microsoft Surface Laptop 5 Review (13.5″) – Different Inside, Same Outside? | Tech Reviews
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop enters the fifth round. At first glance, everything remains the same on the outside, but on the inside only Intel CPUs are waiting for you for the time being. We took a close look at the entry-level version of the 13.5″ model to see whether appearances are deceptive – or whether there are still exciting changes compared to the magnesium-clad predecessor.
The Surface devices are Microsoft’s answer to the Apple cosmos. Accordingly, they have been popular since their introduction with their outstanding feel and exciting form factor. In a 3:2 ratio, they attack Apple’s MacBooks head on and are aimed at creative users and people who want the best in a portable form. Over the years, Microsoft has also built a very good ecosystem for the Surface devices.
There is the Arc Mouse, the Surface Pen or the Surface Buds to be able to work smoothly with various Surface accessories. The Surface Laptop 5 is not just another Windows notebook, but remains the attempt of the largest software company in the world to bring out the ultimate hardware for Windows 11.
With the new generation, mostly only the hardware makes a leap forward. The Surface Laptop 5 uses newer 12th generation Intel Core i5-1235U and i7-1255U processors. When it comes to RAM, you can choose between 8, 16 or 32 GB (only 15″ laptops) of the new LPDDR5 standard. In terms of storage, 256 or 512 GB are possible for the small model and up to 1 TB for the large model.
In addition to the Surface Connector and a USB-A port, you also benefit from a new USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4 support. There is of course WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1. The Surface Laptop 5 ships with Windows 11 Home. In contrast to the Surface Laptop 4 , you cannot choose between an AMD and Intel CPU here. At the time of the test, it was not known whether and when an AMD version would also appear.
|Microsoft Surface Laptop 5|
|Display||13.5 inch IPS, 2256 x 1504 Pixel, 3:2-Format,
10-point-Multitouch, 201 ppi, Corning Gorilla Glass, Dolby IQ Vision
|15 inch IPS, 2496 x 166 Pixel, 3:2-Format,
10-point-Multitouch, 201 ppi, Corning Gorilla Glass, Dolby IQ Vision
|CPU||Intel Core™ i5-1235U | i7-1255U CPU||Intel Core™ i5-1235U | i7-1255U CPU|
|RAM||8 GB LPDDR5X |16 GB LPDDR5X||16 GB LPDDR5X | 32 GB LPDDR5X|
|Chart||Intel Iris™ Xe Graphics (integrated)||Intel Iris™ Xe Graphics (integrated)|
|Storage||256GB | 512 GB||256GB | 512 GB | 1 TB PCIe-NVMe-SSD|
|Ports and connectivity||Surface-Connector, USB-A 3.0, USB-C 4.0/Thunderbolt 4, WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, 720p-Webcam|
|Operating system||Windows 11 Home|
|Battery pack||47.4 Wh | 6252 mAh Lithium Ion|
|Dimensions||30.80 x 22.30 x 1.45 cm||33.95 x 24.40 x 1.47 cm|
|Weight||1.271 kg||1.56 kg|
|Housing||milled aluminum with magnesium alloy|
|Colors||Platinum (optionally with metal or Alcantara)
sandstone, sage , matt black (metal)
|Platinum, Black (Metal)|
|Price||1179 €||1449 €|
Equipment of the test device is marked in bold.
Design: Well-known doesn’t have to be bad
Since the first generation of Surfaces, Microsoft has been rather cautious in improving the minimalist design of the laptops. Well, the word “cautious” is unfortunately an extreme exaggeration in this case: On the outside, the Laptop 5 looks exactly like its predecessor, which in turn resembled its predecessor, the Surface Laptop 3. It was released in 2019 and looked modern at the time, but the relatively wide display edges are no longer up to date. Especially in comparison with a current competitor (such as the MateBook X Pro), these seem to get out of hand.
However, the haptic does not have to hide from any other laptop – and yes, we also include Apple’s MacBooks here. Once again, the magnesium skin delivers the feeling that the Surface Laptop has been milled from a solid block. Gaps are a foreign word here.
Otherwise you can understand why Microsoft does not want to discard this design (yet). The hinge is perfectly balanced and practically slides open. This is nothing new for Surface fans, but for everyone else: you should have tried it.
