(Pocket-lint) - Microsoft offers seven different devices within its Surface portfolio - the Surface Pro 8, Surface Pro X, Surface Go 3, Surface Laptop 4, Surface Laptop Go, Surface Book 3 and Surface Studio 2. This makes the task of picking the right Surface laptop or tablet pretty daunting.
The good news is that it's not as complicated as it first seems, and, to help you figure out the differences between them all, we've provided both a quick summary of the Surface devices and highlighted some of our favourites for you to consider.
Just so you know, this lineup doesn't include the business-orientated Surface Hub interactive whiteboard, or the Android-based Surface Duo 2.
Microsoft Surface lineup: Quick summary
• The Surface Pro 8 is a Windows 11 Pro 2-in-1 PC with a detachable keyboard, but it's definitely not for people who want a conventional laptop. It retains the same design as the last few generations but the internals have been updated including Intel's 11th generation Core processors.
• The Surface Pro X is a look at a more premium 2-in-1. It's designed for always-on connectivity and includes cellular connectivity thanks to its platform developed by Microsoft alongside Qualcomm.
• The Surface Go 3 is a 10.5-inch touchscreen tablet that, at first glance, looks like a smaller Surface Pro, but it's a little more portable and has less powerful processors - such as the Intel Core m3 and Pentium. Microsoft is targeting Apple iPad users and Chromebook users with this device, as it's the smallest Surface available and the cheapest.
• The Surface Laptop 4 is a traditional clamshell laptop, still with a touchscreen. It's available in 13.5 and 15-inch versions and is an upgraded version of the Laptop 3, with new internals including Intel's 11th generation Core processors.
• The Surface Laptop Go is a more budget-oriented version of the Surface Laptop. It has a smaller 12.4-inch display and less powerful specs but still retains the premium design of its pricier sibling.
• The Surface Book 3 is a professional-grade laptop available in 13.5 or 15-inch sizes. What makes it stand out, however, is its detachable screen that can act as an independent tablet PC. There's also the option of a discrete GPU. It's bigger and more expensive than the Surface Laptop, but it offers more in terms of performance.
• The Surface Studio 2 is the most expensive Surface device, and it's primarily for creatives. It's a gorgeous high-end all-in-one Windows PC with a Zero Gravity Hinge. With a light push, it can be pushed down to a desk position and then used with the included Surface Pen or even the optional Surface Dial to sketch. It's long overdue for an updated model though.
Which Microsoft Surface is best for you?
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
- Excellent keyboard and trackpad
- Lovely fit and finish
- Great speakers
- No touchscreen
- Screen bezels are fairly large
The Surface Laptop 4 is a traditional clamshell laptop and it's plain to see that Microsoft took some style cues from Apple when designing it. That said, it does have a bit of unique flair, with the option of an Alcantara fabric keyboard on some models and four lovely colour options.
It is available in both 13 and 15-inch variants depending on your preference, as well as offering the choice between AMD Ryzen and Intel processors. In our testing we found it to be one of the best Windows laptops money can buy.
If you need a high-performance laptop and are attracted to the Surface lineups styling and build quality, then the Surface Laptop 4 is the one for you.
Microsoft Surface Book 3
- Fantastic screen
- Clever docking system for base and screen
- Bold and distinctive design
- Pretty big and heavy
The Microsoft Surface Book 3 sits in a class of its own as the champion of powerful pro-spec 2-in-1 devices. There's some niggles, it's pretty big and heavy and the price could be better, but, if it fits your needs, then there's little that comes close to the quality and design standard of this one.
The most ingenious part of the Surface Book's design is that the base of the unit acts as a discrete GPU docking station, allowing more room for cooling which results in a higher-performing machine.
Of course, it un-docks too, giving you a powerful Windows tablet that can be used independently. You'll probably want to keep it docked for more intense workloads, though.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go
- Looks and feels like a more expensive device
- Good keyboard and trackpad
- Solid performance
- Loud fan
- Less than full-HD screen
The Surface Laptop Go is essentially a budget version of the Surface Laptop 4. The best part is that it still retains the premium fit and finish, resulting in a laptop that looks like it should cost twice the asking price.
It's not perfect, there are a few quirks like a loud fan, but it's got more than enough power for most people's needs and is a joy to use. The keyboard and trackpad are superb and the battery life is solid. The screen could be a higher resolution but does a good job and the 3:2 aspect ratio lends itself to productivity.
We'd recommend going for the middle option when it comes to specs as the entry-level model is pretty limiting with 64GB storage and the higher model can be expensive for what it is.
Microsoft Surface Go 3
- Affordable starting price
- Fantastic vivid display
- Clever design and kickstand
- Keyboard cover not included
- Performance could be better
The Surface Go 3 is very similar to its predecessor, the Surface Go 2, but with updated internals. It starts at a very reasonable asking price and can be configured with higher specifications as required.
