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Home / Reviews / Tablets & computers / Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: I need more

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: I need more

Microsoft's affordable Surface laptop is in its third generation - but has enough changed over the previous version?

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 lead

Stuff Verdict

Microsoft hasn’t made big changes to the series in the Surface Laptop Go 3, and it doesn’t have an up-to-date CPU either. But it’s still a sound option for those who want something super-portable and

Pros

  • Attractive design
  • Quiet (but not always silent)
  • Good key feel

Cons

  • Significantly increased entry price
  • Uses last-gen processor
  • Basic plastic touchpad

Microsoft hasn’t made big changes to the series in the Surface Laptop Go 3, and it doesn’t have an up-to-date CPU either. But it’s still a sound option for those who want something super-portable and not super-expensive for light jobs.

Microsoft’s affordable Surface laptop is in its third generation. But, aside from some funky colours, you could easily confuse the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 for the Surface Go 2.

Has much changed? Not really, and even the refreshed processor doesn’t actually jump to the latest Intel generation but the last.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 is not the ideal laptop for the tech obsessive, but it isn’t meant to be. This is still a near-ideal buy for students or anyone on a moderate budget who still wants a PC with a touch of luxury to it.

This year’s Laptop Go models start at $699/£799, which sounds like a gigantic leap from the $399/£519 you used to be able to pay. However, Microsoft has just done some of our work for us here. In previous generations, I’d have advised 80% of folks not to get the cheapest Surface Go. This time, around 80% absolutely should.

Microsoft sent me the $849/£899 version with 16GB RAM, but most of the impressions here will count for all versions of the Surface Laptop Go 3. And, yeah, if you’re going to buy one, you should probably consider dropping down to the entry-level model.

Design: Dashing familiarity

The Surface Laptop Go 3 concept is a tasty one. Microsoft aimed to make a laptop that does’t cost a fortune, but still has that sense of prestige style you might associate with a MacBook or Dell XPS 13. Or a “non-Go” Surface Laptop.

Mission accomplished, even if the Surface Laptop Go 3 doesn’t look all that different to the original or the previous year’s Surface Laptop Go 2.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 front

It has an aluminium lid, and aluminium keyboard surround and a soft-touch plastic base that somehow manages to seem just as lovely as the metal bits. The Surface Laptop Go 3 weighs 1.12kg, making it ideal for everyday portable use. And it comes in an array of colours, like this fetching sage green. There’s also a blue, a gold-like sandstone and silver.

Giving the keycaps, touchpad and hinge a matt green shade that complements the shinier shade of the metal is a classy touch. The Surface Laptop Go 3 is one of the better-looking, or at least most characterful, laptops you can get for the money.

In 2023 the display bezels are beginning to look perhaps a touch chunky, but that would matter a whole lot more if this were not a self-consciously mid-grade affordable laptop.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 hinge

Screen: Bright pixels

This screen has a big part in why the Surface Laptop Go looks a little different to the competition in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. Case closed: it has a 3:2 aspect screen.

16:10 displays are all the rage these days, but Microsoft goes further with its “PixelSense” displays. Such a tall aspect ratio isn’t ideal for movies, but does max out on the perception of space in Microsoft’s Office 365 apps, and their various competitors.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 screen

This screen is a 1536 x 1024 panel, roughly in the ballpark of non-widescreen Full HD. It’s the one part that could do with addressing now the Surface Laptop Go doesn’t start in the £500 range. It’s quite clearly a bit pixellated, and that becomes more obvious when you do the sort of day-to-day web browsing and work stuff the Surface Laptop Go seems made for. I find its pixel structure even more visible than that of some rivals that should look similarly sharp. 

A few (OK, a million and change) more pixels would go a long way to level-up how high-end this laptops feels and looks further. It’s not nearly as sharp or smooth-looking as a MacBook Air screen.

Peak brightness of around 354 nits is comparable with some true high-end laptops, though. And while colour doesn’t have the “wide gamut” saturated of an OLED or a super-advanced LCD, it is rich enough to avoid the sallow look that’s a genuine turn-off.

We said all these things about the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2, which makes sense because the screen hasn’t really changed this generation. You don’t get any art-friendly stylus skills, but it is a touchscreen. You can’t push the screen back any further than the standard laptop incline, but it is a glossy display.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 keyboard

Keyboard and touchpad: Petite but not pinched

It’s also business as usual for the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 keyboard and touchpad. Key feel is one of the strongest elements here.

You get the sense this is actually a surface made for work, not a trend-follower, as the keys have a good amount of travel. Long-form typing is comfortable.

When you first get your mitts on the Surface Laptop Go 3 you might assume it has a cut-down keyboard. This is a narrow boy, after, all. However, when you measure from the start of the Q key to the end of the P one at the far end of the typing range you’ll find it’s only 2-3mm shorter than the dimensions of a MacBook Air. Yep, I got out the tape measure.

There’s less space for your hands to sit idly, which is what may foster that initial sense of being cramped, but long-form typing is no problem on this thing once you bed in.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 keyboard

Just like last year, though, the Surface Laptop Go 3 still doesn’t have a key backlight. And this was much easier to shrug off when there were cheaper versions of this series. It doesn’t fly at this price point.

The touchpad has the same mix of class and, well, not that. It has a nicely designed clicker mechanism that feels more expensive than the prosaic bright click of some mid-tier laptops.

However, this is a plastic touchpad, not a glass one. It’s far more susceptible to creaky judders as you glide and forth across it, and at times you can tell it’s bowing a bit under your finger. It’s a so-so pad.

