Windows is available on a huge range of different form factors, although you won’t find many smaller than the Surface Go. Pitched as an affordable alternative to the high-end Surface Pro, it aims to miniaturise the Windows experience without sacrificing full 2-in-1 functionality.
The second-gen Surface Go increased the screen size from 10in to 10.5in, but without changing the total footprint of the device. Microsoft has stuck with these dimensions for its third iteration, with the only notable changes taking place under the hood.
But is the Surface Go 3 enough of an upgrade to justify a new device? And does it do enough to tempt people away from other Windows 2-in-1s? Here’s my full review.
Design and build
- Identical design to Go 2
- Premium build, including great kickstand
- Chunky bezels and limited ports
The Surface Go 3’s design will be familiar to anyone who has used either of its predecessors. It uses the same magnesium alloy construction that we’ve seen countless times before, but I’m glad to see it at this more affordable price point.
Despite this, the tablet itself still weighs just 544g, making it extremely portable. Even with the Signature Type Cover attached, you’re looking at a total of 789g. That’s much lighter than almost all regular clamshell laptops.
The back of the Go 3 is where you’ll find another of its key strengths – the built-in kickstand. This is impressively sturdy and can be adjusted to a wide range of different positions to suit your workflow. Once in place, I never felt as if it would slip, something which can affect less robust built-in stands.
If the rear of the Go 3 gives the illusion of a more premium device, that’s not the case on the front. The display (which I’ll talk about in detail below) isn’t the issue here, but rather the chunky bezels that surround it.
These haven’t changed compared to the Go 2, meaning it retains an underwhelming 76.5% screen-to-body ratio. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means but does make the Go 3 look dated. It’s more noticeable this year after the Surface Pro 8 had its long-awaited redesign, although that device does usually cost more than twice the price.
The Go 3 has the same 5.0Mp front-facing camera as its pricier sibling, meaning it supports Full HD (1080p) video. That’s still better than you’ll find on the majority of modern laptops – combined with dual mics, it makes the Go 3 an excellent device for video calls.
Unless you have great lighting, stills are less impressive, as is the single 8Mp rear camera. The latter is fine for document scanning or the occasional home photo, but probably nothing more. It does support video up to 4K, though.
Audio output is impressive for a device this size, thanks to dual 2W stereo speakers. It’s particularly good at delivering clear, crisp voices, although music is more of a struggle. It’s perfectly listenable, but lacks bass and is prone to distortion at higher volumes.
Connecting external audio equipment is an easy solution, of course. One option is to use the 3.5mm headphone jack, but it’s one of too few ports on the Go 3. The only others available are 1x USB-C (with no Thunderbolt support), a microSD card slot and Surface Connect for charging.
I understand that all the ports needed to be on the tablet itself, but surely there was room for more. It’s the same reason the power and volume controls are on the top of the screen when used in landscape mode, but I didn’t find that to be an issue.
Type Cover and other accessories
- Great keyboard on Type Cover
- Poor trackpad
- Type Cover, mouse and stylus all sold separately
The only other design element of note are pins on one side of the Go 3, used to seamlessly connect the Type Cover. I tested the Ice Blue version, but it’s also available in Poppy Red, Platinum or Black via the Microsoft website. The latter’s microfibre finish means it costs £99.99/$99.99, but the other Alcantara-coated options will set you back £124.99/US$129.99.
That’s a significant additional investment, although the Type Cover does deliver a convincing typing experience. Keys are clicky and tactile, offering a good amount of travel considering its size. The keyboard itself is more compact than you might be familiar with, but I quickly got used to it. You also get backlit keys, something that’s often sacrificed on keyboard accessories.
There is the option to tilt the Type Cover at a more ergonomic angle, but this led to many accidental screen taps as I was trying to reach the function keys.
Another notable omission is a fingerprint sensor, meaning you’ll have to rely on face unlock if you don’t want to enter a password. It’s a minor concern though, and Windows Hello is still very effective.
