Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 is a Few Flaws Away From Being a Great Budget Laptop

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 is a Few Flaws Away From Being a Great Budget Laptop
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

What’s clear after using the Surface Laptop Go 2 for the past week or so is that Microsoft was content with its first effort. This sophomore release is more refinement than renovation, a straightforward update with a new engine and a few goodies sprinkled in. Nothing that will make owners of the original model envious, but enough to keep this budget model competitive.

I could count the noteworthy changes on one hand: a new colour, upgraded processors, webcam improvements, and more storage on the base model. That leaves a finger free for a few changes I feel are desperately missing.

Emulating premium models at a lower price point is always going to be a tricky balancing act, and it’s one Microsoft mostly pulls off. Despite a few glaring faults, the Surface Laptop Go 2 is a decent mid-range option for those who need a Windows PC.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2

WHAT IS IT?

Microsoft's cheapest clamshell laptop

PRICE

Starting at $1,199; $1,299 as reviewed

PROS

Solid build and attractive design, Portable, Decent performance, Webcam is usable, Good keyboard and touchpad

CONS

Keyboard isn’t backlit, The base model doesn’t get a fingerprint sensor...and only has 4GB of RAM, No IR camera, Low-ish res display, Runs warm

Surface Laptop Go 2 price and configurations

The Surface Laptop Go 2 starts at $1,199, but to hit that mark, Microsoft had to make some questionable cuts. Though the base version now has a 128GB SSD, it is still equipped with only 8GB of RAM and nixes the fingerprint sensor. For $1,299, you can buy the same model as our review unit, which has 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

Despite these few missteps, the Surface Laptop Go 2 is one of the better options in the $800 to $1,500 range, partly due to the lack of compelling alternatives in this space. We’ll go into those more later; for now, just know the Surface Laptop Go 2 is more of the same, and that’s fine.

Premium despite plastic

The Surface Laptop Go 2 looks and feels like the more premium Surface device, even with some cheaper materials used to keep the price down. The lid is aluminium while the base is a “polycarbonate composite resin system with glass fibre,” or in common English: plastic. This is good plastic though, elevated by a rubbery, almost XPS-like softness. It helps that the build quality is top-notch, with no squeaking, rattling, or flimsy bits.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

There isn’t much to describe that hasn’t been said about the previous model apart from the new sage colour. I was disappointed at first with what appeared to be a grey exterior without a leaf of green. But that was only after glancing at the laptop under artificial lighting. Verdant tones were revealed when sunlight shone directly on the lid, and some hints of mint were more visible on the plastic bits (bottom panel, keyboard, touchpad) than on the lid.

In any case, the Surface Laptop Go 2 remains one of the most portable laptops on the market. It’s so small (10.95 x 8.12 x 0.62, 1 kg) that I could fit it into the tablet slot in my backpack and free up the laptop pouch for a backup system on my trip to California to cover Apple’s developer conference.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

It has a bare minimum port selection consisting of a USB-C, USB-A, and a headphone jack on the left, while a Surface Connect port on the right. I generally wish companies would ditch proprietary connectors (I’m looking at you too, Apple) for USB-C. Yes, you can charge the Laptop Go 2 with a USB-C power adaptor, but the one in the box is Surface Connect.

You probably won’t find better speakers at this price. Dual Omnisonic Speakers with Dolby Atmos push sound upward through the keyboard. Rather than being obstructed, the speakers pierce through the polycarbonate base, delivering crisp sound across all volume levels.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

When listening to Death Cab for Cutie’s new song “Roman Candles,” the hushed yet powerful tones of the now salt-and-pepper-haired Ben Gibbard were crisp and present as the accompanying electronic tones gave me flashbacks to the digitised beeps and boops of the lead singer’s side project, The Postal Service. It even handled the deliberate cacophony that closes the new track well, and I even detected some bass when listening to Tora’s “Jiagantic.”

Turn on the light to type

Microsoft’s commitment to killing the password with biometrics was outweighed by a strict $1,199 MSRP target. While my upgraded $1,299 model is equipped with a reliable fingerprint scanner, the base version lacks any form of biometric authentication. It’s one of few omissions that really bothers me. Another is the lack of a backlit keyboard on any config. Adding such a common feature would be a small price to pay, and would avoid omitting what is a deal-breaking exclusion to some.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

It’s otherwise a great keyboard that provides a similar typing experience as on other Surface devices. The keys are clicky, nicely spaced, and don’t require much force to actuate. Key travel, while somewhat shallow, is above average in this class of thin and lightweight laptops. The lack of backlighting is my chief complaint, but if I had to further nitpick, there are a few undersized keys and I’m missing conferencing shortcuts for mute or video off (there isn’t a camera shutter, either). Microsoft also nailed the touchpad, as it always does; the surface is smooth and responsive and allowed me to easily execute gestures.

