Quest to find a tablet, pt 2

This is my second post about searching for a tablet, and a follow-up review of the device I mentioned purchasing in the last post (an MS Surface Go tablet). Aside from the fact I just find it relaxing to write about things that interest or affect me, I hope that this would be useful if you’re considering buying an MS Surface tablet (to run either Win/Linux), or if you’re purchasing a different tablet to run Linux and want to know how a potential configuration might look.


I wound up going with a Surface Go model 1824 with 8 GB of RAM, although there is a 4 GB version as well. Prices for the model appear to start at around $70 for a usable device with minor defects (e.g. small scratches on the screen), though I went with one in great condition (no scratches or defects and with a battery in good condition) for $99 + tax. Prices for newer models continue to go up from there, with models straight from Microsoft ranging from around $400 to about $1k not including accessories. I purchased mine on eBay from g-electronics without any issues, so if you also wanted to go down that route I’d recommend checking them out.

Reviewing the Surface Itself


The tablet itself is pretty big, which offers a decent size to view content and to use touch controls on Windows or Linux software that sometimes expects you to be on a desktop with a mouse. It’s also big enough that, even for myself with fairly large hands, it’s slightly difficult to type with my thumbs on a virtual keyboard. It’s also surprisingly lightweight. It doesn’t feel flimsy, but it’s an almost weird combination of feeling somewhat durable while also very light for what you’d expect with its size. The built-in stand on the back, however, feels extremely well built and like something I would have paid a lot more for than I did. That, in combination with the magnetic snap-on for the charging cord and keyboard really adds a nice touch.

Further, with the combination of the snap-on keyboard and built-in stand, it can pretty much become a small laptop in like five seconds. The keyboard itself is better than I expected with decent feedback when you press the keys - beating out a cheap Bluetooth keyboard, and the trackpad is nice to have; though it is still a tiny portable tablet keyboard and I wouldn’t want to do any major amounts of typing on it. Still though, if you’re using Windows or Linux - even tuned to be on a tablet - you’ll probably find a keyboard a fair bit more useful on occasion than if you’re on a truly mobile operating system so I can’t imagine using the device without owning a keyboard to go with it.

To finalize on the feel, the margins on the screen are a bit large compared to other devices, but don’t look out of place on the larger screen. The display itself seems pretty good, the touch input is super smooth, and the speakers sound like cheap earbuds for anything other than a quiet notification.

Computing Power

One of the cons of the device in reviews I saw said that even when the device was first released performance was lacking. The tablet has 8 GB of RAM, but a fairly old dual-core CPU, so while it’s no gaming machine it was sort of a toss-up of how it was going to perform normal computer/tablet tasks. In using it, however, it’s been perfectly fine performing anything I’ve thrown at it. Maybe a tiny bit of slowness in Edge while browsing the web and downloading updates simultaneously before I installed Debian, but otherwise in both Windows before the install and Linux now it’s been super snappy and never struggled with the tasks I’ve thrown at it.

Battery Life

Battery life was definitely a potential drawback for the device, given it was purchased used, x86 processors aren’t exactly known for their efficiency, and Linux has a habit of burning through power in standby mode. Overall though, it seems to be alright albeit a bit less than you would expect from a new tablet running Android. Though something to be aware of is the Microsoft Surface chargers do not have USB input so you can’t top the device off with a portable charger.

I didn’t really track battery performance on Windows, aside from checking expected battery time when doing some somewhat heavy usage and getting an estimated battery life of an hour and a half at just under 50%. After installing Debian I was doing a lot more light usage during a quiet work shift over probably about 5 hours and used about 60 some % battery - which I would say was pretty good.

I did some more exact tests, where it went from 94% to 93% in a little over an hour in sleep mode. It’s not an exact science since it could have been anywhere from 0.1% to 1.9% battery usage, but that’s not too bad either way. Even if I’ve got a lazy day off and am using it on and off over something like 14 hours, idling is going to be a small portion of the battery used. And on the topic, taking it out of sleep mode is so fast I hardly tell it from just turning on the screen.

