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I wanted to like the Surface Laptop Go 3, but Microsoft didn't make it easy

Microsoft's ultraportable Surface laptop is a few hundred dollars too much for greatness.
Written by Cesar Cadenas, Contributing Writer
Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

Microsoft's Surface Laptop Go 3 is a bit of an odd duck. It has a lot of things going for it, but certain design choices make this computer frustrating to use.

The Surface Laptop Go 3, if you're not familiar with it, is a lightweight notebook aimed at college students and professionals who want a machine that can handle basic, essential workloads. It weighs a paltry 2.5 pounds (I've had actual paper notebooks from college weigh more than this), which makes it a great device for users who are constantly on the go.

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But don't worry about fragility with the Surface Laptop Go 3 because it's made entirely out of specially-made aluminum. The lid has "anodized aluminum" for exceptional toughness. The bottom has material consisting of aluminum and a soft composite resin for a soft feel. That way, it can sit on your lap comfortably.

View at Microsoft

By far, my most favorite aspect of this machine is its keyboard. Typing is quite enjoyable as the keys have a gentle, springy feel. In fact, I typed this very review on the Surface Laptop Go 3 and enjoyed the entire experience. The same goes for the touchpad which is made out of the same smooth rubber, but unlike the keyboard, it clicks upon pressing. This enables informative feedback when performing actions like highlighting text.

Also: I challenge you to find a better-looking laptop for under $1,000 than this

I enjoy the overall look of the keyboard, too. The keys and trackpad are a matte gray, clashing nicely against the metallic shine of the Surface Laptop Go 3. My review unit was in Sage green with other colors available like Platinum and Ice Blue.

I should mention the computer economizes space really well despite its small size. Many laptops in my experience tend to have their keyboard take up a ton of space forcing the manufacturer to install a small trackpad or vice versa. The Surface Laptop Go 3 doesn't go down this route as each component has a proper amount of space.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3
June Wan/ZDNET

As much as I like the keyboard, there is a glaring omission: it lacks backlighting. Prior to writing this review, I joined a press briefing for the device, breaking down its features. Someone during the call asked why there wasn't any backlighting. 

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A Microsoft rep said that feature wasn't high on the priority list so it wasn't included. Well, I wish it was because the omission makes typing on this computer in the evening difficult to do. This is supposed to be a work laptop and the fact you'll have difficulty working at certain times of the day is a big misstep.

Ironically, you'll have difficulty typing during the day as well because the display isn't very bright, nor does it possess an anti-glare coating. The sun effectively ruins the quality, so indoor typing is ideal. Plus, its resolution is strangely not Full HD (1920x1080 pixels). The 12.4-inch screen outputs at a resolution of 1536x1024 with a 3:2 aspect ratio. I find it baffling because I've seen laptops of a similar size sporting a better screen. In fact, the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 from 2018 can output Full HD resolution on its 12.2-inch display. 

Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

Another aspect of the laptop I found confusing was its Surface Connect charging plug, a magnetic, rubber plug that you insert into a slot on the side. You do have the option to use its USB-C port to charge the battery. Great, but this begs the question, why not just default to the USB-C input? Why have the rubber plug if you can use any old laptop charger?

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Regarding performance, the Surface Laptop Go 3 does fine for the most part. All units sport a 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U processor, Iris Xe graphics card, and a 256GB SSD. I didn't experience any significant slowdown while having multiple apps running. It felt snappy. 

You have a choice between 8GB or 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM with no other ways to customize the hardware. Sadly, the battery doesn't last the longest, as laptops of this size can often experience. But Microsoft claims it'll last 15 hours for all-day work. I played a 720p video at 50 percent brightness and it lasted about five hours before I had to grab the charging plug.

ZDNET's buying advice

The same representative from earlier told us the reason Microsoft went with the Intel Core i5 was to keep costs low. Well, apparently someone missed the memo because costs are not low.

The Surface Laptop Go 3 retails for $800 for the 8GB RAM and a whopping $1,000 for the 16GB version. To be totally blunt, I don't think this laptop is worth that much, considering the hardware it has and all its flaws. There are better, cheaper options out there.  I personally suggest purchasing either the HP Dragonfly Pro or the Acer Aspire 5. Both are $1,000 laptops with the power to justify the price tag. 

If you want something cheap, get the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3. In fact, I recommend most Chromebooks over the Surface Laptop Go 3. You can easily find machines with comparable performance to Microsoft's device.

However, If you're more interested in a stylish, ultraportable computer, the Surface Laptop Go 3 is certainly an option. And it's on sale right now on Microsoft's website.

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