Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review: sometimes you need to fix what isn't broken

 A green laptop.
A green laptop.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Two-minute review

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 is one of Microsoft’s two Surface device offerings for 2023, which naturally puts a lot of pressure on it. For the most part, it delivers on what it’s known for, which is to say it’s a very light and small laptop with a touch screen and that’s about it. Oh, it’s also about $200 more despite very few changes to specs and no changes to its design.

There are several positives to this portable machine, mainly that it’s ultra-thin, weighs only 2.49 pounds, and is tiny enough to fit into nearly any carry bag with no issues whatsoever. It’s shocking how much smaller it is compared to the M1 Apple MacBook Air, which is already one of the best thin and light laptops and one of the best laptops period that you can find on the market. But if sheer portability is what you’re looking for, the Surface Laptop Go 3 is your best bet.

However, it’s harder to recommend this laptop for much else. It is an improvement over older models of the Laptop Go series, equipped with a 12th-Gen Intel Core i5 CPU running at 2.5Ghz, a huge improvement over the previous 1.75Ghz 11th-Gen CPU. But the fact that this laptop is more expensive and still running a 12th-Gen instead of a 13th-Gen CPU is mind-boggling. It does have better specs elsewhere, up to double the RAM and storage from the Go 2 at 16GB and 256GB, respectively, with an upgrade to SSD for faster memory, as well as a fingerprint scanner built into all models, which is a step up as well.

The performance is also average at best thanks to the outdated CPU, which carries all the laptop’s processes due to the GPU being integrated Iris Xe graphics. Its benchmark scores from productivity to file transferring to CPU-based gaming can’t compete with similarly priced laptops with better specs. Everyday use is just fine if you’re not looking for particularly strenuous work but if you’re looking for more, it’s most likely best to invest in another laptop.

Due to its extremely light weight and size, it’s not particularly strong and I can imagine how disastrous a fall could be. Its design is virtually the same as older models, which to be fair is a solid one so I can understand the rationale behind not wanting to fix what isn’t broken. But in addition to that, there aren’t any new colors added to the roster of Platinum, Ice Blue, Sage, and Sandstone, which combined makes the lack of change more disappointing.

It has a nice display that’s bright and clean, though not a true 1080p due to the size. Both the keyboard and touchpad are sized well and comfortable to use despite the small build, though I wish the keyboard had back lighting. Too bad the camera is only 720p, while most other laptops have already made the upgrade to 1080p.

One feature that has been improved is the battery life, which lasts almost nine hours under normal productivity work and over six hours when using it for more taxing video streaming. This is compared to the original Laptop Go 2 and especially the original Laptop Go’s atrocious battery life.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Price & availability

keyboard closeup
keyboard closeup
  • How much does it cost? Starting at $799 / £799 incl. VAT / AU$1,429

  • When is it available? Available now

  • Where can you get it? Available in the US and UK

Pricing for the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 starts at $799 / £799 (incl. VAT) / AU$1,429, with the 16GB RAM / 256GB storage version priced at $999 / £999 (incl. VAT) / AU$1,729. This is a $200 jump from the Laptop Go 2 model.

Given the jump in cost, it doesn’t fully sit in the affordable laptop market, which was its niche in earlier generations. It also means that it’s directly more comparable to other machines like the M1 and M2 Apple MacBook Air, as well as a variety of Chromebook Plus machines like the Acer Chromebook Plus 515.

Its availability is quite good, as you can snag one whether you’re in the US, UK, or Australia.

  • Price score: 3 / 5

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Specs

a green laptop
a green laptop

The review unit I received comes with the following configuration: Intel Core i5-1235U CPU, Intel Iris Xe Graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage.

The base RAM starts at 8GB and is configurable up to 16GB. The base storage has gotten a bump up from the previous model’s 128GB at a solid 256GB. However, the SSD storage can’t be configured to a higher amount.

  • Specs score: 3 / 5

a green laptop
a green laptop

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Design

  • Still extremely light and compact

  • Unchanged from older models

  • Keyboard and touchpad are great

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 keeps its distinctive design from older models, which is both understandable and disappointing. I can imagine that Microsoft doesn’t want to fix what isn’t broken, and it is a very solid design for a portable machine. You can open and close it with one hand, it fits into almost any bag without any impact on weight as you carry it, and the Pixel Sense display makes up for the fact that it’s too small to be 1080p.

The touchpad and keyboard are still rather nice, and easy to use with great feedback despite its small stature. It’s a shame, though, that there’s still no backlighting for the keyboard, which is a standard among laptops and just handy to have on its own merit for late-night typing.

On the other hand, the fact that it’s unchanged from before can be a huge detriment. There aren’t any new colors other than the same offerings of Platinum, Ice Blue, Sage, and Sandstone, and the shape is falling behind laptops like the M2 MacBook Air, which is much more streamlined and sleek.

