Microsoft Surface Go 3
RRP $ 400.00
"The affordable Microsoft Surface Go 3 isn't a performer, but it's still fun."
Superior display for a budget device
Excellent support for Active Pen
Small and light
Surprisingly good real world performance
Can get expensive
Mediocre battery life
The keyboard and touchpad are tight
The third generation is usually when Surface products catch on.
The Microsoft Surface Go is the smallest and cheapest Surface you can buy – the Surface Go 2 landed on our lists of the best budget laptops and the best 2-in-1s. It wrinkles the usual premium status of the Surface line and still offers a lot of what makes the Surface so attractive.
I have the high-end configuration of the Surface Go 3 with a 10th Intel Core i3-10100Y CPU. That configuration costs $ 630 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of solid-state storage (SSD) – not too cheap compared to a budget range that has steadily improved over the years. Although the Surface Go 3 doesn't quite keep its promise of significantly improved performance, it still has its charms.
Especially at its entry-level price of $ 399, the Surface Go 3 is an impressively built tablet. Made of magnesium, it is soft but solid to the touch, showing that it was made with meticulous tolerances. It's far better built than most budget laptops, on par with the Apple iPad for $ 329, while it vastly outperforms the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet for $ 279. In fact, I'd keep the build quality of the Surface Go 3 with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable, which starts at over $ 1,000.
For aesthetics, think of a Surface Book 7, only smaller. The Surface Go 3 is the same color and shape, has slightly more rounded but still familiar corners, and shares the oversized bezels of its bigger brother. The stand, which can be used excellently, is similar. It can be folded out from the center back of the case and extends into a comfortable angle for using the (unfortunately) optional Surface Pen. It's a modern device in every way except for the large bezels, which look old-fashioned compared to many current laptops.
While the Surface Go 3 is a small device, it's not as small as it could have been with smaller bezels. Even so, at 9.65 x 6.9 inches, it's almost identical to the iPad (9.8 x 6.8 inches, with its own large bezels on each end). And the Surface Go 3 has a larger 10.5-inch display compared to the 10.2-inch panel on the iPad. However, at 0.33 inches, it is thicker than the iPad at 0.29 inches. Some of that extra thickness will most likely accommodate the integrated stand. The Surface Go 3 is also slightly heavier than the iPad at 1.2 pounds versus 1.09 pounds.
Connectivity is limited as you can imagine with such a small and thin device. You get a single USB-C port, 3.5mm audio jack, Microsoft Surface Connect port for power, and connection to a proprietary hub and microSD card reader. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 perform wireless tasks.
The Surface Go 3 offers an Intel Core i3-10100Y CPU, which is a step up from the 8th generation Core m3-8100Y of the previous generation, but not in this way. It hardly beats its predecessor (we'll get to that in a moment) in objective tests, and yet the Surface Go 3, subjectively, strangely enough, doesn't feel that slow.
I haven't used the Surface Go 2 so I can't directly compare the two, but the Surface Go 3 did well most of the tasks I asked it to do. That surprised me because I expected it to feel a lot slower. If I didn't open too many tabs in Edge or had too many apps running in the background, the Surface Go 3 worked just as well as many other budget laptops I've used.
Sure, some things are slower – it takes an extra split second to view an email, opening Edge with multiple standard tabs suffers from some additional initial loading times, and opening new apps with a full complement of running programs was a bit delayed. But overall, I was impressed with the subjective performance of the Surface Go 3. It's not as fast as an iPad, but then again, a fully functional operating system runs in Windows 11. Speaking of which, the Surface Go 3 is configured in Windows 11 S mode, which limits apps to those available in the Windows Store. To install our test suite, I left S mode, which was trivial.
Surface Go 3 lets you get your work done; just moderate your expectations when it comes to medium to heavy workloads.
Now for these benchmarks. In Geekbench 5, the Surface Go 3 managed a disappointing 920 in single-core mode and 1,704 in multi-core mode. These are some of the slower results in our database, and just ahead of the Surface Go 2's 868 and 1,626. We don't have any comparisons to this particular CPU, but even Chromebooks running the Android Geekbench 5 app with similar processors are twice as fast. In our Handbrake test, which encodes a 420MB video as H.265, the Surface Go 3 took a lethargic 612 seconds, just nine seconds faster than the Surface Go 2. These are the two slowest machines in our database. The next slowest laptop is the Lenovo Yoga C640 with a Core i3-10110U, which took 397 seconds to complete the process.