The tiny trackpad is also a disappointment, proving fiddly and frustrating if you need to do lots of navigation. As such, I’d recommend connecting the wireless Surface Mouse (£44.99/US$49.99). If you do lots of note taking or digital artwork, there’s also the option to add the Surface Pen (£99.99/US$99.99). As you can see, the full Surface Go 3 experience can quickly get expensive.
- Same 10.5in LCD display as Go 2
- Solid viewing experience
- Limited to 60Hz
Display is an area Microsoft has chosen not to upgrade on the Go 3. It has the same 10.5in, 1920×1280 touchscreen as its predecessor, adopting the boxy 3:2 aspect ratio we’ve come to associate with Surface devices.
Microsoft describes it as a ‘PixelSense’ display, although it’s LCD and not OLED. This wasn’t a real issue for me, especially after using the Go 3 for a few hours. It delivers impressive detail and good colour accuracy, making it a great option for content consumption. I also recorded a maximum brightness of 413 nits – it makes outdoor usage a possibility, just not in direct sunlight.
However, the big downgrade compared to the Surface Pro 8 here is refresh rate. The Go 3 sticks with a 60Hz panel, while the Pro 8 has made the move to 120Hz. It’s a shame not to see the extra fluidity and smooth transitions here, but that’s to be expected at this price point.
Overall, the Surface Go 3’s display delivers everything you’d want for everyday usage.
Specs and performance
- New Intel Core i3 model
- Solid everyday performance
- Limited internal storage
Under the hood is where the Go 3 has had its biggest upgrade. The top-spec model I tested now uses an Intel Core i3 processor (up from Core M3), although this is a 10th-gen chip and not from the latest Tiger Lake. With the same 8GB of RAM, the jump in performance was very noticeable – although that’s compared to the Pentium Gold model of the Go 2.
For basic everyday usage, the Go 3 copes just fine. Aside from the occasional stutter or hesitation, I had no real issues with web browsing, checking email or scrolling social media. Streaming videos was another highlight, provided my internet connection was up to scratch.
For anything more demanding, I’d recommend upgrading to something more powerful. As the benchmarks show, it’s unsuitable for tasks such as video editing or gaming, unless you’re prepared to be extremely patient.
It’s worth noting that many of the 2-in-1s in the chart above are significantly more expensive. Around this price point, the i3 model of the Surface Go 3 is still competitive on performance. However, without testing them, I can’t comment on how Pentium Gold 6500Y configurations fare.
Despite this being the most expensive configuration, you’re still limited to a 128GB SSD. After pre-installed system files are accounted for, that’s around 90GB of free space, which can quickly be filled. You’ll probably want to take advantage of expandable storage via the microSD card slot.
Unlike the Surface Pro 8, there’s no option for LTE connectivity. It’s a shame – 4G support would make sense on a device that’s so portable.
- Windows 11 in S mode out of the box
- Can easily be switched for Windows 11 Home
- Doesn’t feel optimised for tablets
The Surface Go 3 is one of the first batch of new releases to run Windows 11 out of the box. It’s Windows 11 Home in S mode here, but I’d highly recommend switching to the regular version in Settings – it allows you to download apps from the web, not just the Microsoft Store.
As expected, there are no changes to the Windows 11 experience you’ve seen Microsoft advertise, even if it’s strange to use on such a small display. New multitasking functionality is one of Windows 11’s most high-profile new features, but using two or more apps in split-screen doesn’t really make sense here. Something which does is native Android app support, given the display is similar in size to many tablets.
However, unlike Windows 10, there’s no separate tablet mode in Windows 11. The only real changes I noticed after detaching the keyboard were larger spaces between taskbar icons and an on-screen keyboard. Unfortunately, touch input still feels like an afterthought on Windows 11 – the software is still optimised for a cursor.
