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Microsoft Surface Book 3 and Surface Go 2 review

We get hands-on with Microsoft's 2-in-1 laptop and the latest version of its smallest tablet, with keyboard. 

FL_Microsoft_Surface_Book_3_and_Go_2
Last updated: 01 September 2020

CHOICE verdict

Microsoft has simultaneously delivered solutions at the top and bottom end of mobile computing with the Surface Book 3 and Surface Go 2. The Surface Book 3, in 13.5-inch or 15-inch versions, is the most powerful laptop in their line-up, but with the versatility of a 2-in-1 for users who also want the convenience of a powerful tablet on hand – it’s portable computing without compromises. At the other end, the 10.5-inch Surface Go 2 is an ultra-mobile solution which, when paired with the optional keyboard and pen, gives you an all-round, everyday computing device that’s highly compact yet capable.

Price: Surface Book 3 From $2649; Surface Go 2 From $629
Contact: microsoft.com.au

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It's been quite a while since Microsoft updated these Surface family devices, so you can expect them to be a significant step up on their predecessors (see our reviews of the Surface Book 2 and Surface Go). There are no radical design changes here, just more of a good thing – once again, it's an evolution rather than a revolution. The latest versions bring them up to date with current technology, which will no doubt renew their popularity. We went hands-on with the Surface Book 3 and Surface Go 2, courtesy of Microsoft, to see how they compare.

Closed Microsoft Surface Book 3

The Surface Book 3 weighs 1.9kg, plus 0.5kg for the power supply.

Surface Book 3

Our 15-inch test model was powered by a 10th-generation Intel Core i7-1065G7 main processor, with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti for graphics. It came with 32GB RAM and 512GB SSD storage, with a glossy touchscreen with resolution of 3240 x 2160 pixels and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) for wireless networking. 

From the outside you won't see differences from the previous model – all the improvements are on the inside

There's two USB 3 Type-A (rectangular) ports and also a USB Type-C port, full-size SD card slot. The backlit keyboard has three levels of brightness and the whole laptop weighs 1.9kg, plus 0.5kg for the power supply. 

Left side of Microsoft Surface Book 3

The Surface Book 3 includes two USB 3.1 Gen-2 Type-A ports and a full-size SD card reader.

The Surface Book 3 maintains its unique shape and detachable hinge mechanism from previous versions. In fact, from the outside you won't see any differences – all the improvements are on the inside. 

The base unit holds onto the tablet screen using electrically powered pins that need to be given the order to release, via software, before the tablet can be removed. As well as a second battery, the base holds a powerful graphics adapter, which the system has to make sure is not in use before disengaging the base from the tablet.

Detached Microsoft Surface Book 3

The tablet section detaches via electronic switch and can be mounted facing forward or backward.

Tablet vs laptop

Most of the time, you're going to be using the Surface Book 3 in laptop mode with tablet attached. It's more of a laptop with tablet option than the other way around. The tablet screen is large and cumbersome compared to many standalone tablets. 

It's a tablet that's more for power users that can make use of its 4K resolution (3240 x 2160). It's a beautiful screen with excellent colour reproduction, brightness and contrast, and a touchscreen that's very smooth and responsive. It has the power of a desktop replacement and is about as mobile as that type of device can get. 

This high-end laptop and tablet is designed to be used to make you money

As a laptop, it feels quite heavy (1.9kg) and a bit cumbersome due to the wedge-like shape that's caused by the unique hinge. Even the tablet on its own at 812g is a bit on the heavy side. 

However, the purpose of this laptop is to be a high-end device that will be used to make you money. Think designers, programmers and content creators. 

High performance

The 32GB RAM (memory) capability is well beyond that of a mainstream laptop, and the Surface Book 3's powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics are strong enough even for gaming, in addition to providing a GPU boost to compatible productivity software. 

The CPU is a 10-gen Core i7-1065G7, with four cores and Hyper-Threading, for a total thread count of eight (good for multitasking and multithreaded productivity software). 

The battery in the base is much larger than the one in the tablet

The cooling system is very good. We didn't encounter noticeable fan noise even when we maxed out the system using the Blender 3D rendering benchmark, during which there was only a light whirring sound that wasn't annoying.

Battery life

In our punishing heavy usage battery lift tests, we found that when used as a laptop, the battery lasted for just over seven hours, but the detached tablet lasted only just under two hours. This is a worst-case scenario result. The battery in the base is bigger and much needed considering the low runtime of the tablet. 

It's not unexpected for the tablet to have a lesser battery life due to the screen's excellent brightness and high resolution. Note though, when the tablet is about to run out of battery, attaching it to the base will not charge it, so it will have to be used as a laptop at that point. Recharging it will require the charger. 

The base supplied about 75% of the battery power, according to Windows, when we attached the tablet with its battery at zero. Recharging took quite a while: one hour and 52 minutes to charge from zero to 80%, and three hours to charge to 100%. The power adapter has a USB port for charging mobile devices, which is a nice touch.  

Surface Book 3 Context

Creatives will find the Surface Book 3 even more useful with the optional Surface Pen and Surface Dial accessories.

Who's it for?

For those who can make use of the Surface Book 3's more expensive configurations, it's a highly desirable all-in-one mobile solution. It can do far more than handle basic business documents, web browsing and Skype calls (the webcam is very good), and will really come into its own in the hands of creative professionals who create multimedia content, and edit and render images and video. 