I ran PCMark 10 and the Surface Go 3 achieved 2,611 points in the Complete test, the lowest score in our database and well below the next lowest. However, we haven't tested many comparable laptops since using this benchmark. Surface Go 3 scores were consistently low, including essentials, productivity, and content creation. The latter result was miserable.
However, as I said, the real world performance is better than these benchmarks suggest. Surface Go 3 lets you get your work done; just moderate your expectations when it comes to medium to heavy workloads.
|Geekbench 5 (single / multiple)||Handbrake
|PCMark 10||3DMark time spy|
|Microsoft Surface Go 3 (Core i3-10100Y)||920/1704||612||2611||320|
|Microsoft Surface Go 2 (Core m3-8100Y)||868/1626||621||N / A||N / A|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X12 detachable (Core i5-1130G7)||1352/4796||185||4443||926|
|Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (Core i5-1035G4)||1237/4455||N / A||N / A||487|
|Acer Aspire 5 2021 (Core i3-1115G4)||1215/2544||300||3752||652|
The Surface Go 3 uses Intel UHD 615 graphics and is nothing more than a casual gaming system – and by that I mean simple Windows 10 games like Solitaire and the like. It scored a pathetic 320 in the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark, which is one of the lower scores we've seen. I just ran Fortnite to giggle and it was a four frames per second slideshow at 1280p with high graphics.
In typical Surface fashion, the Surface Go 3 has a display with a higher aspect ratio of 3: 2, which makes it exceptionally convenient to use as a tablet in portrait mode – it is closer to the size of a sheet of paper compared to 16: 9 displays who are too tall and thin. It's a 10.5-inch display with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,280 that is sharp enough even for someone like me who prefers 4K displays. Thanks to its brightness and high contrast, I enjoyed using a display that produced black text that jumped off the page.
My colorimeter supported me. Put simply, this is an excellent display for a tablet, starting at $ 399. The colors were exactly on the premium laptop average of 75% AdobeRGB and 99% sRGB, which is more than enough for comfortable, productive work, even if it's not as wide as creatives are looking for. And the color accuracy was also very good with a DeltaE of 1.21 (1.0 or less is considered excellent) and was thus above the premium average. The contrast ratio of 1,360: 1 was well above our preferred threshold of 1,000: 1, and the brightness was excellent at 434 nits (again well above our desired value of 300 nits).
The Surface Go 2 had slightly wider colors at 77% AdobeRGB and 100% sRGB, but they were less accurate at 2.21. The brightness was also lower at 342 cd / m² and the contrast ratio was a disappointing 730: 1. Microsoft has improved its game with this display. The much more expensive Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable had fewer colors at 72% and 97% and was a little less accurate at 1.59. It wasn't as bright at 364 nits and its contrast ratio was lower at 940: 1.
I am impressed with the ad. It is objectively superior to many laptops that cost three times as much, and it was a pleasure to use during my test.
Two front-facing speakers provide the sound, and while the volume doesn't get as loud even at full volume, the sound is remarkably clear. The mids and highs are crystal clear and there's even a hint of bass. I was particularly impressed by the dialogues in TV programs and films. You can use these speakers to catch Netflix if you want, as long as you are okay with a medium volume level.
Keyboard and touchpad
The biggest problem with Microsoft's Type Cover – which applies to all Surface tablets – is that it doesn't come with it. You have two options for the Surface Go 3, the standard $ 100 Type Cover that comes in black, or the Signature Type Cover for $ 130 that is upholstered in (fairly comfortable) Alcantara fabric and in ice Blue, Platinum and Poppy Red is available. My test device came with the Ice Blue Signature Type Cover, which brought the cost to $ 760. I'll go ahead and point out that the Surface Pen isn't included either, and that's another $ 100 – which brings the overall evaluation package to $ 860, which is too high.
The second most important problem with the Type Cover is its size. Of course, given the miniature size of the Surface Go 3, Microsoft couldn't have done anything about it, but the buttons are tiny and there isn't enough space between them. It's a cramped experience that takes some getting used to. I wrote this review with the Surface Go 3 to help familiarize yourself with fast typing on the keyboard, but there is a definite learning curve. Also note that the top row of letter keys is slightly off-center, and very sensitive typists may find this to be another adjustment. There's a decent travel, however, and the key switches are snappy, if a bit noisy, which makes the key presses themselves precise and consistent. The type cover has a bit of bounce, but it's not terrible.
