Microsoft Surface Go 3 review: Hot garbage

Quick verdict: The Microsoft Surface Go seems like an awesome ultra-portable device, but what waited for me was one of the worst device experiences of my life.

  • Lovely design
  • Light and portable
  • Casual Internet browsing is good
  • Using anything outside the Microsoft ecosystem is a nightmare
  • The settings app always crashed
  • Battery life is bad

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Every few years, a product makes me question my very existence. They stealthily crawl up from the darkest bowels of hell to torment unsuspecting reviewers. I must confess that I didn't expect it this time around. I had become complacent. Happy. Weak. So I was caught by surprise when the Microsoft Surface Go 3 blew across my desk and solidified itself as the worst gadget experience of my miserable life.

Seduced by its sleek and sexy design, I was expecting a low power, but ultimately passable, tablet experience. After several weeks with it, I now lay awake at night wondering if it was conjured into existence by El Diablo himself.

Alright, perhaps I'm exaggerating ever so slightly. But this thing dances on the precipice of mediocrity and abomination to such an aggravating degree that it clouds the few positives in its repertoire.


Microsoft Surface Go 3 review: Design

microsoft surface go 3

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

At first glance the Surface Go 3 offers the perfect solution for someone looking for an extremely lightweight and portable option for their laptop needs.

With a 10.5-inch screen and weighing in at just 544g (ever so slightly more with a Type Cover), it is easy to slip into a handbag or backpack. It takes up very little space and also looks incredibly chic.

The kickstand also enables you to easily sit it on a desk when you need it for work or study.

It feels like it has been created with convenience and modernity in mind, and from a design point it mostly delivers on that.

The only exception are the truly t-h-i-c-c bezels. A carry-over from previous generations of the Surface Go, it renders the device reminiscent of an old school iPad. All it's missing is the Home button to complete the look.

In 2021, this makes the entire thing feel a little outdated. Even the most recent iPad Mini shed this look after the 2019 model was panned for insisting on keeping this 2012 form factor.

Another let down is that you still have to buy the Surface Go Type Cover separately. This isn't a new problem, nor is it confined to the Surface Go 3. As we also said in our recent Surface Pro 8 review, this is something that Microsoft needs to stop doing.

The Type Cover itself is $149.95, which is pricey. But it feels like an unfortunate necessity. Without it, the Microsoft Surface Go 3 becomes little more than a highly restricted tablet that starts at $769.


Microsoft Surface Go 3 review: Performance

microsoft surface go 3

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

The general performance of the Microsoft Surface Go 3 is fine if you're going to mostly stick to pretty basic Internet browsing and admin tasks. And if you're happy to be trapped in the Microsoft Ecosystem.

And maybe you are. If you can get everything you need from the Microsoft app store and from being a literal EdgeLord then you're good to go. But if you try and do anything outside these parameters you'll run into problems quickly.

This is especially true if the device is still in S Mode, which is toggled on by default out of the box.

According to Microsoft, S Mode "is a version of Windows 10 that's streamlined for security and performance, while providing a familiar Windows experience".

In this case it's Windows 11, but the point still stands.

In practice, S Mode restricts what you're able to actually do on your device. For example, you can only download apps or execute programs from the Microsoft Store.

And sure, this does add a thick layer of security and can boost the CPU and GPU performance, but at a huge cost to your freedom. Or in my case, sanity.

S Mode makes the Microsoft Surface Go borderline unusable for anyone who needs a device for work or even study. And this has nothing to do with the fact that it won't be powerful enough for labour-intensive programs. Even some of the most basic stuff like Adobe, security software and video call apps that aren't Teams can't be downloaded.

My favourite example was my attempt to download Google Chrome. In S Mode it wouldn't execute from the web or the App Store, and because Microsoft only wants you using Edge, an attempt to find it on the Microsoft Store served results like Farming Simulator. Great stuff.

Of course, there is a simple solution – don't use it. But the problem is that it may be difficult for some users to even realise the device is in S Mode unless you know what it is and how to look for it. There's no indication that the device is set to this by default. This means that users may just think there is something wrong with their device or there is no way for them to access the programs and apps they want if they're not available through the Microsoft Store.

This makes for an incredibly frustrating and non-user-friendly experience.

