Review: Microsoft Surface Go. PERFECT technology for filmmakers. Here’s why.

For as long as I can remember, I have written articles and reviews that started with variations of “In the 1976 novel ‘Imperial Earth’, uber science fiction writer and visionary Arthur C Clarke introduced us to a device he called ‘the Minisec’. I have been searching for such a device to satisfy my own needs and requirements and now …”.

These articles variously went on to suggest I had come close, come not so close, haven’t found it yet or thought I had found but haven’t, such a device.

These varied from small ‘pocket PCs’ from HP and Sony in particular, and in the late 80s a weird beard gizmo called the ‘RacePen’ that ran a bastardized version of DOS and Microsoft Works that included cut down versions of Word and Excel. Later, new generation tablets tried to fill the hole – early Samsungs in particular. The iPad never even got a sniff in my book as it just didn’t fit into my specific ‘ecosphere’ of doing things.

So, what did / do I want to do?

The original Minisec was described as a pocket-sized electronic storage device that you could type into, draw on, dictate to, take photos with and share information with other such devices “through the air”.

I have since found from much and varied experimentation that a pocket-sized device, which I define its maximum size being around paperback book dimensions, is not quite practical, mainly due to font size and keyboard issues as I get older.

There I have said it. My eyes ain’t what they used to be.

I am also not a great fan of onscreen keyboards, again being of old school and liking some physical “feel”. Some sort of stylus or pen is necessary to complete the physical side of things – think transferring a spiral bound paperback notebook to the computer world that has the added ability to have imagery in the form of photos, videos and audio with verbal and musical attributes and as a bonus, is voice aware and controllable.

So, you need the software too don’t you, and that I found a number of years back, in the form of Microsoft OneNote, a brilliant app that is free, is available not only on Windows but also Android and iPhone / iPad / Mac platforms and as a plus can sync seamlessly between all of them.

OneNote works like a tabbed notebook on steroids complete with all the ‘computery’ things I mentioned over the last few paragraphs.

Now, marry this with the new Microsoft Surface Go that has the optional keyboard and pen, and dear readers, I have found the closest thing yet to the elusive Minisec.

To explain this further – that is, how it fits into my workspace so perfectly – needs not just a technical review of the Go as you can find those specifications on the web if that is they way your boat is floated.

No! It needs an overview of what I do, what I do it with and how things all mesh together.

Workflow

Obviously, I type words. Lots of them. And therefore, I need a decent word processing package and in the real world, you cannot go past Microsoft’s own Word in this regard.

And a database system is mandatory to keep track of subscriptions, contacts and the like beyond what the very excellent Outlook program can do in this area, and so with a lack in the Windows world of my all-time favourite that I used to be able to make sing, dance and walk the tightrope, filePro, I use Access. Not perfect I know, and others will no doubt suggest Filemaker, and it too is a great program and would easily fit in if I had the inclination to rewrite all those macros, queries and the like.

Excel too is a given. Since the mighty Microsoft Office was breathed into life by the genius, local Microsoft MD at the time Daniel Petrie, pretenders to that throne in the form of Lotus Smartsuite, Borland Office and Corel Office have paled to almost non-existence, more’s the pity, as competition IS good (and I lament the loss of Lotus nee Threadz Organiser greatly).

It is just too hard to go past the connectivity of the Office suite (if you ignore the travesty that is PowerPoint, may it rot in Hell for all time) and in concert with OneNote – especially the OneNote / Outlook connections with the Scheduler, it is almost impossible to otherwise replicate.

Now we get to stuff beyond Office, stuff that makes the Surface Go so perfect for my needs.

I do a lot video work. Whoda thunk? And there are some brilliant little apps out there that aid in this area, especially when in the field. One I found the other day is Teleprompter Pro to produce scrolling text an actor or newsreader can narrate. Teleprompter Pro supports all kinds of clever features including voice control, text mirroring, loading of scripts from text files and more for a paltry AUD$14.

I’ll have a full review of Teleprompter Pro up in a few days’ time, but in the meantime, to have a look, you get it from the Microsoft Store.

Also very useful is Final Draft for creating scripts. WAY more than a word processor. Long time users of Final Draft will know what I mean, and version 11 takes the product to new heights, ensuring it is the favourite program in use by scriptwriters everywhere.

For video editing on-the-fly, Adobe Rush seems to have potential and I am still investigating this (along with the new Adobe Premiere Elements) but for simplicity, to just throw together some fast and rough cuts of what might have been shot whilst out on the road, MAGIX Fastcut is quick, dependable and free.

