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Surface Laptop Go review

An affordable winner from Microsoft

Surface Laptop Go on a coffee table next to Halloween decorations
Great Value
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go is without a doubt the standout in the entire Surface lineup, thanks to the ultra-approachable price, excellent build quality and gorgeous display. This laptop will redefine what budget laptops should look like.

For

  • Affordable
  • Excellent build quality
  • Gorgeous design
  • Amazing display
  • Comfy keyboard

Against

  • No backlit keyboard

Following in the footsteps of the Surface Go line is the Surface Laptop Go, a Windows notebook that targets the budget to mid-range segment. While Surface devices like the Surface Pro line have traditionally been super high-end laptops and tablets aimed at providing the best Windows 10 experience, this more recent attempt is designed specifically for students and everyday users who might not have the budget to splurge on a high-priced device.

It’s a successful one at that. At the entry-level, the Surface Laptop Go gets you an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, alongside a gorgeous display and excellent build quality, for a low asking price. And, it’s far better than any other laptop you're going to find at this price range. 

Even at its kitted-out configuration, it remains unbelievably affordable. The absolute top-end version, which we tested here, retails at $899 (£899, AU$1,549). We’d consider a bargain for the specs listed on the right, especially since most other laptops in this size class and price range are going to be Chromebooks, which are way more restrictive in what you can do than the Laptop Go’s Windows 10 in S Mode. Bonus? You can easily switch out of that Mode these days, and the hardware on offer is more than capable of being a fully functioning Windows 10 computer. 

The Laptop Go, sadly, might not be getting an update this year as Microsoft’s Sept 22 event came and went without a mention of it. However, this 2020 release is still more than capable and remains a terrific option for students and casual users. Even in 2021, it’s still a great choice, especially if you're comfortable storing most of your extraneous files in OneDrive.

(Image credit: Future)

Price and availability

Specs Sheet

Here is the Surface Laptop Go configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: Intel Core i5-1035G1 (4-cores, 3.60GHz boost)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 8GB LPDDR4x RAM
Screen: 12.4-Inch 1,536 x 1,024 Touchscreen
Storage: 256GB SSD
Ports: 1 x USB Type C, 1 x USB Type A, 1 x 3.5mm Audio, 1 x Surface Connect
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5
Camera: Widescreen HD (720p) webcam
Weight: 2.45 lb (1.11kg)
Size: 10.95 x 8.10 x 0.62 in (27.81 x 20.57 x 1.57cm; W x D x H)

The Surface Laptop Go is available now, starting at $549 (£549, AU$999). That entry-level configuration will get you an Intel Core i5-1065G1, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. This will be good for super lightweight work, but most people should probably go for the middle tier, which bumps the RAM up to 8GB and the storage up to a fully-fledged 128GB SSD for $699 (£699, AU$1,249). 

If you want to max out the device, you can bump the storage to 256GB to match the configuration we have for review, and that will set you back $899 (£899, AU$1,549). We wouldn't recommend going for this version, however. An extra $200 for 128GB of SSD space is just silly, and is a massive rip-off. You're better off buying an external SSD at that point, trust us. 

The only Windows laptop that even comes close to this is the HP Envy x360 13, which you can get for $799 (£799, AU$1,799) for a configuration that is remarkably close to the highest-end Surface Laptop Go. However, it's $100/£100/AU$200 cheaper with the same amount of SSD storage, so that might be the better buy if you need that extra 128GB of space. Though, with OneDrive and services like Google Drive, we suspect many people using this kind of device don't need an absolute ton of storage space. 

(Image credit: Future)

Design

The Surface Laptop Go is one of the most adorable little laptops we have ever used here at TechRadar. It's incredibly thin and light – measuring just 0.62 inches thick and 2.45 lb, respectively. This is definitely a laptop that's an absolute dream to carry around while you're commuting or traveling between classes - once that's a thing you can regularly do again, at least. 

It's also incredibly solid for the price. Though the bottom of the laptop is plastic, the keyboard deck and display are an incredibly solid aluminum, which results in a premium-feeling device. 

Even the display is incredibly solid. This is the kind of build quality we expect out of laptops that cost twice as much. No flimsy plastic laptop chassis here, and the Surface Laptop Go is something you can get away with tossing in your bag without worrying about it breaking. 

There are also no compromises when it comes to style. The Surface Laptop Go we got for review has an attractive Ice Blue finish. It also comes in a Sandstone finish, along with the classic Platinum color option that pretty much every other Surface device comes with. 

The closest comparison we can think of here is the 12-inch MacBook that Apple has unceremoniously ignored for the last few years. The build quality and good looks are here, at a cheaper price, to boot. Apple's super-ultra-portable device might have the Surface Laptop Go beat on thinness, but it's way more restrictive on what you can actually plug into it. 

Rather than being stuck with one USB-C port like the Apple MacBook, the Surface Go is rocking Microsoft's Surface Connect port for charging and expansion, one USB-C port, a USB-A port and a 3.5mm combo headphone/mic jack. That's still not a ton of ports, but it's way more than we would expect a laptop like this to feature, especially given the small size. 

