A beautiful design marred by middling performance and scant upgrades makes for an uninspiring showing for the Surface Laptop 5
- Sleek design
- Great webcam
- Decent repairability
- Middling display
- Not particularly quick
- Mediocre battery life
On the face of it, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 gets a lot right. It’s slim, light, beautifully made, it comes with a great screen and it’s a pleasure to use. But it’s also a laptop that’s playing catch-up to its rivals; a device that’s falling behind in the race to be the ultraportable to buy.
That’s a shame because it used to be right up there with the very best. But this model, unfortunately, fails to excel in any particular area and, in an era where the M2 and M1 MacBook Air and the Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro exist, it isn’t really good enough any more.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: What you need to know
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is the company’s flagship ultraportable laptop. It comes in two sizes – 13.5in and 15in – and both screen sizes adopt an unusual, slightly squarer aspect ratio of 3:2. You also get a touchscreen with stylus support, although it isn’t a true 2-in-1 device since the screen doesn’t fold all the way around and back on itself.
This latest model comes with 12th-gen Intel Core CPUs and you can choose either a Core i5-1235U or Core i7-1255U, accompanied by 8GB, 16GB or 32GB of LPDDR5x RAM and various storage options starting at 256GB and running up to 1TB. It’s worth noting, though, that the 32GB of RAM and 1TB storage choices are only available on the 15in Surface Laptop 5.
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Businesses purchasing the Surface Laptop 5 also get the option of the Intel Core i5-1245U or Core i7-1265U CPU; there are no performance differences between these chips apart from more support for vPro management tools, such as remote wipe and memory encryption.
There isn’t much else that’s new about the model over the Surface Laptop 4, except to note that the 15in model comes with a slightly higher-resolution display than last time out – 2,496 x 1,664 versus 2,256 x 1,504 – the USB-C ports are now Thunderbolt 4-compatible and there’s no longer an AMD CPU option.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Price and competition
Configuration tested: 13.5in PixelSense (2,254 x 1,504) IPS touchscreen, 12th-gen Intel Core i7-1265U, 16GB LPDDR5x RAM, 512GB SSD, Price: £1,779 inc VAT (consumer version: £1,699 inc VAT)
Prices for the Surface Laptop 5 begin at £999, which is competitive for a premium lightweight ultraportable in this class, and this gets you the 13.5in Core i5-1235U model with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD storage. Prices for the 15in model start at £1,299, again with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, and the top-spec model – which comes with a Core i7-1255U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 15in display – will set you back £2,399.
The Surface Laptop 5’s chief rivals are the 13.6in M2 Apple MacBook Air and the 14in Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro, both of which start at £1,249 and £1,349 for the base specification with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. There’s no larger MacBook Air, more’s the pity, but you can pick up a 16in Galaxy Book3 Pro for £1,449.
Both are, in my opinion, superior machines to the Microsoft laptop, for various reasons. The M2 MacBook Air has far superior battery life and better performance, although its display isn’t touch-sensitive. The Galaxy Book3 Pro doesn’t have a touch-sensitive display, either, but you won’t mind that when you clap eyes with its stunning 3K Dynamic OLED 2X panel, which is the best we’ve ever seen on a laptop. It’s also a faster performer across the range, thanks to the fact that it uses P-series 13th Gen Intel chips where the Surface Laptop 5 is stuck with slower U-series CPUs.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Design and key features
Microsoft has, like Apple, settled on a design that works for its premium laptops and has changed little over the past few years, tweaking it only gradually. This year, in fact, it’s identical, at least from the outside.
Not that this is a huge problem. The Surface Laptop 5’s chassis might look different to a MacBook Air’s but it’s just as well put together, mating a rigid aluminium frame with slim, sleek lines and chiselled good looks. It’s available in four smart colours – black, sandstone, green and platinum – and the only complaint I have is that Microsoft is still selling an Alcantara-clad model (the platinum model). If you want your laptop not to look horribly grimy after a couple of years of hard use, I’d recommend not choosing that model.
As with most ultraportable laptops, ports are at a premium on the Surface Laptop 5, but at least what you get here is up to modern standards. There’s a 3.5mm headset jack and a pair of USB ports on the left edge – one USB-C Thunderbolt 4 and one USB-A 3.1 – while on the right edge is the Microsoft Smart Connector, where the reversible, magnetic power adapter cable attaches. As usual, there’s also a USB-A port to be found on the charging brick, but this is only used for charging your devices and can’t transfer any data.