In our case, I got the green and silver version called “Sage” as a test device. However, I first had to look at the box to see if green was really hidden here. In most lighting moods, the color simply looks like silver. However, a subtle green shimmer occasionally appears – I like it. Otherwise there are also the color variants platinum-silver (optionally with metal or Alcantara surface), a beige sandstone and matt black (each only in metal).
As before, there are different insides again this time: while the platinum also offers an Alcantara surface around the keyboard, all other variants come with aluminum. In terms of feel, I prefer the latter, as it should offer greater resistance to dirt.
Touchpad and keyboard remain unmatched
The Surface Laptops 3 & 4 already scored well with this – and since nothing has changed on the outside, this also applies to the next generation. Purely subjectively, the keyboard is still the best that can be found in notebooks. The keys don’t wobble in the case, feel “full” when typing and the key travel is just the right height.
A lot of this is of course subjective and depends on the person writing, but to date I’ve not met anyone who wasn’t drawn to the Surface Laptop’s keyboard. A very even keyboard illumination completes the very good overall impression. You can regulate it in three stages or switch it off completely.
The touchpad is also pleasantly sized and pleases with a high-quality glass surface. Here, too, clickability and haptics are appealing. But it should be a bit bigger by now – after all, there is still some space on the frame. Nobody would have anything against the model from the Surface Laptop Studio .
Thanks to Microsoft Precision drivers, it stays lightning fast and only has about 5mm of play at the edge. There it does not react immediately when touched.
The infrared camera with Windows Hello function is still fast and precise. It logs you in directly when you open the laptop, saving you the trouble of entering a password. This is such a convenience gain (and even works in the dark) that it deserves a separate mention. Simply open and be logged in immediately – nice.
BUT: Why does Microsoft still use a 720p sensor? Especially with the Surface Pro 8 or the Surface Go 3, it has already been shown that there is another way. Very good webcams are used there, which are now essential for everyday video meetings. The result in the Surface Laptop 5 corresponds accordingly to the predecessors: washed-out image quality and a rather low dynamic range. With the Surface Laptop 6, a better camera can be used.
Connections: Still minimalist – but finally with Thunderbolt
Until then, NOTHING new in Surface land, but at least Microsoft has finally equipped the universal USB-C port with Thunderbolt. The fast interface can thus be used for data transfer, image transfer or loading. Very practical if you don’t have the included charger to hand. To the right of the USB-C port is a 3.5mm jack for wired headphones or your system.
In addition to the USB-C connection, there is also a classic USB Type-A port on the left of the device. This is well suited for peripherals of all kinds. A few more connections would have been nice anyway.
The solution to the lack of connections lies in the Surface Connector: it can be used to connect optional accessories such as the Surface Dock . This gives you a large number of ports at your disposal. More connections would be nice for the future. Creative people would certainly be happy about an SD card reader 😉
Well-known touch display in 3:2 format
I already noticed it last year with the predecessor and this year it’s true again: the words “again” and “again” can be heard over and over again with the Surface Laptop 5.
This also applies to the 3:2 touch display: It is identical to the predecessor and again has the unusual resolution of 2256 x 1504 pixels. Thus, content is displayed very sharply. A 3:2 format may seem strange at first, but once you get used to it, you won’t want to be without the workspace you’ve gained.
The additional space can offer advantages especially for creative work in Adobe Photoshop, but also for everyday surfing on the Internet. Websites are often only displayed in loophole format on smaller 16:9 displays. The touch function also offers a quick input option.
But now we come to an area of application that I didn’t pay enough attention to with the predecessor: the use of the display for creative people. Because purely in terms of the dimensions, the feel and the input devices, the Surface Laptop is simply predestined for this target group. When Microsoft announced that the IPS panel would now support Dolby Vision, I was already hoping for a new model. But it has become the same as in the predecessor.
Don’t get me wrong: For ottoman users, this is still fine and dandy. The IPS technology ensures stable viewing angles and solid colors.
They remain stable even from crooked perspectives and are presented accurately. Almost 100% of the sRGB color space is covered again. This is sufficient for hobby recordings or web production.
With the Surface Pen, you can also conveniently draw, mark, or take notes digitally. Creative users could have done without the graphics tablet entirely – if the color space coverage were higher.
