Small, premium laptops — truly small ones — have fallen out of fashion in recent years. Apple’s smallest computer has a 13.3 inch screen. Dell’s tiniest XPS comes with a 13.4-inch panel. HP’s Spectre X360 line scales down to 13.5-inch screens, which the company lists as a 14-inch class. The 11- or 12-inch laptops you can buy (the ones that aren’t tablets trying to masquerade as something else) are typically cheap and slow. Modern laptops are lighter and more portable than ever.
That’s where Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 comes in. Microsoft’s lowest-priced laptop (not counting the Education-only Laptop SE), $599-and up Laptop Go 2, is also its smallest and lightest. It has a 12.4 inch screen and weighs in at just two and a quarter pounds. The Surface design aesthetic is still present, with clear speakers, microphones and microphones, a comfortable keyboard, smooth trackpad and a 3:2 aspect ratio.
Of course, that portability doesn’t come without compromise. The Go 2 doesn’t have the range of processor, RAM, and storage options of larger laptops, sticking with an 11th Gen Core i5 processor and maxing out at 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Battery life doesn’t even reach half a day of work for me. This isn’t a computer for heavy, demanding workloads (and certainly not gamers or those doing creative visual work). It’s meant for someone who just needs to stay on top of email, compose some documents, and browse the web and wants a small, light on-the-go machine. After all, it’s right in the name.
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The Surface Laptop Go 2 maintains Microsoft’s minimalist Surface aesthetic: its squared-off wedge shape is identical to the first-generation Go, from 2020, or a slightly shrunken-down Surface Laptop 4. You can now get it in a light blue, gold or silver color. My review unit has this green color, and it’s quite nice. I’m not mad that this year’s green phone trend is bleeding over to laptops now.
Though this is Microsoft’s least expensive laptop, it doesn’t look or feel like a cheap computer, with tight tolerances, lack of chassis flex, and a stiff hinge with perfect one-finger opening. The lack of any tacky stickers is also unusual in this price range. Like the larger Surface computers, the Go 2 has an aluminum lid and deck — though Microsoft does use a plastic panel on the bottom, instead of aluminum like the Surface Laptop 4, it never once had a negative impact on my experience. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a nicer-feeling computer in this price range.
The Laptop Go 2 has the same port selection as its predecessor, which is to say, it’s kinda lousy. There’s a single USB-A port, a single USB-C port (not Thunderbolt, sadly), 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 benefits of superfast data transfer that Thunderbolt brings. Microsoft’s larger Surface Laptops are similarly port-limited, so this isn’t a surprise, but another couple USB ports here would really let you leave the dongle life behind.
The screen on the Laptop Go 2 is also unchanged from its predecessor — a 12.5-inch, 3:2, 1536 x 1024 touch panel. It’s not the brightest or most pixel-dense screen you can get, but in my testing, peak brightness hit a respectable 360 nits, which is enough to let me use the laptop outdoors under an umbrella without much issue. Comfortable brightness was about 70% on the slider in normal indoor conditions (about 200 nits). The only thing to note is that if you intend to use the Go 2 outdoors you may want to leave the polarized glasses at home. The screen was black because of the polarization, which means it was black when I wore sunglasses. I had to rotate the computer 90 degrees. I do not have this issue with MacBooks and the same sunglasses, so it’s possibly something Microsoft could fix for next time.) Touch response on the screen is right in line with expectations, though it is 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 out of the box. According to my colorimeter, it covers 99 percent of sRGB, 74 percent AdobeRGB and 76 percent P3, which could make it suitable for photo editing. But most people buying this computer will just appreciate the screen’s pleasing colors and contrast and lack of color shifting or ghosting. The 3:2 aspect ratio is more appealing than the 16:9 screen in this price range. This makes it ideal for document work and web browsing.
The Laptop Go 2 has an excellent keyboard, despite the laptop’s smaller dimensions, with well-spaced keys, comfortable travel, and quiet feedback. My only complaint is the lack a keyboard backlight. It is available on other laptops in this price bracket and should be non-negotiable. The trackpad is smaller than you’ll find on a modern MacBook or XPS laptop, but it works perfectly fine for tracking, scrolling, and other multifinger gestures, and I had no issues with palm rejection.
The integrated fingerprint scanner allows Windows Hello authentication on upgraded tiers (not the base model) and is located in the upper right-hand corner of your keyboard. 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 little light around the scanner to help you find it easily when you open the lid.
This camera uses a 1080p sensor, which is used in Surface computers. It has a 720p sensor. It’s not stunning by any means, but it isn’t 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’s flanked by two microphones that, along with the Laptop Go 2’s speakers under the keyboard deck, provide clear video call audio.
All Surface Laptop Go 2 models use the same quad-core Core i5-1135G7 quad core processor. It’s a capable chip and had no issues 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 creative or AAA gaming. Fun fact: I ran the PugetBench benchmark in Adobe Premiere Pro, which we use to test more powerful laptops. It scored a 155. Notebooks with more powerful processors and discrete graphics cards typically get scores in the 700 range. Don’t buy this if you plan on editing 4K video; this isn’t 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 buying. Any less RAM or storage and you’ll run into performance issues or storage problems relatively soon. That price is $100 less than a similarly equipped first-gen Surface Laptop Go, but it’s still far from cheap. Microsoft and Best Buy have reduced the range to $40-$100, so you can get a high-spec model for $700. That’s not a bad deal.)
The Laptop Go 2 is small and light, but it is still a fanless computer. Its small fan can be annoying and audible, despite its size. The clicking sound that the fan made when it was spinning at low speeds, which it often does, was very irritating in quiet rooms. A replacement didn’t have that problem, so it’s possible it’s limited to that specific unit. The fan speed is higher, which causes a louder whooshing sound. However, I rarely hear this when I am using Zoom calls or benchmark testing. Although the laptop’s bottom gets hot, the deck as well as the palm rests stay cool.
The Surface Laptop Go 2’s battery life is the most frustrating thing I have with it. My standard workload meant that I used the Surface Laptop Go 2 for less than five hours per charge. The screen was set at 200 nits. Many days I had to plug in before noon to ensure it didn’t die in the middle of a meeting or working on a document. I am able to drain laptop batteries quicker than most of my colleagues. However, 13-inch laptops can last twice as long depending on my workload. You have to be willing to sacrifice the smaller size and lighter weight for this level of battery performance.
It was a shame that Microsoft used an Arm-based processor for this computer, considering the noise and heat generated by fans. Plenty of Arm chips, like what’s 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, plus run cooler, don’t need fans, and have much better battery life. Windows 11 continues its improvements with Arm and this feels like a good computer to use that.
During my entire time using the Surface Laptop Go 2, I was reminded of Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air and 12-inch MacBook from 2015. Both were extremely small computers, designed to be portable and light. These computers also made compromises regarding battery life and power (and ports).
Surface Laptop Go 2 feels more like a compact version of smaller laptops. It has many of the same limitations. It’s too expensive to be a real budget option, not powerful enough to be for demanding users, and doesn’t have the battery life to last all day away from an outlet. A Chromebook, or any other Windows laptop, can be purchased for less and offer more performance, battery life and computer.
The Laptop Go 2 is a lightweight, portable computer that features a trackpad, keyboard, and screen. It is also small and light. It has enough RAM and storage to handle real work, unlike other compact computers. If those are the specific things you value and are looking for in a laptop, well… the Surface Laptop Go 2 is basically your only option right now.
Source: The Verge