number of blunders from PC makers when it comes to Chromebooks that Microsoft needs to study. Every company makes mistakes, and every new product has a few things that need improvement in the next version. But seeing the list of things consumers didn’t like from products of days past is always a great way to keep from making them again. I already see one or two things I’ll think could be improved on the Surface Go because I’ve used a Chromebook (or a few) for a while. I also see a lot of things I think Microsoft did right, and for the same reasons.

I like most of what I see in all the hands-on reviews of the Surface Go even if the product isn’t for me.

My list of problems is minor — I think the cramped keyboard people who have used it mention could be fixed by excluding some keys or by tying them to a function key. I really think the keyboard should be part of the purchase like was done with HP’s excellent Chromebook X2, even if it bumps the price by $20. I also think they should have gone with a 12-inch screen instead of a 10-inch screen. I’m sure someone at Microsoft hashed all this out and they have a good reason for doing it this way, but as a user, I still have likes and dislikes. So will you.


Some other things, though, are definite no-nos. It’s awesome that companies like Qualcomm and Google are working to design an ARM processor that is specially designed for a lightweight laptop to use. It’s more awesome that Microsoft didn’t go that way just yet and the Surface Go uses an Intel chip. I’ve used plenty of ARM-powered Chromebooks and the ARM architecture has improved at least 100% in just a few years. ARM chips in a fanless laptop don’t run too hot, they don’t throttle as much and aren’t the bottleneck they used to be. But they also can struggle, especially with new ideas from the people who write software, as well as being compatible with the old ideas from people who write software.

Sales numbers don’t lie — some Chromebooks just weren’t great.

We also saw things like companies making HD Chromebooks that didn’t have the right components to drive them or releasing new hardware built from old components (Chromebooks with spinning hard-drives just suck) thinking we wouldn’t notice or care. We noticed. We cared. Companies stopped doing most of these things even if it meant a minor price increase.

There are countless things about every existing product, whether it be a Chromebook or anything else, that customers didn’t love. Google and its partners already went through the growing pains with Chromebooks and found that making affordable laptops that people love isn’t as easy as it looks on paper. Microsoft can look back at these blunders and make sure they aren’t repeated. I want the Surface Go and Windows 10 S to be things we love because the companies who make the things I buy will need to get better.

Microsft doesn’t want to end up clinging to the Xbox in order to stay relevant. I don’t want it to, either.

Microsoft knows that it can’t become another Sony and stay alive in the consumer space because of console sales. It needs a new hook, something to bring in the funds so the company can continue to work on new ideas without trying to make them profitable before they are ready. I believe the “cheap” PC market is that hook and think Microsoft and its partners can make a dent in Chromebook and iPad sales if things are done right.


  • The best Chromebooks
  • Chromebooks in education: Everything you need to know
  • Should you buy a Chromebook?
  • Chromebook Buyers Guide
  • Google Pixelbook review
  • Join our Chromebook forums

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