Microsoft Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Which should you buy?

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3
(Image credit: Microsoft;Future)

Microsoft's got a whole new Surface Laptop, which means Surface fans suddenly have a new buying decision to make. That's why we're pitting the Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3 to figure out who should be considering one over the other.

As our AMD Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch) review and our Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel) review proved, even the Surface Laptop 3 itself has a lot of complexity under the hood. But how much of a challenger is the new Surface Laptop Go?

The Surface Laptop Go is all about value, while the Laptop 3 has a range of options for more serious power users. So, while we wait to test the Surface Laptop Go, we decided to see how these Surfaces stack up on paper, putting Microsoft's claims about its latest laptop against our test results of the Surface Laptop 3.

Here's everything you need to know before considering the Surface Laptop Go or Surface Laptop 3.

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Surface Laptop GoSurface Laptop 3 (13.5-inch)Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch)
Starting price$549$999$1,099 (business buyers), $1,199 (consumers)
Display(resolution)12.4-inch (1536 x 1024)13.5-inch (2256 x 1504)15-inch (2496 x 1664)
CPU10th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1035G1 Processor10th Gen Intel Core i5, Core i7AMD Ryzen 5 3580U, Ryzen 7 3780U | Business: 10th Gen Intel Core i5, Core i7
Storage64GB, 128GB, 256GB128GB, 256GB128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Memory4GB, 8GB8GB, 16GB8GB, 16GB, 32GB
Webcam720p HD (f/2.0)720p HD (f/2.0)720p HD (f/2.0)
Battery lifeUp to 13 hours (claimed)9:17 (tested) 11.5 hours (claimed)9:32 (Intel, tested), 8:00 (AMD, tested), 11.5 hours (claimed)
Size11 x 8.1 x 0.6 inches12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches13.4 x 9.6 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.5 pounds2.8 pounds3.4 pounds
ColorsIce Blue, Sandstone, PlatinumCobalt Blue, Matte Black, Platinum, SandstoneMatte Black, Platinum
Ports1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, headphone jack, Surface Connect port1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, headphone jack, Surface Connect port1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, headphone jack, Surface Connect port

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Price and value

The entry-level $549 Surface Laptop Go is more affordable than its bigger siblings, as the $999 Surface Laptop 3 (13.5-inch) and $1,199 Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch) start at around twice as much (or slightly less).

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3 - webcam calls

(Image credit: Microsoft)

That being said, you do get a fair bit more when you pay more. Both of the Surface Laptop 3 models have full HD (or sharper) screens, while the Surface Laptop Go is not-quite there at 1536 x 1024. On top of that, the $549 Surface Laptop Go gives you 64GB of slower eMMC storage, while both Surface Laptop 3 sizes start with faster SSDs that pack twice as much space (128GB).

For now, until we test the Surface Laptop Go, this looks like a case of "you get what you pay for." And while the Go has an easier entry fee, it's not a huge value deal on specs.

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Design

The Surface Laptop Go may come in nice neat colors (Ice Blue, Sandstone and Platinum), and look like a smaller — but equal — version of the Surface Laptop 3, but the devil's in the details. On the positive side for the Surface Laptop Go, it appears to have slightly thinner bezels than you get with the Surface Laptop 3.

The Surface Laptop 3, available in Cobalt Blue, Matte Black, Platinum and Sandstone, is all-aluminum, all over. You could also get the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 with the Alcantara fabric on the palm rest, if you so choose. 

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3 - Surface Laptop Go ports

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Surface Laptop Go, however, is only aluminum in its lid and keyboard deck. Its underside is a "polycarbonate composite resin system with glass fiber and 30% post-consumer recycled content," and while we want to hope this more environmentally friendly model is an upgrade, we're waiting to see how it feels in person. Because for now, that description reads as a mix that isn't as refined as the entire chassis of the Surface Laptop 3.

But the 12.4-inch Surface Laptop Go wins on portability, weighing 2.5 pounds, which is a third of a pound lighter than the 13.5-inchSurface Laptop 3 (2.5 pounds) and 0.9 pounds less than the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 (3.4 pounds). That might be a benefit you'd prefer if you'd be OK with its smaller screen.

