Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: perfect for portability

The third-gen Surface Laptop Go sees Microsoft up the entry-level, but the price is higher and there are still weaknesses

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

This is a delightful little laptop for travel use, but a few parts could have done with a slight bump-up to stay competitive. At this price we want a keyboard backlight at the very least. Otherwise the Surface Laptop Go 3 is an accomplished and comfortable-to-use little laptop.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Decent display brightness

  • +

    Small footprint and low weight design

  • +

    Surprisingly comfortable, if compact, keyboard

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Older-generation processor, dated webcam

  • -

    No keyboard backlight, plastic touchpad

  • -

    Higher entry cost this time

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Microsoft makes Windows. Microsoft makes the Surface Laptop Go 3. So as an official Windows laptop, you might expect the Surface Laptop Go 3 to be a showcase for all the latest and greatest tech. 

That's not the Surface Laptop Go 3 concept at all though. It's simple, approachable, cute and affordable. Those are the watchwords here. It's not gunning to be one of the most powerful, but it could be one of the best lightweight laptops

It's ultra-portable, looks good and significantly undercuts all of Apple's best MacBooks from a price perspective too. However, if you have encountered this series before you'll also notice the Surface Laptop Go 3 starts at a much higher price than the last bunch, such as the Laptop Go 2

So how does that affect what you get and, indeed, do you get enough for that outlay?

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Price & Availability

The £799/$799AU$1429 entry asking price of the Surface Laptop Go 3 highlights some of the weaker parts here. There's the plastic touchpad, last-gen processor, and at this price we need a keyboard backlight (which is absent). 

Sure, it’s comfy to work on, but at night? Forget it. The Surface Laptop Go 3 remains a real charmer as an all-purpose family computer for folks who don't need scads of power, though. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Design

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

There are no major surprises in the Surface Laptop Go 3 design. It looks a lot like the Surface Laptop Go 2, which is similar to the 2020 original

Still, the look has barely aged to our eyes, and it blends elements of the cute and classy. The Surface Laptop Go 3 has an aluminium lid and keyboard surround, plus an ultra-smooth soft-touch plastic undercarriage. 

It has that elusive combination of simplicity and a look many would recognise in a nanosecond. You have four colours to pick from too: Platinum, Ice Blue, Sandstone and the Sage Green (seen here). 

It's rather lovely, the kind of shade you might see on an interior design Pinterest board.

The Surface Laptop Go 3 may not initially strike you as ultra-light as it feels pretty dense and sturdy but, well, it is. This laptop weighs 1.12kg and has a very small footprint, in part thanks to the tall, rather than genuinely large, screen. 

It's a portability dream, and is easy to picture being casually taken under someone's arm between cafes, meetings and university lectures. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Display

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Surface Laptop Go 3 screen is also clearly designed for these sorts of situations. This is a 3:2 aspect screen, one taller or less wide than the laptop norm. 

Lots of the Laptop Go 3's rivals have 16:10 screens. This one goes that bit further, and the taller shape maxes out how roomy a display feels when using productivity apps. 

For writing docs and browsing the web, it feels similar to a 13.3- or 14-inch laptop, even though the Surface laptop Go 3 only has a 12.4-inch screen. It's a very rudimentary form of magic. 

It's no help for playing movies, mind, leaving great big black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. 

The quality of the Surface Laptop Go 3 screen is sound, if nothing special, just like the last two generations. Colour saturation is enough to avoid that undersaturated, weak look, but we're miles off OLED punch. For the screen nerds, it has closer to full sRGB coverage, but limited coverage of DCI P3 and Adobe RGB. 

Maximum brightness is around 350 nits, which is about as much as we can expect from a laptop at this level. And it's a touchscreen whose hinge folds back to the bog-standard 135 degrees or so. 

Like a lot of laptops you'll find at this price, it doesn't have pristine sharpness. The 1536 x 1024 pixel resolution is unusual, but functionally similar to Full HD. At this size it leaves small text looking a bit pixilated. One of the first things we noticed here was the pixel structure is quite noticeable if you look too close. 

A MacBook Air will make text look a lot smoother. And so will the 1800p screen of the Lenovo IdeaPad Pro 5. Microsoft should look to address this next time, as pristine-sharp screens are getting cheaper. And the Surface Laptop Go series is not. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Keyboard & Trackpad

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

The 3:2 aspect screen of this laptop means the frame ends up quite narrow, squishing the keyboard into a smaller-than-average space.  

It should mean the Surface Laptop Go 3 feels cramped, but we find it surprisingly nice to type away on as a result. These keys are more substantial, more meaty and snappy, than those of a MacBook AIr. There's a deeper depress here we enjoy as folks who type away all day. 

The parts that are cut down are not really the main keys themselves, only the ones at the end. Just look at the left Shift, the SlimFast Enter key. It's the smart way to make a laptop small without ruining its feel. 

