The Surface Go is Microsoft’s attempt to straddle two different worlds. Microsoft marketed it as a low-cost way to get the 2-in-1 Surface experience when it was released in late 2018. That’s still the case three years later: The Surface Go 3, Microsoft’s latest tablet, was unveiled in late September and has a beautiful screen and a sturdy kickstand. It’s a great feeling for a $400 device.
It’s a little more complicated than that, however, when it comes to the Surface Go 3. An additional $100 is required to buy a keyboard. You’ll also need a keyboard because Windows doesn’t have a great tablet experience. In addition, the base $400 Surface Go 3 is underpowered, so upgrading the processor, storage, and RAM costs as much as buying a full-fledged laptop with a larger display and more powerful internals.
There were 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage in our review unit, which had an Intel Core i3-10100Y processor. The $630 price includes the $130 Alcantara-clad Type Cover and Microsoft’s $100 Surface pen, but not the Type Cover itself. In spite of its diminutive size, the machine is capable enough to serve as an excellent travel companion. In order to justify the $860 I’m testing, you should know exactly what you intend to use it for that a standard laptop can’t do.
A larger screen was a notable difference between the first and second generation of the Surface Go 2 when we reviewed it last spring. This time around, I’m confident that all of the external hardware is the same. With the same 10.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 touchscreen display, the Surface Go 3 is exactly the same size and weight as the previous model.
No offense intended to Microsoft’s Surface Go 3, which is a beautifully designed and well-built device. Microsoft’s reputation for thoughtful hardware is well-deserved, even though I haven’t used previous Surface devices extensively. The screen is bright, clear, and vibrant, with excellent viewing angles. As a bonus, the 3:2 aspect ratio provides a lot of vertical space, which I greatly appreciate.
The infinitely adjustable kickstand is another favorite feature of mine. I’m not a visual artist, but the Surface Pen magnetically snaps to the side for easy access and the ability to prop up the tablet for drawing is a brilliant design decision. But I can’t draw, so I’ll just have to make do.
There are just a few ports and buttons on the Surface Go 3. In addition to the headphone jack and Microsoft’s proprietary charging port, the device has one USB-C port on the other side. However, you can still use the USB-C port for faster charging (as well as any other peripherals you have) and use the cables you probably already have instead of the slower charger. The tablet’s 8-megapixel camera can be seen on the back and sits above the tablet’s power and volume controls. For video calls, there’s a 5-megapixel front-facing camera with 1080p resolution and two stereo speakers on either side of the display. Face unlock is also possible using Windows Hello. Last but not least, you’ll find a Micro SDXC card reader tucked away under the kickstand.
Windows’ suitability for touchscreen use is a perennial topic of debate whenever the company introduces a new Surface tablet. There is still a “not really” answer for Windows 11. However, the Surface Go 3’s hardware alone makes it a wonderful tablet. Both landscape and portrait modes work well because of the 3:2 aspect ratio. It weighs a smidge more than an iPad, at 1.2 pounds, but not nearly as much that you’ll tire of holding it.
I spent the majority of my time testing the Go 3 with Microsoft’s Type Cover attached, which is what we typically recommend for Surface buyers. Even though it’s the same as last year’s model, the Surface keyboards from Microsoft are surprisingly good. The Go’s small size initially made it uncomfortable in my hands, but after some time, I didn’t notice it.
Despite the Type Cover’s ultra-thin design, the keys have good travel and feel solid, and the magnets attaching it to the Go are extremely strong. Given its small size, the touchpad is fine – but like the keyboard, it isn’t something I’d want to use for long periods of time. When I was working on the Go 3 at my desk for long periods of time, I found that a Bluetooth mouse worked better.
The Type Cover adds another half a pound to the tablet’s weight, bringing the total weight under two pounds. The Surface Go 3 and its keyboard cover are still a very compact and well-designed set, despite the fact that the overall design hasn’t changed. Providing the full Windows experience on a portable device is a rarity.
It’s unfortunate that, as with previous Surface Go models, performance has been sacrificed in favor of portability. You can get by with the $630 Go 3’s Core i3 processor, but if you try to push it too far, you’ll be disappointed. My daily routine consists primarily of using a browser (I tested Edge) and a few third-party apps, such as Trello, Slack, Todoist, and Spotify. To get the full Windows experience, I also wrote this review in Word. However, I experienced occasional music stutters and tabs frequently had to be reloaded if I left them for more than a minute or two while using the Surface Go 3.