Not a huge amount has changed on Windows 11, but it has had a big visual overhaul. If you’re very familiar with Windows 10, I’d encourage you to try the new OS on another device before buying one with Windows 11 pre-installed. Going back to the previous version can get complicated.
- Approx. 28Wh battery
- Poor battery life in testing and personal experience
- Charging still via Surface Connect
Microsoft didn’t quote a specific battery size for the Surface Go 2, but it’s a different story here. The Go 3 has a nominal capacity of 28Wh. That sounds alarming when many laptops offer double that, but you must remember this is a much smaller screen with less demanding internals than most.
According to Microsoft, the battery will last up to 11 hours, but our 720p video loop test doesn’t reflect that. It took 8 hours and 42 minutes for the Go 3 to run out of power, down from 14 hours and 3 minutes on its predecessor. My only explanation is the more power-hungry Intel Core i3 chip – almost all the other specs are the same.
Unfortunately, this means the Surface Go 3 is unlikely to last a full working day on a single charge. The brightness for the test was set at a relatively dim 120 nits and serves simply as a measure of screen-on time. In my experience, moving between several tabs/apps and leaving auto brightness on depleted the battery much more quickly. If you’re planning to be away from a power source for several hours at a time, this probably isn’t the device for you.
Considering how often you’ll be charging the Go 3, I wish it was less frustrating. Microsoft continues to persist with its proprietary Surface Connect port for charging, rather than the industry standard USB-C. It attaches magnetically MagSafe-style, but is positioned awkwardly on the bottom-right of the device. This means it frequently becomes detached or gets in the way if you’re using it at the same time. I understand that including all the ports on the tablet itself is difficult, but there’s got to be a better way.
Charging speeds are pretty decent – I recorded 19% in 15 minutes and 32% in 30 minutes from off.
Price and value for money
As usual with the Surface 2-in-1s, the headlining figure is unlikely to be how much you’ll actually pay. The Go 3 starts at £369/US$399.99 – that’s £30 cheaper than the Go 2 in the UK. However, that gets you an Intel Pentium 6500Y processor, alongside just 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC.
There is a mid-spec configuration, but I’d recommend upgrading to the Core i3 chip in the model I tested. That’ll set you back £569/US$629, but most people will still need to add a Type Cover and mouse for well over £200/US$200 extra – suddenly, the Go 3 doesn’t feel so affordable.
Many of the entries in our best 2-in-1 chart are similarly priced, including the now-discounted Surface Pro 7. If you’re happy with a slightly bigger screen, it’s probably a superior option despite being over two years old.
Even among regular clamshell laptops, you’ll probably find better value for money elsewhere.
The Surface Go 3 felt like a device that needed some attention to fend off the competition, but Microsoft has made only minor changes. Moving to an Intel Core i3 processor does deliver a useful performance boost, but it seems to be at the cost of battery life.
Windows 11 is also now pre-installed, but aside from that it’s the same device we saw in 2020. It means the premium build quality and great video calling features are retained, but the design is beginning to look dated.
The display remains a highlight despite being only 60Hz, but the Go 3 really needs more ports. Charging is frustrating and the additional cost of accessories can soon mount up.
Unfortunately, it just feels like there are too many compromises on the Surface Go 3 to recommend it. If you’re specifically looking for a small Windows tablet you probably won’t be disappointed, but plenty of other devices deliver a better 2-in-1 experience.
Microsoft Surface Go 3: Specs
- 10.5in 1920×1080 LCD display, 60Hz
- Intel Pentium Gold 6500Y/Intel Core i3-10100Y processor
- Intel UHD Graphics 615
- 4/8GB RAM
- 64/128GB storage (eMMC/SSD)
- Windows 11 in S mode
- 8Mp rear camera
- 5Mp front-facing camera with Windows Hello
- Front-facing stereo speakers
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Up to 11h4 battery life (quoted)
- 544g (tablet only)