If you're travelling light, you'll appreciate Microsoft's ultra-compact Surface Laptop Go 2, which puts the emphasis on portability for go-everywhere convenience. Weighing just over 1kg, this 12.4-inch touchscreen notebook with traditional clamshell casing is the entry-point for the Surface Laptop range both in price and features. We tried out the $1299 upper-end model, courtesy of Microsoft, featuring an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, and found it to be a capable yet compact everyday carry. Performance is good for a lightweight and relatively low-cost laptop – the screen, full-size keyboard and large trackpad are all good, and audio output is surprisingly impressive. Connection ports are limited though, with just one USB Type-C port (non-Thunderbolt) and one Type-A port, plus the magnetically-attached Surface Connect power port. But wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6, and you can expect all-day battery life. This slim and compact computer would likely suit a student or similar user who values portability and doesn't need heavyweight processing power (or a heavyweight price tag).
Price: From $1099
The Surface Laptop Go 2 is the successor to 2020's super-compact Surface Laptop Go, so it's more of the same in terms of size, feel and function, but it adds Windows 11 Home and a faster processor.
For $100 less than our upper-range test model, the middle of the three models has 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD, and for just $1099 there's the entry-level model with 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD. They come in four colours: Platinum, Sage, Ice-Blue, and Sandstone.
How does the Surface Laptop Go 2 perform?
Performance is good for a lightweight and relatively low-cost laptop. Processing power from the 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU and the Intel Iris Xe graphics are fine for general purpose work and even light gaming.
There's a fan to keep the CPU cool and we only found fan noise noticeable with the laptop under heavy load or when undertaking lots of updates (such as during the initial setup). Fan murmur isn't noticeable for general work – we couldn't hear it when watching videos or using the laptop for light workloads.
It's quick enough for all sorts of general work and even some games, and has fast Wi-Fi 6 networking
The 256GB SSD is reasonably quick, recording a rating of very good in our testing for its read speed (3221MBps average), though write speed was far less at 1640MBps on average.
We rated the wireless networking performance from the Intel Wi-Fi 6 module as very good, with transfers reaching 46MBps.
The Surface Laptop Go 2 isn't a 2-in-1 that converts for tablet use, but many will like the fact that it has a 12.4-inch touchscreen. The surface is glossy, which will show some reflections in bad lighting (as is common with glossy screens), and the viewing angles are fine, though the image becomes noticeably duller when viewing from way off to the side rather than head-on.
The full-size keyboard is comfortable to type on, but isn't backlit.
Colours are well balanced, but not particularly vivid. We measured its brightness at 334nits, which is fine, and the built-in ambient light sensor adjusts the brightness automatically based on the level of light in the surrounding environment.
Resolution is 1536 x 1024 pixels, which isn't Full HD, but in its favour the squarish 3:2 aspect ratio of the screen makes it a bit taller compared to the width, and on a small screen this will be appreciated for viewing documents and web browsing. This resolution is better than that of many entry-level laptops, which can be as low as 1366 x 768.
The built-in 720p HD webcam supports Windows Hello sign-in, and image quality is fine for general use, but if you're doing a lot of video conferencing you might find yourself wishing it was 1080p. Sound pickup is via dual far-field studio microphones, which work well.
Ports and wireless
The connectivity options are basic. You get one USB Type-C port (non-Thunderbolt) and one Type-A port. The USB-C port can be used to connect a USB-C hub for attaching optional extras like an external monitor or storage, or extra USB Type-A peripherals (there's one built-in Type-A USB 3.0 port).
There's also a 3.5 mm headphone port (but no memory card slot), while wireless connections are via Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6.
In addition to the Surface Connect power port, you can also charge via USB-C
The power connector is Microsoft's proprietary Surface Connect port, which attaches magnetically, but the laptop can also be charged via USB-C if you have a suitable USB-C power adapter.
The Surface Connect power adapter plug can detach quite easily, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (in case you trip over the cord, for example), but it can be a bit tricky to connect due to the slight angle of the port (you might have to lift the base off the table a little).
Keyboard and audio
Despite its compact casing, the full-size keyboard is comfortable to type on, but lacks backlighting, so typing in dim lighting conditions becomes difficult. The 10-point multitouch touchpad is a decent size and works well.
Security is via password protection, PIN, and a fingerprint reader, which resides on the power button on the top row of the keyboard. This button supports One Touch sign-in, but not on the base model (Core i5 with 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD).
Audio output was surprisingly impressive for such a compact computer
Surprisingly impressive sound for such a compact laptop is provided by the Omnisonic Speakers with Dolby Audio Premium. They gave us good depth, detail and stereo effect for personal listening during our tests.
The fingerprint reader is included in the power button and supports One Touch sign-in on the middle and upper-range model, but not the entry-level model.
In heavy use testing with the screen set at maximum brightness, the battery life rated as good. In testing it played Full HD video constantly for an average of 5hr 13min. Microsoft claims up to 13.5 hours life (with very light usage) from the 42Wh battery, so you can expect it to easily last a full day under normal workloads. A 39W Power Supply adapter is included, but the cable is quite short.
The overall build quality of the Surface Laptop Go 2 is up to Microsoft's usual high standard. The body has an aluminium top and the base is aluminium and polycarbonate composite which includes 30% post-consumer recycled content.
Overall, this slim and compact laptop would likely suit a student or similar user who values portability and don't need heavyweight processing power (or a heavyweight price tag).
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.