If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes. While that is frequently wise advice, there is obviously a limit to how long you can keep something going, especially a gadget before it begins to lag behind. And, with the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5, appears to be testing that boundary, because, while the notebook is as elegant and sleek as ever, even with the addition of a new CPU, it’s easy to see where its ageing chassis could benefit from a few updates or quality of life improvements. So, while I’ll never complain about having a performance boost, Microsoft could do better.
Design, Keyboard and Ports
I won’t spend too much time discussing the Surface Laptop 5’s exterior since it uses the same chassis Microsoft has used for the last three or four generations. Both the 13-inch and 15-inch models are made of aluminium and have tall 3:2 displays for increased productivity. Our 13.5-inch review unit weighed 2.86 pounds and was only 0.57 inch thick. The entire package is extremely sleek, and I can see why Microsoft doesn’t wish to mess with the design – it truly is a thing of beauty. It’s thin and minimalist, just like a MacBook, but different enough that you won’t confuse the two. Nonetheless, I believe Microsoft is more than capable of modifying the current chassis to accommodate new components while maintaining its good looks.
This year brings a sage green colour option, similar to the one found on the Surface Laptop Go 2. But Microsoft didn’t stop there; the company also created custom wallpapers for Windows 11 that match the exterior paint job of the system. I know this is a minor change in the larger scheme of things, but the added colour coordination is nice.
Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop 5’s keyboard as well as touchpad leave little to be desired. The keycaps are well spaced and have nice crisp actuation, but after some hands-on time with the 15-inch model, I noticed that the larger model has slightly deeper key travel. And, while its 4.5 x 3 inch touchpad isn’t as large as that of a similarly sized MacBook, there is still plenty of room to mouse around.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 also has a new USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4 port that also provides increased bandwidth for data transfer or sending video to external displays. Unfortunately, both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch models only have two USB connectors: the above said Thunderbolt 4 port and a regular USB 3.1 Type-A slot. Thankfully, Microsoft hasn’t dropped wired audio support, so you’ll still find a 3.5mm headphone jack alongside the company’s signature magnetic Surface Connect port for charging as well as docking.
Display and Webcam
The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 5 retains the same 2,256 x 1,504 PixelSense touchscreen that Microsoft used on the previous model, which is fine. It has good brightness, with a light metre reading of just under 400 nits, and rich, saturated colours. Support for Dolby Vision IQ, that also automatically adjusts things like colour profiles and contrast based on ambient conditions, is the only new feature for 2022. It’s a nice touch, but given that nearly every phone released in the last few years uses a similar display technology, Microsoft isn’t exactly breaking new ground here.
However, despite having excellent image quality, the Surface Laptop 5’s display is beginning to age somewhat. The bezels are a few millimetres thicker than those on the Surface Laptop Studio from last year, giving the device a slightly thicker appearance. Additionally, neither HDR nor high refresh rates are supported.
The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 5 retains Microsoft’s previous model’s 2,256 x 1,504 PixelSense touchscreen, which is fine. It’s bright, with a light metre reading of just under 400 nits, and it has rich, saturated colours. The only new feature for 2022 is support for Dolby Vision IQ, which automatically adjusts things like colour profiles as well as contrast based on ambient conditions. It’s a nice touch, but given that as in almost every phone released in the last few years is using a similar display technology, Microsoft isn’t exactly innovating here.
Inside, the new 12th-generation Intel CPUs provide a significant performance boost. The downside is that, unlike the previous generation, there are no AMD-based configurations, which is a bit disappointing. However, with PCMark 10 scores that are roughly 20% higher than the Surface Laptop 4, it’s difficult to be too disappointed. Just don’t get your hopes up for any intense gaming, as both models are limited to Iris XE integrated graphics.
Battery and USB
In terms of battery life, the Surface Laptop 5 delivered respectable but not outstanding results, clocking in at 12 hours and 39 minutes. In comparison, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 from last year performed better, clocking in at 15:25, as did other ultraportables from this year, such as the Lenovo Yoga 9i at 14:22 and the M2 MacBook Air at 17:05.
As a long-time Surface user, I appreciate that Microsoft kept the extra 5-watt charging port built into the included power adapter, which is great for charging small peripherals like a mouse or wireless headphones. And, if you happen to lose or forget your charging brick at home, you can still charge the Surface Laptop 5 via USB-C.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 hasn’t received a tonne of updates, but it still has a really elegant design, new 12th-generation Intel chips, and a Thunderbolt 4 port, which significantly increase speed and usability. The Surface Laptop 5 fits all the necessities into a very svelte package, even though it might not have the sharpest webcam or a tonne of ports if all you need is a streamlined ultraportable for general productivity. However, it is somewhat telling that Microsoft only provided the 13.5-inch model for review, as the 15-inch model needs even more improvements.