Fortunately, you can in fact turn it off and Microsoft has a guide on how to do so for Windows 11. It does make a big song and dance about how it can't be reversed, which I personally celebrated.

So while yes, you can open up the ecosystem by turning S Mode off, it's not transparent and users shouldn't have to work this hard to access everyday apps and programs outside of what Microsoft owns. Even Apple doesn't restrict its users this much.

But taking my rage at the out-of-box usability out of the equation, the Microsoft Surface Go also isn't the best for general performance.

First and foremost, the Settings app has crashed every single time I have tried to open it. While I eventually found success in back-dooring whatever particular setting I was looking for with the search function, I could never get to them by simply hitting "Settings". It was incredibly frustrating. While I am sure a Windows 11 update can probably fix this, it has made for a crap experience and left me questioning what this device is actually capable of handling.

Where the Microsoft Surface Go does excel is with its webcam. Just a few years ago, I paid very little attention to this aspect of laptops as I found them largely superfluous. But in a COVID-world, they have become more important than ever for working and studying at home.

The 5MP in-built camera offers incredibly crisp 1080p HD video that also does a pretty decent job at taking selfies.

The Surface Go 3 also offers a 8MP rear camera, also with 1080P HD video, that takes better photos than it has any right to. While I did feel a bit like my mum wandering around the office taking snaps with a 10.5-inch device, I was quite impressed with the results:

microsoft surface go 3

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

product review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

product review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

But a decent camera on a tablet really doesn't feel like a saviour here. The bottom line is that not enough has changed from the previous generations. Meanwhile, the competition is getting increasingly fierce in both the Chromebook and tablet space. When you have devices like the iPad and Samsung Tab series, Microsoft really needs to step up its game to stand out.


Microsoft Surface Go 3 review: Battery

product review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

On paper, the Microsoft Surface Go 3 seems great. Microsoft promises 11 hours, which is quite standard for this kind of hybrid tablet-laptop device.

And in our video battery rundown test, this was accurate. In fact, we got over 11 hours. But this was certainly not the case for actual real world use.

For everyday use, the battery fell well below this promised time… by about half. And to be fair, this experience is not unique to me. The majority of other reputable reviewers who have taken a run at the Surface Go 3 have reported similar sub-optimal battery experiences.

It is worth noting that laptop batteries can often vary compared to what is promised, sometimes significantly. And, of course, other things like usage, brightness and volume can also come into play.

But half the promised amount of juice is Not Great, particularly on a device that is one of the lower-powered options on the market right now. It's not like it's going to be running power-sucking video programs or running AAA games. It's gasping for dear life over simple web browsing, Slack and a little video streaming – at least in my case.


Should you buy it?

If you're a Microsoft Surface Go stan who loves the ecosystem and architecture, this may be an okay buy for you. Sometimes we want more of the same and that's just fine.

Alternatively, if you really only need something for basic Internet browsing, social media and streaming, for all of that it runs quite well.

But considering the lack of innovation, sub-par performance and woeful battery life, it's a no from me personally. Especially when you have to pay extra for the keyboard and stylus. Though, to be fair, this is not a unique problem to Microsoft.

Still, there's just too much competition out there for Microsoft to continue resting on its Surface-shaped laurels. Plenty of other brands can help you browse too. The company needs to step up its game in this hybrid space and, for the love of all that is holy, stop making S Mode the default.

product review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

Microsoft Surface Go 3 review: Pricing and availability


How we test

The Microsoft Surface Go 3 was tested over several weeks. Microsoft provided the device for the purposes of this review.

The author has been testing and reviewing tech products for over 5 years.


Specifications

Microsoft Surface Go 3

General

Display Size
10.5 inches
Resolution
1920 x 1280px
Screen Type
PixelSense
Processor Cores
Dual-core
Graphics Processor
Intel UHD Graphics 615
Operating System
Windows 11 Home in S mode

Connectivity

Bluetooth
5
Wi-Fi
WiFi 6: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax compatible
USB-C Ports
1

Storage

eMMC Storage
64GB
SSD Storage
128GB
Card Reader
MicroSDXC

Miscellaneous

Battery Life
Up to Up to 11 hours of typical device usage
Rear Camera
8.0MP rear-facing auto-focus camera
Front Camera
5.0 MP front-facing camera
HD Recording
Yes
Headphone Jack
Yes
Colours
Platinum

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