Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 vs. Apple MacBook Air

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Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Microsoft just introduced the Surface Laptop Go 3, which ostensibly is its budget laptop offering. However, it raised the starting price from the laptop’s original $550 to $800, while also offering a slightly upgraded model for $1,000. That places it in competition with some excellent laptops.

Two of the most significant are the Apple MacBook Air M1 and MacBook Air M2. The former starts at $999, while the latter is currently (and often) on sale for $950. Can the Surface Laptop Go 3 compete with two of the best laptops at its higher price?

Specs and configurations

  Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 Apple MacBook Air M1 Apple MacBook Air M2
Dimensions 10.95 inches x 8.12 inches x 0.0.62 inches 11.97 inches x 8.36 inches x 0.63 inches 11.97 inches x 8.46 inches x 0.44 inches
Weight 2.49 pounds 2.8 pounds 2.7 pounds
Processor Intel Core i5-1235U Apple M1 Apple M2 (8-core)
Graphics Intel Iris Xe Apple M1 8 GPU cores

10 GPU cores

RAM 8GB
16GB
8GB
16GB
8GB
16GB
24GB
Display 12.4-inch 3:2 PixelSense 1,536 x 1,024 IPS display 13.3-inch 16:10 (2,560 x 1600) 13.6-inch 16:10 Liquid Retina IPS 2560 x 1664
Storage 256GB ssd 256GB SSD
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
2TB SSD
256GB SSD
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
2TB SSD
Touch Yes No No
Ports 1 x USB-C 3.2
1 x USB-A 3.1
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
1 x Surface Connect port
2 x USB-C 4.0 with Thunderbolt 4
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
2 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
Wireless Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.3
Webcam 720p 720p FaceTime HD 1080p
Operating system Windows 11 macOS Sonoma MacOS Sonoma
Battery 41 watt-hours 49.9 watt-hour 52.6 watt-hour
Price $800+ $1,000 $1,100+
Rating 2 out of 5 stars 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

The Surface Laptop Go 3 comes in two configurations. At $800, you get a previous-gen Intel Core i5-1235U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 12.4-inch IPS display at just 1,536 x 1,024. For an additional $200, you can upgrade to 16GB of RAM.

There are still a few configurations available for the MacBook Air M1, starting at $999 for an 8-core CPU/7-core GPU Apple M1 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 13.3-inch IPS display at 2,560 x 1,600. Fully upgraded, you can spend $1,999 for 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD. The MacBook Air M2 has even more configurations available. The $1,099 base model has an 8-core CPU/8-core GPU M2 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 13.6-inch IPS display at 2,560 x 1,664. For an 8-core CPU/10-core GPU M2, 24GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD, you’ll spend $2,399.

At its $1,000 price, the Surface Go Laptop is competing directly with the MacBook Air M1. And as of when this comparison is being written, you can buy the MacBook Air M2 base model for the very attractive price of $950 from Best Buy. That puts the Surface at a distinct disadvantage, as we’ll see below.

Design

The Surface Laptop Go 3 is a small machine, with a 12.4-inch display and reasonably thin top and side bezels. The MacBook Air M2 has thinner bezels than the M1 version, but the larger display dictates a slightly larger chassis. The Surface is thicker at 0.67 than both the MacBook Air M1 at 0.63 inches and the incredibly thin MacBook Air M2 at just 0.44 inches. The Surface is lighter  than the MacBook models at 2.49 pounds, but just barely.

The Surface Laptop Go 3 is constructed of aluminum in the lid and keyboard deck and plastic in the bottom. The lid is quite flexible, with obvious LCD distortion, which is always disconcerting. The MacBook Air M1 and M2 are both made of CNC-machined aluminum and are considerably more rigid. Aesthetically, the Surface Laptop Go 3 has the usual Surface flair, with four available colors: Platinum, Ice Blue, Sage, and Sandstone. It also has sweeping lines and angles that provide an attractive look. The MacBook Air M1 has the old-school tapered design that’s simplistic, but also good-looking, while the M2 model takes on the blockier and quite elegant design of the latest MacBook Pros, with four colors of its own: Silver, Starlight, Space Gray, and Midnight.

