June 13, 2024


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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 Hands-on: Good Looks at the Boundary of Budget

It’s a little more expensive, but it’s also a little better. Maybe more than a little, depending on the configuration. The second version of Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go remains an interesting take on the budget laptop, and one that also has to skirt current economic issues, which have pushed our definition of a budget laptop higher. 

I’ve had a few days to try out the new Surface Laptop Go 2, and even got to take it on a cross-country trip. That’s not enough time for a complete set of benchmarks tests and full review, but I do have a firm set of initial hands-on impressions. 

The original Surface Laptop Go tried to take the all-over excellent design of the Surface Laptop, one of my mainstream favorites, and strip it down for budget buyers. It ended up as a $550 laptop with a 12.4-inch screen and a 10th-gen Intel Core i5. The big issue it had was that the base model, despite an appealing price, was stuck with an unappealing combination of 4GB of RAM and a scant 64GB of SSD storage. At the time, I suggested that the middle-ground $700 version, with 8GB RAM and a 128GB solid state drive, was the only configuration that made sense as a budget laptop. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2

Dan Ackerman/CNET

New… or new-ish

The new 2.0 version makes a few changes. The first is that we’re now starting at $600. At least you get 128GB of storage now, but still the same 4GB of RAM. Windows 11 is the OS, replacing Windows 10 S (remember that?), and the CPU goes from a 10th-gen Intel Core i5 to an 11th-gen Intel Core i5. Especially for a budget laptop, that’s fine, but keep in mind, most new laptops have more recent 12th-gen Intel chips, so this is a full generation behind. 

The screen size and resolution, weight, port selection and the overall design are the same as the original version. That includes the meh resolution of 1,536 by 1,024 pixels, but it’s also a touch screen, and pretty bright and clear for a budget laptop. 

Read more: How to Buy a Budget Laptop

The webcam is still a lower-res 720 model, but Microsoft says software tweaks give it better color accuracy and noise reduction. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many laptops finally moved to full HD webcams, with 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, so I don’t think this will become my main Zoom (or Microsoft Teams!) meeting device.

Working in its favor, Microsoft says the new version is greener, with 30% post-consumer recycled plastic, and it has a decent level of repairability. You’ll be able to change the SSD and battery, among other parts (but not the RAM or CPU, as far as I can tell). 

The Go 2 also come in a new color — sage green — in addition to a metallic blue, a basic silver and a pinkish sandstone. Apparently sage is one of the hot colors for 2022. The box my Surface Laptop Go 2 came in said I was testing the sage version, but I had to look closely to see it. It’s a subtle effect and you might have to hold it up next to a standard aluminum laptop see that it isn’t just a muted gray. The photos here are of the sage version, so you can judge for yourself. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 keyboard

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Budget laptop math

My thinking on budget laptops has changed, pushed by inflation, supply shortages and the increase in work-from-home and remote school scenarios. As outlined in my recent guide to buying a budget laptop, the old $500 limit to what we’d consider “budget,” has been pushed up closer to $700. That’s because, even for a low-cost laptop, you really should be looking for an Intel Core i5 or equivalent processor, 8GB or 16GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage. 

You can probably see where this is headed. The lowest-end Surface Laptop Go 2 (like the original) has 4GB of RAM, which I’d consider a red flag. For both generations of this product, Microsoft sent me an upgraded model with 8GB of RAM to test. Yes, Microsoft says 4GB is officially supported for Windows 11, but I think the RAM upgrade is going to give you a much more satisfying experience. For $700, you can get the same Core i5, but with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. For $800, it’s 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. There’s a separate “business” version that has a 16GB RAM option, but you’ll have to find that from a specialty business computer reseller. 

Read more: Best Budget Laptops for 2022

My next mental hurdle is that once I’m at $800, I’m out of the budget laptop zone. I’d be tempted to spend a little more and look for a deal on an HP Envy or Dell XPS 13. Or there’s Microsoft’s own premium Surface Laptop 4 (the latest version), which starts at, well, $800. But note that the $800 Surface Laptop 4 has an AMD Ryzen 5 CPU and 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage. You’ll get a more premium design with a bigger, better display, but less storage and an arguably less powerful CPU. So while that’s tempting, I’d skip it. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2

Dan Ackerman/CNET

That’s a lot of comparison shopping just to come to the conclusion that, like the original, I’d consider the $700 model the sweet spot, even if it skimps on the storage. Shopping for a budget laptop is frankly harder than a more expensive one, because you’re always calculating the trade-offs between different features for the price. 

Going with it

So when I got the Surface Laptop Go 2 in my hands, the timing was perfect for actually going somewhere with it. I took it on a cross-country plane trip, which is about as serious a burn-in process for a new laptop as you can find. 

It looked, felt and performed much like the original model, which I liked a lot, even if it didn’t become an everyday laptop for me. It still looks and feels like a much more expensive machine, thanks to the aluminum body, excellent keyboard and spacious-feeling 3:2 aspect ratio display. It feels almost as rugged as a MacBook Air, and the hinge — often a weak spot on cheaper laptops — is stiff and runs almost the entire length of the screen. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2

The power button also acts as a fingerprint reader. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The smaller size — close enough to a 13-inch laptop to be useful, but smaller than even a MacBook Air, fit well on my airplane tray table, and the fingerprint reader built into the power button is fast and responsive — but it’s also excluded from the least-expensive configuration. 

Running basic applications and web browsers were fine for everyday use, but I found myself defaulting to Microsoft’s own Edge browser over Chrome, because it’s better optimized for less-powerful Windows 11 systems. 

Running actual benchmarks and battery life tests will have to wait until I’m back from this trip, but initially I’d call the Surface Laptop Go 2 a good laptop if you’re looking at the higher end of the budget scale. I admit, though, that may be a thin slice of the laptop-shopping audience. 

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