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More power, but that’s about it

The Surface Laptop 5 isn’t much of a change over the Surface Laptop 4, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good news is that it keeps the price down when laptop prices are skyrocketing. (Seriously, I keep looking up prices of products I’m reviewing and shocking myself with how much they cost.)

However, the bad news is that Microsoft only introduced a new Sage color on the 13.5-inch model, made the USB Type-C port Thunderbolt 4, and bumped the processors up to 12-generation Intel chips. And that’s about it.

The Surface Laptop 5 also doesn’t have some of the features we expected it to have. For example, after the Surface Pro 8 got a 120Hz display last year, that was something we expected to see on the next Surface Laptop. Aside from that, the webcam is still HD, although it’s been separated from the IR camera for better quality.

Still, this is a great laptop. It’s just that some compromises have been made to hit a price point, and as someone that reviews almost every mainstream laptop, I have to ask how much value those lacking features add. When I’m pricing out a laptop I’m reviewing that comes out to over $2,000, it’s worth wondering if it’s worth it. In many cases, it’s probably not. A 120Hz display looks pretty, but in tough times with rising prices, it’s an easy feature to leave off of your must-have list.

Football Highlights

About this review: Microsoft sent us a 15-inch Surface Laptop 5 with a Core i7-1255U, 16GB RAM, and 512GB SSD, for review. It did not see the contents of this review before publishing.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5
The Surface Laptop 5 features a sleek design, runs Windows 11, and has a touchscreen. It does feature some aging ports, but it's one of the best Windows laptops on the market right now.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5

The Surface Laptop 5 features a sleek design, runs Windows 11, and has a touchscreen. For the money, it’s one of the best laptops around right now, and for the 15-inch model, it’s one of the lightest.

Specifications

Brand:

Microsoft

Storage:

512GB

CPU:

Intel Core i7-1255U

Memory:

Aluminum

Operating System:

Windows 11 Home

Battery:

47.4mAh

Ports:

1 Thunderbolt 4, 1 USB Type-A, 1 Surface Connect, 3.5mm audio

Camera:

720p webcam, Windows Hello camera

Display (Size, Resolution):

15 inches, 2496×1664, 201ppi, 1,300:1 contrast ratio, 60Hz

Weight:

3.44 pounds

GPU:

Intel Iris Xe

Dimension:

13.4×9.6×0.58 inches

Network:

Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible, Bluetooth 5.1

Speakers:

Omnisonic Speakers with Dolby Atmos, Dual far-field Studio microphones

Price:

$1,799.99

Color:

Platinum

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 pricing and availability

  • The Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is available as of Oct. 25, and it starts at $999.99

Microsoft released the Surface Laptop 5 on Oct. 25. It comes in two sizes, 13.5 and 15 inches. What’s interesting is that in the age of skyrocketing prices, the Redmond firm managed to keep the price the same as it was on the Surface Laptop 4. That means that it starts at $999.99 for the 13.5-inch model and $1,299.99 for the 15-inch variant.

Being the more mainstream product, the 13.5-inch one comes in more colors, although the base model only comes in Platinum with the Alcantara palm rest. The other three colors are Graphite, Sandstone, and this year’s new color, Sage. The 15-inch model only comes in Graphite and Platinum.

The model that Microsoft sent me for review includes a Core i7-1255U, 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 15-inch screen, so the retail price would be $1,799.99.

Design: It’s a silver, aluminum laptop

  • The Surface Laptop 5 is made out of aluminum and comes in Platinum, Graphite, Sandstone, and Sage colors
  • It now has Thunderbolt 4, which comes alongside USB Type-A, 3.5mm audio, and Surface Connect

When Microsoft announced the original Surface Laptop, it was the first Surface product to be made out of aluminum. Back then, the trademark material was magnesium. Aluminum is heavier, but it’s easier to make into different colors, so we got bold colors like Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and the all-but-forgotten Graphite Gold.

Surface Laptop colors have gotten more subtle over the years, with the introduction of Sandstone with the Laptop 3, Ice Blue with the Laptop 4, and now Sage with the Laptop 5. The 13.5-inch model comes in Platinum, Graphite, Sandstone, and Sage. If you want to go big with the 15-inch one, you can only get Platinum and Graphite. There’s no Alcantara either; it’s just aluminum.

The Surface Laptop 5 colors are subtle, yet stylish.

Indeed, the Platinum Surface Laptop 5 15 looks like a silver aluminum laptop, which are abundant on the market. The outside design of the Surface laptop really hasn’t changed at all since the original, other than the addition of the USB Type-C port with the Laptop 3 and the various color changes over the years. The 15-inch model debuted with the Laptop 3 as well.

