Vivid 1080p touch display
Beautiful solid magnesium body
Windows 11 pre-installed
Dismal battery life
Accessories sold separately
About the Microsoft Surface Go 3
Here are the specs of the tablet we tested:
- Processor: Intel Core i3-10100Y
- Memory: 8GB LPDDR3 RAM
- Storage: 128GB SSD
- Display: 10.5-inch 1080p PixelSense Display
- Ports: 1x USB-C port, 1x 3.5mm audio jack
- Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615
- Wireless: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
- Battery: 28 Whr
- Weight: 1.2 lb (not including accessories)
- Accessories: None; detachable Surface keyboard and Surface Pen sold separately
- Dimensions: 9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches
- Warranty: One-year limited warranty
The model we tested costs $629, although you can get a $399-version with an Intel Pentium Gold processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage, or a $549 model with the same Pentium processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage. The Surface detachable type cover and the Surface stylus pen are sold separately for $99 each, which tacks on $200 to the total price of the laptop if you decide to buy those.
What we like
Keeping it classy
If you gave the Surface Go 3 a cursory glance, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s way more expensive than it is. The platinum-colored magnesium chassis feels smooth and pleasant to hold, and the buttons are stiff but easy to click. The back of the tablet has an incredibly sturdy kickstand, too. The Surface Go 3 is 0.33-inches thick, about as thick as the 2020 iPad Air. However, it’s heavier compared to other similar tablets; the iPad Air weighs exactly one pound and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 weighs 1.1 pounds. The Surface Go 3 weighs 1.2 pounds.
The Surface Go 3 nestles comfortably into my hands, with bezels thick enough to avoid accidentally tapping any Windows icons. Its MagSafe charger easily breaks away with a pull, and the side has a USB-C port and headphone jack. The optional type cover has a smooth, velvety cloth interior and its keys feel firm without being overly stiff.
Great for everyday media
When it comes to watching movies and making video calls, the Surface Go 3 nails it. The display is absolutely gorgeous, with bright, high-contrast colors. Videos looked vivid and natural, making films pop and video feeds clear. The sound is clean and crisp, and the 1080p webcam produces a colorful, sharp image. If you want to work in split-screen, the Surface Go 3’s 3:4 display ratio gives a lot of vertical space without sacrificing the tablet’s portability.
The Surface Go 3’s touch display is also stylus-compatible. When paired with the $99 Surface Pen, the Surface Go 3 has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, which means the Pen can pick up how much pressure you’re applying to the screen with a lot of accuracy and precision at any time. Lines drawn with the Pen can shift from thin to thick with ease. When I drew some sketches in Photoshop, I had no problem rendering expressive line art or getting into small crevices without shrinking the brush size. If the Surface Go 3’s pop-out kickstand had a gentler slope, it would be even better for drawing for hours on end.
Comes with Windows 11 pre-installed
If you weren’t aware, Windows 11 was released on October 5th this year. Upgrading your operating system can be a major pain since it sometimes takes hours for the PC to install updates. Many folks with older computers won’t be able to upgrade either, so it’s nice the Surface Go 3’s already done the work for you.
Windows 11 is a smooth experience on the Surface Go 3, too, especially in tablet mode. The sleek, clean UI is simpler than Windows 10’s UI, and it comes with more features than ever before. The centered taskbar was large, and each icon was easy to accurately press with my index finger. I had no problem pinching, swiping, and panning on the display, either. Navigating app controls can get a little tedious since most are sized for desktops with mice and keyboards, but the OS itself does its best.
What we don’t like
Not as powerful as the competition
Compared to other laptops and tablets under $700, the Surface Go 3’s performance is painfully slow. We tested the higher-end $629 model with an Intel Core i3-10100Y processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. To say it underperformed would be an understatement.
When we ran Geekbench 5 (a benchmarking program that measures raw processing performance) on the Surface Go 3 to measure its processor performance, it scored 832 points in the single-core test and 1639 in the multicore test. By comparison, the $599 2020 iPad Air scored 1583 points in the single-core test and 4307 points in the multicore test—that's almost twice as much single core performance and over two and a half times more multicore performance than the Surface Go 3. The Surface Go 3 has some of the worst scores we’ve seen on a Windows laptop, with only budget Chromebooks performing worse on benchmarks.
