Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: running to stand still


The Surface Laptop 5 on a table in front of a window.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5
MSRP $999.00

Score Details

“The Surface Laptop 5 doesn’t do enough to move the ball forward, and even loses ground in some areas.”


  • Lots of color options
  • Still thin and light
  • Thunderbolt 4, finally
  • Upgradable storage


  • Still uses 720p webcam
  • Limited performance gains
  • No more AMD options

In its fifth iteration, the Surface Laptop has never needed a face-lift more than now. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a stylish laptop, and I appreciate that some of its aesthetics have aged gracefully. Microsoft also says its fans don’t have many complaints.


  • Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 specs
  • Staying the course
  • Lots of missed opportunities
  • Just not enough

But with so many options pushing ahead into the future of laptop design, the Surface Laptop 5 feels like it’s being left in the dust by some of the best laptops you can buy right now.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 specs

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5
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
13.5-inch: 2.8 pounds
15-inch: 3.44 pounds
Intel Core i5-1235U
Intel Core i7-1255U
Intel Iris Xe
Up to 32GB LPDDR5x
13.5-inch 3:2 PixelSense 2,256 x 1,504 IPS
15.0-inch 3:2 PixelSense 2,496 x 1,664 IPS
Up to 1TB PCie SSD
1 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x USB-A 3.1
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
1 x Surface Connect port
Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.1
720p with infrared camera for Windows 11 Hello
Operating system
Windows 11
Up to 18 hours (13.5-inch)
Up to 17 hours (15-inch)
13.5-inch: $1,000+
15-inch: $1,300+

Staying the course

I thought the Surface Laptop needed a redesign last year. In its fifth generation, five years since the initial launch, it’s desperate for a new look. I do love the 3:2 aspect ratio screen, and the symmetrical bezels that surround the screen. It’s a look that no other laptop has copied verbatim, but its age is certainly starting to show. That bottom bezel, in particular, is just not a good look in 2022.

I could forgive the chunky top bezel if Microsoft had updated the webcam this time around, as it should have. But no – this is still a crummy 720p webcam, despite the fact that there would have been plenty of room for something better.

The Surface Laptop 5 is no longer at the front of the pack in terms of portability.

It’s not necessarily a horrible webcam, and Microsoft has made some software tweaks to improve the quality over last year’s model. But what this camera really needs is a higher resolution.

Portability is another aspect where the Surface Laptop design has always excelled in, but no longer stands out. The 13.5-inch model is 0.57 inches thick, and the 15-inch model is just 0.01 inches thicker. That’s very small, but in a world where the 0.44-inch MacBook Air M2 exists, the Surface Laptop 5 is no longer at the front of the pack.

The Sage green color option, which first appeared in the Surface Laptop Go 2 earlier this year, is really the only thing new here. Sandstone and Black are still on offer for the metal versions, as well as the Platinum Alcantara model – but Alcantara is only available in the base configuration.

Speaking of the base configuration, the price scaling feels a little out of touch here too. It comes with a Core i5-1245U, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage – for $1,000. That matches the MacBook Air M1, as well as the current price of the Dell XPS 13. Unfortunately, though, your customization options are limited and expensive. There aren’t any larger storage options, such as 1 or 2TB. Furthermore, the XPS 13 offers 512GB (or 1TB, depending on the day) of storage for the same price.

Microsoft continues its tendency to overcharge for memory and storage upgrades, charging $300 to go from 8GB to 16GB of RAM. Fortunately, the Surface Laptop 5 still has user-accessible storage, meaning you can upgrade yourself for much cheaper down the line.

Lots of missed opportunities

In the world of tech, not moving forward is the same as standing still entirely. But it’s a risk Microsoft has decided to take with the Surface Laptop 5.

The screen hasn’t been changed from previous versions of the Surface Laptop. And while that’s not bad, per se, it doesn’t feature a lot of the splashy and fresh design elements of newer Surface devices. The Surface Laptop Studio from last year features a screen with modern, rounded edges, as well as a variable refresh rate screen up to 120Hz. Of course, that’s a more expensive product, but the Surface Pro 9 also includes that variable refresh rate too.

And then there the processor options. AMD was introduced in last year’s Surface Laptop 4, which significantly improved multi-core performance and battery life. The Ryzen Edition Surface Laptop has been discontinued — at least for now. That leaves just Intel’s 12th-gen U-series chips to fill in the gaps. These aren’t Intel’s best. They are 15-watt chips that have just two Performance cores. The device never gets overly loud or hot, but there’s also not a ton of muscle here.

(single / multi)


Cinebench R23
(single / multi)

PCMark 10

Surface Laptop 5
(Core i7-1250U)
1209 / 6391
1130 / 7170
Dell XPS 13 9315(Core i5-1230U)
1393 / 4,459
1379 / 3457
Apple MacBook Air M2
(Apple M2)
1,925 / 7973
1,600 / 7,938
Asus ZenBook S 13 UM4302 (Ryzen 7 6800U)
1417 / 6854
1402 / 8682
Dell XPS 13 Plus(Core i7-1280P)
1316 / 8207
1311 / 6308
HP Envy x360 13.5(Core i7-1255U)
1,566 / 7,314
1,623 / 5,823

The Surface Laptop 5 13.5 sits toward the bottom of the pack in terms of performance, right around the Dell XPS 13 9315, which remains one of the weakest Intel 12th-gen laptops I’ve tested. I’m guessing the Core i5 version of the Surface Laptop 5 13.5 would line up pretty closely with the XPS 13 in terms of performance.

Here’s the sad part. The Ryzen Edition Surface Laptop 4 actually beats the Core i7 Surface Laptop 5 in Geekbench multi-core performance. The newer model wins in terms of single-core performance, but it means that in some real-world tests that the Surface Laptop 5 is no faster than the Surface Laptop 4. Video encoding in Handbrake is an example where the two laptops are right in line with each other in terms of performance. Newer Ryzen 6000-powered devices, like the Asus Zenbook S 13, perform this same test almost 20% faster.

That’s not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean the Surface Laptop 5 is a poor performer necessarily. The Surface Laptop has never been known for performance, but the Surface Laptop 4 went a long way toward changing that perception. The Surface Laptop 5 reverts that trend, though.

Battery life was another area where the Surface Laptop 4 was enhanced by the use of AMD chips. The Surface Laptop 5 fares well enough, lasting around 10 and a half hours in light web browsing. That’s still a few hours behind the Surface Laptop 4,though, and in an era when the Apple Silicon MacBooks have this big of a lead in terms of battery life, I wish Microsoft had kept an AMD version around.

Just not enough

The Surface Laptop 5 is a disappointment. It’s a design I like, and many of the essential elements are solid. The keyboard is great, the port selection has what you need, and the 3:2 display is pleasant to work on.

But as a laptop released in 2022 at this price, it’s falling behind. The M1 MacBook Air often sells for hundreds of dollars cheaper, despite being a faster and longer-lasting laptop. Then there are laptops like the Dell XPS 13 or HP Envy x360 13, both of which are cheaper and offer more affordable configuration options. I like the 3:2 touchscreen that the Surface Laptop 5 includes all the way down the stack, but Microsoft’s overpriced storage and memory make it hard to recommend anything beyond the base configuration.

Keeping an AMD model in the lineup may have made the Surface Laptop 5 a bit more competitive. But even still, there are a number of reasons the Surface Laptop 5 feels like it’s a few years old — because in many ways, it is.

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