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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: A predictable performance jump

Quick verdict: Microsoft’s added a new colour and a slight processor bump to the Surface Laptop Go 2. It’s a fine laptop for its money, but it’s hampered by a low resolution screen and slightly dated processor choices.

Pros

  • Sage colour is quite nice
  • Charges via USB C or Surface port
  • Good jump in performance over original Surface Laptop Go
Cons

  • Battery life slightly worse than original
  • 11th Gen Intel processors are a step behind the times
  • Limited ports

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The original Surface Laptop Go took the "Go" part of Microsoft's cheaper Surface Go brand and applied it to laptops for students and everyday users.

The Surface Laptop Go 2 runs with that, updating the processor to give it more essential grunt, but also annoyingly keeping a few components a little less premium than we'd like to see, even at this price point.

It's still a nice, compact laptop at an appealing price, but it's worth being aware of its limitations before you buy.


Design: Nice colours, shame about the screen

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Microsoft has taken a very traditional approach for the most part with the design of the Surface Laptop Go 2.

It's built to the same size and essential style as the original model. If you want to be pedantic it's marginally bigger, measuring in at 278.2x206.2x15.7mm and 1.127kg, but these aren't numbers you'll notice in use relative to the original model.

The Surface Laptop Go 2 is well sized if you do favour portability, because it's really easy to pick up and carry one-handed, or slide into a backpack for computing on the go.

The Surface Laptop Go 2 ships in 4 colour choices, with Sage joining the existing Platinum, Ice Blue and Sandstone finishes.

The one catch here is that the very entry level model only comes in Platinum; if you want fancy colours you'll have to drop at least an extra $100 for the privilege, though you do get more RAM and storage at higher tiers. Sage is what Microsoft sent me for review, and it is a pretty tasty colourway; not quite so business-dull as Platinum, but maybe not as sexy as Ice Blue.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The Surface Laptop Go 2 uses a 12.4 inch display that's exactly the same as its predecessor. It's easily one of my least favourite parts of the laptop. While I appreciate the inclusion of a touch screen, given that Microsoft's been pushing touch in Windows long enough for it to make a difference, that can't make up for its generally lousy resolution at just 1536x1024 pixels, or a measly 148ppi. That's sub-1080p quality, not helped by a generally low level of illumination, either. It's one of the least impressive screens you'll find on any Surface device, period.

I will give Microsoft plaudits for including the screen amongst the parts that it says are fully replaceable, along with the keyboard, SSD storage and battery – because so many of these ultrabook-style systems are nearly impossible to repair in any real way at all. Still, I could wish that I was replacing a nicer screen as and when it became necessary to do so!

The use of a standard design means that the exact same criticism around ports that I applied to the original Surface Laptop Go applies here too. On the right you'll find a Surface Connect port for charging, while on the left there's a single USB A, single USB C and a headphone socket. That's your lot – and for a laptop in this price class it's not a lot if you need to connect more than a few peripherals.

You still don't get Microsoft's fancy Alcantara finish for the keyboard, but you do get a fingerprint sensor that supports Windows Hello for unlocking relatively rapidly. It took me a while to get the sensor to fully enrol my fingerprint without fuss, but once that was done it worked very well for quick unlocking. It's a pity that the included 720p webcam isn't also Hello-friendly.


Performance: Core i5 provides a nice performance bump, but it's not exactly cutting edge

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Outside of colour changes, the other big change for the Surface Laptop Go 2 is under the hood. For a start, the entry level eMMC found in the original model is gone, replaced with an SSD by default. The entry and mid level models ship with 128GB, while the top end variant (as reviewed) comes with 256GB.

On the entry level model you'll be making do with just 4GB of RAM, but the mid-level and top end variants come with 8GB. If you're a business buyer with a wallet fat enough, you can opt for 16GB models, but those are apparently not for us ordinary consumer folk.

