Enlarge/ The Surface Laptop Go is made for those who want a smaller and more affordable Surface PC.
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What is the point of a Surface device? The latest model in Microsofts line of Windows PCs, the Surface Laptop Go, forces buyers to confront why they want a Surface machine in the first place.
Much like the Surface Go series of two-in-one tablets, the Surface Laptop Go aims for the mainstream side of the market, with a starting price of $550. However, it does so with a more traditional clamshell design.For that amount, the Surface Laptop Go still provides most of Microsofts signatures: an attractive design, high build quality, a comfortable keyboard and trackpad, a display with a taller 3:2 aspect ratio, the proprietary Surface Connect port, and so on.
But with any savings comes compromise, and the Surface Laptop Gos trade-offs are not insignificantespecially if you want to buy its most affordable configuration.
The result is a device thats not quite the bargain as Microsofts marketing might suggest but can still be a good value for those who prioritize a premium design. Weve spent most of the past month testing it out, so lets take a closer look.
Table of Contents
There are three configurations available for the Surface Laptop Go, with a big divide between the entry-level model and the two higher-priced options. All three models, however, are equipped with Intels Core i5-1035G1, a 15W processor with four cores and eight threads based on Intels Ice Lake microarchitecture. It has a base clock speed of 1GHz, which is low but lessens power consumption, and can boost up to 3.6GHz when required. Alongside the CPU is Intels integrated UHD Graphics G1.
This is a 10th-generation Intel processor at a time when the chipmaker is just introducing its 11th-gen platform, and theres no AMD Ryzen option as we saw with the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3. Still, this is a solid CPU for this type of ultra-portable device, one that is generally more capable than the Y-series chips found in the Surface Go 2. Having Ice Lake also means support for Wi-Fi 6 via Intels AX201 module. Thats good for the Surface Laptop Gos long-term viability, as is the notebooks Bluetooth 5.0 support. Advertisement
Also the same with each model is the 12.4-inch touch display. Like other Surface laptops, this panel has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which makes it physically taller than typical 16:9 notebook displays. This makes it easier to fit more of a webpage or Word document on the screen at once, though you lose some width for placing multiple windows side by side.
|Specs at a glance: Microsoft Surface Laptop Go
|1536×1024 at 12.4 inches, 3:2 aspect ratio, 10-point multi-touch
|Windows 10 Home in S mode
|1GHz 4-core/8-thread Intel Core i5-1035G1 (3.6GHz Turbo) with 6MB cache
|4GB or 8GB LPDDR4x
|Intel UHD Graphics G1
|64GB eMMC128GB SSD or 256GB NVMe SSD
|Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.0
|USB-A, USB Type-C, Surface Connect, 3.5mm headphone
|10.95×8.10×0.62 inches (278.18×205.67×15.69mm)
|2.45 lbs (1.11kg)
|1-year limited hardware warranty
|Price as reviewed
|720p front-facing camera, dual far-field stereo mics, omnisonic speakers with Dolby Atmos
Of note is the displays 1536×1024 resolution, which equates to a pixel density of 148 pixels per inch (PPI). Thats a step below the sharpness of the Surface Laptop 3s 200 PPI display and a smidge behind what youd get from a common 13.3-inch 1080p panel. The drop-off is not massive in practice, but text isnt quite as crisp as it could be. On the plus side, this is still a 10-point touch display, which isnt a given for a mid-priced Windows laptop. Above the display is a 720p webcam with an f/2.0 aperture.
Where things really get hairy is Microsofts storage and memory options. The base configuration only offers 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage, which is a tough sell even at $550. In an October briefing, a Microsoft representative said this model is aimed at users who largely work with Web- and cloud-based applications. Reading between the lines, this version makes more sense when viewed as a Chromebook alternative.
We have not tested the entry-level configuration, so we cant give a definitive judgment on how well it performs in practice. But our experience with similar-powered Windows machines would strongly suggest a middling experience even if we did stick to lightweight tasks. Id go so far as to say eMMC is indefensible in any PC around this price; there are smartphones with faster UFS storage that can be found for less. That there is only 64GB of space makes it worse.
The upper two configurations are more appealing. For $700, you step up to 8GB of LPDDR4x RAM and a real 128GB NVMe solid state drive. For $900, you get a 256GB SSD. This was the model used for our review.
Between the two, the middle configuration should be the best value. You have to be able to get by with 128GB of spacewe really wish each model had more room by defaultbut the $900 model is pricey enough to warrant comparison to more fully featured notebooks like Dells XPS 13 or Microsofts own Surface Laptop 3. For most of the casual users Microsoft wants to attract, the $700 model hits the sweet spot: its not hamstrung by eMMC or 4GB of RAM but still costs less than most premium Ultrabooks.Design
- The Surface Laptop Go has a clean, well-constructed design.
- It’s thin, light, and highly portable. That’d be more useful in a world not hindered by a global pandemic, but it’s still not a chore to lug around.
- The Surface Laptop Go’s 3.5mm audio jack, USB Type-C port, and USB-A port.
- On the other side is Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect port.
- Past Surface laptops have had comfortable keyboards and trackpads, and the Surface Laptop Go continues the trend.
- The keyboard is thin but has a satisfying sense of feedback and enough travel.
- You can’t log in through facial recognition, unfortunately, but Microsoft’s non-entry-level configurations do have a fingerprint reader built into the power button.
- The rear of the Surface Laptop Go. The build uses a mixture of aluminum and soft-touch plastic, but still feels high quality.
