Think of a super-light laptop running on an octa-core ARM processor. You’re thinking of an Apple MacBook Air, aren’t you? Now think of one costing £400. That would be the new Samsung Galaxy Book Go, a 14in notebook built around Qualcomm’s 7C Gen 2 chip, but it isn’t running Chrome OS as you might expect.
That’s because Samsung’s dirt-cheap laptop is actually running Windows 10. The pitch for the Galaxy Book Go is straightforward enough, too: it’s an affordable lightweight notebook that combines good battery life and always-connected cellular data.
Indeed, those are the two main attractions of Qualcomm’s ARM laptop chips; efficiency and connectivity. Combine those features with the ubiquity and versatility of Windows 10 and you potentially have not only a budget version of the MacBook Air but a Chromebook killer as well.
Samsung Galaxy Book Go review: What you need to know
The Galaxy Book Go differs from the usual cheap Windows notebooks in that it uses a Qualcomm ARM chipset rather than the more usual Intel Celeron or – God forbid – Atom CPUs. For the uninitiated, Qualcomm’s ARM chips are architecturally similar to mobile CPUs found in smartphones and tablets, including Apple’s new M1 chips.
Traditionally, ARM chips use less juice than the usual x86 processors that power most of the world’s PCs, so there’s usually an added bonus to overall battery life. However, the Windows ecosystem is built around x86, so this could raise some compatibility issues if you plan on running third-party apps on the Galaxy Book Go.
Outside of the intriguing processor offering, it’s all a pretty standard affair. The Galaxy Book Go is a lightweight, 14in Windows laptop with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution display, with a choice of either 4GB or 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
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Samsung Galaxy Book Go review: Price and competition
The Galaxy Book Go will initially be available in two versions: one with 8GB of RAM for £499 and a cheaper variant with 4GB of RAM for £399. It’s the latter model that Samsung sent us to test.
Traditionally, cheap Windows laptops have been pretty dire. We’re thinking specifically here of things such as the super-budget HP Stream 11 notebooks that are built around outdated Celeron processors with low-resolution displays and measly storage.
Thankfully, if you want Windows 10 on the cheap then there are a number of better options at around the £400 mark at the moment. Microsoft’s Surface Go 2 starts at just £399, though admittedly it’s more a 10.5in tablet than a laptop, and the entry version only has a dual-core Pentium 4425Y chip and 64GB of storage. Microsoft’s Type Cover keyboard attachment will set you back another £99, and those prices are without an LTE modem. Add that and the price jumps to £719, albeit with a more powerful m3 processor and 128GB of storage.
Huawei’s Ryzen 5-based MateBook D15 is our current favourite cheap laptop, although at £600 it’s quite a bit more expensive. We liked the all-metal chassis and brilliant performance for the price, but the battery life isn’t great and the 15.6in FHD display doesn’t boast great colour accuracy, either.
Buying a Chinese import is another option. Chuwi is currently selling the brand-new CoreBook X 14in laptop for £390 with an 8th generation Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 2,160 x 1,440 resolution display.
Forgo Windows altogether and the field really widens: for £400 you can have your pick of Chromebooks. The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 (£429) is a firm favourite, with a 10th generation Core i3 chip and a lovely 13.3in FHD touchscreen. Acer’s Chromebook 714 is another impressive alternative, with both Core i3 and i5 variants – the latter starting at £399.
Samsung Galaxy Book Go review: Design and build quality
Until recently, a 14in laptop that weighs just 1.38kg would have been a massive outlier, but times have changed. Samsung’s own 15.6in Galaxy Book Pro weighs just 1.05kg while Apple’s M1 MacBook Air tips the scales at a mere 1.29kg.
Granted, both of these are more expensive machines, but 1.38kg is still nothing to get too excited about. Nor is the size: 324 x 225 x 14.9mm is good for a 14in notebook, but hardly groundbreaking.
The Galaxy Book Go is an all-plastic affair but it still feels solid, and the Mystic Silver colour scheme makes it look more expensive than it actually is. It should last, too, since it meets the US Military Standard (MIL-STD-810G) for resisting high and low temperatures, thermal shock, vibration, low pressure and humidity.