As for ports, it’s still got the same array of a USB Type-A port, a USB Type-C port, a Surface Connect port, and a 3.5mm audio jack. The USB Type-C port has been upgraded to Thunderbolt 4, which will get you 40Gbps data transfer speeds. And of course, you can connect an external GPU, dual 4K monitors, and so on.

The product does ship with a Surface Connect charger. I’m not a fan of Surface Connect and have used the USB Type-C port this whole time for charging, but the good news is that you have a choice. You can use a Surface docking station or any Thunderbolt dock.

In terms of the design itself, the weight is properly balanced. The term ‘lappability’ has always been a joke in the Surface world because the products have a reputation of not being usable on your lap. This was and is the case with the Surface Pro, and it was the case with the Surface Book as well. Surface Laptop wasn’t perfect when it was first introduced, but it’s improved significantly over the past three generations. Microsoft loves to show off that you can lift the lid with one finger.

While the design hasn’t changed, I suspect it will next year because it’s been a solid few generations since there have been any external changes. Also, the Surface Laptop 5 is one of the only Intel 12th-generation laptops that hasn’t gotten a new look. The Dell XPS 13, XPS 13 Plus, Lenovo Yoga 9i, and HP Spectre x360 all feature new designs for 2022.

Display and keyboard: Unfortunately, the screen is still 60Hz

  • Both the 13.5- and 15-inch Surface Laptop 5 displays still have 201ppi pixel densities
  • The webcam is still 720p

Last year’s Surface Pro 8 got a 120Hz refresh rate, as did the all-new Surface Laptop Studio. I think we all expected the rest of the premium lineup would get the same treatment in the next generation, but that’s not the case. When I asked why the screen is still 60Hz, I got two answers. One was that Microsoft wanted to hit the same price point that it sold the Surface Laptop 4 for, which I totally respect. The other is that this isn’t aimed at the same market as the Surface Laptop Studio. Studio is a creator brand, which demands a different type of screen.

Microsoft sent me the 15-inch model, although both variants have a 201ppi pixel density, which is OK. It’s not as good as a Surface Pro, although it’s the same as the Surface Laptop Studio. I’ve always found the 15-inch screen size to be the sweet spot on a product like this. Remember, the screen is 3:2 and measured diagonally, so if you get a 13.5-inch 3:2 display, it’s not as wide as a 13.3-inch 16:9 display. If you use apps side-by-side, that matters.

When you increase that 3:2 screen to 15 inches, it’s a lot different. You have a lot more breathing room, and it feels more spacious.

Interestingly, my display tests didn’t come out too great. The screen supports 96% sRGB, 67% NTSC, 71% Adobe RGB, and 71% P3.

Brightness maxed out at 398.5 nits, and contrast maxed out at 1,240:1. The display is also very glossy, a trademark for the Surface brand, so be aware of that if you plan on using the device outdoors.

One of the biggest letdowns is that the webcam is still 720p. This comes at a time when almost every premium laptop has been reworked to include a 1080p webcam. It’s a recommendation as part of Intel’s Evo spec, and with so many people working from home, webcam quality is more critical than ever.

Microsoft did say that it now uses a dedicated sensor that separates the webcam from the IR camera, which should result in better quality. Still, it’s not like the Surface brand offers super-narrow bezels where it couldn’t include a better webcam like everybody else. Also, Microsoft pioneered good webcams. With the Surface Pro 3 back in 2014, it included a 5MP webcam, which every Surface Pro has had until the new Surface Pro 9, along with the lower-end Surface Go. Surface Laptop, on the other hand, has always had a 0.9MP sensor for 720p quality.

Let’s move onto the keyboard, which feels great to use. Frankly, every time I use a Surface Laptop, I’m reminded of just how much I love the keyboards. Surface ones aren’t too deep or too shallow, and the resistance feels just right to where I don’t miss any keystrokes. I do think it’s gotten better over the years, though.

One thing I take issue with is the touchpad, which is a bit too small. Other PC OEMs are making use of more of the available real estate, and seeing so much room around the touchpad actually feels dated at this point. It also sounds too loud. Companies have invested in quieter keyboards, and I don’t understand why they don’t invest in quieter touchpads. If you use this product in a completely quiet room, it will still make a noise no matter how lightly you press it. The Pro’s Surface Keyboard is worse, but still, let’s start working on quiet touchpads. The world can handle it.