The most appealing bits of the Surface Laptop Go are its look and feel. It is unusually svelte and well-built for a laptop in its price range. Like the Surface Laptop 3, it has an elegant, uncomplicated design, with curved, flowing edges and few visual frills outside of a chrome Microsoft logo on the center of the lid.
The lid and the deck surrounding the keyboard and trackpad are made of an aluminum thats smooth and cool to the touch. Nothing about it creaks or flexes when pressed. The chassis is almost entirely sealed, save for a thin grille for airflow that is recessed below the display hinge. The lid can easily be opened with one finger, which is great. The bottom cover, meanwhile, is made of a polycarbonate resin that isnt quite as premium but still has a soft feel that doesnt come off as cheap.
The whole package certainly fits into the ultraportable category: it measures less than 11 inches wide, just over 0.6 inches thin, and 2.45 pounds in total. This supreme portability would be more of a selling point in a world that wasnt constrained by a global pandemic, but the Surface Laptop Go wont be a burden to lug around in any setting.
Microsoft sells the Surface Laptop Go in three finishes: Ice Blue, Platinum, and Sandstone. Ive enjoyed the gray-blue color of my Ice Blue loaner unit, but each model benefits from having the colors of the keyboard and trackpad lightly contrast with the darker finish of the deck. To my eyes at least, it creates a more thoughtful and coherent design than simply plopping black or gray keys on whatever finish you pick at checkout.
Keyboard, trackpad, and speakers
Microsoft has consistently equipped its Surface PCs with excellent keyboards, and, from a typing-quality standpoint, it has continued the trend here. The Surface Laptop Go doesnt have the luxurious travel of the larger Surface Book 3its 1.3mm here, versus 1.55mm on the Book 3but the chiclet-style keys are wonderfully bouncy and responsive, especially compared to other notebooks this thin. Dont expect any butterfly-MacBook-style concerns over tactility here. Each key has an appropriate amount of space between them, too, so I had few issues with accidental button presses.Likewise, the trackpad yields few complaints from a responsiveness standpoint. Its generous but not oversized, with accurate and predictable tracking aided by Microsofts Windows Precision drivers. It does well with palm rejection, and I had no problems performing multi-finger gestures. It has a large clickable surface, and while it could stand to be a little less stiff to my fingers, it has a generally sturdy feel.
The touchpad and keyboard do suffer from a few obvious cost-cutting measures, though. The former is made of mylar instead of glass, so while its still smooth, it presents just a bit more friction to your swipes. The latters issue is harder to swallow: its not backlit. Plenty of people may be able to look past this given the rest of the keyboards quality, but it would be an understandable dealbreaker for night owls or hunt-and-peck types.
Underneath the keyboard are the Surface Laptop Gos omnisonic speakers. They are fine relative to their inherent spatial limitationsthey dont destroy all audio at moderate volumes, but theyre likely to distort at 100-percent volume, and they dont produce much in the way of bass. Youll have a better time just using headphones whenever you want to listen to something more complicated than a podcast.
Another price-related sacrifice is the webcam. It renders colors with reasonable accuracy, but it can still get grainy, and as noted above, its limited to a 720p resolution. A sharper 1080p cam would be more useful in our brave, new Zoom world.
Theres also no way to sign in to the Surface Laptop Go through Windows Hello facial recognition. There is a quick and consistent fingerprint sensor baked into the power button at the top-right corner of the keyboardbut only in the $700 or $900 configurations. These tradeoffs arent egregious given Microsofts price targets, but theyre more reason to avoid the entry-level model.
Its a similar yes, but story with the 12.4-inch 3:2 display. As previously mentioned, its not quite as sharp as a true 1080p panel. You can see a slight drop-off in sharpness when you scroll through text side by side with a sharper display. But the difference is minute enough in practice that I cant see most users having serious complaints. That said, its more reason to avoid the highest-end model, since sharper panels are a given on most laptops in the $900 range. At $700, though, its fine.
More important is that, outside of the resolution, the displays quality is great. Microsoft color-calibrates its Surface panels to sRGB, and we measured the display as covering around 77 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut. The results are pleasantly accurate and relatively vivid colors, especially when compared to other laptops in this price range.
We measured the displays maximum brightness, meanwhile, at nearly 330 nits. Thats not the highest weve seen, but its still above average and usable outdoors. At its lowest brightness, the panel drops all the way down to 2 nits, which is low enough to use at night without seriously disturbing anyone who may be sleeping around you. The display can utilize an auto-brightness sensor as well.
Touch controls on the display are not as quick as theyd be on a panel with a higher refresh rate, but theyre plenty responsive. At this price, merely having a 10-point touch panel at all is a plus. Similarly, the bezels surrounding the display arent as razor-thin as those of Dells XPS 13, but theyre slim enough to lend the design a higher-end look that belies the Surface Laptop Gos approachable price.
The Surface Laptop Gos port selection is identical across its three configurations. Each model comes with both a USB-A port and a USB Type-C port, a pairing that should cover most peripherals you may have accumulated over the years. Beyond that, theres a 3.5mm audio jack and Microsofts proprietary Surface Connect port. The latter handles charging and supports certain Microsoft-made docks and accessories. You can also charge through the USB-C port.
As with every other Surface notebook, theres no Thunderbolt 3 here, but thats to be expected given the class of device and the laptops lower price. In all, the minimal port selection isnt particularly objectionable, but you may need a USB-C hub to have all your bases covered.
Overall, the aesthetic and build quality of the Surface Laptop Go wouldnt feel terribly out of place on a $1,000 laptop. Its a nice piece of hardware, and thats the best thing it has going for it.