Microsoft's low-cost Surface Go takes aim at Apple's entry-level iPad

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Microsoft is angling for a bigger piece of the tablet market with Surface Go, the smallest — and cheapest — of the company's two-in-ones to pack the usual assortment of hybrid internals into a sleek reference design.

Billed as the "smallest, lightest, and most affordable" Surface do date, Surface Go packs a nearly two-year-old Intel chip, the seventh-generation Pentium Gold 4415Y, into a svelte chassis that comes complete with a 10-inch 1,800-by-1,200 pixel PixelSense Display, front and rear cameras, Surface Connect magnetic charging and docking port, USB-C port, a MicroSD card reader, headphone jack and Surface's trademark friction hinged kickstand.

Wi-Fi only models will be available at launch, with cellular-equipped versions shipping later this year.

Like other Surface hardware, Surface Go boasts compatibility with Surface Pen, Microsoft's custom designed stylus that affords 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, low latency and high precision input. Other supported accessories include a down-sized Type Cover with trackpad to match the new model's dimensions, as well as the Surface Mobile Mouse.

The chassis is similar to its spiritual predecessor, the defunct Surface 3, an Intel Atom-powered tablet that served as a low-cost sidekick to Microsoft's 2015 Surface Pro lineup.

A next-generation two-in-one, the Go boasts convenience features including Windows Hello facial recognition, which processes data input from the tablet's front-facing 5-megapixel camera. The rear camera comes with an 8 megapixel sensor. By comparison, Apple's 9.7-inch iPad includes a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera and an 8-megapixel rear shooter.

Price is perhaps Surface Go's best feature. Coming in at $399, the tablet is $400 cheaper than its closest Surface Pro stablemate. Affordability, as always, comes with a few caveats.

Surface Go's CPU, the aforementioned Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y, is a dual-core processor built on the chipmaker's aging 14-nanometer Kaby Lake microarchitecture. Microsoft says it worked with Intel to optimize power, performance and battery life "for the most critical tasks people perform every day," but whether the chip can handle a full build of Windows 10 has yet to be seen.

Despite massaging the chip for maximum efficiency, Microsoft is claiming an estimated 9 hours of operating time, down from 13.5 hours for Surface Pro. Onboard memory starts at 4GB, while standard storage is limited to 64GB of eMMC memory, a good chunk of which goes to Windows 10 Home.

Buyers can upgrade to 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $150, while an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro tacks on another $50.

No accessories are included in the base package, meaning customers have to shell out $99 for the Surface Pen, $99 for a Surface Go Type Cover ($129 for premium versions covered in Alcantara) and $35 for the Surface Mobile Mouse.

Surface Go serves not only as a full-featured Windows machine, but seeks to lure in consumers who are in the market for an affordable tablet. This puts the device in direct competition with Apple, whose $329 iPad anchors to the company's industry-leading product lineup.

Though it lacks an app store filled with hundreds of thousands of tablet tailored titles, Surface Go benefits from its ability to run desktop class Windows software, including full versions of Microsoft's own Office suite. This capability makes Go an alluring option for on-the-go professionals and certain education buyers.

Surface Go will go up for pre-order on Tuesday, July 10, in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the U.S. ahead of store availability on Aug. 2.

Microsoft plans to extend sales to China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand in the coming weeks, with more regions to follow.