It's even powerful enough to run many top PC games, which you can't say about most general-purpose laptops. Microsoft claims the 15-inch model with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics unit has enough sheer grunt to "play the top Xbox Game Pass for PC titles at 1080p in a smooth 60 frames per second", but if that's not enough for you, you can opt for the more powerful NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000. 

This is very much a solution for a user with way-above average needs.

Surface Book 3 pricing

Our mid-range 15-inch Surface Book 3 was $4439, but other standard configurations include the high-end ($4759) and entry-level ($3699) models. There are also the 13.5-inch models ranging from $2649 to $4499.

Open Surface Go 2

The optional Surface Type Cover keyboard turns the Surface Go 2 tablet into a 2-in-1 laptop.

Surface Go 2

While the Surface Book 3 is all about high-end power users, the revised Surface Go 2 will likely find a home in the carry bags of those who want a full Windows 2-in-1 that will get taken everywhere without a second thought. It's a compact, on-the-go computer designed for portability, versatility and long battery life.

Like the Surface Book 3, it doesn't appear to have changed physically from its predecessor, but we did notice that it's very light (539g as a tablet, 780g with the keyboard attached) and compact (9mm thick as a tablet, 14mm thick with the keyboard).

Surface-Go-2-Render-3

Super sleek and light, the Surface Go 2 is perfect to lug around day to day.

Screen

It's very easy to carry around even with the keyboard attached, which you'll likely do most of the time. The 10.5 inch screen is more square than traditional screens, giving a native resolution that's a tiny bit over full HD at 1920 x 1280 pixels. We found the screen to be very good overall, with excellent viewing angles, brightness, contrast, and a slightly warm colour. 

Brightness was measured at 370nits (cd/m2), and it was good enough to view in daylight conditions, within reason. That is, if you're standing in the middle of an open area on a sunny day, you'll still need to turn your back to the sun and shade the screen. The touchscreen was very smooth and there were no issues with responsiveness.

Performance

Performance was fine for everyday web-based tasks, including emails and streaming video, and there were no issues typing up documents and viewing spreadsheets. However, it's only a Pentium processor, so multitasking will be limited, and don't expect much in the way of gaming apart from the basic type (think Solitaire and similar or simple web-based online games), due to low graphics grunt. But viewing videos and photos is no problem at all. 

Separated Surface Go 2

The Alcantara fabric-covered keyboard cover is backlit and easily snaps into place magnetically.

Keyboard

The Signature Type Cover keyboard for the Surface Go 2 is optional, but highly recommended. Typing on it in laptop use is OK, though it does feel a little cramped, but that's because keyboard size is limited by the 10.5-inch screen. You'll most likely find that problem with any similar-sized device. 

We did find that the thin Alcantara fabric-covered backlit keyboard also didn't sit completely flush on the desk, which made it wobble a tiny bit, and there was some noticeable bounce. 

There are two angles to the keyboard: flat on the desk, and angled down from the screen. The latter is more comfortable. Typing with a flat keyboard produced more bounce and instability due to the keyboard not sitting firmly. 

The kickstand is solid and supports the screen at almost any angle

Remember to pick up the Surface Go 2 by the screen, rather than the keyboard, to avoid it toppling. The connecting magnets are quite strong, but picking it up by the keyboard isn't recommended.

The rear kickstand is as solid as ever and holds the screen in position at almost any angle you desire. This kickstand also makes using the laptop on your lap more difficult than a traditional clamshell laptop that sits flat on a heavier base, but that's true of all Surface tablets. 

There's still only one USB-C port, which can be used for display output as well as storage devices. There is a usual magnetic power connector, which doesn't get in the way of the USB-C port, and also a concealed MicroSD slot beneath the kickstand.

Battery life

Battery life was OK in our tests, averaging five hours and five minutes in our "heavy usage" video rundown with full brightness. In normal usage, you can expect it to last the day. 

Recharging the Surface Go 2 from zero to 80% capacity took one hour and 21 minutes, which is around what a regular mainstream laptop gets in that test. It takes another hour and 10 minutes to get to 100%. 

Closed Surface Go 2

The Surface Type Cover protects the screen and keyboard when folded.

Before you buy

For many students in particular and people with fairly basic computing needs, the Surface Go 2 may be all the laptop they need. It's a tablet that does an OK job as a general-purpose laptop (if you have the keyboard) and it's fine for word processing, web browsing, video streaming, viewing photos or online video chat. 

It's highly portable and convenient to carry around on a daily basis. It runs Windows 10 S mode by default and it's recommended that you keep it that way, as it's designed for simplicity, security and longer battery life, but you're restricted to apps only from the online Microsoft Store. However, you do have the option for a once-only upgrade to Windows 10 Home if you prefer. 

Surface Go 2 pricing

Our model as tested with the $200 Signature Type Cover keyboard was $1039, and included the Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor and onboard Intel UHD Graphics 615, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD storage and Wi-Fi only (no LTE cellular networking). You can also get that spec with an Intel Core M3 with LTE for $1199 (plus keyboard). 

There's also the entry-level Wi-Fi only model with Intel 4425Y, 4GB RAM and 64GB SSD for just $629 (plus keyboard), though remembering that this device runs Windows 10 Home, we feel most buyers would be better off stepping up to the 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD as a starting point.

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