On the processor front, all models ship with an 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor. That's a decent enough mid-range part, but it's not massively current for a laptop being first sold in mid 2022. No doubt Microsoft's opted for the 11th gen model to keep general costs low.

In performance terms, the Surface Laptop Go 2 benchmarks quite well against other lower-cost Surface devices and cheaper student-centric laptops. It'd still get rather handily beaten by Apple's MacBook Air M1, but that's a model that does cost quite a bit more than the Surface Laptop Go 2:

The Surface Laptop Go 2 is built on Windows 11, and unlike its predecessor there's thankfully no sign of an S variant making it harder than it needs to be to add additional apps. Being a Microsoft product, you also get trials for other Microsoft services such as Office 365 and Xbox GamePass preinstalled.

The Surface Laptop Go 2 is a decent everyday working laptop for basic productivity tasks, and I had few issues thumping out this review and other work on it during my review period, excluding for that less-than stellar screen. If you were looking at it from a student viewpoint, for example, it'd be fine for writing an English essay, but I wouldn't suggest doing much Photoshop work on it. Not because of a lack of core grunt, but simply because the screen really isn't that spectacular.


Battery: Fair for a day, but not an improvement over the original model

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Microsoft rates the Surface Laptop Go 2 as being good for "Up to 13.5 hours of typical device usage", which is 30 minutes more than its predecessor. That's an interesting claim to make for a model that packs in a more powerful processor, because that would typically degrade battery life, not improve it.

Still, all battery life is relative to the tasks you put it to. To get a benchmarked figure for this, I ran the Surface Laptop Go 2 through our lighter video test, as well as PCMark's more intensive PC Gaming battery test. The Surface Laptop Go 2 isn't a gaming laptop by any reasonable definition, but gaming apps are amongst the most battery intensive activities you can throw at any notebook.

Here's how the Surface Laptop Go 2 compared:

For more intense tasks, there's nothing between the Surface Laptop Go 2 and its predecessor, but for lighter ones, I got better results out of the original model. That's still a shade under 9 hours of direct playback, however, marking the Surface Laptop Go 2 as good for most working days, even if it does fall short of Microsoft's lofty claims.

Microsoft has persistently stuck with its magnetically attached Surface connector for charging, and it's supplied in the box. Annoyingly you don't get a USB port in the charger to power up an additional device. However, if you do lose, break or forget to bring the Surface charger with you, the USB C port will also take a charge from a compatible PD supply.

Honestly, that's pretty much exclusively how I tested it once I realised the supplied charger lacked additional charging options.


Should you buy the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2?

  • Buy it if you want a more portable Surface without the price point.
  • Don't buy it if you need a better quality screen.

Like so many laptops marketed towards general consumers and education, the Surface Laptop Go 2 has been built to a price point. It's great to see an expansion of its performance power keeping it mostly current, but this is far from the best laptop money can buy.

Its processor is already a generation behind, you're limited in configurations depending on your colour of choice, and the display screen, while fine for regular office work or study, isn't going to cut it for any kind of photo or video work.


Pricing and availability


Specifications

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2

General

Processor Family
Core i5
Processor Model
Core i5-1135G7
Processor Cores
Quad Core
RAM options
4GB or 8GB LPDDR4x

Display

Screen Size
12.4 inches
Display Type
PixelSense Display
Resolution
1536 x 1024px
Graphics Processor
Intel Iris Xe Graphics

Features

Operating System
Windows 11 Home
USB-C Ports
1
Bluetooth
v5.1
Wi-Fi
802.11ax
Webcam
720p HD f2.0 camera (front-facing)
Touchscreen
Yes

How we tested

The Surface Laptop Go 2 tested was the Sage model with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB internal SSD, loaned to me by Microsoft for the purposes of review. I tested it over a fortnight, running everyday apps, games, streamed media and benchmarks to get a view of its performance potential, battery life and design benefits and drawbacks.

The reviewer has more than 2 decades of tech product reviewing under his belt and is a multi-time Australian IT Journo award winner, including awards for best reviewer and best technical journalist.

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