If you need a Windows 11 tablet possessing solid build quality and a great display, there aren't a huge amount of options. The Surface Go 3 has a full HD 10.5-inch display with a brightness of over 400 nits; it's built like a tank too.
It's not the fastest device in the world and it'd be nice if the keyboard cover was included as standard, but it's a solid Windows tablet overall. We think most people will love the Surface Go 3 as an entry-level option.
Microsoft Surface Studio 2
- Truly unique design
- Big high-resolution display
- Great accessory support
- Specs are a bit out of date
- Still expensive
The Surface Studio 2 is an all-in-one desktop system. Kind of like an Apple iMac, it's not portable, but instead is designed to sit on your desk like a traditional home computer. Unlike the iMac, the Surface Studio can be used as a giant drawing tablet, thanks to its clever zero-gravity hinge design.
The Surface Studio supports some awesome accessories, like the Surface Stylus and Surface Dial, to further enhance the computing experience. Other than that, it's pretty much just a solid Windows 10 PC with some world-class design behind it.
The downside is that we're long overdue for an updated model, the 7th gen Intel processors and Pascal graphics are long in the tooth, to put it mildly. So, unless you find one for a significant discount, we'd recommend waiting for the inevitable Surface Studio 3.
How to choose a Surface device
So you've decided you want to get in on the Microsoft Surface ecosystem, but with such an expansive lineup of Surface devices on offer, it can be a challenge to narrow down the right device for you. Here are a few things to think about that should help you hone in on the perfect device for you.
Do you need it to work as a tablet?
This one is simple enough, many, but not all, Surface devices can be converted between tablet and laptop-style use. If you know that you'll absolutely never use it as a tablet, then you'll probably want to go for one of the Surface Laptops. If you like the flexibility of being able to convert the device into a Windows Tablet, then you have a bunch of options.
The Surface Book 3 gives the most laptop-like experience from the convertible options, but it comes with a hefty price tag. The Surface Pro and Surface Go options are more of a tablet-first approach but can be used as a laptop with the keyboard cover accessory. Remember that with these you'll get fewer options when it comes to screen angle, as they use a kickstand rather than a hinge for the display.
Where will you be using it?
If you need to take your Surface device out and about, then obviously the Studio 2 is no good, but let's go beyond that. The main thing here is going to be size and weight, The Surface Pro 8 is lighter than a lot of laptops, coming in at around 890 grams with the keyboard cover, whereas the Surface Book 3 is a hefty device weighing over double at around 1905 grams.
Whether you expect to be at a desk or using the device on your lap matters a lot too. The convertible devices, with the exception of the Surface Book, are quite difficult to use on your lap due to the kickstand design. The Laptops and Surface Book on the other hand will be great for either scenario.
What do you need it to do?
If the main tasks you want to accomplish are relatively simple things like checking email and watching YouTube, then you can get away with any of the Surface devices on our list. If you have more intensive requirements like running Photoshop or video editing software, then you'll definitely want to stay away from the more entry-level devices like the Surface Go 3 and Surface Laptop Go - as their lower-spec processors will struggle to keep up.
You'll also want to pay attention to screen resolution, as the extra pixels can help to no end when working on these creative tasks.
How much can you spend?
As with everything in life, it all comes down to what you can afford. Luckily with the Surface lineup, there's enough variety that the most expensive option on the list isn't necessarily the best one for you. If you only need to accomplish some basic computing, then the entry-level Surface devices will serve you just fine - but if you're going to be doing some more advanced tasks we think you'll find yourself frustrated with the lack of processing power before long.
Going for the cheap option could cost you more in the long run if you end up needing to upgrade to get your work done. Similarly, if you don't need all the horsepower in the world then you might not see a huge benefit in going for a Core i7 variant over a Core i5, for example.
More about this story
Every product in this list has been tested in real-life situations, just as you would use it in your day-to-day life.
Buying a Microsoft Surface device is a big investment, so we've used all the options on this list extensively to see how they hold up in the real world. We've tested real productivity performance, and used them in a variety of locations to get you all the data you need to help with your buying decisions.
Of course, pricing is a big factor, as is build quality and reliability. Being sufficiently portable, too, can make a Surface device less of a chore to fit into your lifestyle.
As with any roundup, it's not possible to deliver a list that works for every type of user, but we lean on the experiences and opinions of the wider Pocket-lint team - as well as thoroughly assessing the areas above - in order to do our best in this regard.
What we always tend to avoid when compiling these picks are needless spec comparisons and marketing lines; we just want to provide an easy to understand summary that gives you an idea of what each gaming laptop is like to use. Our verdicts are concise, but this is purely in the interest of brevity. Rest assured all the things on this list have been fully tested.
Writing by Luke Baker. Editing by Conor Allison. Originally published on 26 May 2017.