The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go Is Trying

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go Is Trying
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go is a very good laptop. I know what I’m about to say next is going to give you a sense of déjà vu, but that doesn’t make it any less true: This thing is just way too expensive. This has been the problem with a lot of Microsoft’s products this year — exceptional design, exceptional quality, and exceptionally high price. But this Surface Laptop Go still might be the least offensively priced Microsoft product of the year, because it’s absolutely the most functional.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go is Microsoft’s budget laptop. Starting at $999, every version comes with the same 10th-gen Intel i5-1035G1 processor. The $999 version also uses a 64GB eMMC drive for storage and relies on just 4GB of RAM. Microsoft didn’t provide this version for review, but it’s intended primarily for users who do everything online — sort of a Chromebook-style product for people who still really need a fleshed-out OS on occasion. I was provided with the $1,549 version, which adds a fingerprint reader into the power button and ups the RAM to 8GB and the storage to a faster, larger 256GB SSD. If you want to split the difference, there’s also a $US700 ($971) version that includes everything the laptop reviewed here does but halves the storage to 128GB.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

WHAT IS IT?

Microsoft's take on a budget laptop.

PRICE

Starts at $999; reviewed at $1,549.

LIKE

Solidly built and great looking, with a fast enough processor.

NO LIKE

The display's resolution is wonky, and boy does it get hot.

But $1,549 is a lot to ask for a laptop like this.

The Surface Laptop Go comes with a 12-inch display that has a truly weird 1536 by 1024 resolution, which means it’s got just 148 pixels per inch. That might not seem like a big deal, but the above laptops all have a few more pixels per inch, and something like the $1,599 MacBook Air sports 227ppi. What this means practically is that the font isn’t as sharp. I spent all weekend working on proposals in Google Docs and had to set fonts to medium or bold just so they’d look better on the screen. You can see each individual pixel in a way I thought we’d moved well past for laptops in this price range.

You can see every pixel. (Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo) You can see every pixel. (Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo)

The miserable pixels per inch left me truly disappointed in the Surface Laptop Go. While the screen is bright (343 nits!), the colours are vibrant, and the 3:2 ratio is very welcome, I’ve still come to expect a lot more from a display in a Surface device. These devices are supposed to be the best way to experience Windows, with the prettiest hardware and finest screens. This one just doesn’t quite do it.

But the rest of the hardware is bang on. Microsoft kept most of the device in aluminium, so it’s light but has enough heft to feel premium. The company reduced the bezels on the display to the thinnest we’ve seen on a Surface device. The bottom half of the laptop is made of plastic, but not the flimsy stuff you usually see on a sub-$1,000 device. It’s firm with no give when you press it, though it does seem to get toasty if you try to push the i5 processor. When benchmarking it, I saw temps as high as 47 degrees Celsius. If you’re planning to really push this laptop, do not plan to do so while it is on your lap.

Toasty. (Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo) Toasty. (Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo)

In daily use, it never reached those temperatures. It handled hours of work in Google Docs and marathon sessions of Baldur’s Gate 3 in Stadia well enough that I understand the case for the Surface Laptop Go being an alternative to nice Chromebooks. Benchmark wise, it handles a great deal more apps than a Chromebook, but the performance is not the fastest you can get in a laptop at this price.

The i5-1035G1 baked inside is a 10th-gen, 10nm, 4-core/8-thread processor, but it’s also a 15W part, which means it’s not intended for gaming or other kinds of number country. It took nearly 25 minutes to complete our Handbrake benchmark, 15:49 to finish the Blender CPU benchmark, and 17:37 to finish the Blender GPU benchmark. Those numbers are on par with other laptops you might find running 15w CPUs, like the Dell XPS 13 and Razer Blade Stealth. But those laptops are equipped with the far superior Intel Iris integrated GPU. Consequently, they handle games a lot better. The Razer Blade Stealth, for example, gets 110 fps in Overwatch. The Surface Laptop Go manages just 19 fps.

It’s unclear if it was a matter of price or thermals that kept Iris graphics out of the Surface Laptop Go, but either way it keeps a great laptop from being an exceptional one.

The other thing keeping it from being exceptional is the battery life. Microsoft claims it will last 13 hours. While in mixed-use I did get quite good battery life, in our battery test — where we set the brightness of the display to 200 nits and play a Youtube video until the battery dies — it lasted just 6 hours and 32 minutes. That’s…pretty abysmal performance. I’ve reached out to Microsoft for more clarity on the issue, am juicing the laptop up for a third battery test, and will update this review if these numbers change.

The trackpad and keyboard are more on par with what you expect from a Microsoft device…for the most part. The keyboard isn’t backlit — a pain point I felt keenly when my living room lights automatically turned off at midnight and I was still playing Baldur’s Gate — but the keys have a nice travel to them (I found them a little too squishy for my personal taste). The glass trackpad is smaller than what some users might be used to, but I had zero issue with the size. It did feel too slippery compared to how the mouse moved on screen, but adjust cursor speed sorted me out easily enough.

The built-in fingerprint scanner lights up brightly when it needs to be pressed to unlock the computer. On rare occasions, it wouldn’t light up to let me unlock, but Windows Hello worked just fine with the 720p webcam so I wouldn’t say its a hassle — just a bug to be sorted out by Microsoft.

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Whenever it's ready for authentication, a bright light appears around the fingerprint sensor built into the power button.

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

The bezels are surprisingly narrow for a Surface device.

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Surface Connect port!

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

The good ports.

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

A solid keyboard that didn't feel cramped to my small hands.

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo, In-House Art

The top.

Around the side there’s a 3.5mm audio jack and both USB-A and USB-C ports. The USB-C port doubles as a charging port if you’re like me and have another USB-C powered laptop around. It was super handy, but it was still nice to have the dedicated Surface Connect port on the other side.

While I keep warily eyeing the $1,549 price, I don’t hate this laptop by any means. It’s small enough and light enough that it’s great to use when I was sitting on the couch watching The Haunting of Bly Manor all weekend, and it’s been fast enough to handle most of the casual tasks I throw at it. If I was going to suggest a laptop for friends with older kids or teens I’d likely suggest some version of the Surface Laptop Go.

It feels durable and is without a doubt the best-looking laptop you can get in this price range. It’ll handle all types of schoolwork, and could even handle the workload of people who do more of their work via remote server or the cloud. This isn’t the laptop I’m going to recommend to friends on a budget who want to get a lot of work done, but if your work is remote or you’ve got someone in your life wanting to find the split between a Chromebook and a pricey Windows 10 device, the Surface Laptop Go is solid middle ground.

README

  • I want to love this laptop, because it starts at only $999!
  • But at $1,549 it’s just too expensive compared to other laptops you can get for the same price.
  • This is for people who probably need a Chromebook but want the flexibility of Windows. Skip the priciest version.