The Surface Laptop Go is Microsoft’s second try at an affordable Surface, and it hits the mark better than the original Surface Go tablet did. It still offers compromises, with strategic cuts to keep the price competitive with a Chromebook. Still, they’re mostly smart decisions – even a sub-1080p display and Windows 10 in S Mode didn’t turn us off. Although the Surface Laptop Go lacks the easy expansion of some competing laptops, it’s otherwise a solid budget offering.
Still, be picky in what you consider buying. We wouldn’t recommend the Surface Laptop Go’s minimum Rs.38,599 configuration, but the middle Rs.85,499.00 option (which we didn’t test) seems like the best bang for the buck. At Rs.1,05,599.00, the 12.5in Surface Laptop Go review unit we tested bobs up to the very top of the ‘budget’ category, though it shows off this new product at its best.
• 12.4in (1,536×1,024; 148ppi) PixelSense Display
• Windows 10 Home in S mode
• 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processor – 1035G1
• 8GB RAM
• 256GB SSD
• 720p HD f2.0 camera
• Dual far-field Studio Mics
• Omnisonic Speakers with Dolby Audio
• 1x Surface Connect port
• 1x USB-A
• 1x USB-C
• Headphone jack
• Fingerprint reader
• Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible
• Bluetooth 5.0
Core i5/4GB RAM/64GB SSD: Rs.38,599
Core i5/8GB RAM/128GB SSD: Rs.85,499.00
Core i5/8GB RAM/256GB SSD: Rs.1,05,599.00
While that Rs.38,599 starting price is appealing, the basic Core i5/4GB RAM/64GB configuration should probably be passed over in favour of more powerful options. The Rs.85,499.00Core i5/8GB RAM/128GB SSD (which we haven’t tested) appears to offer the most value of all the Surface Laptop Go configuration, especially when paired with Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage. It’s a better deal than our review unit, given the Rs.46900 premium Microsoft charges for an additional 128GB worth of storage. Unlike the Surface Pro X or Surface Laptop 3, the SSD does not appear to be user-accessible, leaving upgrades out of the picture.
SOLID BUILD QUALITY
Our Surface Laptop Go review unit was the new Ice Blue configuration, which
looks a lot less blue than Microsoft’s imagery would suggest.
In fact, the chassis looks almost like the Sandstone colour under the right light, but with a deeper blue paint coating the keyboard. The lid is made of anodized aluminium, but the keyboard deck and base are made of plastic resin, with 40 per cent glass fibre and 30 per cent post-consumer resin. It’s all designed to reduce weight while maintaining rigidity. If it matters, Microsoft is using a different paint on top of the plastic resin of the keyboard, which gives it a different feel. (More on that in a bit.) The Laptop Go reclines to about the same angle as the other Surface Laptops or a comfortable 50 degrees off of the horizontal. At 1.1kg, it feels light and comfortable in the hand.
The Surface Laptop Go isn’t afraid to spin up its fan, which is noticeable though not annoying, even in a quiet room. Other Surface Laptops pulled air in and then pushed it out through a hidden exhaust port in the hinge. Microsoft’s tweaked that so that both the intake and the exhaust are hidden inside the hinge. I favour a brutalist approach – who cares what the bottom of a laptop looks like? – but perhaps Microsoft was worried about crumbs or dust. The Go doesn’t get hot, but it does stay warm for long periods.
One flaw Microsoft may want to take a look at it uses a new, 39-watt charger for the Surface Laptop Go, which charges the laptop via the Surface Connector, as before. On my review unit, the connection was never loose, and there didn’t seem to be any grime inside the Surface Connector slot. However, the charger sometimes, even frequently, wouldn’t charge unless carefully inserted. (Fortunately, there’s a charging LED on the connector itself to let you know something’s up.)
