surface buying guide lead
CNN  — 

Microsoft’s Surface lineup used to consist of just one or two models, and they were easy to differentiate. But over the years, the Surface line has continued to expand.

For example, with the brand-new Surface Laptop Studio, Microsoft took a new — and successful — approach of re-creating what users loved about the Surface Book and its detachable display.

When you start looking at the Surface lineup, it can get confusing really fast. There’s a Surface Go, Surface Go Laptop, Surface Pro 8 and a Pro X…and the list goes on.

With so many different models, how do you know which one is for you? Below we’ll walk you through each model in an effort to help you decide which Surface is the one you should get.

Surface Go 3: Best for basic tasks

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The Surface Go 3 is by far the smallest and most affordable Surface device in the lineup. Part tablet and part laptop, it has a starting price of $399.99. For that price, you get a tablet with a built-in kickstand and internal components that are just good enough. The Go 3 is ideal for someone who needs a basic computer for simple tasks like online shopping, checking your email or watching your favorite YouTube creators.

We won’t recommend getting the base model Go 3, though, simply because performance will be something it struggles with, especially if you’re multitasking or doing the occasional minor photo edit. For $630, you can get a Surface Go 3 with more than enough to power through Excel spreadsheets while triaging your email inbox and dealing with Slack messages from co-workers. It’s powered by an Intel Core i3, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage.

The Go 3 offers portability, thanks to its compact size that is ideal for someone working from home or a student. A 10.5-inch display and an overall weight of just 1.2 pounds for the tablet portion make it easy to move around the house with, or pick up and take to class.

With optional keyboard and pen support, you can convert the Go 3 from a svelte-looking tablet to a miniature laptop with some serious netbook vibes. The Go Type Cover keyboard will set you back around $100, but you can find them on sale for around $70 if you look hard enough.

You’ll want to almost immediately disable Windows 11S mode, a streamlined version of Windows that limits app installs to only the Microsoft Store, after setting up the Go 3. It only takes pressing a couple of buttons and you’ll unlock the full Windows 11 experience. Performance was still the same post-S mode, but we gained the ability to install programs from anywhere, which is a big win.

The Surface Go 3 is a lightweight, portable 2-in-1 that is convenient to tuck into nearly any bag. Battery life should be enough to get through a day of meetings or classes, but you’ll need to top up the battery if you plan on using it later in the day.

Surface Pro 8: Best overall pick

Surface Pro 8

The Surface Pro 8 is arguably the most iconic Surface in the lineup, and its latest update solidifies that. With the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft continues the trend of Microsoft setting the bar for the 2-in-1 market. That is, a device that works as a tablet or laptop, without having to do much, if anything, to convert it.

Starting at $1,099, the Pro 8 can be configured with an Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The base model will offer plenty of performance for everyday computing tasks, be it editing Excel sheets, composing long emails, or playing a light game. You can max out the Pro 8’s specs, with a maxed-out price tag of $2,599 getting you an Intel Core i7, 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage.

The foldout kickstand, just like on the rest of the Surface 2-in-1 lineup, has a sturdy hinge that lets you lay the larger 13-inch touchscreen nearly all the way back. To use a dedicated keyboard, you’ll need to buy a Type Cover, which starts at around $180, or you can get a combo package that includes the new Slim Pen2 for $280. The Type Cover attaches directly to the bottom, which means you won’t need to fiddle around to connect it or power it.

The larger display on the Pro 8 falls in line with previous Surface models, including the Surface Pro X. Meaning it’ll be bright, crisp and clear. Battery life should be enough to get through a full day of use, but not much more than that. Microsoft claims a staggering 16 hours of life off of a single charge.

For the first time, Microsoft has added Thunderbolt 4 support to a Surface product. That means you can connect an external monitor or storage and take advantage of the faster speeds it provides.

The Pro 8 is perfect for someone who wants a powerful Windows 2-in-1 that combines a tablet and laptop experience. The portability aspect alone is a huge draw to the Surface Pro lineup as a whole, and the Pro 8 picks up right where its predecessors left off.

Surface Pro X: Best for early-adopters

Surface Pro X

The Surface Pro X is no longer the best-looking Surface 2-in-1 Microsoft offers now that the Surface Pro 8 has adopted its design, but it still looks fantastic. Thin bezels surround a gorgeous 13-inch display, and you now have the option of a Wi-Fi-only model or one with built-in LTE connectivity. We recommend adding the optional keyboard and Microsoft Pen accessory pack to convert it from a tablet to a full-on laptop — though it will cost you $140 for the keyboard, or bundle it with the Slim Pen and pay $270 for both.

Instead of using Intel’s latest processor to power it, the Pro X uses an ARM-based processor developed in partnership with Qualcomm. One benefit of switching to an ARM processor is improved battery life, which currently comes in around 15 hours, and performance gains. It mixes classic Windows with fast mobile performance and long battery life.

Developers need to rebuild their apps to support a different processor, meaning some apps simply won’t work, while other apps will run, but are often sluggish and buggy on the Pro X. But Microsoft has made several improvements in Windows 11 specifically for the type of processor that the Pro X uses.

The Surface Pro X starts at $899 for the base model, with an SQ 1 processor, 128GB of SSD storage and 8GB of RAM. If you want the slightly faster SQ 2 processor and LTE connectivity, you’re looking at $1,499, and it includes 16GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage.

During our testing, we found the Pro X with SQ 2 to be a workhorse, as long as we stayed within known apps and services that work on the budding processor platform. The display looks fantastic, and battery life was more than enough for our daily use.

