Laptops

Surface Laptop Go 2 review: Basic, but in a good way

Starting at just $600, the new Surface Laptop Go 2 is a great travel-friendly and affrodable notebook.

The word basic gets bad press. But there’s something to be said for simple devices that offer everything you need without a bunch of expensive extras. So while the new Surface Go 2 Laptop isn’t as flashy as the Surface Studio or as flexible as a Surface Pro 8, it offers all the essentials for a very affordable price. And thanks to an updated processor, improved storage, redesigned fans, and a starting price of just $600, you now get even more for your money.

Design

Not much has changed in the design, and I don’t care because it’s basic in the best way. You still get that super minimalist Surface aesthetic in a lightweight 2.5-pound body. Microsoft uses aluminum on its lid and deck, but a plastic bottom helps keep its price low. Inside, the 12.4-inch PixelSense display has slim bezels, and while the Laptop Go 2’s keys and trackpad are a bit smaller than what you’d get on a larger surface, it doesn’t never felt cramped. That said, I think not adding a backlight to the keyboard was a little too frugal on Microsoft’s part. It’s 2022: backlit keys should be standard, regardless of price.

Advantages

  • Elegant design
  • Supports charging via USB-C
  • Lightweight
  • Bright screen
  • Good autonomy
  • Improved performance

The inconvenients

  • No backlit keyboard
  • Limited port selection
  • Base model only has 4GB of RAM

Like other Surfaces, the new Surface Laptop Go 2 features a minimalist design with an aluminum lid and tray and a plastic bottom.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Now, I have to admit that the port selection seems a bit limited. All you get is a USB-A connection, a USB-C jack, a headphone jack, and a magnetic Surface Connect slot. My ideal laptop has at least three USB ports. And unlike its bigger siblings, the Surface Laptop Go 2 doesn’t have a bonus USB-A port on its power supply, which would be really handy when you want to charge up an extra accessory. On the bright side, the Laptop Go 2 supports USB-C power delivery, so if you want, you can easily replace Microsoft’s included brick with a third-party charging adapter.

I also want to mention that while our top-end review unit came with a fingerprint sensor built into its power button, you won’t get it on the base model. Again, I know Microsoft is trying to cut costs, but this really should be available on every configuration.

Display, webcam and sound

Although the Surface Laptop Go 2's 12.4-inch PixelSense display doesn't have a Full HD resolution, it's still sharp enough for its size.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

As for the display, Microsoft stuck with the same 1,536 x 1,024 touchscreen that it used on the older model. No, it’s not even Full HD, but the colors are vibrant, and while Microsoft claims 330 nits of brightness, our review unit actually clocked a much more impressive 375 nits. So kudos to Microsoft for exceeding its rated specs. Would I prefer a slightly higher resolution? Sure. But on a 12.4-inch screen, things still look pretty sharp. At normal viewing distance, you don’t really notice the lower pixel density.

Microsoft also claims that the Laptop Go 2’s speakers are 24% louder than before, and that sounds correct. You won’t see any obvious speaker grilles as everything is hidden under the keyboard. But the sound is still pretty clear, although the soundstage is a bit shallow with less detail in the treble and bass than I’d like. But on a system that starts at $600, I’m happy.

While some Surface Laptop Go 2 configurations have an in-display fingerprint sensor, you won't get one on the base $600 model.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The Laptop Go 2’s webcam is still only 720p, but Microsoft says there’s a new sensor inside that improves contrast and color saturation. And you know what, it does. I still maintain that a 1080p webcam should be the minimum. But unless you’re live streaming on Twitch or something, which is kind of outside the system’s intended use case, this webcam is quite capable.

Performance

The most significant improvements of the Surface Laptop Go 2 relate to its performance. Microsoft has upgraded to an 11th Gen Intel Core i5 processor, which isn’t state-of-the-art but packs more than enough punch to ensure speedy general productivity. Compared to a larger machine like the HP Specter x360 with an i5-11390H chip, the Laptop Go 2’s scores were only about 10% lower in general benchmarks like PCMark 10 and Geekbench 5. Although its lack of discrete graphics holds it back for more demanding testing or workloads.

Portable

PC Mark 10

Geekbench 5 (single-core/multi-core)

3DMark Night Raid

Surface Go 2 Laptop

4,213

1,349/3,764

11,173

HP Specter x360 16

4,785

1,518/4,200

16,927

Surface Pro 8

4,542

1289/5,217

16,092

Surface Laptop Studio

5,397

1,445/5,430

26,566

Unfortunately, Microsoft stuck with just 4GB of RAM on the base model, which is a bit skimpy, and that’s probably why the company sent a more capable model with 8GB of RAM for review. And if you decide to buy one, you should probably pay $100 for this upgrade. Meanwhile, the biggest change is that the Surface Laptop Go 2 now comes with a standard 128GB SSD, instead of the 64GB eMMC drive you had before. So you get faster and more storage even on the base model.

Apparently in an effort to keep its price low, Microsoft hasn't added a backlight to the Surface Laptop Go 2's keyboard.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

In the real world, the Surface Laptop Go 2 has no problem quickly switching between a bunch of browser tabs, multiple desktop apps and more – which is really all I ask for in a system like this- this. And thanks to its integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, you can even do light video editing and casual gaming, though anything more definitely pushes it.

Battery life and thermals

The Surface Laptop Go 2 has somewhat limited connectivity, including a USB-A port, a USB-C port, a headphone jack, and a magnetic Surface Connect port.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The Surface Laptop Go 2’s battery life is solid, lasting 14 hours and 43 minutes in our video test. That’s even longer than what you get with more expensive Surfaces, including the Surface Pro 8 (13:06) and Surface Laptop Studio (12:24). However, if longevity is your main concern, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 still has a bit of a lead with a time of 15:25 on our test.

Portable

Battery life

Surface Go 2 Laptop

14:43

Surface Laptop 4 (15 inch)

15:25

Surface Pro 8

13:06

Surface Laptop Studio

12:24

I also appreciate that Microsoft has made efforts to reduce system fan noise, down to 10 decibels at maximum speeds. In normal use, the Laptop Go 2 is actually rather quiet, often running completely silent if you’re just browsing the web, and rarely rising above a whisper unless you’re doing some serious multitasking. In some ways, this laptop seems like the perfect candidate for an entirely fanless design. That said, Windows machines don’t have access to the same sort of super-efficient chips you get with something like a MacBook Air M1. But let’s not forget that an equivalent MacBook Air also costs $200 more than the Surface Laptop Go 2.

Wrap

For 2022, Microsoft has added a new sage green color option for the Surface Laptop Go 2.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

And in a way, that’s important context when comparing Microsoft’s most user-friendly laptop to more expensive rivals. For someone like me who uses a desktop computer at home, the Surface Go 2 Laptop is a great travel companion and I’d much rather lug it around than the bigger, heavier Intel MacBook Pro 13 I’ve been assigned for work. Sure, it’s not as powerful and it has a lower resolution screen, but it has more than enough performance to work on the go. It’s also a great machine for students or anyone who just wants a well-designed, no-frills laptop that’s easy to carry around. It doesn’t have an infrared webcam for facial login or a stylus like you get on fancier Surfaces, but that’s okay. Even if you’re paying for an upgraded model (which I highly recommend), the Surface Laptop Go 2 is still super portable, very affordable, and even quite stylish, while still having all the basics in place.

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