I reported the problem to Microsoft, then set the charger aside and used an older Surface charger instead once our benchmark testing completed. You can also charge the Laptop Go directly through the USB-C port, or via a hub. Two specific features distinguish the Surface Laptop Go from other Microsoft Surfaces, and from other laptops: the new fingerprint reader, and the lower-res display. Let’s look at each.
Microsoft helped usher in biometric identification with Windows Hello, and specifically, its outstanding depth camera, which can recognize you and unlock your PC almost immediately. Some rival laptops have chosen Hellocertified fingerprint readers instead, either broad circular ones hidden under the power button (like the Huawei MateBook X Pro) or ‘strip’ readers placed elsewhere on the device.
The Surface Laptop Go combines the two, with the fingerprint reader hidden within the rectangular power button. When the laptop is locked, a somewhat gaudy LED ring outlines the power button, illuminating the landing pad. The reader worked very well, about as quick and accurate as a newly calibrated depth camera. It even asked me to move my finger when it wasn’t aligned correctly. The fingerprint reader stores your fingerprint is enough that you can depress the power button with your finger, remove it and you’ll still be logged in once the Surface Laptop Go completes its short boot cycle. Fingerprint readers can accumulate grime over time, just as depth cameras don’t recognize changes in my facial hair after I pull them from the shelf. On one occasion, the reader didn’t grant me access until I dried my hands. Still, Microsoft’s fingerprint experiment may turn out to be a smart play.
In our original report on the Surface Laptop Go, we immediately noted that its display the resolution fell beneath the 1080p threshold that we consider acceptable for laptops with 14in or wider displays. The Laptop Go’s screen is a little smaller than that, so we wondered whether its resolution of 1,536×1,024 (148ppi) would appear deficient to the naked eye.
The answer is yes… and no. Working on a 720p laptop is about two feet. Because of the different display sizes and scaling settings, the portion of the screen the camera captured doesn’t match up perfectly. Still, this should help provide some insight as to what it’s like working on the Surface Laptop Go. While my eyes could never discern an individual pixel, there’s a palpable sense that you’re looking at a cloud of individual elements, like fog. The lower resolution slightly contradicts the smoothed curves of anti-aliased fonts, exposing their jagged edges. The downgrade is most apparent if you compare the display to that of a Surface Laptop or Surface Book.
Still, the Surface Laptop Go’s resolution is close enough to 1080p that the differences never became annoying, especially when interacting with the text. It’s when you start throwing more pixels at the display – higher-resolution images, say, or 1080p video – that the deficiencies become more pronounced. (The Surface Laptop Go’s display is rated at 330 nits, which is somewhat above the brightness level we consider comfortable for working on a laptop and a mark in its favour.) In part, that may be because a Surface display is typically colourful and vibrant; it’s colour-calibrated at the factory. Our 4K/60fps YouTube test video looked good – though YouTube was only sending down a 1,536×864 viewport because of the Surface Laptop Go’s smaller, lower-res display. Weirdly, I was most conscious of the Surface Laptop Go’s display when I connected to my home’s 4K monitor, and not because the Laptop Go had any technical issues. Microsoft’s low-res Surface Laptop Go wallpaper – a fever dream of cotton candy shag carpet and sand – looked even worse in 4K.
If you’ve ever used a Surface keyboard, there’s a resilient springiness that tends to carry over from one Surface device to another. The Surface Laptop Go feels somewhat like a traditional Surface keyboard, and Microsoft says it retains the 1.3mm of key travel of the Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Laptop 2. I perceived a very plasticky feel to the keys, but Microsoft says the only change is the paint atop the keyboard resin. They’re certainly very comfortable to use. Unfortunately, there’s no keyboard backlighting, however.
Microsoft included a Precision touchpad in the Surface Laptop Go, and it too has its quirks. I’ve never felt a touchpad so slick, to the point that I’m not sure it always registered my fingers when they slid across the surface. It’s clickable all the way to the top, though with more pressure required as you move upward.
