Surface Laptop 5 (13-inch) review: A beautiful design that’s almost come to an end

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The old adage says that if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Now, while that’s often wise advice, there’s obviously a limit to how long you can keep something running, especially a device, before it starts to lag. And with the Surface Laptop 5, it looks like Microsoft is starting to test that limit because while the laptop is as sleek and stylish as ever, even with the inclusion of a new CPU, it’s easy to see where its old chassis could use some. upgrades or improvements in quality of life. So while I’ll never complain about getting a performance boost, I still feel like Microsoft could do better.

Design, keyboard and ports

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the exterior of the Surface Laptop 5 because it’s the same chassis that Microsoft has been using for the last three or four generations. The 13-inch and 15-inch models feature an aluminum body with tall 3:2 screens to enhance productivity. Our 13.5-inch review unit weighed in at 2.86 pounds and measured just 0.57 inches thick. The whole package is super sleek, and in some respects I can see why Microsoft doesn’t want to mess with the design – it really is a beautiful thing. It’s slim and minimalist like a MacBook, but different enough that you’ll never get them mixed up. Still, I think Microsoft is more than capable of tweaking the current chassis to accommodate new components without ruining its good looks.

New this year is a sage green color option like we have on the Surface Laptop Go 2. But Microsoft didn’t stop there because the company also made custom wallpapers for Windows 11 that match the system’s exterior paint job. . I know this is a pretty minor change in the grand scheme of things, but the little bit more color coordination is nice.

Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop 5’s keyboard and trackpad don’t leave much to complain about. The keys are well spaced and have a nice crisp actuation, though after some hands-on time with the 15-inch version, I noticed that the larger model has slightly deeper key travel. And while its touchpad, which measures 4.5 x 3 inches, isn’t as big as what you’d find on a similarly sized MacBook, there’s still plenty of room to hover.

The color of the sage green Surface Laptop 5 changes a lot depending on the lighting conditions, although it still has the same aluminum chassis as before.

Another big change in Surface Laptop 5 is its new USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4 port, which provides higher bandwidth for transferring data or sending video to external displays. Sadly, on both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch models, there are only a total of two USB connectors: the aforementioned Thunderbolt 4 port and a regular USB 3.1 Type-A slot. Fortunately, Microsoft hasn’t removed support for wired audio, so you still get a 3.5mm headphone jack in addition to the company’s signature magnetic Surface Connect port for charging and docking.

While the Surface Laptop 5's keyboard isn't as big as what you'd get on a MacBook, there's still plenty of room to move your mouse around, and the keyboard feels great.

While the Surface Laptop 5’s keyboard isn’t as big as what you’d get on a MacBook, there’s still plenty of room to move your mouse around, and the keyboard feels great.

But if you’ll allow me a little tribulation, I wish Microsoft would ditch the Surface Connect port altogether. Due to recent EU regulations, we’re on the verge of all phones supporting USB-C for charging and data, and aside from the proprietary connectors Apple and Microsoft use on MacBooks and Surfaces, laptops aren’t far behind. Getting rid of the Surface Connect port would not only free up space for another USB-C connector, which is smaller and more versatile, but its weak magnets and awkward shape make it more difficult to use than USB-C.

screen and webcam

Like its chassis, the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 5 features the same 2256 x 1504 PixelSense touchscreen that Microsoft used in the previous model, and it’s totally fine. It has good brightness hitting just under 400 nits on my light meter along with rich, saturated colors. The only new tweak for 2022 is support for Dolby Vision IQ, which automatically adjusts things like color profiles and contrast based on environmental conditions. It’s a nice touch, but considering almost every phone made in the last few years has similar display technology, Microsoft isn’t [exactly] breaking new ground here.

At 720p resolution, the Surface Laptop 5's webcam is just mediocre.

At 720p resolution, the Surface Laptop 5’s webcam is just mediocre.

That said, while the image quality is solid, the Surface Laptop 5’s screen is starting to show its age a bit. The bezels are a few millimeters thicker than what we got on last year’s Surface Laptop Studio, which makes things look a bit chunky. You also don’t get support for HDR or high refresh rates.

But the thing that’s lagging the most is its 720p webcam, which is passable at best. You don’t get support for any of Microsoft’s Windows Studio effects like you do on the Surface Pro 9 5G and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 1080p webcams should be the baseline on premium laptops. Fortunately, Microsoft has kept the built-in IR cameras for Windows Hello facial recognition, which still works very well.

Performance

As with previous Surfaces, Microsoft still uses its Surface Connect magnetic port for charging and docking.

As with previous Surfaces, Microsoft still uses its Surface Connect magnetic port for charging and docking.

Inside, new 12th Gen Intel CPUs offer a huge leap in performance. The downside is that, unlike the previous generation, there are no AMD-based configurations, which is a bummer. That said, with scores that are around 20 percent higher in PCMark 10 compared to the Surface Laptop 4, it’s hard to be too upset.

Just don’t get your hopes up about intense gaming, because both models are restricted to Iris XE integrated graphics. In surveillance 2, I had to turn the settings down to medium to get a somewhat stable 60fps, though you can get a bit more performance if you’re willing to lower the game’s resolution or turn on upsampling. But regardless of what you do, this thing really isn’t meant to play AAA titles.

Battery life and ports

Port selection is somewhat limited on the Surface Laptop 5, though the new Thunderbolt 4 support is a very useful upgrade.

Port selection is somewhat limited on the Surface Laptop 5, though the new Thunderbolt 4 support is a very useful upgrade.

When it comes to battery life, clocking in at 12 hours and 39 minutes, the Surface Laptop 5 delivered respectable if not outstanding results. By comparison, last year’s 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 fared better at a 15:25 mark, as did other ultraportables this year, including 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 has kept the extra 5-watt charging port built into the included power adapter, which is really good for powering up small peripherals like a wireless mouse or headset. And I should mention that if for some reason you lose or forget your charging pad at home, you can still recharge Surface Laptop 5 via USB-C.

To wrap

While the Surface Laptop 5 hasn’t gotten many updates, it still has a really sleek design, and the addition of new 12th Gen Intel chips and a Thunderbolt 4 port provide a huge boost in speed and ease of use. Sure, it might not have the sharpest webcam or a ton of ports, but if an ultraportable streamlined for general productivity is all you need, the Surface Laptop 5 packs all the essentials into one very stylish package.

As a fun nod to better color coordination, Surface Laptop 5 comes pre-installed with a matching Windows 11 wallpaper.

As a fun nod to better color coordination, Surface Laptop 5 comes pre-installed with a matching Windows 11 wallpaper.

It’s somewhat telling though that Microsoft only sent the 13.5-inch model for review, because there are even more changes I’d like to see in the 15-inch version. I know my dream of getting an Xbox gaming laptop will probably never come true, but I think there’s a lot of potential to transform the larger Surface Laptop 5 into a great all-rounder by adding support for discrete graphics and a few more ports. .

But the hard part comes when it comes to deciding between the 13-inch Surface Laptop 5 and something like the XPS 13. For the same starting price of $1,000, Dell’s laptop comes with a similar CPU and a larger 512 SSD. GB instead of just a 256GB drive. but no touch screen (although you can upgrade to one if you want). That means you have to choose between getting a slightly better value on the XPS 13 or opting for a taller 3:2 touchscreen with the Surface Laptop 5.

Still, if all you want is a sleek ultraportable with a good screen for productivity, Microsoft’s latest clamshell has a lot to like. I just hope that next year we get a full upgrade instead of just a simple spec bump.

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