All three laptops have the same ports — 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, headphone jack and Surface Connect — though the Surface Laptop 3 supports the Surface Dial, and the Surface Laptop Go does not.

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Display

The Surface Laptop Go can go because it's smaller and more portable, and that means it's also got a smaller and less-sharp screen. So, the Surface Laptop 3 laptops take a win with their larger 13.5-inch (2256 x 1504) and 15-inch (2496 x 1664) displays, which pack more pixels than the Surface Laptop Go's 12.4-inch (1536 x 1024) panel. 

The Surface Laptop 3 is also winning on pixels per inch, with a 201ppi ratio to the Surface Laptop Go's 148ppi mark.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel) review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But that's far from the whole story. If the Surface Laptop Go can equal its siblings on brightness and color output, this will be a closer race. And that seems more than possible. If we can consider the Surface Go a close relative of the Surface Laptop Go, its sRGB spectrum (107%) and brightness (408 nits) numbers suggest good things for the Surface Laptop Go. 

The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3's color output readings aren't much higher (121%) and the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3's closer to the Surface Go, at 101% (AMD) and 104.5% (Intel). And on brightness, the 13.5 and 15-inch Surface Laptops are all dimmer than the Surface Go, falling in the 348 to 380-nit range. 

This is another reason why we want to get our hands on the Surface Laptop Go before handing down a verdict, so we can see where its nits rank.

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Performance

The Surface Laptop Go's 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G1 quad-core processor will likely be good for moderate multitasking. But the question on our mind is if it will beat the 3000-series AMD chips in the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, which fell in battle to the Intel version.

Speaking of which, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 for Business and the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 both run on quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i5 and Core i7 chips. We'd assume the Surface Laptop Go won't be as fast as those chips, but stay tuned to find out for sure. 

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Surface Laptop Go also likely faces trouble stacking up because it starts with half as much memory, with 4GB to the 8GB in the Surface Laptop 3. 

And in terms of graphics performance, the Intel UHD Graphics chip in the Surface Laptop Go is not inspiring much confidence. It's not a stretch to think the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 (Intel Iris Plus), 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 (AMD Radeon Vega 9, RX Vega 11) and Surface Laptop 3 for Business (Intel Iris Plus Graphics) will all drink the Surface Laptop Go's milkshake on gaming. 

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Security

The Surface Laptop Go and Surface Laptop 3 split the point on integrated security. The Surface Laptop Go has a fingerprint-reading power button, while the Surface Laptop 3 has a Windows Hello-capable IR webcam.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go power button

(Image credit: Microsoft)

It's simply a matter of preference here, whether you'd rather log in to your PC via fingerprint or facial recognition.

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Webcams

This one's a clean draw. All Surface Laptops feature the same 720p HD webcam. I just wish that the Surface Laptop Go had the same 5.0MP webcam as the Surface Go 2, which offers 1080p resolution for calls.

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Battery life

We need to battery test the Surface Laptop Go, but we're already optimistic about its chances here. Microsoft claims the Surface Laptop 3 will last as long as 11.5 hours, and that the Surface Laptop Go will last up to 13.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Tom's Guide battery test, however, showed that Intel's Surface Laptop 3s simply last longer, with times of 9 hours and 32 minutes (15-inch) and 9:17 (13.5-inch) that beat the AMD model's time of 8:00. And since the Surface Laptop Go runs on Intel, that's another reason to expect it will last longer than both models.

Surface Laptop Go vs Surface Laptop 3: Outlook

Right now, the Surface Laptop Go looks like a compelling offer for those who prioritize battery life, portability and price over performance and display resolution. The Intel versions of the Surface Laptop 3 may offer a bit too much for power users to pick the Surface Laptop Go instead, but I can think of a lot of folks I know who may likely be happier with this new option.

I emphasize may because it's all up in the air right now. Once we put the Surface Laptop Go through its paces, we'll have a better idea of whether it's a success, or, like the original Surface Go, a device that needs another year or so of iteration.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.