The 13-inch HP Envy x360, which costs about the same as the Surface Go 3, scores about as well as the iPad Air, and it’s the performance we’d expect for $600: enough for fifty tabs of Chrome to run smoothly, and enough to easily edit 4K Photoshop files with up to 50 layers. The Surface Go 3 cannot handle more than a handful of layers, just as it can only manage twenty or so active internet tabs before the performance starts taking a hit. While the Surface Go 3 runs fast enough for tasks like simple web surfing or video streaming, there are better values in its price range, like the iPad Air and HP Envy x360.
Comes without a type cover or stylus
Considering the Surface Go 3 ships with a two-year-old budget processor, it would be nice if the tablet also shipped with a keyboard and stylus. Unfortunately, Microsoft charges $99 for the Surface Type Cover and $99 for the Surface Pen. Neither of these accessories is worth that retail price. The Surface Type cover has stiff but responsive keys slapped onto a floppy tablet cover that does nothing to hold up the Surface Go 3 or protects it in any significant way.
I quickly ditched the type cover and used the machine as a tablet unless I knew I’d be sitting down to type long passages. Nobody expects this cover to perform as well as Apple’s $299 Magic Keyboard cover, but it should be at least as pleasant to use as Logitech’s various tablet keyboards like the $80 Slim Folio and the $150 Combo Touch. Both those covers completely cover the iPad for protection against damage, offer a place to hold a stylus, and don't wobble like the Surface Go 3's type cover.
The Surface Pen is a much better accessory than the type cover. It’s very responsive to pressure, with 4,096 levels of sensitivity, and it’s extremely lightweight. Its performance feels as smooth as that of the Apple Pencil 2, although it’s less comfortable to hold for my grip and too small altogether for those with larger hands. Additionally, the Apple Pencil stays connected to the iPad with a strong magnetic ridge that also charges it. The Surface Pen, on the other hand, has nowhere to live—unless you make yourself a stylus-holding loop.
Awful battery life
Microsoft claims the Surface Go 3 gets up to 11 hours of battery life, but when we ran our battery test, which simulates web browsing at 200 nits of brightness, it lasted four hours 56 minutes—just shy of five hours. One of Android, ChromeOS, and iPadOS tablets’ most lauded traits is their ten-hour or more battery life. The iPad Air gets ten hours out of every charge, as does the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. Meanwhile, the HP Envy x360, a fellow Windows laptop, gets eight hours of battery life.
Perhaps if Microsoft would have used an Evo-certified 11th-gen Intel processor, which is known for helping prolong battery life on computing devices, the Surface Go 3 might have been able to get a few more hours of battery life. But an easier fix would have been to use a larger battery. While the Surface Go 3’s battery offers 28 Watt-hours (Whr), the average laptop has about 50Whr. (The new 2021 Apple iPad has a 32.4Whr battery.) If the laptop had a beefier battery it would have better battery life.
Should you buy it?
No, you can get better two-in-ones and tablets for the price
The Microsoft Surface Go 3 is a wonderfully designed laptop at first glance, but the moment you press the power button, the charm goes away. It’s fast enough for casual web browsing or Netflix marathons, but so are many other devices that are much cheaper than the $629 model we tested. Those cheaper devices also have significantly better battery life.
If you’re looking for a great convertible that’s well under a thousand dollars, the HP Envy x360 has been a favorite of ours for a while now (both the 13-inch and 15-inch versions). The 13-inch models have a great build quality, beautiful and responsive touch displays, good sound, beefy performance, and great battery life for as little as $600. Meanwhile, the Surface Go 3’s cousin, the Surface Laptop 4, is a wonderful thousand-dollar laptop that’s on par with the MacBook Air for the overall experience, so we know Microsoft can make great Surface products.
If you’re willing to stray to ChromeOS or iPadOS, both the 2021 iPad and the 2020 iPad Air offer great performance, ten-hour battery life, an expansive app marketplace, Apple Pencil and Bluetooth keyboard compatibility—all for $329 and $599, respectively. The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is slower than both the iPad and the top-line Surface Go 3, but it’s only $299 and comes with a keyboard cover and stylus, ten hours of battery life, and is great for watching movies and YouTube videos.
The Surface Go 3 does have some charm thanks to its lush aesthetics, awesome display, and Windows 11. It’s fine for casual use, too. However, “fine” is not good enough against the competition. Whether you have a thousand dollars or under five hundred dollars, you have better options than the Surface Go 3.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Adrien is a staff writer for Reviewed, mainly focused on reviewing laptops and other consumer tech. During his free time, he's usually wandering around Hyrule.
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