Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: A small laptop for light work

Small, premium laptops – really small – have gone out of fashion in recent years. The smallest computer sold by Apple has a 13.3-inch screen. Dell’s tiniest XPS comes with a 13.4-inch panel. HP’s Specter x360 line is limited to a 13.5-inch screen, which the company lists as a 14-inch square. The 11- or 12-inch laptops you can buy (those that aren’t tablets trying to disguise as something else) are usually cheap and slow. Modern laptops have significantly reduced weight and bezels and frames, making it easy to tote around those 13-inch or larger screens, finding a premium, consumer laptop with a 12-inch or smaller screen for the ultimate in portability. is a challenge.

That’s where Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 comes in. The least expensive laptop Microsoft sells (not counting Education’s Laptop SE alone), the $599-and-up Laptop Go is also the smallest and lightest, with a 2,12.4-inch screen. And weighs just under two and a half pounds. But it retains the Surface Design aesthetic and features, including a comfortable keyboard, clear speakers and microphone, a 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’s work for me. It’s not a computer for heavy, demanding workloads (and certainly not gamers or those doing creative visual work). It’s for someone who just needs to stay on top of email, create some documents, and browse the web and wants a small, lightweight on-the-go machine. After all, it’s just right in the name.

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The Surface Laptop Go 2 retains Microsoft’s minimalist Surface aesthetic: Its squared-off wedge shape is similar to the first-generation Go from 2020, or the slightly shrunken Surface Laptop 4. This time, you can get it in a sage. Green in addition to light blue, gold or silver options. It’s green in color in my review unit, and it’s good enough. I’m not upset that this year’s green phone trend is now shifting to laptops.

Although it’s Microsoft’s least expensive laptop, it doesn’t look or feel like a cheap computer, with tight tolerances, a lack of chassis flex, and a rigid hinge with perfect one-finger opening. (The lack of sticky stickers on the deck is also rare in this price range.) Like the larger Surface computers, the Go 2 has an aluminum lid and deck—though Microsoft uses aluminum-like plastic panels on the bottom. Surface Laptop 4, it never had a negative impact on my experience. You would be hard pressed to find a good computer in this price range.

The Laptop Go 2 has the same port selection as its predecessor, which is to say, it’s kinda shoddy. There’s a single USB-A port for charging and docking, a single USB-C port (not Thunderbolt, sadly), a 3.5mm headphone jack, and Microsoft’s magnetic Surface Connect port. You can use that USB-C to connect to an external display or charge a device, but you won’t get the benefit of the superfast data transfers that Thunderbolt brings. Microsoft’s larger Surface Laptop is similarly port-limited, so it’s no surprise, but here’s another couple USB ports to really let you leave dongle life behind.

Microsoft showing off the available ports on the left side of the Surface Laptop Go 2 in detail.

Ports are limited to using one USB-C, one USB-A, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right side of the computer is Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect port.

The Laptop Go 2’s screen 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, but in my testing, peak brightness hit a respectable 360 ​​nits, which is enough for me to use the laptop under one umbrella without any problems. In normal indoor conditions, the comfortable brightness (about 200 nits) on the slider was about 70 percent. (Aside: If you plan on using the Go 2 outdoors, you’ll want to leave the polarized sunglasses at home. The polarization on the screen meant that by the time I wore my sunglasses, the display was black, Unless I’ve rotated the computer 90 degrees. I haven’t had this issue with my MacBook and the same sunglasses, so it’s probably something Microsoft can fix next time.) Touch response on screen is as expected , though it’s not compatible with Microsoft’s Surface Pen for stylus input.

Like other Surface computers, the Go 2’s screen is well calibrated and color-accurate out of the box. It covers 99 percent of the sRGB spectrum, 74 percent of AdobeRGB, and 76 percent of P3 according to my colorimeter, which means it can be used for photo editing work without issue. But most people buying this computer will appreciate the screen’s pleasing colors and contrast and lack of color shifting or ghosting. They’ll also appreciate the 3:2 aspect ratio, which gives you more vertical real estate than the typical 16:9 screen you’ll find in this price range, ideal for web browsing and document work.

The Laptop Go 2 has an excellent keyboard with well-spaced keys, comfortable travel, and quiet responsiveness, despite the laptop’s small dimensions. My only real complaint is the lack of a keyboard backlight, which should be non-negotiable at this price and is found on many other popular laptops in this price range. The trackpad is smaller than that of modern MacBooks or XPS laptops, but it worked perfectly fine for tracking, scrolling, and other multifinger gestures, and I had no problems with palm rejection.