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a green laptop
a green laptop

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a green laptop
a green laptop

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side view of a green laptop
side view of a green laptop

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side view of a green laptop
side view of a green laptop

That unwillingness to change also extends to its webcam and port selection. The webcam is 720p in a laptop market that adopted 1080p as the baseline standard a long while ago, and it shows in the very average picture quality. Port selection consists of a single USB Type-A port, one USB Type-C port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the cursed Surface Connect charging port. While I’m happy to still see a Type-A port, having only one Type-C, no ethernet, no HDMI, and no SD slot for its new pricing is rather lackluster.

It does have a shockingly good audio quality, especially for its size. Most likely it's due to the speakers being located above the keyboard, giving it an unobstructed pathway for its sound. Testing it out on classical music and lyric-filled songs, instruments and vocals alike were clear and clean with little lost at higher volumes.

It’s difficult to overstate how portable this laptop is, and I’m always surprised at how easy it is to carry this laptop. Easily one of the lightest I’ve ever reviewed, right up there with the LG Gram Style.

  • Design score: 4 / 5

a green laptop
a green laptop

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Performance

  • Performance is completely average

  • Good for office work, not much else

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Benchmarks

Here's how the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark: Night Raid: 12,991; Fire Strike: 3,883; Time Spy: 1,407
GeekBench 5: 1,543 (single-core); 5,883 (multi-core)
5,631 (multi-core)
Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm:
25GB File Copy: 28.6
Handbrake 1.6: 15:28
CrossMark: Overall: 1,323 Productivity: 1,325 Creativity: 1,379 Responsiveness: 1,161
Web Surfing (Battery Informant): 8:49:14
PCMark 10 Home test: 4,295
TechRadar Movie Battery test: 6 hours and 14 minutes

While the portability of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 is still top-notch, its performance is painfully average. All its benchmark scores are nothing special compared to other laptops, suffering from its 12th-Gen CPU. Since it uses an integrated GPU, the CPU does all the heavy lifting in terms of performance, whether it’s for productivity work or creative and editing projects. And it being an outdated Core i5 processor powering this laptop puts it behind others released this generation with current tech.

Naturally, unless you’re running a CPU-heavy video game like Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm – which still runs at a okay framerate of around 40fps – you won’t be playing anything but low-end PC titles that could also run on a toaster.

Outside of benchmarks, the Laptop Go 3 performs just like most other Windows laptops when it comes to productivity tasks. I’m able to balance conference calls with various work documents and video streaming going on with very little slowdown. But more intensive tasks, like any creative works or editing that requires downloading, rendering, and uploading larger files, can cause noticeable stuttering and slowdown.

This laptop is clearly meant for office workers or the average college student who needs a portable machine that can handle basic tasks. But considering the sharp price increase costs over its main niche (an extremely portable laptop for a nice low MSRP) it’s harder to justify the still middling specs and performance compared to similarly priced laptops in the same market. The MacBook Air laptops and Chromebooks boot up much faster, run faster and more efficiently, and can juggle multiple tasks without any slowdown whatsoever. For the price, it’s not bad at all but there are simply better options available.

  • Performance score: 3.5 / 5

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Battery

a green laptop
a green laptop
  • Pretty solid battery life

  • Charge time isn't bad either

One aspect of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 that has noticeably improved is its battery life. It’s leagues ahead of the original Laptop Go, which could barely last four hours per change and took half of that time recharging, and even a solid improvement over the Laptop Go 2 which lasts about six hours on productivity work.

The Laptop Go 3 gives you nearly nine hours of productivity work on a single charge and over six hours of heavy video streaming when we tested it out using our TechRadar movie battery test. When I personally tested out the battery to see how long it would last during my work day, it lasted for about eight hours. It’s still a far cry from the promised “up to 15 hours” from Microsoft but it’s still a very solid if not exceptional battery life.

  • Battery score: 4 / 5

Should you buy the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3?

Buy the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 if...

You want an easy-to-carry laptop
There are few laptops as portable and lightweight as this one. It doesn't even put a dent in your carry-on of choice.

Don't buy it if...

You want a better webcam
The webcam in this is pretty average not to mention only 720p, making it only good for basic conference calls.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: Also consider

If my Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 review has you considering other options, here are two more laptops to consider...

How I tested theMicrosoft Surface Laptop Go 3

  • I tested this laptop for about two weeks

  • I tested its overall productivity performance as well

  • I used a variety of benchmark tests as well as a CPU-heavy PC game to test this laptop.

To test out the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 I used a full suite of benchmarks to rank both CPU and GPU performance, with more emphasis on the former. I also tested out frame rate performance on various settings with the more CPU-focused PC game Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm.

This laptop would primarily be used for productivity work. Due to its GPU and high color gamut, it can also be used for creative and editing projects, and its CPU means that productivity work is a breeze as well.

I’ve tested out many laptops, especially gaming ones, which gives me plenty of experience with properly benchmarking them. I also have extensive knowledge of testing out general performance such as framerate and graphics.

Read more about how we test

First reviewed November 2023