Performance: There’s no AMD, but it has Intel 12th-gen chips

  • Microsoft chose 15W U-series processors for the Surface Laptop 5
  • There’s no AMD model

Unlike the Surface Laptop 3 and 4, there’s no version of the Surface Laptop 5 with AMD processors. I asked Microsoft why, and the answer was that Intel had the right processors at the right time. I don’t believe that Microsoft intended to leave AMD out when it planned the product, which makes sense. AMD’s Ryzen 6000 mobile processors were announced first but didn’t ship until long after Intel 12th-generation ones started shipping.

Customers are also better off. AMD Ryzen laptops test well in multithreaded performance, but only when they’re plugged into power. Performance takes a significant hit when you’re running on battery life, and it’s enough for you to feel it in everyday use. Now, everyone that buys a Surface Laptop 5 is going to get an Intel processor, and that’s a good thing.

Another way the Surface Laptop 5 differentiates from other 15-inch laptops is the lack of dedicated graphics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you want those graphics, get a Surface Laptop Studio. You see, there are two kinds of 15-inch laptops: those meant for people who need power, as the larger form factor allows for more powerful CPUs and GPUs, and those for people who just want a bigger laptop. The Surface Laptop 5 15 is for the latter.

This 15-inch laptop weighs only 3.44 pounds, which is probably the lightest 15-inch aluminum laptop you’ll be able to find. Anything lighter than that, which does exist, is going to be made out of a plasticky material like magnesium. So, it’s got the same power as a 13-inch laptop, it’s bigger, and it doesn’t carry the extra weight you’d get from dedicated graphics.

Intel 12th-gen 15W processors mean you get a big boost in performance without a cost to battery life.

This is a great productivity machine, although I did use it for Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop to edit a bunch of photos. Microsoft chose Intel’s 15W U-series processors, which I found a bit surprising. You see, 15W is traditional for ultrabooks, but Intel has new 28W SKUs that it offers for more power, and a lot of companies are using them. But while I said it’s surprising, I did not say Microsoft made the wrong choice. That higher TDP comes at the cost of battery life.

The performance here is actually pretty great, so it’s not lacking either. For benchmarks, I ran PCMark 10, 3DMark, Geekbench, and Cinebench.

Surface Laptop 5 15 Core i7-1255USurface Laptop Studio Core i7-11370H, RTX A2000Surface Laptop 4 15 Ryzen 7 4980U
PCMark 105,2875,5735,035
3DMark: Time Spy1,7725,0751,405
Geekbench 51,662 / 8,7111,546 / 5,8261,165 / 7,203
Cinebench1,576 / 8,2141,504 / 6,2831,256 / 8,173

The Surface Laptop 5 benchmarks right where it should. Intel has always done well on single-core scores, but with its 12th generation, it started gaining ground on multi-core thanks to its new hybrid architecture that has performance and efficiency cores. From 8th-gen through 11th-gen, all U-series processors were quad-core with eight threads. The Core i7-1255U has 10 cores and 12 threads.

Microsoft doesn’t publish the battery size on its specs page, only how much battery life it expects you to get. It actually cites lower battery life for the 15-inch model, so I assume that both sizes have similar batteries. It’s a bummer since a form factor like this really has the potential to have great battery life. As it stands, the best I was able to get is six hours and 50 minutes, while the average run was between five hours and five and a half hours. This is what I expect from an ultrabook with an average size battery and a 15W processor. It’s fine, but it doesn’t stand out.

As always, I do my battery testing by using the machine as I always would. Most companies cite numbers much higher because they run synthetic tests like MobileMark or just play a local video on a loop, both of which won’t come close to replicating real-world usage. I also set the power slider to better performance because I found best performance wasn’t needed, with the brightness was set to medium.

Who should buy the Surface Laptop 5?

You should buy the Surface Laptop 5 if:

  • You need a big screen with the 15-inch model
  • You want something premium that doesn’t cost today’s premium prices
  • Your main workflow is productivity

You should NOT buy the Surface Laptop 5 if:

  • Your main workflow includes photo or video editing
  • You like to draw or take notes with a pen
  • You need high-quality video for calls

If you’re looking for something that’s made for creative work, you really should be looking toward the Surface Laptop Studio. It’s got a 35W CPU, dedicated graphics, a 120Hz display, and a convertible form factor. The Surface Laptop 5 is still a very good productivity laptop with a great keyboard, pretty design, and a light weight. It doesn’t do a lot but it does what it needs to well.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5
The Surface Laptop 5 features a sleek design, runs Windows 11, and has a touchscreen. It does feature some aging ports, but it's one of the best Windows laptops on the market right now.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5

The Surface Laptop 5 features a sleek design, runs Windows 11, and has a touchscreen. For the money, it’s one of the best laptops around right now, and for the 15-inch model, it’s one of the lightest.

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