Competing with the Surface Go: Windows 10 ARM tablets are getting much better – but still have a long way to go

What do you get when you combine a Samsung Tablet, an ARM chip, and Windows 10? A super solid Microsoft Surface Go competitor that ticks a fair few boxes when going head to head with other smaller units.

Daniel Rubino of Windows Central recently reviewed the newly announced Samsung Galaxy Book 2, which on first glance looks absolutely stunning.
It has a solid aluminium build, well built keyboard and LTE onboard. But that has me thinking. The current Snapdragon 850 is designed as a transitionary chip, being that users coming from low power Intel Chips are expected to see substantial performance changes in single app performance, and still be able to perform their standard workflows from their older machines, but then see an improvement in their portability & battery life.
The 850 chip has been improved from the original Snapdragon 835, which is a smartphone chip input into some smaller form convertables early last year to attempt to create the next generation of ARM laptops. However, as benchmarks were less than desired, Qualcomm created the 850 earlier this year to compensate for the drawbacks of the quadcore phone chipset.

The previous Samsung Windows tablets have been a bit of a hit and a miss. Having done several hands on time with the Tab S Pro and the Original Galaxy Book in Teltra stores and Samsung Popups, this unit, atleast on a visual inspection, seems to fix a few of the issues I had with the older Windows Slates.
Samsung originally launched their Tab S Pro slates in 2017, and the original version of the Galaxy Book to follow. These tablets ran earlier generation Core M CPUs or in earlier cases, U series Core i5 CPUs. The refreshed units late last year and earlier 2018 have all got the more modern Y series Core M CPU that is similar to what is in Apple’s smaller MacBook.
The main gripe with these units wasn’t the tablet’s build design, but more or less the keyboard and how the processor didnt feel optimised for daily use.
Light use is ok (and the keyboards definately warranted this), but for similar pricing to a Surface Pro, you were far better off sacrificing no LTE  and having a more capable daily driver.

In late 2018, things seem to have changed for the better. The Surface line still has decent keyboard in the Surface Go’s size, Lenovo are experimenting with E-Ink displays for a smarter keyboard design, and Samsung have learn’t from their previous errors and and produced a fairly decent looking tablet that beats even the Surface Go.
The specs for the unit dont blow a fully fledged surface unit out of the water, however for a portable sort of PC this should definately be on the check list to check out.

The main benefit for things like a Snapdragon 850 in a unit like this, comes down to things like battery life, excellent 4G LTE radios that Qualcomm input into their own chips which Vendors can utilise; as well as slim builds for maximum portability. These units have all got a bare minimum of a USB-C port, a headphone jack, as well as quality displays.
Most of the accounced units in the last 6 months all meet this criteria; however if you read other tech blogs, you can end up coming to the same conclusion that I have. Performance doesnt scale with the current generation of ARM.
Yes, portability is great. But there is still the nerdy pipe dream of one slate that can plug into your home desktop, be as powerful and as portable on the road as your smartphone but do everything in between. It seems that the current gen of ARM units just cant handle fairly heavy duty workloads.
This opinion may change when folks end up buying and using them (much like we saw with the Surface Go and it’s widespread appreciation for what it can do, for what specs it was packing); however at this point in time the Snapdragon 850 Chip is still lackluster on multi-core performance compared to some Y series chips. Single Core performance is definately exceeding that as to what is in the Surface Go and other less powerful chips, and thats what alot of manufacturers want you to focus on – excellent single app performance or running a few apps at the same time, however when you get into X86 applications it does show noticable performance issues (see some of the referenced articles below for some examples of this).

I would love to personally own an ARM laptop for testing. Running my dev workflow on something like this is highly intriguing to me and I would definately love to benchmark some renders of my own against the other tech reviewers to see where these machines sit in my workflow.
The dream of an ultrapowerful, ultraportable is NEARLY being recognised. I hope by 2020, the laptop market finally reaches this reality and the power available in thinner machines can just get more and more powerful for a wider market audience.

Some References, and Further Reading & Watching:
Windows 10 on Arm: Build Recap (Tech Republic)
The Verge – Surface Go Review
Matthew Moniz – Microsoft Surface Go Review // Students Will Love This!
Computex Snapdragon 850 Chip exclusively for Windows



Sam Toohey Written by:

Sam is a self taught Developer, focusing on Web Technologies and E-Commerce. He is also an avid writer, blogger and gamer. You can commonly see Sam toying around with web technologies or working on his Podcast, Markup.

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