For a laptop that's inevitably going to be used for school a lot, input also has to be on point, and, well, it definitely is. The Surface Laptop Go keyboard is one of the best we've ever used in any laptop, even much more expensive ones, and the trackpad does an excellent job, and is even pretty large, considering the footprint of the laptop. 

Unfortunately, the Surface Laptop Go keyboard doesn't have backlit keys, which is definitely a shame for anyone that likes to work in dim lighting. We don't think it's a deal breaker, though, especially at this price. Plus, there's a fingerprint reader here, which does have backlighting, which is definitely not something we would expect from most laptops in this price range. 

The display is also a work of art. Sure, it's a bit less than Full HD, coming in with a resolution of 1,536 x 1,024. That is a bit disappointing, but because we're talking about a 12.4-inch display, we didn't even notice it wasn't Full HD until we looked at the specs sheet. It still looks incredible. A lot of that comes down to the 102.6% sRGB coverage and 300 nits of brightness that the 3:2 display manages to hit. 

Pretty much everything is going to look incredible on this laptop, and the display is yet another area where the Surface Laptop Go hits way above its weight class. 

Finally there's the speakers. Unlike pretty much any other budget laptop, the speakers are actually under the keyboard, which is definitely weird, but it manages to produce sound that's way better than a lot of laptops out there. While going on a Dorian Electra binge, music sounds incredibly clear, even if the low-end is a bit muffled. 

Pretty much everywhere you look, the Surface Laptop Go does things that way more expensive laptops do. If you're on the market for an affordable laptop for either school or work - especially if you just do a lot of emails and word processing - the Surface Laptop Go is honestly the best Surface device you can buy, even if other entries in the lineup are more "premium". 

(Image credit: Future)

Performance

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Surface Laptop Go performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Cinebench R20 CPU:  1,211 points
3DMark Time Spy: 479; Fire Strike: 1,512; Sky Diver: 6,538
GeekBench 5: 1,200 (single-core); 3,384 (multi-core)
PCMark 10: 3,446 points 
PCMark 10 Battery Life: 11 hours 15 minutes 
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 8 hours 9 minutes

While we do have the highest-end Surface Laptop Go here, it's important to temper expectations when it comes to raw performance. All we have here is an Intel Core i5-1035G1, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. That's definitely not going to be a benchmark dominator, and it isn't.

This processor is just a single step above a Core i3 chip, and has one of the weakest integrated GPUs in the Ice Lake lineup, which is why this laptop falls on its face whenever you do any kind of graphics workload. Basically, don't expect to do much gaming or video editing on this thing. That's totally fine, however, because this laptop is definitely not built to handle that kind of workload.

Instead, this laptop shows its strength when it comes to lightly threaded web browsing and word processing workloads, while the bright, colorful display and decent speakers make it a good choice for watching Netflix in your downtime. That's all the Surface Laptop Go really sets out to do, and it excels. Even when we have 12 Chrome tabs open, with Slack and Spotify running in the background, this laptop continues to soar. 

Just like with any laptop purchase, you need to decide what you want to do with this laptop before you choose it. If you are going to be doing heavy photo and video editing workloads, you're going to be better off with something with more horsepower. 

If you're just a student that wants something affordable to get through your schoolwork without weighing you down, however, the Surface Laptop Go should absolutely be at the top of your list.

(Image credit: Future)

Battery Life

With just an Intel Core i5 processor, no backlit keyboard and a 1,024p display, the Surface Laptop Go should have some pretty tremendous battery life. And, in our experience it does - to a point. In the PCMark 10 battery test, the laptop lasted a whopping 11 hours and 15 minutes. That's impressive. 

And, in our local video playback test, the laptop lasted 8 hours and 9 minutes, which is obviously much shorter. 

Microsoft claims that the Surface Laptop Go can last up to 13 hours, so it falls a bit short there. You should also be aware that some of our colleagues experienced much lower battery life than we did. Your mileage may vary.

Buy it if...

You want a solid budget laptop
If you want a cheap laptop that doesn't suck, the Surface Laptop Go should be at the top of your list. This laptop doesn't have nearly the same amount of compromises that similarly-priced devices do.

You do a lot of writing on the go
The lightweight design, combined with the extremely comfortable keyboard makes this a great device for writing on the go. 

You like smaller laptops
If you're into smaller laptops that you can easily work on with them in your lap, the Surface Laptop Go is a dream come true. 

Don't buy it if...

You do heavy photo and video editing work
Because of the constrained hardware on offer here, the Surface Laptop Go isn't the best choice for aspiring content creators out there. 

You want a large screen
A 12.4-inch screen is very small for a laptop, and while it's still very much usable, those used to larger 13- or 15-inch laptops may struggle to adapt. 

Jackie Thomas

Jackie Thomas (Twitter) is TechRadar's US computing editor. She is fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but she just happens to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop her a line on Twitter or through email.