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Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: The ultimate big-screen Windows notebook


There are plenty of reasons to write off the Surface Laptop 5. Microsoft’s latest flagship laptop is virtually the same as last year’s model, retaining the same bulky build and thick display bezels that look dated against the current crop of ultra-thin designs and practically borderless screens. It’s stuck with a 720p webcam, and other than an updated port and slightly faster processors, it doesn’t meaningfully improve on the Surface Laptop 4 that came before it.

And yet, I can’t keep my hands off of it.

Despite its shortcomings and lack of innovation, the Surface Laptop 5 retains everything that made its predecessor one of the best Windows laptops out there. That includes a superb keyboard, smooth overall performance and a uniquely tall and vibrant display that outshines competitors with a bigger, brighter canvas for working on. Oh, and it looks gorgeous in green.

Existing Surface Laptop owners don’t have much to get excited about this year, but after about a week of using the Laptop 5 as my daily driver, I’ve learned that it just might be the Windows notebook to get if you fall into a certain camp.

The ultimate big-screen Windows laptop

If your priorities for a Windows laptop are having a big screen and great battery life, the Surface Laptop 5 is well worth it. However, most existing Surface Laptop owners can skip it, and those who want something more compact should get the Dell XPS 13.

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Mike Andronico/CNN

The Surface Laptop 5 is virtually identical to its last couple of predecessors in terms of design, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best-looking laptops I’ve ever gotten my hands on. My review unit came in the new Sage green variation, which packs a striking two-tone look that’s become an attractive centerpiece to both my living room and office. Because technology has become such a large part of our daily lifestyles, especially with so many of us working from home, I’m always happy to see laptops adopt actual color options for those sick of silver. In the Surface Laptop 5’s case, those also include a pinkish Sandstone, a straight-up Black and a Platinum version that’s coated in soft Alcantara fabric.

Fortunately, the Laptop 5 feels as good to use as it looks. While it’s not quite as svelte as the MacBook Air M2 or the especially compact Dell XPS 13, this is a slim, lightweight laptop that I loved having in my lap and had no issues carrying around the apartment. Its snappy keyboard continues to be one of the best I’ve ever tested, even if the lack of a right Ctrl key forces me to rewire my muscle memory a bit. And while my metal Sage model doesn’t have the same extra-cozy Alcantara coating you’ll find on the Platinum variation, the notebook looks so damn good that I didn’t care.

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Mike Andronico/CNN

For all of its quirks — and the fact that nothing has really changed this year but the colors — the Surface Laptop 5 is still one of the most beautiful, functional laptops out there.

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Mike Andronico/CNN

Speaking of beautiful and functional, the Laptop 5 has one of the best displays you can get on a notebook. Microsoft’s 13.5-inch PixelSense screen (there’s also a 15-inch model) has a level of richness and detail that’s practically OLED-like, producing deep, vivid colors that especially popped when I fired up an 8K nature video filled with satisfying greens, blues and oranges. Heck, even just typing in Google Docs or chatting in Discord was a joy, thanks to how sharp and inky (and thus, easy to read) most text came across on the display.

Like most other Surface screens, the Laptop 5 has the advantage of a 3:2 display ratio, which offers more vertical real estate — something ideal for seeing more spreadsheet rows or lines of code at a glance — than you’ll get on a typical MacBook or Windows laptop. It’s a subtle difference, but one that made the Laptop 5 easy to work on without connecting any external displays. Microsoft’s screen is also touch-friendly and supports most Surface Pens (including the excellent Surface Slim Pen 2) for those who want to sketch or take notes by hand. The Laptop 5’s glossy display reflects lots of sunlight, and its thick bezels make it look dated, but neither of those detract much from what’s one of the most vibrant, feature-rich panels you can get on a notebook.

The Laptop 5’s stereo speakers are likewise impressive. Not only did co-workers come through clearly on calls, but the crunchy guitars and soaring vocals of rock tracks like “Cat’s Cradle” sounded crisp and satisfying at full volume — and not distorted and tinny like they did on the XPS 13.

Good overall performance and battery life

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Mike Andronico/CNN

The Surface Laptop 5 held up well against my typical workday and beyond, providing smooth, snappy performance as I multitasked between apps, hopped around dozens of memory-hungry Chrome tabs and streamed many hours of video on YouTube and Twitch. I rarely like working on just a laptop alone, but the notebook’s reliable speeds — combined with its uniquely tall screen and superb keyboard — made that easy.

Microsoft’s laptop, which we tested with a 12th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, also held up fairly well on our benchmark tests. On the Geekbench 5 multi-core test, which is a good indicator of a laptop’s overall productivity chops, the Laptop 5 outscored the Dell XPS 13 (powered by the latest Core i5 processor) and the Surface Pro 9 (powered by Microsoft’s SQ3 chip). The Laptop 5 can also handle some light gaming; while it couldn’t quite keep up on our usual Shadow of the Tomb Raider test with all graphics settings cranked up, it turned in perfectly playable frame rates of around 30 frames per second (fps) with the visuals set to low.