As for wireless connectivity, there’s no support for Wi-Fi 6E, although for most folk Wi-Fi 6 via the internal 2×2 MIMO Intel AX201 card should suffice. You can get inside the laptop quite easily to upgrade the SSD, however, or perform other repairs and maintenance. All you need to do is remove the laptop’s four rubber feet and undo the screws beneath, then lift up the keyboard deck, which is attached to the rest of the chassis via magnets.
In fact, Microsoft says this is the most repairable Surface Laptop for years, and replacing most parts looks fairly easy, including the vulnerable 3.5mm jack on the left and the Surface Connect port on the right. Note that you can’t add RAM, though, so make sure that you purchase what you need at the start because you’re going to be stuck with it for the life of the laptop.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam
I have very few complaints about the ergonomics of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5. The keyboard is excellent. It’s spacious, the keys have plenty of travel and a nice positive dig of feedback, plus there’s a good solid base underpinning it all. The up/down cursor keys are half height and sandwiched between full-size left/right cursor keys, which is a tad annoying, but that’s the only moan when it comes to the general layout.
The touchpad isn’t the largest I’ve come across, either – both the M2 MacBook Air’s and Samsung Galaxy Book3’s are bigger – but I never felt cramped for space on it and I found both the click and the responsiveness were fine.
The webcams on Surface devices continue to be among the best on any laptop, and the Surface Laptop 5’s is no different. It supports Windows Hello, so you can quickly unlock the laptop with your face, and it delivers crisp, clean visuals. Microsoft’s Omnisonic speakers, positioned beneath the keyboard, aren’t the last word in output power or richness but are fine for listening to podcasts or video meeting audio. Grab yourself a pair of the best headphones if you want to up your audio game.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Display
The Surface Laptop 5’s PixelSense display is sharp, with a resolution of 2,254 x 1,504 on the 13.5in panel of my test machine, and bright enough to use in most indoor and some outdoor conditions, peaking at around 414cd/m². It’s also very colour-accurate versus the sRGB colour gamut.
Set against the competition, though, it’s underwhelming: the advent of Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED 2x display tech has raised the bar for laptop screens. Once you’ve set your eyes on the gloriously rich colours, sharp 3K resolution, smooth 120Hz refresh rate and superb colour accuracy of Samsung’s latest display, it’s hard to go back to anything else.
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What’s more, with its two main rivals delivering greater colour coverage, it’s hard to recommend the Surface Laptop 5 solely on the basis of its screen. Even the ageing M1 MacBook Air is more capable, with a screen that can display nearly 100% of the DCI-P3 gamut.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Performance
The same holds true for the Surface Laptop 5’s performance. Its 12th Gen Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs are fine, but both variants are outclassed by its main rivals. I was sent the business-focused model with the 15W Core i7-1265U chip inside, accompanied by 16GB of RAM, and it struggled to match even the base level Samsung with a 28W P-series Core i5-1340P inside. The M2 MacBook Air is streets ahead, and even the Surface Laptop 4, which we tested in its AMD guise last year, isn’t that much slower.
The performance shown in the charts below is for the top spec Core i7 Surface Laptop 5, prices for which start at £1,699. Step down to the Core i5 and performance is going to be even more disappointing.
Graphics performance from the integrated Intel Iris Xe GPU is slightly better but we’re talking small differences here and, since you’re only ever going to be playing older titles at reduced settings on the Surface Laptop 5, it doesn’t make up for the general lack of oomph elsewhere.
It’s perhaps in the battery life stakes that the Surface Laptop 5 disappoints the most, however, lasting a mere 7hrs 52mins in our video playback test. Here, it lags behind all the laptops I’ve chosen to compare it with and, although the Windows machines aren’t too far ahead, both the M1 and M2 MacBook Air leave it in the dust.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Verdict
Given how superior the alternative choices are, it’s tough to recommend the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5. It’s reasonably priced for such a slim, attractive machine, but that’s not enough these days when you can pick up an M1 MacBook Air from £999 and quite often for a lot less than that in the sales.
It’s laudable that Microsoft has made the laptop more repairable this year but, that aside, there isn’t much to elevate this laptop above its rivals, all of which offer more power, superior displays and better battery life for the money.