Both the MacBook Air M1 and the M2 enjoy Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which is the best keyboard available on a laptop today. Its switches don’t have ton of travel, but they make up for it with incredible snappy precision. It also boasts large keycaps with plenty of key spacing. The Surface Laptop Go 3’s keyboard is slightly cramped due to the laptop’s narrow width, and the switches are stiff, with an abrupt bottoming action. It’s not even close to Apple’s keyboard in comfort, and the Surface is the only laptop in this group without a backlit keyboard. The MacBooks also have larger Apple Force Touch haptic touchpads that offer a superior feel and more functionality than the Surface’s smaller mechanical touchpad.

If you want modern connectivity with the fastest and most versatile performance, then the MacBooks are superior, with two Thunderbolt 4 ports. The Surface is limited to one USB-C port and a legacy USB-A port, which might be good if you don’t want to use a dongle. The MacBook Air M2 has the MagSafe 3 connector for power, while the Surface has its Surface Connect port, which keeps the other connections free. The Surface and MacBook Air M1 are a generation behind in wireless connectivity, while the MacBook Air M2 is up to date.

Finally, the Surface Laptop Go 3 and MacBook Air M1 both have 720p webcams, which don’t provide the same high image quality as the MacBook Air M2’s 1080p version. All laptops have fingerprint readers embedded in their power buttons.

Performance

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

The Surface Laptop Go 3 uses a previous-gen Intel Core i5-1235U CPU with 10 cores (two Performance and eight Efficient) and 12 threads. It typically provides good productivity performance. The MacBook Air M1 uses the 8-core CPU/7-core GPU M1 processor, while the MacBook Air M2 uses the M2 with eight CPU cores and either eight or 10 GPU cores. Both chips provide solid productivity performance and better than usual creative performance thanks go GPU optimizations.

Simply put, the Surface is slower than both Air models, in some cases significantly. It will handle typical productivity workflows, but the two MacBook Airs will be faster across the board.

Geekbench
(single/multi)
Handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single/multi)
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
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
Apple MacBook Air M2
(M2)
Bal: 1,925 / 8,973
Perf: N/A
Bal: 151
Perf: N/A
Bal: 1,600 / 7,938
Perf: N/A

Display and audio

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

The Surface Laptop Go 3 has a 3:2 12.4-inch IPS display with rather low resolution of just 1,536 x 1,024. That puts it at a distinct disadvantage compared to both MacBook Air models, which have much higher resolutions.

The MacBook Air M2 takes the crown with significantly higher brightness, deeper contrast, and wider and more accurate colors. The MacBook Air M1 comes in second place, and the Surface in third. The MacBook Air M2 will provide the best display for both productivity and creative users, and most users will not like the Surface Laptop Go 3 display’s low resolution and relatively inaccurate colors.

Brightness
(nits)
Contrast sRGB gamut AdobeRGB gamut Accuracy DeltaE
(lower is better)
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3
(IPS)
354 1,060:1 96% 71% 3.41
Apple MacBook Air M1
(IPS)
389 1,130:1 100% 79% 1.29
Apple MacBook Air M2
(IPS)
486 1,310:1 100% 90% 1.08

The Surface Laptop Go 3 has OmniSonic speakers that project up from the keyboard. The setup provides surprisingly good audio, with crisp mids and highs and a touch of bass, as well as plenty of volume. The MacBook Air M1 gets by with decent stereo speakers, while the MacBook Air M2 has quad speakers that sound fuller than Microsoft’s offering.

Portability

A side of the MacBook Air showing the ports.
Digital Trends

Each of these laptops is highly portable. The Surface Laptop Go 3 is the smallest, thickest, and lightest, while the MacBook Air M2 is the thinnest laptop around. Each of them will fit easily into a backpack and won’t weigh you down.

Battery life is a different story, however. The Surface Laptop Go 3 had disappointing longevity, particularly in our web-browsing test. Both of the MacBooks had stellar battery life that was many hours longer.

Web browsing Video
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3
(Core i5-1235U)
6 hours, 29 minutes 13 hours, 39 minutes
Apple MacBook Air M1
(M1)
14 hours, 34 minutes 18 hours, 28 minutes
Apple MacBook Air M2
(M2)
17 hours, 59 minutes 21 hours, 9 minutes

The Surface Laptop Go 3 just can’t compete

At its original price of $550, we’d be comparing the Surface Laptop Go 3 to a different class of laptops, and it would be far more competitive. At its $1,000 price, though, the diminutive laptop is fighting in a different weight class entirely.

Simply put, either MacBook Air model is vastly superior to the Surface. They’re faster, built better, have superior displays, and last so much longer on a charge. If you’re going to spend $1,000, you don’t want to spend it on the Surface Laptop Go 3.

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