No way are you going to make even a basic TV commercial from it (although by some of the standards I have seen of late locally, maybe you could), but to see how the flow of shot videos can be put together a little more than a storyboard can, then Fastcut is perfect. It even has a music library you can draw from.

For graphics work, I haven’t tried apps from Corel on the Surface Go as yet, but I do have the new Adobe Photoshop Elements and that should work a treat – again for stuff in the field while out shooting motor sport, fishing trips and the like, I don’t need full blooded apps.

I am doing a lot of 360˚ video experimentation at the moment and all of the apps that come with these cameras work fine.

Another major job is going through all of your assets after a days’ shoot and cataloguing them with tags. These can be videos, stills, audio etc and I am currently testing Vidine, a program from Sweden that is dedicated to this task. So far it looks excellent and by all indications, is to become a must have in my toolbox. It’s not expensive at AUD$97 either and also available from the Microsoft Store.

Audio editing is not something I do a lot of one the road, much preferring to use MAGIX SoundForge back in the edit suite, but if needs be, the freebie standby of Audacity is always useful.

Finally, inside the range of work-oriented stuff I will be using the Surface Go for is the camera. It will be rare indeed I do, as it is equally rare I do not have a dedicated camera with me which is of course preferable.

But the 5Mp on board front camera can be used at a pinch, and in conjunction with the on-board Skype, it does what it purports to do more than adequately.

The Surface Go sports Bluetooth of course, so I can use it to communicate and control all of my cameras, camcorders and action cams. Setting up the Panasonics (WFX1 and GH5S were a breeze) as were the GoPros and Ricoh Theta.

Other connectivity is accounted for via the USB-C port, and SD card reader (for the camcorders etc) and I can listen to music privately on my Sony headphones using the dedicated 3.5mm headphone port (or of course via Bluetooth assuming I had Bluetooth headphones or earbuds (shudder to the earbuds by the way).

Ah but you say! The Surface Go in base form has no 4G connectivity. Quite true. Well spotted.

But.

As of last week, I can use the new Telstra deals that have dropped the price of wireless internet via prepaid from $10 a gigabyte to a fraction over $2 / gigabyte (with bonus data), so while not ideal, my Samsung 7 smartphone acting as a hotspot is more than sufficient. Alternatively, I also have a Telstra portable wireless modem that can take advantage of the same deal.

Conclusion

Many will argue that the Surface Go is not a substitute for a fully blown laptop. And they would be right. The upper market Surface’s fill that gap quite happily in many cases – at a price – and if that was what I needed, I would get one.

For those duties right now, and as a daily workhorse, my ASUS laptop suits quite nicely thank you, and for full on editing of video and audio, I use a dedicated DELL desktop with twin LG monitors and all the fruit. All of my computers are ‘bound together’ on an easy to use Windows based network with backup procedures in place with a Seagate Backup Plus hub that doubles as a Plex server (taking advantage of that massive 8TB storage!)

For backup on the road I use a WD Wireless My Passport SSD drive making getting the data from the cameras / camcorders / action cams a snap and as the Surface Go supports Wi-Fi, it fits into the flow nicely thank you very much!

Another major bonus over a dedicated laptop, apart from the obvious tablet aspect even with the (optional) keyboard the Surface Go fits on an airline tray table, and unlike a laptop, can be charged from the (usually) available USB ports found these days in aircraft seats.

Failing that, an inexpensive portable charging ‘brick’ can be used as long as it is one of the higher capacity ones.

Its also a damn sight lighter than a laptop! And of course can turn into a tablet at the drop of a hat … err keyboard.

In short, if you are comparing the Surface Go to a dedicated laptop and that is what you feel you need, then get a laptop. End of story. For my needs, primarily on the road / in the air as suggested in this review, the Surface Go in this configuration fits the bill perfectly, and I’ll leave the laptop for when I NEED a laptop. Likewise, I’ll use my desktop when I need that full power and configuration.

Pricing

The Surface Go has a number of options and the pricing varies accordingly as you would expect. There is now an LTE version with 4G compatibility that ships with 128GB storage and 8GB RAM for $999 (the keyboard and pen are separate), but the one we have is the 128GB with 8GB RAM Wi-Fi model at $698. The 64GB Storage / 4GB model is $498.

In all cases, the extra keyboard / cover combo starts at $149 and the pen/stylus (both of which I recommend) I have seen around at below $100.

For more information, go to the Microsoft website.

 


 

Microsoft Surface Go 128GB SSD storage and 8GB RAM

Pros

  • Portability and light weight
  • Runs Windows 10
  • Can be charged via USB – no power cables and adaptors to carry
  • Touch screen and stylus / pen ‘savvy’
  • Runs all standard software

Cons

  • 4G version a tad expensive
  • Would like a second USB port

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