Monday, May 20, 2024
Laptops

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: why does this exist?


The Surface Laptop Go 3 has arrived, and very little has changed from the Surface Laptop Go 2. The chassis looks identical, with the same 3:2 screen and the same recognizable Surface logo on the lid. Dimensions and weight are almost the same. It remains a compact, lightweight, portable device targeting a more budget-oriented shopper than Microsoft’s other Surface computers might.

Oh, and there’s one other thing that hasn’t changed: the price makes no sense. The Surface Laptop Go 3 starts at $799. My test unit, which has a Core i5-1235U processor, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage, is $999.

A thousand dollars for this device is ridiculous. It was a problem in 2022 that Microsoft was selling a computer with this many issues for the amount that it was (the top spec then was 8GB / 256GB for $799; the $999 config is a new offering). It is an even bigger problem that now, in 2023, the company has reissued essentially the same device with the same flaws but is asking for even more money.

The thing is, I don’t even hate the Go 3 that much. It’s cute! I love how easily I can slide it into my crowded backpack. It looks quite nice, and the green color is fun. The speakers are excellent. There is absolutely room on the market for a product like this.

But not for $800 or $1,000. Sorry, but this has gone on long enough, and it’s time we pumped the brakes. Here’s why.

The keyboard isn’t backlit

Literally. The keyboard on this thousand-dollar laptop is not backlit.

Now, I like everything else about this keyboard. It’s got a solid click. The texture is very comfortable. The power button is conveniently located in the top right, and it includes a handy fingerprint sensor. The font is nice. But if you want to use this thing in the dark, you are just out of luck.

Multiple people asked about this bizarre design choice in Microsoft’s briefing prior to review publication. The company’s answer was that a backlit keyboard wasn’t a top priority for the Surface Laptop Go 3’s target audience.

Folks, I have so many questions. Primarily: whomst precisely does Microsoft imagine the Laptop Go’s target audience is? This isn’t budget pricing. This isn’t secondary-device-to-use-on-a-plane pricing. This isn’t seventh-grader pricing. This is a thousand dollars. This is the same price Apple charges for the base M1 MacBook Air. From where is Microsoft pulling the idea that these very mainstream, midrange shoppers don’t need backlit keys? I would point you to literally every other thousand-dollar laptop on the market right now that has backlit keys, because they strongly suggest otherwise.

A thousand dollars for a laptop without a backlit keyboard. Why?

The port selection is limited and doesn’t support Thunderbolt.

The screen is grainy

It’s not the 12.4-inch size that’s the problem, although I do imagine this screen will be too small for a big chunk of people, especially folks who are visually impaired. I do very much appreciate the 3:2 aspect ratio, which is my favorite screen shape for laptops. And it even reached 360 nits of brightness in my testing, which should be more than bright enough for indoor and outdoor use.

The problem is that the resolution of 1536 x 1024 is just… not it. In 2023, using this screen is just going to be a grainy, pixel-y experience that will bring you back to the screens of decades past. The panel also kicks back significant glare, which meant that I was staring at myself basically the entire time I was using it.

You can literally get a $300 Gateway laptop with a 1080p display these days. You could buy three 1080p Gateway laptops for the price of this Surface Laptop Go. Just get one for yourself, keep one as a backup, and gift one to your best friend. You could do that for less than it would cost to buy one Surface Laptop Go.

What on earth is 1536 x 1024 doing at this price point? Again, why?

Top is anodized aluminum; bottom is “aluminum and polycarbonate composite resin system with glass fiber and 30% post-consumer recycled content.”

That’s the power button on the keyboard.

256GB of storage

Literally, that’s all you can get. Both of the models listed on Microsoft’s website have only 256GB of storage.

I’m not saying that there aren’t some people for whom 256GB will be enough. I know you all are out there, and I support you. Nevertheless, it’s not the amount I’d generally recommend that someone go for in a laptop that’s not user-upgradable, and anyone who thinks they might want to game is certainly out.

Just picking another product out of a hat here: $899 gets you 512GB of storage in the Acer Swift 3, plus a much higher-resolution, 14-inch OLED display.

It’s soon to be obsolete

The processor inside this device is a 12th Gen Core i5. The 14th generation of the Core series is about to come out in December. That means the Go 3 is one generation behind and is about to be two generations behind.

For some context: this laptop got a much lower score on PugetBench for Premiere Pro than we expect to see from 13-inch competitors around this price point, and it froze during multiple attempts to complete our 4K export test. Battery life is fine (I averaged around seven and a half hours of continuous work use at 200 nits brightness) but not so great as to be impressive.

I understand that Microsoft may think its target audience here doesn’t know or care what specific generation their chips are. First, I would question whether that’s true — again, we are well out of the “school laptop for young kids” category and very much in a price range where adults will be looking for a primary productivity and work device and where marginal performance and battery life does start to matter. I reject the claim that $999 is a “nobody is doing anything demanding” price point.

But even if we are talking largely about consumers who don’t necessarily demand the latest and greatest Intel hardware, I don’t consider that a good excuse for Microsoft to go off and charge whatever it wants to. These are chips that are, objectively, old. There are laptops with these chips on the market that have been out for over a year.

Oh, and this isn’t as big of a deal-breaker, but it is a thing that bugs me: only Wi-Fi 6 is supported, rather than the newer Wi-Fi 6E. Also, the webcam’s only 720p.

You could fool me into thinking this was the regular Surface Laptop… from the top.

Now, Microsoft’s claim in response to all of these criticisms (which have all been made very publicly in the lead-up to this release and were also made regarding the Laptop Go 2) is that it made these compromises in order to deliver some other really great features at a low (let’s pretend, for argument’s sake, that we live in a world where a $1,000 is considered low) price.

What exactly are those features that you get instead? It’s lightweight and portable, primarily. It’s built to the standards of Microsoft’s Surface line, with a sturdy chassis, a premium look, and an excellent keyboard and touchpad. The audio is also a standout, delivering truly impressive volume and surround.

You may very well be someone who cares more about a premium chassis than you do about keyboard backlighting or having a screen that you can read without squinting. But I still do not think you should buy this if that’s you. Because here’s the reality: at a price point of $999, you can just get all of those things. I promise you, you can.

If you want a lightweight laptop with a premium build and a touchscreen that costs around $1,000, and you don’t mind 12th-Gen chips, I have faith that you can find great options in just a few minutes of Googling. You will find brighter and higher-resolution screens. You will find backlit keyboards. You will find storage galore.

Look, here’s one I just pulled up for you: the Dell XPS 13 is available for literally $949 with a stunning FHD touchscreen and a more powerful processor and a 512GB SSD. (And if you think Microsoft knows how to build a beautiful device, wait until you see the XPS line.)

I truly do like the Laptop Go 3 as a concept. But this particular unit doesn’t just ask for some compromises; it is one big compromise all the way down. Either wait until it’s on sale for like $500 or just go get an XPS.



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