After the sleep test I decided to let it idle for just over an hour, connected to the internet but without any programs running. It went from 93% to 92%, though went to 91% shortly after I checked it and it did go into sleep mode automatically part way through the test. It’s definitely not like an Android tablet or phone you can just leave on all the time assuming you use it regularly, but again, if I’m using it on and off looks like the idle power usage is fairly negligible.

Finally, I left it off for a little over four hours and it stayed at 91% without any change.

Installing Debian

Going through the process of installing Debian on the tablet was unbelievably easy. You’ll first need to get to the BIOS, where you need to enable booting from USB devices, as well as disable secure boot if you’re installing something that doesn’t support it (Debian supports secure boot so I left it on). You can do this by either holding volume down and the power button while booting -or- holding shift when clicking restart within Windows then choosing UEFI options from the recovery menu. Afterwards, while still in UEFI you can either tell it to prioritize booting from external media over the Windows Boot Manager on the SSD -or- go back into Windows, hold shift when clicking restart, and tell it to boot from external media in the Windows recovery menu. I went with the Windows recovery option for both, though either should work.

From here, you’ll want to make sure to have a keyboard connected and a way to connect a USB thumb drive device to boot from. I used my Surface tablet keyboard and an MS Surface Dock for the thumb drive since I work on a Surface laptop and had one on hand, but you can also use a USB-C to USB adapter and connect things that way as well.

I already had a Ventoy USB with goodies to boot into (though you can always burn an ISO strait to the thumb drive), added the keys to secure boot, and completed the installation. Debian Bookworm had all the necessary drivers for Wifi, Bluetooth, and Touch out of the box so it offered a really pleasant experience without the need to do anything drastic during the installation or needing to hunt down drivers after it was installed. From what I’ve heard newer Surface tablets do need you to install the touch driver afterwards on Linux, and ironically on Windows as well, but this one didn’t require that.

One thing I didn’t test that I wish I did was to see if touch worked with the Debian installer, though even if it did a keyboard would still have been required.

Debian Configuration

Gnome Desktop

I’m personally not a fan of the Gnome layout on a PC as it feels like a mobile desktop environment to me, but it works amazing here. The way I have it setup looks exactly like a mobile operating system when you pull up the apps; and though the windows themselves have a desktop layout the size of the device makes them super easy to use. Even the more minor things like auto brightness and orientation worked out of the box and the desktop works with touch controls just like you would expect any mobile DE to act.

As far as some changes I wound up making, the first thing I did was to enable the on-screen keyboard which is not enabled by default. Going into accessibility settings you can enable the on-screen keyboard to come up when you’re in Gnome apps and it works just like on Android. Outside of Gnome apps it does not come up automatically, but with the “Custom Hot Corners - Extended” plugin for Gnome I setup a gesture to open and close the on-screen keyboard which works while in any software.

There are a few minor drawbacks to the virtual keyboard setup. With an encrypted hard drive I do need a keyboard to enter the password on boot, and copy/paste via touch is hit or miss depending on if the software I’m using (note: changing the paste hotkey in Gnome terminal was a must). I also ran into an issue with scaling, where the 200% scaling on Gnome is a nice size, but the apps list is suddenly made extremely tiny (kind of, ya know, the opposite of what I intended by increasing scale). Even after trying to fine-tune it, trying extensions, and even editing configuration files I was not able to resolve the issue - so I have to rely on scaling settings in apps that allow it and otherwise have the default scaling.


I installed Flapak and the Gnome extension to add flatpaks to the software store. It’s handy, and Flathub has instructions to do so as well as instructions to add Flathub itself here. As a side note, the Gnome Software app is really handy to install and update software while minimizing the amount of terminal usage which can get a little annoying when using touch controls.


I tried to give Firefox a go, but unfortunately it lacks touch support minus a tap being equivalent to a single left click (no scrolling, right-click, pinch to zoom, etc) and does not support PWAs. Gnome Web and Brave both work flawlessly, however, with the desktop versions of them offering the exact same touch controls as a mobile browser. Gnome Web is a lot more limited as a browser (no plugins, fewer settings, etc), so I’ve been going with the Brave browser set to 200% scale and it works great. Touch scrolling, pinch to zoom, and long press or double finger tap for right click make browsing pretty flawless.

