Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: a little laptop for light work

Small, premium laptops – really small ones – have gone out of style in recent years. The smallest computer Apple sells has a 13.3-inch screen. Dell’s smallest XPS comes with a 13.4-inch panel. HP’s Specter X360 line scales to 13.5-inch displays, which the company lists as a 14-inch class. The 11- or 12-inch laptops you can buy (the ones that aren’t tablets pretending to be something else) tend to be cheap and slow. Modern laptops have significantly reduced weights, bezels, and frames, making it easier to lug around those 13-inch or larger screens. Finding a premium consumer laptop with a 12-inch or smaller screen for ultimate portability is a challenge.

That’s where Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 comes in. The cheapest laptop Microsoft sells (not counting the Education Laptop SE), the Laptop Go 2, priced at $599 and up, is also the smallest and lightest, with a 12.4-inch screen and weighing just under two. and a half pound. But it retains the aesthetics and features of the Surface design, including a comfortable keyboard, clear speakers and microphones, a smooth trackpad, and a 3:2 aspect ratio.

Of course, that portability is not without compromises. The Go 2 doesn’t have the range of processor, RAM and storage options of larger laptops, sticking to an 11th-gen Core i5 processor and pulling up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Battery life isn’t even half a day’s work for me. This isn’t a computer for heavy, demanding workloads (especially not gamers or those doing creative visual work). It’s for someone who just needs to keep up with email, compose some documents and surf the web, and want a small, lightweight machine for on the go. After all, it’s in the name.

Good stuff

  • Compact and lightweight design
  • Comfortable keyboard and trackpad
  • Color accurate 3:2 screen
  • Good enough performance
  • Premium build quality and aesthetics

bad stuff

  • Bad battery life
  • Poor port selection
  • No keyboard backlight
  • Base model has too little RAM and storage and no fingerprint scanner

How we rate and review devices

The Surface Laptop Go 2 retains Microsoft’s minimalist Surface aesthetic: the square wedge shape is identical to the first-generation Go, from 2020, or a slightly shrunken Surface Laptop 4. green next to the light blue, gold, or silver options. My review unit has this green color, and it’s quite nice. I’m not mad that this year’s green phone trend is now spilling over to laptops.

While this is Microsoft’s cheapest laptop, it doesn’t look or feel like a cheap computer, with tight tolerances, lack of chassis flex and a rigid hinge with perfect one-finger opening. (The lack of sticky stickers on the deck is also rare at this price point.) Like the larger Surface computers, the Go 2 has an aluminum lid and deck – although Microsoft does use a plastic panel on the bottom, rather than aluminum like the Surface Laptop 4, it never had a negative impact on my experience. It will be hard to find a more pleasant-feeling computer in this price range.

The Laptop Go 2 has the same port selection as its predecessor, meaning it’s a bit lousy. There’s a single USB-A port, a single USB-C port (no Thunderbolt unfortunately), a 3.5mm headphone jack and Microsoft’s magnetic Surface Connect port for charging and docking. You can use that USB-C to connect to external displays or charge the device, but you won’t get the super-fast data transfer benefits that Thunderbolt brings. Microsoft’s larger Surface laptops are similarly limited to ports, so this isn’t a surprise, but with a few more USB ports here, you could really put dongle life behind you.

The left side of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 shows the available ports in detail.

The Laptop Go 2’s screen is also unchanged from its predecessor: a 12.5-inch, 3:2, 1536 x 1024 touchscreen. It’s not the brightest or most pixel-dense display you can get, but in my testing, peak brightness reached a respectable 360 ​​nits, which is enough to let me use the laptop outside under an umbrella without much trouble. In normal indoor situations, the comfortable brightness (about 200 nits) was about 70 percent on the slider. (One aside, if you plan on using the Go 2 outdoors, you may want to leave the polarized sunglasses at home. The polarization on the screen means the screen was black when I wore my sunglasses, unless I turned the computer 90 degrees I don’t have this problem with MacBooks and the same sunglasses, so it might be something Microsoft can fix for next time.) The touch response on the screen is exactly in line with expectations, although it’s not compatible with Microsoft’s Surface Pens for stylus input.

Like other Surface computers, the Go 2’s screen is well-calibrated and color-accurate right out of the box. It covers 99 percent of the sRGB spectrum, 74 percent of AdobeRGB and 76 percent of P3, according to my colorimeter, meaning it can be used for photo editing without much trouble. But most people who buy this computer will appreciate the pleasant colors and contrast of the screen and the lack of color shift or ghosting. They’ll also appreciate the 3:2 aspect ratio, which offers more vertical real estate than the typical 16:9 displays you get in this price range, ideal for web browsing and documents.

