Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: it’s too expensive

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Outclassed and overpriced, the Surface Laptop Go 3 can’t play with the big boys

MSRP $800.00

“Microsoft’s new, more expensive Surface Laptop Go 3 doesn’t have the perks to justify its jacked-up price.”

Pros

  • Attractive aesthetic
  • Small and light chassis
  • Great audio

Cons

  • Too expensive
  • Cramped and stiff keyboard with no backlighting
  • Low-resolution display
  • Wi-Fi and webcam are behind the curve
  • Disappointing battery life

Microsoft’s traditional entry into the very competitive budget laptop market is the Surface Laptop Go, which we reviewed in 2020 when it was first introduced. The laptop is now in its third generation, and while the form factor has remained largely unchanged, the internal components have been upgraded. But the price has also gone up considerably, inching the Surface Laptop Go 3 out of the budget category and into the midrange.

Now starting at $800, up from $600 for the Surface Laptop Go 2, the Surface Laptop Go 3 faces a lot of competition. The Asus ZenBook 14 OLED is one example of a machine to beat in this class, and as we’ll see, Microsoft’s contender doesn’t always stack up favorably. The Surface Laptop Go 3 needs to offer something special to compete, and frankly, I didn’t find anything that stands out.

Specs and configurations

  Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3
Dimensions 10.95 inches x 8.12 inches x 0.0.62 inches
Weight 2.49 pounds
Processor Intel Core i5-1235U
Graphics Intel Iris Xe
RAM 8GB
16GB
Display 12.4-inch 3:2 PixelSense 1,536 x 1,024 IPS display
Storage 256GB SSD
Touch Yes
Ports 1 x USB-C 3.2
1 x USB-A 3.1
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
1 x Surface Connect port
Wireless Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1
Webcam 720p
Operating system Windows 11
Battery 41 watt-hours
Price
$800+

Microsoft offers two configurations of the Surface Laptop Go 3. The base model has an Intel Core i5-1235U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 12.4-inch IPS display. Upgrade to 16GB of RAM and you’ll spend $1,000, which is expensive for just an upgrade in memory and only 256GB of storage.

There’s a lot of better competition for this much money, including the Asus ZenBook 14 OLED that’s $700 for an AMD Ryzen 5 7530U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 14.0-inch 2.8K (2,880 x 1,800) OLED touch display. Looking at the upgraded price of $1,000, the still-relevant and excellent Apple MacBook Air M1 becomes a dominant competitor.

A design that begs for a lower price

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 front angled view showing display and keyboard.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

At a time when manufacturers are going larger with their laptops, particularly introducing more 14-inch machines, Microsoft has maintained the Surface Laptop Go 3’s diminutive stature. It’s built around a 12.4-inch display, with reasonably small display bezels around the top and sides. That makes it very small in width and depth, which forces at least one compromise you’ll notice when you go to type. We’ll get more into that below.

It’s not extraordinarily thin at 0.62 inches and it still manages to weigh 2.49 pounds. That’s light, but you expect that from such a small laptop. In comparison, the Dell XPS 13 9315 has a 13.4-inch display and is all aluminum, but weighs just 2.59 pounds. The Asus ZenBook 14 OLED is larger in all dimensions, including being thicker at 0.67 inches and heavier at 3.06 pounds.

The Surface Laptop Go 3 sports an aluminum lid and keyboard deck, while the bottom chassis is plastic – something that’s no longer common in midrange laptops. I found the display quite flexible, with considerable LCD distortion under relatively light pressure. That’s always disconcerting. The keyboard base and bottom chassis are rigid enough, but both the ZenBook and XPS 13 felt more solidly built overall.

