Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 review: cheaper, faster, better compact notebook

Microsoft’s second attempt at a lower-cost Surface Laptop is faster, quieter and cheaper than its predecessor, while keeping all its good features.

The Surface Laptop Go 2 starts at £529 ($599/A$1,099) and costs £20-£170 less than the first iteration depending on version. The starting model has been upgraded with modern components making it much more tempting, too, although it is still mid-range priced rather than a truly budget laptop.

The good bits of the original have been retained. It has a great, almost full-sized keyboard and a large precise trackpad. The 12.4in LCD touchscreen is on the smaller side but still very usable for work thanks to its taller 3:2 ratio compared with widescreen notebooks.

The display has good colours and contrast but is not overly bright and is noticeably less crisp than higher-resolution rivals, including Microsoft’s other machines. Annoyingly, the keyboard is not backlit. The fingerprint sensor in the power button is good, although not included on the cheapest model.

Above the screen is an improved 720p webcam, which alongside excellent mic enables crisp video calls. The speakers are loud and good for watching a quick video but won’t replace even a cheap speaker for music.

Specifications
Screen: 12.4in LCD 1536 x 1024 (148 PPI)
Processor: quad-core Intel Core i5-1135G7 (11th generation)
RAM: 4 or 8GB
Storage: 128GB or 256GB SSD
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
Operating system: Windows 11 Home
Camera: 720P front-facing
Connectivity: wifi 6 (ax), Bluetooth 5.1, USB-A, USB-C, headphones, Surface Connect, fingerprint sensor
Dimensions: 278.18 x 205.67 x 15.69 mm
Weight: 1,127g
Faster and cooler performance

The Laptop Go 2 ships with an 11th-gen Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor and 4GB or 8GB of RAM, making it up to 23% faster than previous version, although competitors are already using 12th-generation Intel chips.

As tested with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage the Laptop Go 2 is certainly capable enough for a compact machine, and ran markedly quieter and cooler than previous versions. It is snappy switching between the browser, text editor and messaging apps but is a little sluggish when doing complex edits on large image files.

As with its predecessor, battery life is disappointing. It lasts for only about 6.5 hours of work mainly in browsers, basic text editing and using various chat apps. Taking a video call in the browser hammered the battery, using about 1% a minute. The battery life might be enough for intermittent use as a portable computer but you will probably need to carry a charger around, too, just in case.

The Laptop 4 lasts more than eight hours, while Apple’s MacBook Air lasts more than 16 hours with more demanding workloads.

Sustainability

Microsoft does not provide an expected lifespan for the battery but it should last in excess of 500 full charge cycles with at least 80% of its original capacity and can be replaced by Microsoft for £203.94. The SSD is removable and several replacement parts and a service guide are available for repair technicians. The out-of-warranty service fee for the Laptop Go 2 from Microsoft is £339.06.

The base of the Laptop Go contains 30% post-consumer recycled plastic. Microsoft operates recycling schemes for old machines. It also publishes a company-wide sustainability report and a breakdown of each product’s environmental impact.

Windows 11 Home

The Laptop Go 2 runs Windows 11, which like other Surface devices is free of trials for anti-virus programs and other unwanted software that can often cause problems, except a pre-installed trial of Microsoft Office.

It runs very well on the machine absent of issues such as failing to sleep or other niggles often present in third-party Windows machines. The more modern styling and interface of Windows 11 suits the compact laptop well, and many of the rougher edges of the software have been smoothed out over the last year of updates.

Price
The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 starts at £529 ($599/A$1,099) with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, £629 ($699/A$1,199) with 8GB and 128GB or £729 ($799/A$1,299) with 8GB and 256GB.

For comparison, the Surface Laptop 4 costs £899, the Surface Pro 8 costs £849 and the Surface Go 3 costs £349. Similarly specced models from Dell start at £500, the Framework Laptop starts at £899 and Apple’s M1 MacBook Air costs £999.

Verdict
The Surface Laptop Go 2 is an improvement on its predecessor in almost every way. It is faster, runs cooler and quieter, has a better webcam, is easier to repair and, most importantly, it is cheaper. It still isn’t a “budget” machine, but is priced more appropriately for what it offers.

It still nails the basics of a well-made, compact laptop: it has a great keyboard and trackpad, solid performance and fast charging. The screen is good looking but not as crisp or bright as I would like. Relatively weak battery life is the biggest problem – the best can manage three times as long.

Few compact laptops are as usable and well made. Despite a few flaws it is worth considering, but note the starting £529 model has a tempting price, but only 4GB of RAM, which is really not enough for more than very light use.

Pros: solid performance, fairly quiet, good keyboard and trackpad, good webcam and mics, fingerprint scanner in mid-or-high model, USB-C, nice look, solid build, recycled material, modular components.

Cons: weak battery life, no backlit keys, screen not that crisp, video calls eat battery