I Love the Idea of a Windows 11 Tablet, but the Surface Go 3 Is Just OK

I Love the Idea of a Windows 11 Tablet, but the Surface Go 3 Is Just OK
The Surface Go 3 makes me want to be needed somewhere so I can bust this cutie out and take notes. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

The last time I used a PC as small as Microsoft’s Surface Go 3 was a similarly-sized netbook more than a decade ago. And oh my God, how far the Windows platform has come.

The Surface Go 3 is a computer-tablet hybrid that exemplifies the inviting touchiness of Windows 11. It’s easy to flip open, plop down, and start typing on the sold-separately Type Cover, which you’ll want to get because it completes the experience of using the Go 3. Windows 11 remains rooted in its desktop ways, so I never felt like the Go 3 could be without its folio case despite its portable form factor. But I also liked knowing that anywhere I take this little device, I can get nearly all the functionality I need without being tethered to my desk.

Microsoft Surface Go 3

WHAT IS IT

A Windows 11 tablet/computer

PRICE

Starts at $629

LIKE

Versatile form factor, runs Windows 11, centered camera for video chat

DISLIKE

Battery life could be better, and Windows 11 isn't exactly a tablet OS

A Small Computer

The Surface Go 3 is Microsoft’s third-generation Go device, though it hasn’t deviated much from the second generation. It has updated internals, but everything else remains relatively the same: There’s a 10.5-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, a pop-out kickstand, and similar memory and storage offerings — up to 8GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage. The Surface Go 3 has the same number of ports as its predecessor: one USB-C port, one Surface Connect port for the power adaptor, one Surface Keyboard connector along the bottom, an audio jack, and a microSD card slot for additional storage.

The Go 3 also sports a centered front-facing 5-megapixel camera with Windows Hello and an 8-megapixel rear camera.

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art

The Surface Go 3 is such a handy tablet!

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art

It’s thin enough you can carry it around like a book.

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art

It’s also thin enough it doesn’t take over what’s inside your bag.

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art

There are a limited number of ports, including one USB-C port and a proprietary Surface Connect port.

The Go’s compact size is why you’d pick this over another Surface device. It’s a little under 10 inches wide and about 8.3mm thin and weighs in a little more than a pound. Its small size is why I’d suggest using it to work only in a pinch, not for daily computing.

Underwhelming Battery Life

The Surface Go 3 features a 27 Wh battery with a 45W charger, which only works with the proprietary Surface Connect port. It would be nice to charge with the included USB-C port as a backup in desperate situations, and it’s a bummer I can’t share cables with my Android devices.

The Surface Go 3 charges via a Surface Connect adaptor. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) The Surface Go 3 charges via a Surface Connect adaptor. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

Microsoft says the Surface Go 3 can last up to 11 hours of typical device usage, which only sort of mirrors my experience. I used the Go 3 as a tablet device to read and surf throughout the day without charging it until I got into bed at night. But the Surface Go 3 barely lasted 5 hours and 40 minutes in Gizmodo’s battery rundown test. That’s two hours less than last year’s Surface Go 2 and about as much as the full-sized Framework laptop and Acer Aspire Vero. Even some beefier gaming laptops, which don’t usually have the best batteries, have outlasted the Go 3 in our labs.

But in terms of daily use, the Go 3 gets the job done. It has a host of battery-saving features thanks to Windows 11 that enable you to eke out more life on a charge. I had those turned off for testing purposes, but dimming the screen, turning off the hard drives in the background, and setting an automatic standby mode will help prolong use on this small computer.

Accessories Make the Go

The Surface Type Cover lights up underneath.  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) The Surface Type Cover lights up underneath. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

The Surface Go 3 comes on its own, but it’s the accessories that complete the experience. Considering the Go 3 ranges from $629 for the base model to $1,002 for the specced out model, you should only buy the extras you need.

If you’re planning to get the Surface Go 3 as an on-the-go word processor, you’ll want to invest in the Type Cover for $137. I tested the Go 3 with the Signature Type Cover in platinum, which costs $179 and has a more pleasing textured feel. Both covers have light-up keys with a 1mm travel and a trackpad that works with gestures.