That said, ultimately the Pro X is best suited for someone who either enjoys living on the bleeding edge and doesn’t mind dealing with occasional hiccups and app compatibility issues.

Surface Laptop Go: For those who don’t need all the bells and whistles

Surface Laptop Go

The Laptop Go is the smallest laptop in Microsoft’s lineup and was designed and built specifically for remote learning and working. It’s not going to blow you away with its impressive speed or display, but it’s not supposed to.

With a starting price of $549.99, the Laptop Go is meant to be affordable and yet fully capable when it comes to common computer tasks.

As we discussed in our review of the Laptop Go, you’ll likely want to skip the entry-level model and instead opt for the $699 version that comes with a faster Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB or RAM and a 128GB SSD. The Laptop Go is small and portable, making it easy to take with you on the go (forgive the pun) for basic work or school tasks like managing Discord conversations, triaging emails or writing a long essay.

Oh, and it also gains a fingerprint reader built into the power button so you can quickly unlock your laptop without entering complicated passcodes. It looks every bit like a Surface Laptop — from the colors to the 12.4-inch PixelSense display, every aspect of the design screams Microsoft.

As is the case with the Surface Go 3, the Laptop Go ships with Windows 10S activated out of the box. Again, it’s a streamlined version of Windows 10 with various restrictions that some (all right, many) users will find too restrictive. Thankfully you can disable it and access the full Windows 10 experience. And yes, you can upgrade to Windows 11 at no additional cost.

Overall, the compact and affordably priced Laptop Go is fast enough and has battery life that’s long enough for someone who needs a laptop to get work done on and doesn’t want to spend a fortune.

Surface Laptop 4: Best for those who want a traditional laptop

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For someone who needs or wants a little more from their laptop, consider the Surface Laptop 4. It comes in two different sizes, with screens measuring 13.5 and 15-inches, respectively. As such, pricing varies as well. The 13-inch model starts at $999, while the bigger model jumps up to $1,299.

There are several different builds and configurations, with the main determining factor being what size of display you want. The more portable option is the 13.5-inch model, or you can opt for the 15-inch model if you need the extra space. Either way, you get the same PixelSense display that supports touch and the Surface Pen.

Both sizes use an AMD processor in the base configuration, providing a performance boost over the Intel equivalent. You can get anywhere from 8GB of memory all the way up to 32GB, and 256GB to 1TB of storage. Making it a solid choice for every type of laptop user. From those who just need a laptop for school work or everyday tasks, or those who push the limits of any laptop with their workload.

As we discussed in our full review, the keyboard on the Surface Laptop 4 is a dream to type on. It has enough ports to connect your everyday accessories, and with the added AMD or Intel options, you’re going to get the exact performance you need. There are far too many configurations to list, but rest assured you’ll be able to find a build that fits your budget.

If you want a true laptop from Microsoft, the Laptop 4 is your go-to. The biggest question shouldn’t come down to which processor you want, but how big or small you want the screen to be. From there, it’s an easy choice.

Surface Laptop Studio: Best for creatives and power users

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The Surface Laptop Studio is the latest addition to the Surface lineup, replacing the Surface Book. Instead of a screen that detaches from the base, the Laptop Studio’s display has a new hinge that lets you position it however you want. You can even lay the screen down flat on top of the laptop’s housing to turn it into a tablet — it’s pretty nifty.

Pricing for the Laptop Studio starts at $1,599 for a moderately spec’d build with an Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB of memory and a 256GB SSD for storage. You can max out the build, and your budget at $3,099 for an i7, 32GB of memory, a 2TB SDD and an RTX 3050 Ti GPU for intense video editing sessions and casual PC gaming. There are multiple options between those two price points, but expect to pay a pretty penny if you need a dedicated GPU.

As we discussed in our review of the Laptop Studio, the keyboard on this beauty is the best we’ve ever used on a Surface device. And Microsoft added haptic feedback to the touchpad, something that Apple’s MacBooks have had for years, improving upon the overall experience as a small but very welcomed addition.

Battery life was good enough to get through a normal day of use, but don’t expect to see up to 19 hours of battery like Microsoft advertises.

The Laptop Studio is built for someone who does a lot of video and photo editing, or even relies on CAD programs for work. It’s the best Microsoft has to offer.

Microsoft Surface Book 3: Best for power and versatility

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Mircosoft’s Surface Book 3 is unlike any other device in its lineup. From the impressive hinge that actually folds as you close the lid, to a screen that can be detached from the deck of the laptop, converting it into a dedicated tablet.

Like the Surface Laptop 3, the Surface Book 3 comes in two sizes — 13.5-inches and 15-inches. You’re going to pay extra for the fancy features that the Book 3 brings, with the smaller model starting at $1,600, while the 15-inch version starts at $2,299.

Unlike the Laptop 3, the Book 3 uses Intel processors across the board. Scaling from an Intel Core i5 to a Core i7, depending on your configuration. Additionally, you can build a Book 3 with up to 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage.

In addition to those beefy specs, you can even outfit the Book 3 with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q graphics card which will speed up video and photo editing, and even let you use the Book 3 as a gaming computer for occasional sessions.

When we tested the Book 3 and thoroughly enjoyed our experience, save for the way too small trackpad on the 15-inch model. It’s probably a better fit on the smaller version, but we struggled to make the best of it on our test unit.

The Surface Book 3 is designed to be a workhorse laptop, and when you need it, a tablet that can keep up with any other tablet on the market. You don’t get the benefit of the faster GPU (that lives under the keyboard), but that doesn’t take away from the overall experience

If you need the best portable computer Microsoft has to offer, be it for video editing or occasional gaming, the Book 3 is where it’s at.