The 12.4-inch, 1536 x 1024-pixel display is fine. The resolution is low (below 1080p!) but acceptable for such a small display, and the colours are punchy. It also gets bright enough (366 nits) to use outside on a summer day. The glossy panel only reflected back at me under an intense California sun. I’d rather watch shows and flip through YouTube videos on this screen than on the dim, washed-out screens so often found at this price. If only Microsoft offered a larger model — the 3:2 aspect ratio helps some, but 12 inches isn’t ideal for reading text or scrolling down large documents or web pages.

One step forward, one foot left behind

Performance is good, with a few footnotes: the base model comes with only 4GB of RAM and the upgraded 11th Gen Intel chips remain a generation behind. On the first point, 4GB of memory isn’t enough unless you’re using the Surface Laptop Go 2 as a secondary device or just doing some very basic tasks.

Microsoft’s decision to go from 64GB of storage on the base model to a 128GB SSD was the right one, but it should have taken enough steps to double the RAM capacity. Again, the company was doing all it could to hit that $US600 ($833) target, and equipping the entry-level model with the same amount of RAM you’d find on a $US200 ($278) Chromebook is an unfortunate concession.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

As my review unit was graciously configured with top-of-the-line specs, I can’t tell you how nerfed the base model really is. What I can say is that the high-end model, equipped with a Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, had no problems handling my demanding workload. I juggled some three dozen Google Chrome tabs across multiple windows with college baseball streaming on ESPN in the background and the Laptop Go 2 never stuttered. Unfortunately, the underside of the laptop reached a toasty 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Surface Laptop Go 2 limped along in my benchmark testing, scoring a 3,206 on the Geekbench 5 overall performance test. That is one of the lowest scores we’ve clocked, but falls in line with others in this price range. It took 12 minutes and 14 seconds to render a 3D image in Blender, proof that the Go 2 is more for web browsing than any creative work. And the Go 2 relies on Iris Xe graphics, so consider streaming over Steam-ing.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

Microsoft says it improved the Go 2’s 720p webcam, but at the end of the day, a low-res camera is a low-res camera. I can say with certainty that this webcam is nowhere near as good as the 5MP one on the more premium models. The above image is grainy and the lights behind me are completely blown out.

I’m not finished putting the Go 2 through our battery life test, which involves continuous video playback with the screen at 200 nits. I’ll update this review very soon with a definitive runtime. In the meantime, I can tell you that the laptop’s battery life was neither disappointing nor impressive when I took it on a trip to San Jose to cover WWDC 2022. It dropped around 65% after using the system as my work laptop for about five hours. I’m expecting the system to last around 8 hours on a charge, which would be a nice improvement from the previous version.

Should I buy the Surface Laptop Go 2?

The Surface Laptop Go 2 is a decent value option but only when you step up from the severely compromised base mode. I recommend spending more for the 8GB/128GB SSD version which, along with hitting my minimum RAM requirement, adds a fingerprint sensor for faster and more secure login.

It helps that the sub-$1,200 price point is something of a blind spot for PCs — premium companies don’t offer them and those that do are too ashamed to send them to reviewers. The best alternatives in this price range are high-end Chromebooks, like the Acer Chromebook Spin 713, or the few decent value PCs, like the HP Envy 13 or Asus Zenbook. Those arguably get you more for your dollar than the Surface Go 3 but come with their own lists of shortcomings.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

I don’t have strong feelings about the Surface Laptop Go 2, which is probably a good thing. Laptops in this price range are often so compromised that they’re impossible to recommend. The Surface Laptop Go 2, on the other hand, is an easy laptop to recommend to a parent shopping for their kid or an adult buying for their parent: a simple, reliable, no-nonsense PC that runs on a familiar operating system and has a premium design free from any bells and whistles.

It’s the answer to the popular requirement “I just want a PC that works.” And if “that feels premium too” is another criterion, then the Surface Laptop Go 2 is my don’t-bat-an-eye suggestion. I just can’t shake the feeling that a few small additions would be worth a small price hike. Hopefully, Microsoft adds those options to its budget laptops. Until then, the Surface Laptop Go 2 is a solid, if unexciting, laptop with a few infuriating omissions.