The Surface Laptop has been a favorite among Microsoft fans for years now, and it’s easy to see why. The Surface Laptop 3 is a stylish, well-built, comfortable, powerful laptop that rivals the MacBook Air for its ability to exude a premium PC experience. We were super excited to see Microsoft debut the Surface Laptop Go last month. It aims to deliver all that we love from the Surface Laptop 3 in a smaller and much cheaper form factor.
In many ways, the Surface Laptop Go succeeds: it weighs barely over one kilogram (2.45 lbs), has a beautiful silky chassis, and packs a processor with enough power and efficiency to browse the web and do daily office work for over seven hours. However, its performance is capped here in favor of the battery life, making it a chore to do anything heavyweight with the laptop, and its keyboard and trackpad are small enough to make hands feel cramped after a while of use. Simply put, there are already more compelling laptop options in the budget arena, like the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 and the HP Envy x360, that Microsoft hoped to compete in.
About the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go
This latest entry into the Surface lineup sits between the Surface Laptop and the Surface Go in terms of both power and functionality. While it features the same premium build quality that’s built the Surface fandom, its relatively modest specs offer consumers an affordable, traditional, and lightweight option to the pricier Surface laptops or the more tablet-esque Surface Go or Surface Pro models.
Below is the specs for our review unit, along with the other configurations available for purchase:
- Processor: Intel Core i5-1035G1 (list other configs available)
- Memory: 8 GB RAM (list other configs available)
- Storage: 256 GB SSD (list other configs available)
- Display: 12.4” 1536 x 1034P touchscreen display
- Ports: 1 x USB-A 3.0, 1 x USB-C, 1 3.5mm headphone jack
- Wireless: Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax
- Extra Features: Windows Hello fingerprint sensor
- Charger: 39W Surface Connect power supply
- Weight: 2.45 lbs
- Dimensions: 10.95” x 8.10” x 0.62”
- Warranty: 1-year limited hardware warranty
What We Like
It inherits a lot of the construction details we love about the Surface Laptop 3
Despite its sub-thousand dollar price tag, the Surface Laptop Go boasts of the premium build quality that the Surface lineup has become known for: an aluminum top, velvety inner chassis, a bright and glossy screen, and a magnetic Surface Connect charger.
All around, the aluminum and smooth matte finish of the Surface Laptop Go make it a very solid-feeling slab that I could not bend or deform in any way. Lightly dragging my keys across the lid did not leave any marks, and I’d find it hard to believe that any tumbling objects it may share a backpack with would dent it, either. The finish was also fairly fingerprint-proof, so the Surface Laptop Go was always looking clean and ready to go.
While you’d think that such a ruggedly built machine would translate to a heavy laptop, you would be wrong. The Surface Laptop Go is Microsoft’s lightest model, clocking in at a mere 2.45 pounds. The screen is correspondingly small to play into its portability, measuring 12.4” across the diagonal and barely wider than the keyboard.
This laptop is made for people on the go
But of course, a small laptop is not portable if its battery life is fleeting. So, Microsoft made sure that the Surface Laptop Go would not fail here, boasting of a 14 hour battery life with mixed use and scoring a bit over 7 hours in our Chrome-based page cycler test. While it’s not the best time in the entire ultrabook department, it is among the better battery lives we’ve seen this year.
Meanwhile, its 12.4” screen boasts the Surface lineup’s signature 3 to 2 display ratio that gives users more vertical room to work with on their screen when compared to the classic 16:9 models out there. The screen was pleasantly vivid, capable of producing 345 nits at full brightness that made it a breeze to read under direct sunlight.
What We Don’t Like
The performance is artificially capped for battery life
In the quest to bring what looks like a Surface laptop to the budget laptop scene, Microsoft made one too many compromises. While the internal components of the Surface Laptop Go are fine on paper, it does perform slower than laptops with an identical processor—in turn, it also has better battery life than those laptops. It’s clear that Microsoft wanted to cap the mobile Core i5 processor’s output in order to conserve energy, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can be frustrating for those who needed the kind of power the processor is capable of producing.
Throughout my time with the Surface Laptop Go, I regularly found myself waiting up to a second for webpages to load. It’s by no means catastrophic, as it’s only slightly slower than, say, my workstation, but this kind of lag did add up over time and make Google Chrome frustrating to use once I had over twenty-five tabs open. By comparison, the Surface Laptop 3’s similar processor is only slightly more powerful on paper, but it felt much snappier than the Surface Laptop Go in practice.
The screen is shockingly low-resolution for the price
The Surface Laptop Go’s screen has thick bezels that make it look like a laptop from 2010, and unfortunately, its screen pixel density does nothing to clear up this impression. With a 3:2 screen ratio, it’s impossible for the Surface Laptop Go to conform to the standard Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080p. However, instead of adding more pixels to achieve the ultra-tall ratio, the Surface Laptop Go reduced its pixel count. Currently, the screen only comes with 1536 x 1034 pixels, giving it a pixel density of 148 PPI. The resulting images on the display are grainy and more grating to the eye compared to the visuals on the similarly-priced, Full HD display on the HP Envy x360.
Its ergonomics are a no-go, unless you have child-sized hands
I am a women’s small in glove size, and I consistently have trouble finding hand accessories or peripherals that aren’t too big for me. For instance, I think the “cramped” Nintendo Switch Lite is just about perfect for my grasp. When I had trouble fitting my fingers onto the disastrously small keyboard on the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go, I instantly felt pity for all the larger-handed folk out there.
I found myself regularly overreaching keys and mistyping, and I had to stop using the Surface Laptop Go after about an hour from the resulting finger fatigue. The keyboard’s about as wide as the screen, and while a wider keyboard would require a wider laptop, it would have been a worthwhile trade in this case.
The trackpad is somehow worse than the keyboard, with an active cursor space that felt custom-fitted for my pinky instead of my index finger. However, I doubt that a larger trackpad would have helped much, since the mouse acceleration feels off enough to leave me second guessing my cursor strokes. It’s not imprecise, per se, but it feels slippery and hard to control.
I am also not a fan of how few ports this laptop comes with: a single USB-C port, a single USB-A port, and a headphone jack. I appreciate that each port is at least unique, but it would have been nice to see at least another USB port. At least the ports are all on the opposite side of the charging port, making it easy to access the ports without disrupting the plugged-in charger.
Should You Buy It
If you want a premium-looking laptop with insane battery life and you have toddler-sized hands, this is a good laptop for you. Despite its humble sub $600 price tag, it drips of the same premium build quality that the rest of the Surface lineup has had since its inception. Beyond the (ahem) surface, the Surface Laptop Go has a reasonably powered Intel Core i5 mobile processor that will do for emails, social media, and some video streaming. It's a shame that you'll have to settle for watching your videos in less than 1080P, with the fans blowing at full speed for little reason.
Jokes aside, I’d actually skip on the merit of getting a better keyboard/mouse. The extra money for the Surface Laptop 3 is worth it for the comfort, and if you’re looking for something a little more affordable, our favorite budget laptop is the HP Envy x360. That said, I'd keep my eye out for the 2nd-gen Surface Laptop Go. Relatively small tweaks would've easily made the Surface Laptop Go a winner, and there's no doubt that Microsoft will knock it out of the park on the second try with a comfier, more powerful budget laptop.
Meet the tester
Emily is a staff writer for Reviewed, mainly focused on reviewing laptops and other consumer tech. During her free time, she lives in Hyrule and draws about her adventures.
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