Microsoft Might Have Made The Best Budget Laptop…Again

Microsoft Might Have Made The Best Budget Laptop…Again

Two years ago Microsoft made one of its best laptops, and my favourite budget computer, the Surface Go. The $600 Windows 10 tablet was absolutely not the fast computer in its price range, and it had a much smaller screen than the competition, but it also felt like the kind of perfect do anything device for someone on a budget—the 2-in-1 Apple’s aspired to make over and over again with the iPad. Now Microsoft has the recently rumoured Microsoft Surface Go 2, plus a refreshed Surface Book 3 and new headphones, and if new guts really improve its speed then this could be the budget device to get.

The problem is when we say budget we typically mean devices that are $800 and less, and while the Go 2 starts at just $US400 ($621), you’ll still have to drop another $US130 ($202) on a keyboard case. So it’s really a $830 device if you are looking for a budget laptop. And it still has the same issues as it’s predecessor: It’s still underpowered and has a smaller screen than other top laptops at the price range.

But the Surface Go 2 has a larger screen than the Go. Microsoft kept the exact same chassis, which will be useful for anyone who already owns a case, but shrunk the bezels to fit a 10.5-inch 1920 by 1280 resolution display in. The Go just had a 10-inch display.

Microsoft’s also increased the size of the battery and now claims that regardless of the selected processor you should get 10 hours of battery life—up from the Go’s 9 hours. Which is nice as in our battery test, where we set the display’s brightness to 200 nits and play a 24-hour YouTube video until the device dies, the Go just got 8 hours and 5 hours on a charge.

The bezels on the Go 2 should be a lot smaller than the ones on the Go above. (Photo: Alex Cranz, Gizmodo)

Also new for the Go 2 is a newer series of processors. Instead of the Kaby Lake 4415Y Pentium processor from 2017, it will use Amber Lake 4425Y launched in 2019. Typically you get a 10 to 15-per cent boost in speed moving generation to generation. But if you like the tiny design but hate the sluggish Pentium processors, as I usually do, Microsoft is also offering one with an 8th-gen Core m3 processor. No word on pricing for the m3 version, but I’d expect it to be as expensive as an iPad Pro, which starts at $US800 ($1,242) for an 11-inch version (the backlit Magic Keyboard costs an additional $US300 ($466).

Beyond a processor boost, bigger battery, and larger display, there are few major changes. Microsoft has added eSIM support for LTE models as well as the higher fidelity studio microphones found in last year’s Surface Pro. That means Skyping or Zooming should be a lot more pleasant, with the microphones cutting out extraneous sound.

Otherwise, it still has the features I loved about the Go. There’s a MicroSD card slot, USB-C port (with charging capabilities), Surface Connect slot, and Windows Hello support. It also has some I’m not crazy about, like it starts at just 64GB of storage (up to 128GB) and 4GB of RAM (up to 8GB).

Our review unit is still en route so I can’t speak to whether it will be as good as the Go, or even be worth the savings versus great full laptops like the HP Envy 13. But spec-wise it has the potential to be a great device, particularly as many of us find ourselves stuck at home and in need of more screens capable of video chats, Microsoft Office work, and general browsing. It will be available starting May 12.

If you want to do more than that the Go 2, like most laptops in this price range, might not give you what you want. But Microsoft has also announced a refreshed Surface Book 3 with a healthy speed boost. Both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch Book 3 will now come standard with Intel’s excellent 10th-gen Ice Lake CPUs. You’ll be able to choose between the i5-1035G7 and i7-1065G7 on the 13.5-inch and just the i7-1065G7 on the 15-inch.

The Surface Book 3. (Image: Microsoft)

The i5 will clearly be the budget Book and come standard with just Intel’s integrated GPU. But a less powerful processor also means it’s .08-inches thinner at its thinnest point and will weigh .24 pounds less than the i7 version.

The 13.5-inch i7 Book 3 Will include an Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU with 4GB of VRAM standard. The 15-inch version will include a GTX 1660 Ti GPU with 6GB of VRAM standard. Those are beefy GPUs and nice, if ray tracing free, upgrades from the GTX 1050 and 1060 offered in the Book 3.

The Surface Book 2. The 3 looks identical. (Photo: Alex Cranz, Gizmodo)

However Microsoft is also giving people the option to use a Quadro RTX 3000 with 6GB of RAM instead. While the RTX 3000 supports ray tracing, it’s a professional-oriented GPU intended more for 3D digital artists than gamers. Nvidia’s line of Quadro GPUs typically isn’t found in flashy flagships like the Surface Book 3 and it’s doubly impressive that despite all this power Microsoft is still claiming both versions of the Book 3 will still last 17.5 hours on a charge.

Though bigger GPUs do mean bigger power supplies. The i5 will have a 65-watt charger, while the i7 version of the 13.5-inch Book 3 will jump up to 102W charger and the 15-inch will jump up to a 127W one.

The Surface Book 3 will start at $US1,600 ($2,485) and go on sale May 21.

The Buds were announced at Microsoft’s event last October. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

Besides welcome spec jumps to some of its most fun laptops, Microsoft is also finally shipping its totally wireless Surface Earbuds. Announced last October, the Earbuds are finally shipping this. The Earbuds still have a Google Bud-like profile we saw in October and still allow you to dictate to Office 365 apps and play Spotify without picking up your phone. Microsoft claims they’ll last up to 8 hours without returning to their case with a total of 24 hours between charges. They’ll start at $US200 ($311) and be available May 12.

Microsoft has also updated the Surface Headphones with the Headphones 2, which is excellent because we were not big fans of the originals—though we did love their style. The Headphones 2 come in platinum or black, and Microsoft says its improved sound quality and its noise cancelling ability. You can even tune how much noise cancelling it uses by twisting dials on the cans themselves. Plus Microsoft claims they’re last up to 20 hours on a charge. Not bad, particularly as they’re also $150 less than their predecessors, and will be available starting May 12 at $US250 ($388).

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Australian pricing and availability for these products.