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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: A price hike too far

Our Rating :
£799.00 from
Price when reviewed : 799
inc VAT (8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)

Microsoft’s baby laptop continues to be a thing of quality and beauty, but the new model is a touch too expensive

Pros

  • Superb build quality
  • Bright display
  • Great keyboard

Cons

  • Last generation CPU
  • No keyboard backlight
  • No bargain entry-level model

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 is the latest model in a string of high-quality budget laptops, brought to you buy the company behind the most prolific desktop operating system on the planet: Windows 11.

And it has a lot to live up to. When the first Surface Laptop Go landed in late 2021, it set a new standard for quality and desirability in the lower-price segment for compact laptops. We duly awarded it a Recommended badge and we went further when its replacement landed a year later, giving the Surface Laptop Go 2 a Best Buy rosette.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: What you need to know

This third-generation model takes a slightly different tack. Although the design, usability and desirability of Microsoft’s most compact laptop remain strong points, the company has messed about with the pricing structure, removing the cheapest model.

That means there’s no longer a model with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Instead, Microsoft is offering the base model with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD and a more expensive model with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Both come with a 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U CPU and integrated Iris Xe graphics.


Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Price and competition

Configuration tested: Intel Core i5-1235U CPU, Iris Xe integrated GPU, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 12.4in 1,536 x 1,024 IPS touchscreen (149ppi), 41Wh battery. Price: £999


That wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself, but Microsoft has also taken it upon itself to up the prices, with the base model priced at £799 and the premium variant at £999. This is a huge increase over the Surface Laptop Go 2, which started at £529 (4GB/128GB), rose to £629 (8GB/256GB) and topped out at £799 (8GB, 256GB).

At these increased prices, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 finds itself up against some very serious competition and that starts with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which is in our view, the definitive super-compact Windows machine. It’s more expensive, starting at £1,399, but the tablet part weighs a mere 736g, the bundled folio keyboard is superb, and the 13in 3:2 2,880 x 1,920 touchscreen is impossible to fault.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 rear, at an angle

As the Surface range is Microsoft “doing an Apple”, we have to offer a fruity alternative in the shape of the entry-level M1 MacBook Air. For around £799 you get a machine with an epic battery life and a super-crisp 2,560 x 1,600 13.3in display. When we reviewed it, we asked, “Why buy anything else?”. The question still stands.

Huawei’s MateBook D14 undercuts the cheapest Surface Laptop Go by £100, but despite that, you get a larger 512GB SSD and a more powerful Core i5-1240P processor. The display is bigger and, thanks to the 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, slightly sharper although it lacks touch compatibility. For £700, it’s excellent value. Its bigger brother, the MateBook D15, is still on sale for even less – a piffling £499.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Design and build quality

For a cheap (well, cheap-ish) laptop, the Surface Laptop Go 3 is very well made. The aluminium lid and keyboard deck lend the device a reassuring solidity, while the rigid polycarbonate resin base starkly contrasts some of the floppy nonsense found on many rival laptops.

It’s a fine-looking little thing, too, the clean and fuss-free design hasn’t aged at all over the past few years. As is often the case, our review unit was delivered in the basic Platinum colourway (£50 off in 16GB form from Microsoft) but I’d pay for the far more appealing Sage, Sandstone or Ice Blue models.

Like its forebears, the Go 3 is a light and compact affair, weighing just 1.13kg and measuring 278 x 206 x 15.7mm (WDH).

The screen folds back 135 degrees, so it’s easy to find a comfortable position while lounging on the sofa. The 8mm bezels surrounding the top and sides of the screen are starting to look a little wide in 2023 but the outer glass layer it is fully laminated to the LCD beneath, which is more important.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 right edge

Connectivity is limited, with 5Gbits/sec USB-A and 10Gbits/sec USB-C ports on the left, alongside a 3.5mm audio jack, while the magnetic Surface Connector for attaching the bundled 39W charger is on the right edge. You also can recharge using the USB-C port which also supports DisplayPort video output.

I can’t say I am a fan of how Microsoft has squeezed both USB ports and the audio jack so closely together towards the back on the left edge. As layouts go, it’s fiddly and unnecessarily cramped.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 left edge

The connectivity issues vanish like the darkness before the dawn if you splash out on Microsoft’s excellent Surface Dock 2, but it’s worth bearing in mind before you contemplate doing so that it costs a stiff £260 and comes with a substantial power brick.

Upgrades are possible, but only to the storage and to get the base off the Go 3 you need to remove the two long rubber feet that cover the screws that hold it in place, which is a fiddly process. Rather than risk damaging the feet, I left them well alone. Microsoft states that the SSD can be swapped out but that’s it’s a job for an “authorised technician”.


Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam

Good keyboards are a hallmark of the entire Surface range and the Laptop Go 3 is no exception. The deck is solid, and the key action is precise and crisp. The typing feel is top-notch, while the layout and keycap graphics are the model of clarity. At just 100 x 70mm, the plastic touchpad isn’t the largest around, but it works well, too, and the click-action is perfect in sound and feel.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 keyboard and touchpad, top down view

The power key has a built-in fingerprint scanner built into it, which is a nice touch, but there’s no Windows Hello facial recognition, which is jarring on a Surface device, and there’s still no keyboard backlight. Last year this was just about forgiveable; this year, now the price starts at £800, it is most certainly not.

The absence of a backlight is even more strange when you consider that Microsoft is pitching the Go 3 at students, and in a darkened lecture theatre, a backlight is far from a luxury. I could detect no improvement in the quality of the webcam, either. It’s not bad as far as 720p cameras go, but once more, for now the price of the Surface Laptop Go 3 has increased, I’d expect at least a 1080p camera.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Display and audio

Technically, the IPS touchscreen on the Laptop Go 3 is the same as the Laptop Go 2. That means it measures 12.4in corner-to-corner and has a 1,536 x 1,024 resolution with a pixel density of 148ppi. Despite being quite a small display, the 3:2 aspect ratio makes it appear bigger than it is, with none of the cramped feeling you get from a 16:9 display of the same size.

It’s not quite as bright as its predecessor, however, peaking at 351cd/m2 in both sRGB and Enhanced display modes. The Surface Go 2’s display reached 392cd/m2 in our testing. And while colour registration is decent, with 89.8% of the sRGB gamut available, this is a few points down on the Surface Laptop Go 2’s 93.5%. The display is, however, now more colour-accurate. In sRGB mode, the Delta E colour variance was an excellent 1.23, down from a solid 2.02 on the Go 2.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 baseSubjectively, it looks bright and vivid – helped by the high-gloss finish – making it perfect for streaming videos from Netflix and Prime. The pixel density isn’t the highest around. The Go 3’s 148ppi compares poorly to the 227ppi of the 13.3in MacBook Air. However, it still looks sharp to the naked eye with no obvious pixelation.

The stereo speakers, meanwhile, are excellent. Not only are they usefully loud at 76.3dB(A) (measured from a pink noise source at 1m) but they also generate a warm and well-balanced sound with plenty of bass.


Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Performance and battery life

For reasons best known to Microsoft, the Surface Laptop Go 3 runs on a low-voltage 12th-generation Alder Lake CPU, the 10-core 4.4GHz Core i5-1235U, rather than a 13th-generation Raptor Lake component. With 14th-generation CPUs arriving imminently, if you buy a Surface Laptop Go 3, you’ll soon be the proud owner of a Microsoft-branded laptop with two-generation old silicon.

The new chip has at least given the Laptop Go 3 a performance fillip over the Surface Laptop Go 2. The latter scored 98 in our 4K multimedia benchmark courtesy of its Core i5-1135G7 CPU, while the new model scored 121. Moreover, the performance difference between the i5-1235U and i5-1335U processors is small, so in practical terms, you’re not losing much.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 4K media benchmarks chart

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 Geekbench 5 chart

The GeekBench 5 scores tell a similar tale. In the multi-core test, the Go 3 has the Go 2  beaten by 5,988 to 4,214, although that’s hardly surprising given the Go 3 has 10 cores and 12 threads to the Go 2’s 4 and 8.

Does the new Go 3 feel faster than the old model? Subjectively not really, but then there was nothing wrong with how the old machine ran. It was perfectly capable of handling day-to-day tasks in 8GB form.

You don’t buy a machine with a low-voltage U-series CPU to play games, but Serious Sam 4, our standard gaming test for laptops without discrete GPUs, benchmarked at a perfectly playable 44fps.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 storage performance chart

The 256GB Kioxia SSD in our Go 3 performed better than the drive in the Go 2 we tested, returning sequential read and write speeds of 2,461MB/sec and 1,423MB/sec, respectively. That’s an improvement, but it is still behind much of the competition.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 Battery life chart

Alas, the increase in performance hasn’t been accompanied by an increase in efficiency, though. Although the new Laptop Go 3 lasted six minutes longer (9hrs 42mins) than the Laptop Go 2 in our battery run-down test, this is well within the margin for error.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Verdict

While the third generation model maintains all the traditional Surface Laptop Go strengths – the build quality and looks are still class-leading – as an update, it’s impossible to come away not thinking it’s just a little bit lazy.

Overall performance has improved, but not by much, and the quality of the display is much the same, too, although that was, admittedly, good to start with.

And, given the price hike, that puts the Microsoft Surface Go 3 in an impossible position. Perhaps with some more serious upgrades, such as a bigger SSD, a 1080p webcam with Windows Hello, a keyboard backlight and an extra USB-C port, we might have considered giving it an award.

Sadly, it has none of those things and, as a result, we advise those looking for a top-quality compact laptop to look elsewhere. At this price, the M1 MacBook Air is a much better option and, if you can’t stretch to that and still want a budget Surface device, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 is far better value.

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