The lid opens up to 180 degrees, which is handy if you want to use it on your lap while slouched on the sofa, though the absence of a touchscreen rather limits its versatility. The one design feature that does reflect the Go’s low price is the width of the screen bezels. The amount of cheap black plastic you are forced to look at – 13mm at the top, 24mm at the bottom and 6mm at the sides – gives the game away.
There’s no whiff of cheapness about the keyboard, though: it’s solid and spacious and the keys have a nicely damped action. The trackpad is usefully large at 120 x 75mm and works reliably, although the corner click-action feels – and sounds – a little underdamped.
The Go isn’t exactly well endowed with ports. You get two 10Gbits/sec Type-C and one Type-A USB 2 port, a microSD card slot that’s good for cards up to 1TB and a 3.5mm audio jack. You can charge via either Type-C port, but only the one on the right supports video output. The Qualcomm wireless card supports Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 5.1.
The Go’s party piece when it comes to connectivity is the 4G modem. Just pop open the tray on the right side of the body, slip a nano-SIM inside and you’re good to go. At the launch event, a 5G version of the Go was also revealed, but at the time of writing we don’t know when or whether it will come to the UK.
Samsung Galaxy Book Go review: Display and audio
Sadly, the Galaxy Book Go’s display is pretty atrocious. The only metric that came even close to acceptable was the maximum brightness of 232cd/m². The laptop’s contrast ratio was a dismal 431:1 and the Delta E colour accuracy was an apocalyptically terrible 11.65cd/m². A score so disastrous, in fact, that I ran the test three times to make sure it was a reliable reading.
The sRGB coverage and total volume were equally wretched, at 52.7% and 52.9% respectively. Brightness aside, none of those figures is even remotely acceptable in this day and age, at any price point.
Being a basic TFT panel, it also has pretty narrow viewing angles. Move your head or tilt the screen a smidgen and chromatic shift becomes more obvious. This is especially pronounced in the vertical plane.
Looking at pictures or watching videos really is a depressing experience since everything looks dull, washed out and rather drab. A YouTube HDR test video of the wildlife of Costa Rica looked more like Skegness on a bleak November day, albeit with non-native flora and fauna. That’s how much vitality and life the Go’s screen drained from the footage.
The Dolby Atmos sound system performs more credibly. As a rule, the speakers in cheap laptops are simply awful, but the Go’s speakers do a decent job. There’s not much bass but there’s plenty of volume and no distortion, even at maximum volume. There’s a Dolby Access control panel to fine-tune the sound for various sources such as music, films or games, too.
Above the screen lies a 720p webcam, which does the job well. The colours looked rather muted but low-light performance was better than I expected and the dual microphone array picked up my Zoom chatter without much fuss.
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Samsung Galaxy Book Go review: Performance and battery life
The Qualcomm 7C Gen 2 ARM processor uses eight Kryo 468 cores running at up to 2.55GHz, with an Adreno 618 GPU for graphics processing duties and 4GB of LPDDR4X-4266MHz RAM. That sounds like it should bring home the bacon, but the hardware isn’t the whole story. Since this is an ARM-based laptop, rather than an x86 platform, the developer community hasn’t been exactly quick to recompile apps to run natively for Windows 10 on ARM.
Windows 10 on ARM can run 32-bit x86 apps under emulation, but not 64-bit apps. Developer preview builds of Windows 10 on ARM should now allow x64 apps to run under emulation, but that feature has yet to come to mainstream releases of Windows 10. That means that 64-bit Win32 apps and games – such as Handbrake and Doom, the first two examples we happened upon as part of our testing regime – are just not going to run on the Go, while 32-bit apps will run, but with a performance penalty.
As such, I wasn’t able to test with our usual 4K media benchmark, or GFXBench for that matter. Luckily, Geekbench 5 does have a native app, and the results weren’t bad: 556 for single-core and 1,617 for multicore processing. To put that into context, the Microsoft Surface Go 2, which runs a Core m3 8100Y chip, scored 874 and 1,637 respectively.