I managed between 109 to 76 words per minute typing with the Signature Type Cover’s keyboard. The slower number was to adjust for my claws. It’s difficult to type with long nails, and I kept introducing errors into my text that I wouldn’t with my usual mechanical keyboard setup.

Add flair to your notes with the Surface Pen.  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) Add flair to your notes with the Surface Pen. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

The Surface Go 3 also uses the standard Surface Pen as an alternative input method. You can affix it to either side of the device with its built-in magnets, which are strong enough to hold the pen even as you toss the tablet down onto a bed and cushions.

I like using the Surface Pen when doing mundane browsing tasks, whether moving folders around file directories or shuffling through the clearance items online at TJ Maxx. I tried handwriting recognition in tablet mode to avoid the floating on-screen keyboard, but I have messy faux-cursive penmanship that Windows sometimes struggled to identify. I wish I could speak to the stylus as a tool for digital art, but that’s entirely out of my realm — and anyway, the Go 3 doesn’t work with the new Surface Slim Pen 2 with haptic feedback.

In my few days with the Go 3, I found it too frustrating to use the Go 3 without either the pen or keyboard in tow. Considering I work from home and I’d only ever take this with me to outside meetings, I’d want the keyboard to be able to type notes and get edits done on the go. I guess that’s the point of the “Go” moniker, so figure out how you’d take this tablet computer out on the road.

Basic Performance

The Surface Go 3 is available with two different dual-core chip configurations. The base model has been updated from an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y to a Pentium Gold 65000Y with 4GB of RAM. There’s also a beefier model, which Microsoft sent over. It features a 10th-gen Intel Core i3-10100Y and 8GB of RAM. The Core i3 is a minor bump up from last year’s Core m3. However, performance is only nominally better.

If you wanted to, you could use the Go 3 like a vertical tablet.  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) If you wanted to, you could use the Go 3 like a vertical tablet. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

Both of the processors used are barebones compared to the rest of the industry. They don’t necessarily soar in test numbers, though you can still get plenty of things done, helped in part by Windows.

In Geekbench 5, the Surface Go 3 scored in line with mid-range Android devices like the Galaxy Tab S7 FE. In WebXPRT, which measures overall browser performance, it tested comparably to Apple’s latest 9th-gen iPad. And though the Go 3 was capable of running the Blender and Handbrake tests we use on full-size laptops, it took a long time to complete both.

The benchmarks all fall in line with my experience with the Surface Go 3. It’s capable in a bind, though it has its hiccups. I experienced slowdowns and lengthy wait times within the first few days with the Go 3, usually inside memory-heavy apps like Chrome. If you need to do something process-intensive, like editing a RAW photo or quickly stringing together a couple of clips of video, you can do so with the Go 3, albeit slowly and with patience. At least the ability is native, and I don’t have to research the perfect app and browser extension combination to make things happen. These are concessions I’ve had to make on Chrome OS, for instance. And it’s why I’m looking into a Windows 11 device as an alternative.

I’m still learning Windows 11, as I did not have compatible hardware to run the beta and have only lived with it for a few days. It certainly feels more tablet-like than Windows 10 does, which I use on my docked laptop. But with my long nails, it feels tricky to tap links in small font and other similarly tiny assets. I also haven’t figured out whether I like the new Start menu and Notifications panel and whether they add to the tablet experience.

The Surface Go 3 lays with you in bed or sits up to work at your desk.  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) The Surface Go 3 lays with you in bed or sits up to work at your desk. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

Worth Buying?

Still, there is plenty of versatility to be had with the Surface Go 3. The key is to figure out how you prefer to use it. I had the Go 3 propped up on my desk as a secondary display to check in on my social feeds during work hours. I also had a wireless mouse paired to it, which made it easier to shuffle between applications.

In my quest for the perfect non-Apple tablet, the Surface Go 3 has me intrigued by using Windows in this form factor. However, it’s still got kinks to work out, even with the addition of features like widgets and Android apps to come. To that end, the Go 3 feels like a worthy secondary computer for those who have the cash the splurge. We like it about as much as the Surface Go 2, which you might also consider if it’s a secondary Windows machine you want, and you don’t want to spend upwards of $1,373 on the performance model of the Go 3 with 128GB of space and all of its essential accessories.