Aesthetically, the Surface Laptop Go 3 is an attractive laptop, with sleek lines and the usual Surface elegance. It can be had in one of four colors: Platinum, Ice Blue, Sage, and Sandstone. Its look is a strength compared to many other laptops that are minimalist to the point of blending in with the pack.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 top down view showing keyboard and touchpad.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Normally, Surface devices have excellent keyboards, ranking up there with the best. That’s not the case with the Surface Laptop Go 3. To begin with, the narrow chassis forces a cramped keyboard, with decently sized keycaps but not enough spacing. It took me a while to get used to the keyboard’s dimensions, with my fingers often searching for the home row. The switches weren’t the greatest either, with sufficient travel but a surprisingly stiff feel and abrupt bottoming action. Perhaps most egregious was the lack of keyboard backlighting, an omission usually reserved for the cheapest budget laptops. The small touchpad was OK, with a precise feel but rather harsh and loud button clicks. The touch display was responsive, but that was the best of the various input methods.

Connectivity is also limited, with a single USB-C port without Thunderbolt 4 support (something you’ll often find at these prices) and a single USB-A port. Power is provided by the Surface Connect port, which at least leaves the USB-C port available for use. Wireless connectivity is a step behind, with Wi-Fi 6 instead of the newer Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.1.

Finally, the webcam is a disappointing 720p. That significantly impacts image quality compared to the 1080p and better webcams more commonly found on competing laptops. The Surface Laptop Go 3 also lacks an infrared camera, something Surface laptops typically equip, and instead offers a fingerprint reader embedded in the power button. That worked fine for logging in without a password, and oddly enough, the power button is the only key that’s illuminated.

Performance is also wanting

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 rear view showing lid and logo.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The Surface Laptop Go 3 uses a last-gen Intel CPU, the Core i5-1235U. This 15-watt medium-power CPU has 10 cores (two Performance and eight Efficient) and 12 threads, promising decent productivity performance. This is not the processing power you expect at $800.

Unfortunately, the Surface Laptop Go 3’s performance suffered. It was decidedly slower than almost all the other laptops in our comparison group, of which all but the Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED come in at $1,000 or less. It managed to beat only the Dell XPS 13 9315, which uses a lower-power 9-watt Intel CPU and starts at $599.

I ran the Surface in both Recommended and Best Performance modes via the Windows 11 power slider, and while performance mode made for an improvement in some benchmarks, it caused a slowdown in others. That’s likely due to thermal throttling, and in any case, the performance mode wasn’t enough to lift the Surface Laptop Go 3 into contention.

The laptop will handle mainstream productivity tasks like web browsing, email, simple Office tasks, and the like. But it won’t handle anything demanding, particularly when it comes to extensive multitasking and using multiple cores. Certainly, tasks like gaming and video editing are out of the question.

Geekbench 5
(single / multi)
Handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single / multi)
PCMark 10
Complete
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3
(Core i5-1235U)
Bal: 1,179 / 5,652
Perf: 1,524 / 6,226
Bal: 194
Perf: 214
Bal: 1,118 / 5,170
Perf:  1,534 / 4894
4,227
Asus Zenbook 14 OLED
(Ryzen 5 7530U)
Bal: 1,457 / 7,527
Perf: 1,458 / 8,207
Bal: 123
Perf: 121
Bal: 1,457 / 7,527
Perf: 1,458 / 8,207
5,817
Dell XPS 13 9315
(Core i5-1230U)
Bal: 1,393 / 4,459
Perf: 1,477 / 5,350
Bal: 333
Perf: 192
Bal: 1,379 / 3,457
Perf: N/A
4,023
Lenovo Flex 5i 14 2023
(Core i5-1335U)
Bal: 1,671 / 7,935
Perf: 1,679 / 8,268
Bal: 181
Perf: 133
Bal: 1,634 / 6,918
Perf: 1,724 / 7,890
5,513
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED 2023
(Core i7-1355U)
Bal: 1,829 / 6,893
Perf: 1,836 / 6,908
Bal: 157
Perf: 135
Bal: 1,629 / 6,005
Perf: 1,827 / 6,962
5,423
Apple MacBook Air M1
(M1)
Bal: 1.727 / 7,585
Perf: N/A
Bal: 156
Perf: N/A
Bal: 1,479 / 6,680
Perf: N/A
N/A

Disappointing battery life

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 side view showing ports and lid.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The Surface Laptop Go 3 has 41 watt-hours of battery capacity, which should be more than enough for a laptop with a small, low-resolution display and a 15-watt CPU. Microsoft advertises 15 hours of battery life under “normal usage,” but I wasn’t able to get anywhere close to that.