This laptop should really have a key backlight, though. LEDs behind a keyboard are essential for work in dark rooms, and now the Surface Laptop Go 3 starts at an elevated price point, it can't just style this one out. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

The new higher price also puts the spotlight on the Surface Laptop Go 3 touchpad. This is a plastic pad, not the glass kind you get in a MacBook Air or some rivals at the price. Lenovo Yoga models at this level often have glass pads, HP ones not so much. 

Plastic pads have a more squeaky, resistive feel, although much like the keys Microsoft has done well with the clicker. It doesn't feel too cheap or basic, and mid-tier laptop touchpad clickers often do. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Performance

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Surface Laptop Go 3 appears to be pricier than it used to be because the old bottom-rung spec versions have been blasted into oblivion. There's no Go 3 with 4GB RAM, a low-end processor or a piddly 128GB SSD. 

You get an Intel Core i5 regardless of the model you buy, and at least 8GB RAM plus a 256GB SSD. 

This was the ideal spec in the last generation, meaning there's no dud in the Surface Laptop Go 3 line-up. We're testing the step-up version with 16GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. It costs £1000 in the UK, though, making it less of a good deal. 

We wouldn't recommend this particular model to many folks, as the Surface Laptop Go 3 isn't meant to be a true performance laptop regardless of the amount of RAM you stick in it. 

It has the Intel Core i5-1235U processor, a low-voltage CPU from Intel's last-generation series, and one designed to sip power rather than gulp away at it. 

While it has the punch needed to make Windows 11 feel great, this isn't the kind of processor you want for gaming or video editing. Planning editing photos and using Photoshop? You can have a go, but such jobs will benefit from a little more power. Or preferably a lot.  

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

If your demands are a bit more weighty, you might want to look for a laptop with a "P" series Intel processor like the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED. One of those can rev harder for longer, while the Surface Laptop Go 3 only uses its peak performance turbo mode for a couple of minutes before pulling back. In car terms this is a little high-mpg city runabout, not a hot hatch. 

Of course, CPU-melting jobs were never going to be the Surface Laptop Go 3's jam. It's for people who won't care that it has a last-generation processor. For most people, it's not going to make any substantive difference. 

The use of a low-voltage CPU also keeps the Surface Laptop Go 3  quiet. While this laptop has a fan, it never makes much noise. And even though it's quite high-pitch, the relatively constant tone makes it less irritating, and it didn't fire up while we were just doing work either. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: Battery Life

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Microsoft claims the Surface Laptop Go 3 can last up to 15 hours. That ain't happening in many real-world scenarios, not when the laptop has a modest 40Wh battery. 

However, we do find the stamina less of an issue here than it has been in some previous Surface lines. The Laptop Go 3 can last up to 9.5 hours when you're doing basic jobs, which should be the standard stuff for the ideal buyer we're picturing. 

It's respectable enough, if in no way notable when in recent years we've seen plenty of AMD Ryzen laptops reach into the teens of hours for light work. 

The Surface Laptop Go 3 uses a smart little magnetic charge socket instead of the ubiquitous USB-C, much as in the previous generations. The idea is, like Apple's MagSafe design, the cable will pop out if you trip over it. But its key job is in not taking up the USB-C port. We're light on connectivity here, with just one USB-C, one USB-A and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Good news: you can also use the USB-C to charge if you like. 

There's no obvious spec improvement to the webcam either. It's still 720p, at a time we're starting to see 1080p become the standard for all but the cheapest models. Still, the speakers could be a lot worse and these do have respectable volume and projection, although as they’re centrally located rather than blasting out the sides, the sound is more boxy than wide. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Verdict

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 takes the baton from its predecessor in rather undynamic fashion. We don't get any killer upgrades, and while the higher cost of entry makes perfect sense when you look at the specs, it means some of the omissions and cut-down elements stand out more. 

An laptop at this price with a plastic touchpad, last-gen CPU, non-backlit keyboard, 720p webcam and kinda pixilated screen? These aren't close to being deal-breakers in isolation, but the Surface Laptop Go 3 brings a lot of these issues together to party. 

However, it's still a potentially ideal laptop for lots of folks who don't have super-high technical demands. Its portability is brilliant, it's comfy for long-form typing, it's handsome, and it costs less than any MacBook (unless there's a great deal on). 

Also consider

If you're only shopping with the biggest names, your Apple option is the MacBook Air with M1 processor. We occasionally see these sell for Surface Laptop Go 3 money, and they are significantly better in several respects. Sharper screen, better power, longer battery life.

Without relying on sales, though, your best options are from companies like HP, Lenovo Asus and Acer. From each, investigate the Asus ZenBook S 13, the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 and Acer Swift 3. While generally less distinctive than the Surface Laptop Go 3, they will often get you a bit more for your money.