However, the underlying raw performance of Windows 10 on ARM on the 7C Gen 2 platform is almost beside the point, since the majority of programs are slowed down by running in an emulated form.
The problem is best highlighted with web browsers. Microsoft’s Edge and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers both run natively on ARM64, but Google Chrome doesn’t. The 32-bit version of Chrome running in emulation is much slower than the other two browsers, despite Edge and Chrome sharing the same Chromium underpinnings.
If you use Firefox or Edge, you’ll come away thinking the Go is pretty slick. Everything runs much faster than it would on an Intel Atom or Celeron-powered Windows 10 machine, which is the sort of system you previously had to tolerate if all you had was £400 to spend on a notebook. But use Chrome and you’ll be left feeling that the Go is underpowered.
By way of illustration, the Edge browser scored 60.6 in the JetSteam2 test on the Go, with Chrome scoring a lowly 28.5. The same test on a laptop built around a Celeron N4100, on which both browsers run as native x64 apps, produced scores of 49.8 and 46.1 in favour of Edge.
The same is true of other apps. We tried some light photo editing using The Gimp – again in 32-bit form – and while it got the job done, it felt leaden and sluggish. It’s a strange feeling because Windows 10 performs quickly and smoothly, so you’re continually moving between a quick operating system and a slow program.
There are some decent native ARM64 apps around, however. You’ll be able to use VLC, Zoom, Adobe Photoshop, 7-Zip, Teams, Netflix and Prime Video apps, to name but a few, but it’s a short list and one that doesn’t yet include Microsoft Office.
The arrival of Windows 11 and support for Android apps via the Amazon app store may give Windows on ARM a bit of a kick, but do you want to buy a laptop today on the basis of something it may be able to do months down the line?
As for gaming performance, again, it’s difficult to judge because the only gaming benchmark from our usual Steam selection that the Go would run in emulation was DiRT Showdown. At 1,280 x 720 it managed 13.6fps, which for a cheap notebook isn’t that bad – some Celeron machines can only manage around 5fps. In fairness, the Galaxy Book Go is not designed for gaming at all so we can’t beat it too hard for a lack of ability here.
I also ran a speed test on the 128GB eUFS storage card and came away with consecutive read and write speeds of 470MB/s and 187MB/s respectively. That’s slow by the standards of a modern laptop with an NVMe SSD drive, but on a machine like this, you won’t notice the impact.
The 42.3Wh battery did sterling work keeping the lights on, which is testament to the innate efficiency of the Qualcomm SoC. Our usual video rundown test exhausted the battery in 14hrs 17mins, which is close to the MacBook Air’s 14hrs 40mins, and is a very creditable result.
As a final footnote, it’s worth mentioning that some other reviewers seem to have had issues with the Galaxy Book Go crashing as well as demonstrating all sorts of odd misbehaviour. Our photographer, who also got his hands on our review sample, reported a keyboard that was close to non-functional, although a factory reset fixed that problem and I haven’t had any issues since.
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Samsung Galaxy Book Go review: Verdict
What to make of the Galaxy Book Go, then? It certainly makes good on its two main promises of great battery life and always-on wireless connectivity, but its awful display is impossible to overlook. That’s a shame, because the keyboard is great and hardware performance isn’t an issue, either.
Windows 10 runs beautifully on the Qualcomm chipset, as do Windows on ARM native apps. But the performance penalty incurred when running x86 Win32 apps under emulation really knocks the shine off, as does the current inability to run x64 apps at all.
An ARM64 native version of Chrome would go a long way to improving the situation – making the Galaxy Book Go a potential Chromebook killer – but your guess is as good as mine as to whether this will eventually come to fruition.
The great battery life, quality keyboard and built-in 4G modem may well attract some interest at the price, and if all you want is a laptop for basic on-the-go productivity then it may suit, but that wretched display and inconsistent app compatibility inevitably lead the Galaxy Book Go to being just a poor man’s MacBook Air.