A truly great budget laptop is a PC holy grail, but also about as hard to find. Laptops around the $500 mark tend to compromise on design, materials, performance or features, doing well in one area, but poorly in others. In 2020, it’s been even more difficult, as remote workers and students quickly snatch up any half-decent budget laptops, leaving many out of stock.
Microsoft has introduced a new Surface PC that, on paper at least, looks like a budget laptop that hits a lot of the marks. The Surface Laptop Go starts at $549 (£549, AU$999) and has a 12.4-inch touchscreen display, with a 10th-gen Intel Core i5-1035G1 CPU. RAM and storage go up to 8GB and 256GB, but the entry-level model will have just 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM, which is a bit Chromebook-y.
Based on photos and video provided by Microsoft, the Surface Laptop Go looks like it has a decent keyboard and touchpad for something in this price range. Microsoft describes it as a “large precision trackpad and a full-size keyboard with 1.3mm key travel.” Both USB-A and USB-C ports are included, although power still comes from Microsoft’s proprietary Surface connector. There’s also a Windows Hello fingerprint reader on the higher-end models.
I guess you can’t really expect better, but the Surface Laptop Go only has a 720p webcam. Yes, even expensive laptops rarely have higher-resolution cameras, but with everyone living and working in video conferences now, a top-notch webcam is a must-have.
Surface Laptop Go specs
- 10th-gen Intel Core i5-1035G1 CPU
- 12.4-inch, 1,536×1,024-pixel resolution touchscreen
- 4GB/8GB RAM
- 64GB eMMC/128GB SSD/256GB SSD
- Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax
- Windows 10 Home in S mode
Go for less
The idea of a less-expensive Surface system isn’t new. The Surface Pro is the premium tablet-style two-in-one, but Microsoft also sells the Surface Go 2, which starts at $399 (£399, AU$629). That Surface Go got a bigger screen earlier in 2020, but also requires a sold-separately keyboard and starts with a pokey Intel Pentium processor. The Surface Laptop 3, Microsoft’s flagship clamshell, is one of my favorite all-around Windows laptops, and it starts at under $1,000.
If the Surface Laptop Go had arrived before the mostly remote school year started, I could see it being a sought-after back-to-school item. As it is, it may end up being a popular holiday choice instead.
The Surface Laptop Go can be preordered now and will be available in three finishes, ice blue, sandstone and platinum, from Oct. 13.
Surface Pro X works out its Arm
Last year’s Surface Pro X was an experimental new direction for the Surface line, swapping Intel for an Arm-based CPU in a very thin, very light tablet-based two-in-one. At the time, I called it a, “slimmer, sleeker, more refined take on the Surface Pro idea.” but I also cautioned that it was “underpowered relative to Intel-based tablets , it charges too much for its must-have accessories and software support is hit or miss.”
Now the Surface Pro X is getting a small upgrade, with a new processor option — the proprietary Microsoft SQ2 chip — and the promise of longer battery life. The new processors will only be available in higher-end configurations, but there’s also a new optional platinum color finish, and clip-on keyboards in platinum, blue and red. The updated Pro X is also coming Oct. 13.
There are also a handful of new Surface line accessories, including:
- Microsoft Designer Compact Keyboard ($70): A slim Bluetooth keyboard
- Microsoft Number Pad ($25): A standalone Bluetooth number pad
- Microsoft 4K Wireless Display Adapter ($70): A USB-to-HDMI dongle
- Microsoft Bluetooth Ergonomic Mouse ($50): A curved desktop-style mouse
- Microsoft Modern Mobile Mouse ($30): Same as the existing version, but now available in a sandstone color