Surface Laptop 5 hands-on review: gain some, lose some

Microsoft’s conventional laptop, the Surface Laptop, is in its fifth generation. The newly announced Surface Laptop 5 provides mostly iterative updates to the Surface Laptop 4, with the biggest change being what it no longer offers. The update to Intel’s 12th-gen CPUs is welcome, while the move away from AMD’s Ryzen lineup reduces potential performance and the usefulness of the laptop to creators.

Even so, the Surface Laptop 5 is an attractive, well-built laptop that is likely to be excellent for productivity workers. I went hands-on with the laptop at Microsoft’s Surface launch event in Los Angeles, and here are some initial impressions.

the surface laptop 5 on a table outside.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Specs

  Microsoft Surface Laptop 5
Dimensions 13.5-inch: 12.1 inches x 8.8 inches x 0.57 inches
15-inch: 13.4 inches x 9.6 inches x 0.58 inches
Weight 13.5-inch: 2.8 pounds
15-inch: 3.44 pounds
Processor Intel Core i5-1235U
Intel Core i7-1255U
Graphics Intel Iris Xe
RAM Up to 32GB LPDDR5x
Display 13.5-inch 3:2 PixelSense 2,256 x 1,504 IPS
15.0-inch 3:2 PixelSense 2,496 x 1,664 IPS
Storage Up to 1TB PCie SSD
Touch Yes
Ports 1 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x USB-A 3.1
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
1 x Surface Connect port
Wireless Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.1
Webcam 720p with infrared camera for Windows 11 Hello
Operating system Windows 11
Battery Up to 18 hours (13.5-inch)
Up to 17 hours (15-inch)
Price 13.5-inch: $1,000+
15-inch: $1,300+

On the consumer side, the Surface Laptop 5 starts at $1,000 for the 13.5-inch model with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, while the maximum configuration costs $1,700 for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. The commercial version is an additional $100 and runs up to a Core i7, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD for $2,400.

The 15-inch model has an entry level price of $1,100 for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. It’s $2,400 for a Core i7, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD, with commercial configurations costing $100 more.

The design works, but it’s a bit long in the tooth

microsoft surface laptop 5 15 front angled view showing display and keyboard deck.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

It seems silly to complain too much about the Surface Laptop 5’s aesthetic. Sure, it’s the same design as before, and it utilizes the same overly large display bezels that keep the appearance locked in the past. But outside of that, the Surface Laptop 5 remains an attractive machine with sleek lines and standout color schemes. The 13.5-inch model is offered in Platinum with Alcantara fabric on the keyboard deck, along with Sage (new), Matte Black, and Sandstone all-metal options. The 15-inch model is all-metal in either Platinum or Matte Black.

The construction remains just as solid as all Surface products, with a metal chassis that resists bending, flexing, and twisting. The hinge can be opened with one hand and avoids screen wobble, giving it a quality feel that’s reminiscent of Apple’s MacBooks. The chassis is deeper than most due to the taller 3:2 display (which is great for productivity) and large bezels, but otherwise, it’s a nicely sized laptop whether in the 13-inch or 15-inch class.

While the 13.5-inch iption is relatively thin at 0.57 inches and light at 2.8 pounds, the 15-inch model is among the thinnest laptops currently on the market at 0.58 inches (and the thinnest 15-inch machine) while being reasonably light at 3.44 pounds.

microsoft surface laptop 5 15 front angled view showing keyboard and touchpad.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Surface Laptop 5’s keyboard retains its light and snappy switches with copious travel and a comfortable bottoming action. It’s easily among the best Windows laptop keyboards and it rivals the MacBook’s Magic Keyboard for long-term typing. The touchpad has a smooth and precise surface that provides excellent support for Windows 11’s multitouch gestures, but there’s plenty of room on the 15-inch palm rest for a larger version. As always, the display is touch-enabled and supports Microsoft’s Surface Pen, although that’s not terribly comfortable to use in a clamshell laptop.

Connectivity is mixed. The single USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4 and USB-A 3.1 port, along with a 3.5mm audio jack and Surface Connect port, are all fine for a 13.5-inch laptop, but they’re a little light for a 15-inch machine. Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.1 are up to date.

A significant switch in CPUs

microsoft surface laptop 5 15 rear view showing lid and logo.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The most significant update to the Surface Laptop 5 is a switch to Intel’s 15-watt 12th-gen Core i5-1235U and Core i7-1255U CPUs combined with a migration away from AMD Ryzen chips. The new processors offer 10 cores (two Performance and eight Efficient) with 12 threads, which in our testing has resulted in competent productivity performance and enhanced efficiency.

The switch away from AMD, which negates a possible upgrade to Ryzen 5000 or 6000 CPUs, means that the Surface Laptop 15 is now intended specifically for productivity workers and not so much for creators.

microsoft surface laptop 5 15 side view showing hinge and ports.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

For the 13.5-inch model, that’s not a significant potential downgrade. For the 15-inch model, though, it means the Surface Laptop 5 isn’t really a competitor to more powerful 15-inch machines running 45-watt Intel chips like the Dell XPS 15. The integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics are even more limited when it comes to creative work, and of course, they mean the Surface Laptop 5 isn’t intended to be a gaming machine.

Microsoft predicts up to 18 hours of battery life with the 13.5-inch model and 17 hours with the 15-inch. Microsoft doesn’t list the battery size in its specs, but the Surface Laptop 4 had 45.8 watt-hours. We’ll confirm battery life when we review the Surface Laptop 5.

Minor multimedia upticks

microsoft surface laptop 5 15 front view showing display.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Surface Laptop 5 retains the 720p webcam of the previous version, which is falling behind today’s laptop market that’s making a quick switch to 1080p and better. The infrared camera remains for Windows 11 Hello passwordless login support. Microsoft has incorporated some new Windows 11 interactive features to enhance video quality in different lighting situations, as well as to adjust skin tones and adapt to head and face positional changes. Dual far-field Studio Mics aim to provide clear and loud audio on video calls.

The 13.5-inch and 15-inch 3:2 PixelSense IPS displays are just as sharp as always with 201 pixels-per-inch (PPI) resolution. Dolby Vision IQ support is new, enhancing high dynamic range (HDR) video, and as mentioned previously, the touch-enabled displays both provide support for Microsoft’s active Pen.

The display quality is likely unchanged from the Surface Laptop 4, which provided solid brightness, average color width with good accuracy, and just under our 1,000:1 contrast ratio threshold. That would make it a good but not spectacular display, which we’ll confirm once we can apply our colorimeter.

Audio remains the same with dual stereo Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Atmos support located under the keyboard rather than on the sides or bottom of the chassis. We were impressed with the audio in the Surface Laptop 4 and expect the same here, although the Dell XPS 15 is the leader in 15-inch laptop sound quality.

It loses a lot and gains a little

Dropping AMD’s Ryzen processors limits the Surface Laptop 5’s suitability for more demanding users. If your needs don’t extend beyond productivity workflows. then you’ll be fine, but if you’re a creator. then you’ll likely want something faster — particularly with the 15-inch model.

There are many great alternatives, including the Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre x360 13.5, and Dell XPS 15. Still, the Surface Laptop 5 is an extremely well-built laptop that won’t weigh you down and that you’ll be proud to carry around.

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