My Configuration

I’m using almost the exact same configuration as I mentioned in my Windows 11 configuration post, but here’s what my configuration looks like:

  • On first setup I turned off insights.
  • On the home page I selected customize, wallpaper options, scrolled to the bottom, and un-checked “show sponsored images”.
  • I hid the Brave rewards icon - no point in seeing it since I don’t use it.
  • In Settings/Appearance I turned scale to 200%
  • I installed the Dark Mode plugin that allows me to set any page to dark mode, since I’m a gremlin who enjoys reading in the dark.


Another thing I setup on the device is Waydroid, to let me run Android apps. Installation was fairly simple, and throwing in F-Droid gave me a lot of options on what to install. The apps themselves integrate into Gnome as if I installed them natively, and run as if I installed them natively as well, though I can also open the Waydroid app itself and run it like a full version of containerized Android within a Wayland window. I can’t recommend it enough.

Quick bonus: I created a bash script to shutdown the Waydroid container when it’s not in use. I just created the file in my home directory called “wstop” with the following text:

sudo waydroid session stop && sudo waydroid container stop

and then can run “sudo sh wstop” to stop Waydroid from running in the background after it’s started. It doesn’t use a ton of resources when it’s open, but if I’m trying to maximize battery life then I stop it when I’m done using a particular app (it stays off until you open Waydroid or an app installed with it, then remains on until the device is shut down or you stop it).

As a quick note, if you purchase a Surface tablet and intend to run Windows on it instead, Windows 11 is capable of running Android apps in a similar way to Waydroid.

Other Apps

Beyond the major changes, there has also been some software that I’ve found really useful on it that I thought I would share:

  • Calibre: Calibre is a really powerful desktop ebook reader, which works alright in this case too. Librera would be an alternative Android app with better touch controls, but accessing files on the device’s storage in Waydroid and vice versa can be a bit difficult.
  • FreeTube & NewPipe: FreeTube (Linux/Win) and NewPipe (Android) are both alternative YouTube clients that offer a really nice experience. They work as web wrappers, parsing the YouTube website, so they don’t run into the same copyright issues as YT Vanced did back in the day. I installed them both, but have mostly used FreeTube over NewPipe since I don’t need to start the Waydroid container when running it - though I still do a lot of YT watching in a browser unless I’m doing some random search since I follow YT channels via RSS. GrayJay or Piped (both Android) are similar and would also be worth checking out.
  • InnerTune: InnerTune is an Android music player that, like FreeTube/NewPipe, pulls videos from YouTube but has a Spotify-like appearance and focuses on music only. Spotube (Android/Linux/Windows) would also be something similar to check out.
  • Joplin: Joplin is my preferred note-taking app, which is where I typed up this post, in part using my Surface tablet.
  • Social Media/Messengers: Being able to run Android apps makes installing social media apps and messenger apps really easy. I don’t do a ton of messaging from my tablet, but did install the Proton Mail app and Voyager for Lemmy, both being really nice to use for their touch controls.
  • Syncthing: Syncthing is really handy to send files between different devices, and given that the surface device doesn’t accept USB connections without an adapter or dock it gets super handy to send things through LAN/internet.
  • VLC: VLC is great. Whatever default media player you end up with is usually best removed and replaced with VLC. ’nuff said.


I’ve been using my tablet here for nearly a month, including for a several-day visit to family out of state where I had some quiet time but didn’t want to drag out my laptop, and it’s been great. As much as I thought about trying to get a slightly smaller device, the large size has been really nice to read with and watch videos on. Its battery life has been more than enough for me to use it without worrying about needing to charge it while using it, and it’s been powerful enough to perform any task I’ve thrown at it without any sort of slowness or unresponsiveness.

I’m also surprised at how nice it’s been to have a desktop operating system with a mobile interface, that also can run an entire mobile operating system in a container. The fact that it can accomplish anything a mobile device can, plus everything a desktop device can, using a tablet capable of both has been nice and certainly outweighs the drawbacks of the architecture and minor hacky changes I had to make to the interface.