The new Surface Laptop’s benchmark scores were a good margin behind the class-leading MacBook Air M2 and MacBook Pro M2 — both of which are better picks for more intensive video editing and graphics work — but as far as real work performance goes, this is a notebook I’d be happy to make my main work machine.

It certainly helps that the Laptop 5’s battery life is excellent. Microsoft’s laptop endured an impressive eight hours and 14 minutes of continuous 4K video playback on our battery test, nearly tying the Dell XPS 13 (8:31) and beating the new MacBook Air by a few hours. It’s not quite as long as the nearly 12 hours we got out of the 5G-enabled Surface Pro 9, but that machine makes some pretty big performance sacrifices to achieve that run time. The Surface Laptop 5 offers a better mix of battery life and performance for most people, lasting long enough to get through an average workday while avoiding the occasional nasty slowdown we saw on its Pro 9 counterpart.

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Mike Andronico/CNN

Just like last year’s model, the Surface Laptop 5’s port selection includes a Surface Connect charging port, a USB-A port and a USB-C port — the latter of which has finally been upgraded to Thunderbolt 4 to play nice with high-resolution monitors and provide faster transfer speeds. And unlike on the Surface Pro 9, you actually get a headphone jack.

Part of me loves the fact that the Surface Laptop continues to offer a USB-A port, as I still have plenty of webcams, mice and other important accessories that still use the old connection. However, I think most people are better served with the two high-speed USB-C ports you’ll get on most comparable laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Air, as you’ll have more flexibility when it comes to connecting modern accessories and USB-C hubs (Dell’s laptop also gets you a free USB-C to USB-A adapter). I would also love to see Microsoft ditch the proprietary Surface Connect port — which doesn’t connect as elegantly as Apple’s MagSafe port — in favor of an extra USB-C input that could be used for charging.

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Mike Andronico/CNN

As beautiful as the Surface Laptop 5 is, the design is starting to show its age. Its thick bezels and overall large size look especially dated next to the super-svelte Dell XPS 13, which offers nearly as much screen space and a similarly sized keyboard within a much more compact body. The Laptop 5 is also noticeably thicker than the MacBook Air. Microsoft’s notebook is still highly portable in the grand scheme of things, but you may want to compare some dimensions (which you can do below) if your bag space is at a premium.

It’s also disappointing to see a laptop in 2022 with a puny 720p webcam — especially when it’s as grainy as the one on the Laptop 5. The Dell XPS 13 also packs a 720p camera, but it at least looked a little sharper and warmer than Microsoft’s. Meanwhile, the MacBook Air M2’s 1080p webcam is a notable step up from both. The Surface Laptop 5’s camera will still get you through the average Zoom call just fine, but if you care about looking as presentable as possible, you should consider a different notebook or pick up a dedicated webcam.

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MacBook Air M2 product card 2
Processor

12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U / i7-1255U

12th Gen Intel Core i5-1230U / i7-1250U

Apple M2

Memory

8GB / 16GB

8GB / 16GB / 32GB

8GB / 16GB / 24GB

Storage

256GB / 512GB

512GB / 1TB SSD

256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD

Display

13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504 PixelSense touch display

13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200 display (touch optional)

13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display

Webcam

720p

720p

1080p

Speakers

Stereo speakers

Stereo speakers

Quad speakers

Ports

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (1), USB-A (1), Surface Connect port, headphone jack

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), USB-C to USB-A adapter included

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), MagSafe charging port, headphone jack

Battery life (rated)

Up to 18 hours

Up to 12 hours

Up to 18 hours

Size and weight

12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches; 2.8 pounds

11.63 x 7.86 x 0.55 inches; 2.59 pounds

11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches; 2.7 pounds

Price


$1,000


$1,000


$1,000

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Mike Andronico/CNN

The Surface Laptop 5 doesn’t bring many fresh features to the table, but if you’re due for a new notebook, there’s a lot to love about it. It has one of the best laptop keyboards around, offers a gorgeous array of color options and has a distinctly tall and rich display that’s especially great for multitasking (and sketching) on the go. But these perks don’t come without some significant trade-offs.

The Laptop 5 is one of the bulkier 13-inch laptops around, and while its mix of modern and legacy ports are good for people who still depend on USB-A, most folks are better off with the more future-proof connections found on competitors. The Dell XPS 13 is still our favorite Windows laptop, getting you a more compact design and better specs for the money. And if you’re not married to Windows, the ridiculously fast MacBook Air M2 remains the best laptop overall. But if a large touch display is important to you — or if you just love the color green — the Surface Laptop 5 is a worthwhile alternative to the big two.



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Written by Cam Smash

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