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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: Pound for pound, the best budget laptop you can buy

Jonathan Bray
21 Jul 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
529
inc VAT, starting price

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 combines a low price with great build quality and supreme usability

Pros 
Beautifully made
Lightweight and portable
Lovely touchscreen
Cons 
4GB of RAM in cheapest model
No keyboard backlight
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Back in 2020, when the predecessor to the new Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 first appeared, it broke new ground, setting the standard higher for what you could expect of a compact laptop on a budget. Not only was it as nicely made as a MacBook Air or a Dell XPS 13 but it also cost hundreds of pounds less. It was a sleek, lightweight, attractive machine that anyone could afford.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: What you need to know

With the Surface Laptop Go 2, Microsoft hasn't changed that recipe. In fact, the important parts are all identical to its predecessor. It's still a pleasure to handle and gorgeous to look at. It's still compact, very light and well made. And it still has a very nice 12.4in 1,536 x 1,024 touchscreen.

All the major upgrades come inside. For the CPU, there’s an update to an 11th Gen Intel Core i5 processor, which is welcome but precisely what you’d expect. More significantly, the cheapest model now comes with speedier SSD storage instead of sluggish eMMC, as well as a better webcam and improved speakers.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: Price and competition

Configuration tested: Intel Core i5-1135G7, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, 1,536 x 1,024 touchscreen; Price: £729


The best news, however, especially at a time when everything else seems to be getting more expensive, is that the Surface Laptop Go 2 is actually cheaper than the original – by a whole £20.

Prices start at £529, which is crazy for a laptop this well made. This base level Laptop Go 2 includes 4GB of RAM and comes with a 128GB of SSD storage. That's not the most generous of specifications but at least there's no underpowered Core i3 or Pentium spec to undermine the appeal of the cheapest models as there is with the weak Surface Go 3.

All three available configurations come with a quad-core Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU and the only things that change from model to model are the RAM and storage. The trouble is, they’re also a lot more expensive. The model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is £629 and, if you want 256GB of storage, you'll be paying £729. For my money, the base model is where the value is – if you want more storage, just add a fast, stubby USB drive like this one.

These prices make the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 one of the most attractive £500 laptops around, so much so that I found it tough to come up with a list of credible alternatives. If you want a great-looking, usable portable laptop with a decent screen there aren't many laptops that come close.

Microsoft's own Surface Go 3 2-in-1 detachable springs immediately to mind, with prices starting at £369 sans keyboard. It has a smaller 10.5in display but is just as well made and even more portable. However, the cheaper models suffer from a lack of power courtesy of Intel’s Pentium Gold CPUs and slow eMMC storage. Even the pricier models are weedier than the Laptop Go 2 and come with 10th Gen Intel Core i3 CPUs.

For less than £529 you could pick up an Apple iPad with a keyboard but you’d have to work around iPadOS’ quirks if you wanted to use that as a proper laptop. Or, alternatively, you could purchase a premium Chromebook. One of our favourites is the Lenovo Flex 5i (£480), a 2-in-1 laptop with a 360-degree hinge, a 1080p 13.3in touchscreen and 11th Gen Intel silicon.

As for Windows alternatives, there’s nothing quite as lovely as Microsoft’s little machine at this price but at the time of writing, but the Huawei D14 delivers even more value with an 11th Gen Core i5, 8GB or RAM and an even bigger 512GB SSD for £450.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: Design and features

The key to the Laptop Go 2’s appeal is its combination of low price, high build quality and stunning good looks. It’s a beautifully made laptop, with a lid and keyboard deck constructed from silky, matte-finish aluminium and minimal decoration for a refined, high-class appearance.

The base is made from light grey plastic but it’s sturdy and, again, free from fuss. The whole shebang is light enough to carry around with you all day, weighing 1.1kg and measuring a mere 278 x 206 x 15.7mm (WDH).

Open the lid and more delights await you. The hinge action, for one, is as smooth as butter. It closes and opens with a velvety softness that’s immensely satisfying and both the keyboard and touchpad are lovely. The only negative is that there’s no keyboard backlight; night owls, take note.

There still isn’t much in the way of physical connectivity, which is disappointing, although I think most would just about get along with the selection provided: one USB-C, one USB-A port and a 3.5mm audio jack on the left edge, along with a Surface Connect charging port on the right edge. There’s no extra USB socket on the power brick like you get with other Surface devices.

The webcam is still only 720p, too, but at least here Microsoft has made improvements to the sensor that improves overall image quality. It’s one of the better quality 720p webcams I’ve come across and produces a clean, well balanced image, even in low light.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: Display and audio

Another thing that impresses about the Surface Laptop Go 2 is its touchscreen display. It isn’t especially large at 12.4in across the diagonal but it’s perfectly sharp at 1,536 x 1,024 and its 3:2 aspect ratio means it feels a lot more roomy than you’d maybe expect.

On a laptop this cheap, the image quality you get from the IPS panel is exceptional. Microsoft only rates the display at 330cd/m2 but I measured it peaking at a brighter 392cd/m². The contrast ratio is a rock-solid 1,063:1 and colour reproduction is absolutely fine. It’ll do up to 93.5% of the sRGB colour gamut and colour accuracy is reasonable. I measured an average Delta E colour variance of 2.02 – not first class but perfectly respectable.

As for audio, that’s excellent as well. According to Microsoft, the Surface Laptop 2’s speakers are 20% louder than the previous model, an assertion I wouldn’t take issue with. What’s more impressive is that there’s no distortion whatsoever, even when you turn it right up, and although there’s no bass to speak of, the audio has a warmth to it that makes it easy on the ears, especially for spoken word content such as podcasts and internet radio.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: Performance

With a quad-core 11th Gen Core i5 under the hood, the Surface Laptop Go 2 was never going to be a 4K video editing workhorse but there’s plenty of grunt here for office work and even the odd spot of Photoshop.

The results in our in-house media-centric benchmarks and Geekbench 5 prove it’s far, far faster than the Pentium Gold 6500Y-based Surface Go 3. It’s also a lot quicker than the old Core i5 Surface Laptop Go although it’s slower than the Acer Swift, presumably due to thermal constraints.

Equally important is the SSD speed, however, and this is where we see a big jump in performance over the Go 3 and the Laptop Go. Here, the performance is much closer to that of the Acer Swift 3:

Battery life, while not stellar, is still long enough to last you through the majority of a working day if you’re careful with battery sapping hardware like the display. It lasted 9hrs 36mins in our video rundown test, with the screen set to a brightness of 170cd/m² and flight mode engaged.

Simply put, the Surface Laptop Go 2 has enough grunt to cope with the majority of office workloads eight hours a day, five days a week. It’s certainly a laptop I’d be happy to work on day in day out, despite its small size.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: Verdict

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 is a great little machine at a highly tempting price. It’s powerful enough to be your main machine, small and light enough to carry around in a bag all day, has a great screen and it’s superbly well made.

The only problem is that if you want either of the higher specification models, the prices look less reasonable at £629 and £729 respectively. For £529, however, the cheapest Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 is a real bargain buy and, pound for pound, the best budget laptop you can buy right now.

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