We’ve seen Microsoft Surface devices yield unexpectedly powerful audio from their internal speakers, and the Surface Laptop Go aspires to that standard. While Dell’s Latitude 9510 and recent XPS notebooks produce astoundingly rich, resonant audio, the Surface Laptop Go falls neatly in the category of ‘good’– a solid mix of midrange and high-end, and even adequate bass. Some Surface devices, like the Surface Book line, ship with Dolby Atmos audio enhancement. The Laptop Go does not, though the dual Omnisonic speakers are Dolby-enhanced. Headphones are still advised, but if you or your child has to playback video, listen to Spotify or some other audio file on the Laptop Go’s internal speakers, no one will complain.
The Surface Laptop Go includes a 720p user-facing camera, a step down from the excellent 1080p cameras built into other Surface devices. To be fair, a 720p camera is par for the course in the laptop space, and Microsoft’s cameras (RIP, Lumia) still produce a decent, colour-accurate image. Your Zoom calls should look fine. Like other Surfaces, however, Microsoft left out a sliding camera shield or dedicated button to turn off the laptop’s microphone. Two far-field mics help pick up your voice.
WHAT WINDOWS 10 IN S MODE MEANS FOR YOU
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go ships with Windows 10 in S Mode (aka Windows 10 S), a signal that Microsoft wants the Surface Laptop Go to compete with Chromebooks as simple, managed devices. S Mode’s inherent trade-off is that to prevent an unauthorized application or malware from attacking your PC, the operating system limits app downloads only to those found within the Microsoft Store. Even some Windows apps like the Command Shell are prohibited. (An ‘app’ that is also available as a web page, like Facebook, can also be saved to the Start menu.) This also prevents services like antivirus software from running, which is somewhat less of a concern given that Microsoft only allows Microsoft-approved apps on your PC.
The inherent frustration with Windows 10 S is the same as when working with Windows on ARM: chances are there will be some small, necessary app that you’ll absolutely need, and won’t be able to use. Equally infuriating is Microsoft’s inability to put basic filtering on the Store itself. When you launch the Microsoft Store app, you’ll see every app available to Windows 10 PCs. But the Surface Laptop Go isn’t a full-fledged Windows 10 PC. Many apps you might want to have a greyed-out ‘Install’ button, and a tiny note explaining that the app isn’t compatible with Windows 10 in S Mode. We don’t understand why Microsoft can’t only show you apps your PC can download. That said, there’s a decent amount of apps and games that are available for the Surface Laptop Go the Office suite, certainly, as well as popular apps like Spotify. But even games are hit-and-miss: Minecraft for Windows 10 is Windows10 S-capable. Minecraft Dungeons is not. Halo? Nope – even though all three are Microsoftowned games. Meanwhile, third-party games like World of Tanks: Blitz are ready to rock.
As you may be aware, however, there is a way out. Within the Windows 10 Settings menu (Update & Security > Activation) lies the Switch to Windows 10 Home option. Switching out of Windows 10 in S mode to Windows 10 Home is a one-way street, and you’ll lose the protective embrace of Windows 10 S. Doing so, however, opens the door to all the freedom you’d expect with a PC. Battery life is one slightly brighter spot for Windows 10 in S Mode. We’ve noticed longer life from prior Surface Laptops tested in S mode, although the margin seems to have narrowed over time. The Surface Laptop Go’s battery lasted a little longer in S mode than in it did when we switched to Windows 10 Home, but not enough to justify sticking with the more limited operating system.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go is a solid budget laptop reaching for good rather than great. Until Intel and its partners manage to push its 11th-gen Tiger Lake notebooks out the door, this really is the time of AMD’s mobile Ryzen. Microsoft touts the Surface Laptop Go as the “every day, everywhere” laptop, implying that you would be better off buying the Laptop Go than a Chromebook. I still believe that Microsoft has it in them to develop the “every day, everywhere, everyone” laptop. With the Surface Laptop Go, Microsoft is headed in the right