Performance: A tiny, efficient engine

The Surface Laptop Go 3’s performance brings more good and bad news.

This series’s lowest-end specs have been eradicated. They enabled Microsoft to reach a low price floor in the past, but with 4GB RAM and 128GB storage, that version would only satisfy the kind of crowd who might as well buy a Chromebook.

This time, 8GB RAM and 256GB is your entry point. Or you can pay £200 for an extra 8GB RAM. Here’s one other thing consistent this year: Microsoft’s upgrade costs are still daylight robbery, much like Apple’s. You don’t get a processor boost or more storage for the cash.

All specs use the Intel Core i5-1235U processor, a low voltage chipset from Intel’s last generation intended for slim and light laptops just like the Surface Laptop Go 3. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 speed

Let’s deal with the obvious bit first. Why doesn’t the Go 3 have a 13th Gen processor when rivals from Lenovo, Acer, Asus and co do?

I asked Microsoft. They said “Surface Laptop Go 3 comes with 12th Gen Core i5 processors, which can give our target audience (younger, GenZ, student, early in career) a great experience … We’re confident that this device will meet our audience needs and power what they are doing on the daily.”

That doesn’t fully answer the question, but it’s going to be down to timing or money. Or both.

If you are a true performance or power-per-pound fiend, the Surface Laptop Go 3 shouldn’t be your top pick. But the good news is the jump from 12th Gen to 13th Gen really isn’t all that interesting in this low-voltage series.

You get a slightly higher-clocked turbo mode, a slightly faster graphics processor, and apparently something that boosts AI performance — which Microsoft is currently doing its darndest to cram into your everyday life. 

In your day-to-day 98% of folks honestly wouldn’t notice the difference between a 12th Gen and 13th Gen processor.

The limits here are also determined by the power the Surface Laptop Go 3 can pull. Its turbo mode, a sort of nitrous a laptop can use for a short while, only lasts a couple of minutes before dropping you down to the base power of 15W. This is an even more efficient processor than the one I got in the Surface Laptop Go 2. So while I get a decent 20%-ish performance boost on the CPU side, the GPU side is pretty bad because the Intel Xe graphics just can’t draw much power.

I tried running Cyberpunk 2077 and couldn’t get above 20-odd frames per second. And, yes, that game can run on some integrated graphics laptops much better than this. The Surface Laptop Go 3 just doesn’t represent the sort of performance boost I saw in the previous generation. However, day-to-day pottering around Windows or in productivity apps just doesn’t suffer at all. It’s great to work on.

The other good news is the Surface Laptop Go 3 is quiet. It does have fans, and there is a very high-pitch element to their tone, but the actual number of decibels they generate is very low. It’s going to be silent when you just do light work too, and the fans only spin up under genuine stress.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 ports

Battery life and features

The Surface Laptop Go 3 has a 40Wh battery, a pretty unremarkable capacity. But battery life benefits from the use of the power-limited CPU we’ve just been talking about.

I found the Surface Laptop Go 3 lasts nine hours 34 minutes when doing light work at moderate brightness, the kind of setting you might use indoors.

This is way off the 15 hours Microsoft claims you can get. This doesn’t seem a realistic goal for a laptop with a 40Wh battery and Intel an CPU. Still, all-day light use with some buffer to spare is not bad.

The Surface Laptop Go 3 uses a proprietary Microsoft plug to charge, and it’s a pretty neat one. Its wafer-shaped connector is held in place with a magnet, meaning a power cable snag won’t see the laptop tumble to the floor.

It also leaves the one USB-C port free for other uses. You get just one USB-C and one USB-A here, but at least we’re spanning the generations in tech terms. Affordable laptops still need to. You can also use the USB-C to charge, which I love as it means I can recharge with just a phone adapter when travelling.

The Surface Laptop Go 3 has a 720p webcam, and it produces a fairly basic-looking image by 2023 standards. Lots of laptops now have better 1080p cams. Still: fine for video meetings and calls.

The Surface Laptop Go 3 also has a speaker array very similar to the last model. It passes sound up through the keyboard, up at your face. While this leads to pretty good projection, and top volume is OK, there’s not much width to the sound. Bass is light too.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 lead

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 verdict

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 may seem to have gone off the rails at first glance. A much higher starting price? Madness, surely?

Microsoft has actually just nixed the low-spec versions that were hard to recommend. But, yes, it does put the Surface into even more direct competition with more aggressively value-led laptops from companies like Acer, Asus and Lenovo.

You don’t get much in the way of improvement here, and even the updated CPU manages to be outdated at launch. I still rate the Laptop Go 3 highly for general roving and portable use, and think it’s a cute little champ. But Microsoft really needs to bump up a few other areas, like the keyboard backlight and perhaps resolution, if it wants to compete at this price.

Stuff Says…

Score: 3/5

Microsoft hasn’t made big changes to the series in the Surface Laptop Go 3, and it doesn’t have an up-to-date CPU either. But it’s still a sound option for those who want something super-portable and not super-expensive for light jobs.

Pros

Attractive design

Quiet (but not always silent)

Good key feel

Cons

Significantly increased entry price

Uses last-gen processor

Basic plastic touchpad

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 tech specs

Processor12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U
GraphicsIntel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM8GB/16GB (tested)
Storage256GB
Screen12.4in, 1536×1024
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, 3.5mm
OSWindows 11 Home
Battery40Wh
Dimensions278x206x15.7mm,
Weight1.13kg
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About

Andrew is a freelance journalist for Stuff and has been writing, reviewing and ranting about technology since 2007.