I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s laptop hardware and have been buying the Surface devices as my personal computers with abandon for a number of years. Few companies make hardware as uniquely beautiful as the Redmond-based tech giant. So I was a little happier than some of my tech critics when I heard that Microsoft hadn’t messed with the Surface Laptop’s design too much.
The Laptop 5 launching today looks almost identical to last year’s Laptop 4. The main difference is the processor inside and the processor options. previous versions of the Surface Laptop offered a choice between Intel and AMD SKUs; Intel offered more raw performance, while AMD was more efficient, allowing consumers to shop according to their preferences. Not this year. The laptop 5 is only intel.
Microsoft has not given a reason for this. When asked, a manager told edge Editor Tom Warren: “We’ve been focused on shipping 12th Gen Intel.” So here I am, reviewing a 13.5-inch Intel-powered laptop that packs a somewhat unremarkable chip into a still-remarkable chassis accommodates.
HOW WE EVALUATE AND REVIEW PRODUCTS
Here’s what you need to know about the Surface Laptop 5.
- There are two screen sizes. As in years past, Microsoft is selling a 13.5-inch 2256 x 1504 model and a 15-inch 2496 x 1664 model. The screen size is the main difference; Processors and other internal components are mostly the same. Both panels support Dolby Vision IQ (which should help optimize HDR content). The 13-inch display is quite sharp and more than bright enough for home use. I did catch some glare when direct light hit the glossy display, but it wasn’t strong enough to be a problem.
- It’s a pretty machine. The well-known Windows logo adorns the lid, and the workmanship is professional. It’s fairly light at 2.86 pounds, and it feels like you’re holding a MacBook Air.
- The apertures are large. I wouldn’t say it hurts the user experience hugely, but I’ll admit that, like last year’s model, they’re…blocky. Shrinking the bezels seemed a natural fit to refresh the design in a modern way and bring the laptop closer to the premium competition.
- There’s a green one. New this year is the 13.5-inch limited Sage model, which is said to be green. I was sent the wise option to review, and I’ll say calling it green is a… stretch. It looks gray to me. But you know, epistemic humility and all that.
- Finally thunderbolt. One of the Laptop 4’s weak points was the lack of Thunderbolt, even on Intel models. The Laptop 5 finally brings that standard to the only USB-C port it has, along with a USB-A and headphone port on the left. That’s not very many ports, for the record. I wish there were more – at least an SD slot.
- The keyboard is still a bit flat. Surface buttons have a very identifiable push button. This is one of my favorite things about the Surface Book keyboard, which remains one of my favorite keyboards out there to this day. But I could feel my fingers tapping on the Laptop 5 in a way they don’t on the Surface Book, and I wish there was more travel here.
I could feel my fingers tapping on the laptop 5
Another comment I have about the chassis is that there is something wrong with the little pads on the underside of the deck. In particular, they don’t have any support at all, and this model slid around my desk without end. This will not be a problem for everyone. I just feel the need to mention it here because it has personally pissed me off. Thanks for listening. We’ll get through this together.
The Surface Laptop model I have costs $1,699. It’s the most expensive model, including a Core i7-1255U (efficient on paper and tailored for thin-and-lights), along with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. I’ve used it mostly for Google Docs work and research, as well as some Spotify, TV and messing around in Photoshop. For this type of workload, the 1255U will be perfectly fine. It survived everything without any noticeable heat in the keyboard and case.
Temperatures peaked in the mid 80’s (degrees Celsius) with a handful of jumps as high as 100
To simulate higher workloads, I ran both CPU and GPU benchmarks. Overall, this Intel model performs better on single-core tasks, better on graphics tests, and worse on some multi-core tasks compared to the AMD-powered Surface Laptop 4 I tested last year. That’s not surprising – single-core is Intel’s forte. But it’s remarkable that an AMD model from last year (powered by what was then a generation-old AMD chip) continues to outperform Intel’s current line in all tests. Cooling was also decent during this process, with temperatures hitting their highest in the mid-80s (degrees Celsius) with a handful of jumps as high as 100.
Battery life averages seven hours and 51 minutes of continuous use at medium brightness. Compared to what I’ve seen from other Intel thin-and-lights this year, I take that result. However, I saw three hours longer on the AMD Surface Laptop 4, despite the two devices having almost the same sized battery.
Consent to continue: Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 (13.5″)
The mandatory policies that require consent to use the laptop are:
- Microsoft Software License Terms (Windows Operating System) and Manufacturer’s Limited Hardware Warranty and Agreement
In addition, there are a number of optional things that you must agree to, including:
- Privacy preferences including location, Find My Device, diagnostic data, inking and typing, tailored experiences, advertising ID
- Sign up for a free trial of Microsoft 365
- Sign up for a free trial of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
That’s two mandatory agreements and eight optional ones.
Ultimately, the Laptop 5 continues to be a well-built and powerful laptop that, while pricey, isn’t so high in the retail clouds that any major flaw is a non-starter. (Hust, ThinkPads.) It’s a good computer that I enjoy using. It has more than enough power for general use, while those who need heavier graphics power might prefer the much heavier Surface Laptop Studio, which is available with discrete GPUs.
But battery life isn’t as good as last year’s AMD models. Trading some efficiency for extra performance is legitimate. It’s a compromise I’m sure some buyers are happy to make. But it wasn’t one that Microsoft had to ask of them. Microsoft could have had both.
Accessibility for Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 (as reviewed)
- The letter keys are 0.6″ x 0.6″ with 0.1″ spacing between them. All buttons are backlit. Fn and Caps Lock have indicator lights. The power button is 0.6 x 0.1 inch. The volume buttons are 0.6 x 0.4 inches. The keys are grayish green with white text and require some force to press.
- The speakers reached an average of 80 decibels in my tests, which corresponds to the level of a standard external speaker.
- The lid can be opened with one hand.
- There is a touchscreen with a contrast ratio of 1300:1.
- The touchpad measures 4.5 x 3 inches.
- Setup involves turning on the device and clicking through several menus.
- The Laptop 5 supports face logins, but not fingerprint logins.
- Windows 11 includes a dedicated accessibility menu.
- Windows 11 includes a built-in screen reader (speech output). It supports third-party screen readers, including NV Access’s NVDA and Freedom Scientific’s Jaws. A full list of compatible software can be found here on the Microsoft website.
- Windows 11 supports voice input (accessed via Windows + H) and speech recognition (toggled with Windows + Ctrl + S).
- Color filters including inverted, grayscale, red-green, and blue-yellow can be toggled with Windows + Ctrl + C. Contrast themes are toggled with Alt + Left Shift + Print Screen. Standard dark mode and custom colors are also available under Personalization.
- The color and size of the caption can be customized and appears at the bottom of the screen.
- The keyboard can be remapped with PowerToys from Microsoft. Sticky keys are supported. An on-screen keyboard is available.
- The size and speed of the cursor can be adjusted and gestures can be remapped in the touchpad settings.
- Windows 11 supports eye control with external eye trackers.
- Windows 11 includes a snap layout feature that you can access by hovering over the maximize button in any open window.
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