The Laptop Go 2 has an excellent keyboard despite the laptop’s smaller size, with well-spaced keys, comfortable travel and quiet feedback. My only real complaint is the lack of keyboard backlighting, which at this price point should be non-negotiable and can be found on many other popular laptops in this price range. The trackpad is smaller than on a modern MacBook or XPS laptop, but it works fine for tracking, scrolling, and other multi-finger gestures, and I had no issues with palm rejection.

A three-quarter view of the Surface Laptop Go 2's keyboard and trackpad.

A detail photo of the fingerprint scanner of the Surface Laptop Go 2

The power button, in the top right corner of the keyboard, has an integrated fingerprint scanner for Windows Hello authentication (on upgraded levels, not on the base model). More expensive Surface computers use facial recognition cameras, but the fingerprint sensor is quick and easy to use; I didn’t miss facial recognition at all. There’s even a small light around the scanner so you can easily find it when you open the lid.

The camera uses a 720p sensor instead of the 1080p sensor found on other Surface computers. It’s not stunning in any way, but it’s not the worst either, with sharper images and more detail than Dell’s XPS cameras or the 720p camera on Apple’s latest 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro. It is flanked by two microphones that, along with the Laptop Go 2’s speakers below the keyboard, provide clear audio for video calls.

All Surface Laptop Go 2 models have the same Core i5-1135G7 quad core processor inside. It’s a capable chip and had no trouble handling my typical workload of dozens of browser tabs, Slack, Twitter, email, Zoom, and other work apps spread across multiple virtual desktops. However, it is not useful for AAA gaming or creative work. For fun, I ran the PugetBench benchmark for Adobe Premiere Pro that we use to evaluate more powerful laptops, and it scored a 155. We usually see scores in the 700 and higher range on laptops with discrete graphics cards and more powerful processors. Don’t buy this if you plan on editing 4K video; this is not the laptop for you.

The $599 base configuration comes with just 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which isn’t enough. My $799 review unit has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage; that’s the only model I recommend to buy. If you have less RAM or storage, you will run into performance issues or storage issues relatively quickly. That price is $100 less than a comparably equipped first-generation Surface Laptop Go, but it’s still far from cheap. (At the time of writing, both Microsoft and Best Buy have cut the range from $40 to $100, meaning you can get a top spec for about $700. That’s not a bad deal.)

Despite its small size and weight, the Laptop Go 2 is not a fanless computer, and its small fan is audible and often annoying. My first review copy had a clicking noise when the fan was on a low speed (which it often runs on), which was quite irritating in a quiet room. A replacement didn’t have that problem so it’s possible it’s limited to that particular device. Higher fan speeds produce a more frequent whooshing sound, but I usually only heard that during Zoom calls or running benchmark tests. The bottom of the laptop also gets warm, but the deck and palm rests stay pleasantly cool.

Battery life is arguably the biggest issue I have with the Surface Laptop Go 2. With my standard workload and the screen set to around 200 nits, I averaged less than five hours of use between charges. Many days I had to plug it in before noon to make sure it didn’t die in the middle of a meeting or while working on a document. I have an uncanny ability to drain laptop batteries faster than many of my peers, but many 13-inch laptops can easily last twice as long with my workload, so you really have to appreciate the slightly smaller size and lighter weight to get this kind of thing. accept battery performance.

Between the fan noise, noticeable heat, and poor battery life, I wish Microsoft had just used an Arm-based processor in this computer. Many Arm chips, such as those in the Surface Pro X, Apple’s latest computers, and a few Chromebooks, have enough power to match the usage profile of a computer like this, and run cooler, don’t need fans, and have much better performance. battery life. Windows 11 is also getting better with Arm, and this feels like the right kind of computer to use.

A three-quarter view of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 with the lid open about 30 degrees.

Throughout my time using the Surface Laptop Go 2, I was reminded of Apple’s 2015 11-inch MacBook Air and 12-inch MacBook. They were both high-end, small computers designed to be as light and portable as possible. , while still providing excellent keyboards, trackpads, and capabilities. They also had trade-offs when it came to battery life and power (and ports).

The Surface Laptop Go 2 feels like a modern take on those compact laptops, complete with many of the same limitations. It’s too expensive to be a true budget option, not powerful enough for demanding users and doesn’t have the battery life to last all day without a power outlet. You can pay less and get more performance, battery life, and computer from a Chromebook or even another Windows laptop.

What the Laptop Go 2 is, however, is a small, lightweight computer with a comfortable keyboard, trackpad and display, packed into a nice looking and feeling package. It also comes with a real processor and enough RAM and storage to do real work, unlike other sub-compact computers. If those are the specific things you appreciate and look for in a laptop, well… the Surface Laptop Go 2 is really your only option right now.

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