A three-quarters view of the Surface Laptop Go 2's keyboard and trackpad.

The keyboard and trackpad of the Laptop Go 2 are excellent. But surprisingly, it lacks any keyboard backlighting.

Detailed shot of the Surface Laptop Go 2's fingerprint scanner

There is a fingerprint scanner on some configurations that makes it easier to log into Windows.

The power button, in the top-right corner of the keyboard, houses an integrated fingerprint scanner for Windows Hello authentication (on advanced levels, not the base model). The more expensive Surface computers use facial recognition cameras, but the fingerprint sensor is quick and easy to use; I didn’t give up on facial recognition at all. There’s also a little light around the scanner to help you locate it easily when you open the lid.

The camera uses a 720p sensor instead of the 1080p found in other Surface computers. It’s by no means surprising, but it’s not the worst either, with sharper images and more detail than either Dell’s XPS cameras or the 720p camera on Apple’s latest 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro. It’s surrounded by two microphones, which provide clear video call audio, with the Laptop Go 2’s speakers below the keyboard deck.

All Surface Laptop Go 2 models have the same Core i5-1135G7 quad-core processor. It’s a capable chip and had no problem handling my normal 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 AAA gaming or creative work. For fun, I ran the PugetBench benchmark for Adobe Premiere Pro, which we use to evaluate more powerful laptops, and it scored 155. We usually see scores in the 700 and above range in laptops that have discrete graphics cards and more powerful processors. Don’t buy this if you’re planning on editing 4K videos; This is not the laptop for you.

The base configuration of $599 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; This is 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 the similarly equipped first-gen Surface Laptop Go, but it’s still far from cheap. (At the time of this writing, both Microsoft and Best Buy have discounts that range from $40 to $100, meaning you can get a top spec for about $700. That’s not a bad deal. )

Despite its small size and weight, the Laptop Go 2 isn’t a fanless computer, and its small fan is audible and often annoying. My first review sample had a clicking sound when the fan was on low speed (at which it would spin frequently) which was quite annoying in a quiet room. A replacement didn’t have that problem, so it’s possible it’s limited to that specific unit. Higher fan speeds present a more general whooping sound, but I usually only heard them when zooming calls or running benchmark tests. The bottom of the laptop also gets hot, but the deck and palm rest stay comfortably cool.

However, battery life is probably the biggest problem with the Surface Laptop Go 2. With my standard workload and screen set to around 200 nits, I averaged less than five hours of use between charges. For days I had to plug it in before noon to make sure it didn’t die in the middle of a meeting or while working on a document. I have an uncanny ability to kill laptop batteries faster than a lot of my colleagues, but many 13-inch laptops can easily last twice as long with my workload, so you really don’t need to look for something like this. Slightly smaller size and light weight have to be given importance to be accepted. of battery performance.

Between the fan noise, noticeable heat, and lousy battery life, I wish Microsoft had used just one Arm-based processor in this computer. The Surface Pro X, Apple’s latest computer, and a lot of the Arm chips in some Chromebooks, have enough power to match the usage profile of such a computer, plus run cooler, don’t require fans, and much better. is battery life. Windows 11 keeps getting better with Arm as well, and it seems like it’s the right kind of computer to take advantage of.

A three-quarter view of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 with its lid open about 30 degrees.

The Laptop Go 2 has a similar design aesthetic to Microsoft’s larger and more expensive laptops.

Throughout my time using the Surface Laptop Go 2, I was reminded of Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air and 12-inch MacBook from 2015. They were both high-end, small computers designed to be as lightweight and portable as possible. , while still providing excellent keyboard, trackpad and capabilities. They also made compromises when it comes to battery life and power (and ports).

The Surface Laptop Go 2 feels like a modern version of those compact laptops, complete with similar limitations. It’s too expensive to be a real budget option, not powerful enough for demanding users, and doesn’t have the battery life to last all day away from an outlet. You can get more performance, battery life, and a computer for less money than a Chromebook or even any other Windows laptop.

However, the Laptop Go 2 is a smaller, lighter computer with a comfortable keyboard, trackpad, and screen all wrapped up in a good-looking and -feeling package. It comes with a real processor and enough RAM and storage to do the actual work, unlike other subcompact computers. If those are specific things you value and are looking for in a laptop, well… the Surface Laptop Go 2 is basically your only option right now.

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