The touchpad is small but has a faint click and thanks to the Microsoft Precision touchpad drivers it is responsive and accurate. I found the size to be an obstacle at times, but the overall experience was acceptable. The touch display is responsive and the Surface Pen supports its 4,096 pressure sensitivity and tilt support. The Surface Go 3 is an excellent note-taking device thanks to its small size and light weight.
An infrared camera and facial recognition provide Windows 10 Hello login support without a password. It was quick and reliable and clicks into place when you open the Type Cover. There's no way to block or turn off the webcam, which is an increasingly common privacy feature.
The case of the tiny Surface Go 3 houses a 28-watt-hour battery. That's not much, even for a laptop with low-end components and a small display. Even so, I was expecting better battery life than what I saw.
Overall, I have to classify the battery life as mediocre at best.
In our web browsing test, the Surface Go 3 only lasted 5.5 hours, about half of what we prefer in a laptop. That's 40 minutes longer than the Surface Go 2, which is a significant improvement, but the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet lasted 13.7 hours and the iPad can be expected to last around 10 hours. In our video looping test using a local Full HD Avengers trailer, the Surface Go achieved a more robust 11.45 hours. That's close to the Surface Go 2's 11.25 hours and about an hour less than the IdeaPad Duet. It will likely outperform the iPad's longevity and be closer to what other budget laptops achieve.
In PCMark 10 Applications' battery test, probably the best indicator of productivity longevity, the Surface Go 3 lasted about 6.5 hours, which is a low score that suggests you probably won't be working off the laptop for a full day will get out. Most of the machines we tested lasted about twice as long. I also ran the PCMark 10 gaming battery test, which saw the Surface Go 3 last a little over two hours. That's about average, and this test seems to show how hard a laptop works on battery power.
Overall, I have to classify the battery life as mediocre at best. Again, you probably won't go through a full day of work without joining unless you watch videos. The results support the notion that the Surface Go 3 is best suited as a secondary device rather than a primary workhorse.
When I started this review, I expected that I would not like the Microsoft Surface Go 3. The keyboard is small and cramped, the benchmark numbers aren't good, and those two factors taken together give me a bad first impression. That didn't last, however, as I adjusted to the keyboard and the real-world performance of the Surface Go 3 outperformed its benchmark results.
When I finished my test, I really liked the little tablet. It's a great size for casual use anywhere, I've enjoyed handwriting on the Surface Go 3 more than on many larger 2-in-1s, and the performance was good enough that I didn't notice any noticeable slowdowns. Of course, I'm describing casual or mainstream productivity workflows here – nothing demanding at all – and I wouldn't recommend it for anything more than surfing the web, checking email, running Office apps, and streaming media. Don't expect to plug it into an external display and use it as the main device.
However, it is a great device for all of these things. It's a bit pricey at $ 860 when fully configured with the fastest CPU, Type Cover, and Surface Pen – and that's a blow to it. I can't confirm the performance with the Pentium CPU alternative, so I don't know if the saving leads to performance issues. But if you're looking for a device that is easy to carry and convenient to use, then the Surface Go 3 is for you.
Are there alternatives?
The most notable alternative is the Apple iPad – the entry-level model that starts at $ 329. It has a great display, solid performance with iPad OS and millions of (mobile) apps. You can do the same things with it and enjoy faster performance. But you might be missing the full functionality of Windows 11.
You can also go up a bit in size and price and opt for the Surface Pro 8. We're in the process of reviewing this detachable tablet and expect it to be a real step up from the Surface Pro 7. It will be faster and longer-lasting, and will also feature a larger display and keyboard.
Finally, if you're familiar with Chrome OS, you can save some cash and opt for the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet. This tablet offers reliable performance and a nice display, but it's not that well built. And again, you have to deal with abandoning a “real” operating system.
How long it will take?
The Surface Go 3 is exceptionally well made and should last for years. Whether the performance can keep up depends entirely on how Microsoft rates Windows 11, but considering that Windows 10 has never really slowed down, I would expect years of reasonably good performance. There is a one-year warranty that is standard and makes sense in this price range.
Should you buy it?
Yes sir. If you want Windows 11 in a smaller tablet that is easy to carry around and can handle your less strenuous workflows, the Surface Go 3 is a great choice.