It was not uncommon for things to get worse on occasion. There were some hiccups with the Surface Go 3’s ability to run Adobe Lightroom, but overall, the software ran smoothly. Having it open at the same time as another program slowed things down a lot. It took longer to open or switch between different apps because the browser tabs were more prone to reloading. Lightroom’s overall performance wasn’t bad, but exporting an edited RAW file to a JPG took so long that I ended up doing most of my photo editing and exporting on my MacBook Pro for this review. Compared to my Mac, exporting a single image probably took around 10 seconds on the iPhone.
You’ll be shocked to learn that participating in a video call also resulted in significant degradations in system performance. As a result, switching between Google Meet and Slack was extremely slow, and Slack had to be refreshed as if I had just opened it. On the subject of Slack, we found that it performed poorly on this machine, with noticeable delays when switching between different channels and conversations. (Google and Slack, in particular, deserve some of the blame because Slack’s Windows app is terrible.) Some of it, but not all.) That pretty much sums up my experience with the Surface Go 3 — I had to sit around and wait for things to catch up quite a bit.
This was confirmed by running our standard Windows benchmark suite, which showed that the new Core i3 processor is nearly identical to the m3 it replaces. This only serves to demonstrate that Intel has yet to come up with a viable solution for mobile devices of any size. When I ran Geekbench 5 on the $330 iPad I got 1,336 (single-core) / 3,349 (multi-core) versus 859/1,450 on the Surface Go 3.
|GeekBench 5 CPU||PC Mark 10||3DMark (Night Raid)||ATTO (Top reads/writes)|
|Microsoft Surface Go 3 (Core i3-10100Y, Intel UHD)||859 / 1,450||2,601||2,637||1.65 GB/s / 808 MB/s|
|Microsoft Surface Go 2 (Core m3-8100Y, Intel UHD)||800 / 1,590||2,737||3,848||1.6 GB/s / 265 MB/s|
|Acer Aspire 5 (Intel Core i3-1115G4, Intel UHD)||1,316 / 2,583||3,790||6,723||2.26 GB/s / 893 MB/s|
|Lenovo Flex 5 14 (AMD Ryzen 3 4300U, AMD Radeon)||730 / 1,879||4,186||6,271||1.40 GB/s / 925 MB/s|
Additionally, the battery situation is a bit of an issue. Not terrible, but given how low-powered the processor is, I expected more. I was able to get about five hours of normal use out of the Surface Go 3 while doing my daily tasks. Additionally, the Go’s portability is hampered because you can’t use it without a charger for the duration of an entire workday. In a lower-power test, the device did last quite a long time. While playing back HD video, the Go 3 lasted almost 11 hours, which is in line with Microsoft’s 11-hour estimate.
The Surface Go 3’s charging speed isn’t the fastest. Using the included charger, I was able to charge the device from 50% to 100% in three hours while running benchmarks. It took a long time for the battery to charge even when I wasn’t working as hard as I was during that period. Even with the Go 3 dormant, it took two hours to charge it from 20% to 100%.
You can’t judge the Surface Go 3 solely on benchmarks, but they do give you a good idea of what to expect. Going on a trip with a more powerful Windows desktop and the Go 3 would make sense to me. I’d happily use the Go 3 on my hour-long train ride if I were still commuting to check email, write a little, and keep track of all my to-dos. Aside from that, I can see it being a useful travel companion at conventions like CES or E3. However, writing on such a small screen would quickly become a chore for me.
However, paying $630 for a device that feels sluggish and constrained, in addition to an additional $100 for the Type Cover, is a lot of money. You could get a better Windows laptop for the same price. Also, Apple’s iPad is a great secondary computing device because of its tablet-optimized operating system, which is more responsive than the Surface Go 3 and compatible with a variety of keyboard covers.
I believe that being a visual artist alters the value calculus. Because I’m not much of a sketcher, the Surface Pen isn’t much use to me. For artists who prefer to work on Windows, the Go 3 could be a handy drawing tool that can also double as a computer when needed. However, for artists who prefer using a stylus, an iPad is likely to have better app support.
Nothing has changed since Microsoft released the Go 2 almost a year and a half ago, and that’s probably the biggest issue with the Surface Go 3. Despite the addition of a new processor, the device’s performance and battery life have remained essentially unchanged. Pentium Gold models of the Surface Go 3 aren’t worth buying, in my opinion. It’s as if Microsoft only makes them so it can claim to sell a $400 tablet.
The Surface Go 3 can be a very useful small Windows device, just like its predecessors, but you’ll pay a premium for its portability. There’s also a huge disparity between the cost and quality. You can use it as a secondary device for casual work and when you need a device that is extremely portable if you are a fan of Microsoft Windows. This is one of the best-looking and best-built Windows devices out there, and it’s also one of the most unique. Don’t expect too much from tablet mode, and be patient if you’re running a lot of apps.