As Microsoft has been utilizing the same chassis for the last three or four generations, I won’t spend too much time discussing the appearance of the Surface Laptop 5. The aluminum bodies of the 13- and 15-inch variants also have tall 3:2 displays for increased productivity. Our 13.5-inch review device was only 0.57 inches thick and weighed 2.86 pounds. The entire package is quite clean, and in some ways I can understand why Microsoft doesn’t want to change the design—truly it’s a work of art. It is slim and simplistic, just like a MacBook, but distinct enough from the latter that you won’t ever confuse the two. Yet, I believe Microsoft is more than capable of modifying the present chassis to without compromising its aesthetic appeal, new components.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 (13-inch)
A new color choice for this year is sage green, similar to the Surface Laptop Go 2. Microsoft didn’t stop there, either, as the company also created unique wallpapers for Windows 11 that coordinate with the external color scheme of the system. Although though this modification is quite small in the larger scheme of things, the additional color coordination is kind of nice.
The Surface Laptop 5’s keyboard and touchpad, on the other hand, aren’t particularly problematic. Although the keycaps are evenly spaced and have a beautiful, crisp actuation, after using the 15-inch model for a bit, I realized that the larger model had slightly deeper key travel. Although its 4.5 x 3 inch touchpad isn’t nearly as big as the one on a MacBook of a comparable size, there is still plenty of freedom to move the mouse around.
The new USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4 port on the Surface Laptop 5 is one of the other significant updates. This port offers higher bandwidth for delivering data or video to external screens. Unfortunately, there are just two USB ports in total on the 13.5- and 15-inch models: the aforementioned Thunderbolt 4 port and a standard USB 3.1 Type-A slot. Thankfully, Microsoft has kept compatibility for wired audio, so in addition to the company’s recognizable magnetic Surface Connect port for charging and docking, you also get a 3.5mm headphone jack.
But if I may pontificate for a moment, I kind of wish Microsoft would do away with the Surface Connect port altogether. With the exception of the proprietary connectors used by Apple and Microsoft on its MacBook’s and Surfaces, all phones will soon support USB-C for data and charging as a result of new EU rules. Laptops won’t be far behind. The Surface Connect port’s weak magnets and strange form make it harder to use than USB-C, and removing it would allow place for another connector that is both smaller and more adaptable.
Display and webcam
The same 2,256 x 1,504 PixelSense touchscreen that Microsoft utilized on the prior generation is present on the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 5, just like its chassis, and that’s absolutely acceptable. It boasts vibrant, saturated colors and a considerable amount of brightness that my light meter measured at slightly around 400 nits. Support for Dolby Vision IQ, which automatically modifies things like color profiles and contrast based on ambient conditions, is the only new improvement for 2022. Although it’s a nice touch, Microsoft isn’t [actually] inventing anything new here given that nearly every phone released in recent years uses a similar display technology.
However, although having excellent image quality, the Surface Laptop 5’s display is beginning to age somewhat. The bezels are a few millimeters bigger than those on the Surface Laptop Studio from last year, giving the device a chunkier appearance. Moreover, neither HDR nor high refresh rates are supported.
Nevertheless, its 720p web camera, which is at best adequate, is where it falls most short. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 1080p webcams should be the standard on high-end notebooks. You don’t receive support for any of Microsoft’s Windows Studio effects as you do with the Surface Pro 9 5G. The built-in IR cameras for Windows Hello facial recognition have thankfully been preserved by Microsoft, and it still works flawlessly.
The new 12th-gen Intel CPUs offer a significant performance increase on the inside. The drawback is that there aren’t any AMD-based configurations, which is disappointing compared to the previous generation. Yet it’s difficult to be too angry when the Pockmark 10 results are almost 20% higher than those of the Surface Laptop 4.
Just keep in mind that both models are limited to Iris XE integrated graphics, so don’t get your hopes up about playing any intense video games. With Over watch 2, I had to decrease settings to medium in order to get a relatively stable 60 fps, though you can eke out a little more performance if you’re prepared to lower the game’s resolution or switch on up sampling. Nevertheless, this device isn’t actually intended to play AAA titles, regardless of what you do.
Battery life and ports
The Surface Laptop 5 delivered reasonable but not exceptional battery life, clocking in around 12 hours and 39 minutes. The 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 from last year performed better in comparison, scoring 15:25, as did several ultraportable from this year, like the Lenovo Yoga 9i, which scored 14:22, and the M2 MacBook Air, which scored 17:05.
As a devoted Surface user, I applaud Microsoft’s decision to keep the extra 5-watt charging connector integrated into the supplied power adapter. This feature is great for charging tiny accessories like a mouse or wireless headphones. I should also point out that you can still charge the Surface Laptop 5 with USB-C if you misplace or forget your home charging brick.
The Surface Laptop 5 hasn’t received a tone of upgrades, but it still boasts a wonderfully sleek design, new 12th-generation Intel CPUs, and a Thunderbolt 4 connector, which significantly increase performance and usage. The Surface Laptop 5 fits all the necessities into a fairly svelte compact, even while it might not have the best webcam or a tone of connections if all you need is a streamlined ultraportable for general productivity.
Nonetheless, it is somewhat telling that Microsoft only sent the 13.5-inch device for assessment, as the 15-inch model needs even more improvements. Adding support for discrete graphics and a few extra ports to the larger Surface Laptop 5 has a lot of promise to turn it into a truly wonderful all-rounder, despite the fact that I know my goal of owning an Xbox gaming laptop is unlikely to ever come true.
Yet, choosing between the 13-inch Surface Laptop 5 and something like the XPS 13 can be difficult. Dell’s laptop has a similar CPU and a larger 512GB SSD drive rather than only a 256GB drive for the same $1,000 starting price, but no touchscreen (though you can upgrade to one if you want). That means you must decide between obtaining the XPS 13 for a marginally better price and choosing the Surface Laptop 5 with its taller 3:2 touch display.
Yet, Microsoft’s newest clamshell has a lot to recommend it if all you’re looking for is a chic ultraportable with a good screen for productivity. Just hoping for a thorough refresh rather than a minor spec bump next year.