In our web-browsing test, the Surface lasted for just 6.5 hours, well below most other laptops in our comparison group. It lasted longer in our video-looping test at 13.5 hours. However, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED and Apple MacBook Air M1, which compete with the base and upgraded Surface Laptop Go 3, respectively, were both much stronger.

Web browsing Video
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3
(Core i5-1235U)
6 hours, 29 minutes 13 hours, 35 minutes
Asus Zenbook 14 OLED
(Ryzen 5 7530U)
12 hours, 13 minutes 17 hours, 19 minutes
Dell XPS 13 9315
(Core i5-1230U)
13 hours, 8 minutes N/A
Lenovo Flex 5i 14 2023
(Core i5-1335U)
6 hours, 29 minutes 11 hours, 43 minutes
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED 2023
(Core i7-1355U)
9 hours, 47 minutes 15 hours, 14 minutes
Apple MacBook Air M1
(M1)
15 hours, 31 minutes 18 hours, 28 minutes

A decent display, if not for the low resolution

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 front view showing display.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The Surface Laptop Go 3 has a 12.4-inch PixelSense IPS display in the very tall 3:2 aspect ratio and with a very low 1,536 x 1,024 resolution. That makes it less than 1080p, which will cause video to run at a low resolution and cramp other horizontal content. It’s also not terribly sharp at just 149 pixels per inch (PPI), and it pales compared to the 2.8K OLED display in the Asus ZenBook 14 OLED at 243 PPI. The display looked OK when I took it out of the box and fired it up, but suffice it to say that it wouldn’t serve as my primary (or even secondary) machine judging by the display alone.

According to my colorimeter, the Surface Laptop Go 3’s display provides plenty of brightness, average color width, and a good contrast ratio. Its colors weren’t very accurate, though. The Dell XPS 13 9315’s display was brighter, offered higher contrast, and had a similar color width with much better accuracy. The Asus ZenBook 14 OLED’s display was in a class by itself.

Overall, the Surface Laptop Go 3 has a display that’s good enough for typical productivity work in all but one important measurement. It’s held back by its low resolution, which is most noticeable when looking at pixelated text and 720p video.

Brightness
(nits)
Contrast sRGB gamut AdobeRGB gamut Accuracy DeltaE
(lower is better)
Microsoft Laptop Go 3
(IPS)
354 1,060:1 96% 71% 3.41
Asus Zenbook 14 OLED
(OLED)
369 25,660:1 100% 96% 1.44
Dell XPS 13 9315
(IPS)
444 1,390:1 96% 75% 1.33
Lenovo Flex 5i 14 2023
(IPS)
329 1,330:1 63% 48% 3.11
Apple MacBook Air M1
(IPS)
389 1,130:1 100% 79% 1.39

Audio is provided by OmniSonic speakers that are located in the keyboard deck and pump sound out directly toward the user. I found the sound to be plenty loud, with crisp mids and highs and even a touch of bass. You can use the speakers for streaming media and listening to music, making audio a strength.

Conclusion

The Surface Laptop Go 3 suffers greatly from its price increase. As I’ve stressed throughout this review, you can get other laptops for the same price (or less) that offer a significantly better overall value. Microsoft’s offering is just too slow, with a middling build quality and low-resolution display, and is also behind the curve on too many components.

That leaves the Surface Laptop Go 3 in a difficult position. At its base price of $800, you can buy the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED and Dell XPS 13 9315, both much better laptops. At the upgraded price of $1,000, you can buy the Apple MacBook Air M1, which is also superior. At $550, the Surface Laptop Go 3 would be compelling. But at its new price, it’s impossible to recommend, even for staunch Surface fans.

Editors’ Recommendations








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