Of course you can still use the display of the Surface Laptop 5 to make precise changes to sketches or design drafts – but then definitely check your colors on a calibrated monitor. If the pen is not needed at the moment, you can attach it to the lid of the screen with a magnet. Internal accommodation would also be desirable here for the future.
Performance – Robust guy
Now we are finally getting to the real changes: the 13.5” Surface Laptop, as an Intel version, offers more than four cores for the first time. The models are called Alder-Lake-U and offer up to 14 cores. They rely on an architecture with efficiency and performance cores. This – for classic computers – new design is intended to ensure that maximum performance with high efficiency is possible at all times. Here you can find out more about the architecture and the type designations at Intel .
In our case – or that of the entry-level model – an Intel Core i5-1235U is used. It already has ten cores and twelve threads and should therefore be suitable for almost all applications.
Simple gaming is also included with the integrated Intel Iris™ Xe Graphics. However, the Surface Laptop is not the first choice for gamers. In CS:GO he gets playable frame rates in Full HD resolution, but in newer Triple-A titles you can usually expect a slide show.
In return, the application performance is usually impressive, but it is slowed down a bit. Because the 8GB RAM is already close to the limit of what is recommended for modern creative applications. Anyone who uses Photoshop, Premiere or DaVinci Resolve frequently: get the 16GB version.
The 8GB variants are also sufficient for surfing or working in Office programs. The speed of the entry-level version with a Core i5 is absolutely sufficient for everyday use. It scrolls smoothly through websites or Excel spreadsheets and even the occasional image can be edited in Photoshop – if you’re not using 30 layers and 130,000 effects 😉
Overall, the Intel Core i5 should be sufficient for most users. But if you want an all-rounder notebook that can also handle creative tasks, I recommend a variant with 16GB RAM.
Emissions: Convincingly quiet and cool
Slim laptops are sometimes considered prone to uncomfortable heat and noise development. The heat produced simply has less room to escape and therefore requires a higher fan speed. The predecessor Surface Laptop 4 was already very quiet, the Laptop 5 is in no way inferior to it.
So when you’re not rendering or gaming, you can barely hear the Surface Laptop. The fan usually only became noticeable at very high clock rates and temperatures of over 70 degrees. The heat development is still within limits: A maximum of 91 degrees was reached on one core, whereby there is still enough leeway up to the permitted maximum temperature of 105 degrees.
The Intel Core i5 mastered our stress test with ease. In the meantime, the CPU had a power consumption of 70 watts for a short time, but leveled off at a rather frugal 20 watts over the long term. The temperatures here were very good, ranging from 69 to 82 degrees. Mind you, this is an absolute extreme scenario, which you will only achieve in the wild with permanent rendering of large files with massive effects.
The good cooling performance is also noticeable on the outside: The palm rest only gets slightly warm under full load. That shouldn’t bother you much, even on hot days.
Software: Clean, cleaner, Surface
The very clean operating system is typical of the Surface. Nowadays, many manufacturers paste their notebooks with all sorts of bloatware. A demo of the anti-virus software McAfee, which would like to talk you into buying a full version, is one of the most prominent examples. The Surface Laptop 5, on the other hand, only has Windows 11 in its purest form and doesn’t annoy you with advertising – very good.
But you also have to do without more practical management tools such as Lenovo Vantage or the Huawei PC Manager. A replacement that is not difficult overall, since Windows already comes with almost all the functions of these programs and they can be installed at any time if the worst comes to the worst.
Battery life: Unfortunately, a step backwards
The Surface Laptop 4 came out in 2021 with a real improvement: longer battery life. Because of the new Intel processors, we had expected good rates here as well, but unfortunately the new model lags slightly behind the Laptop 4.
In terms of size, the battery has also slimmed down a bit: Instead of 49Wh, only 47Wh are used. Not the world, but in combination with the many processor cores, there is a minus of about one to two hours in the specification in everyday use. So you usually still get over the important eight-hour mark, but especially with more intensive programs, it is sometimes significantly less.
For the battery test, I used Adobe Photoshop, surfed properly and left the display brightness on automatic. “Balanced” was selected as the energy profile, but this was not noticeable in terms of performance. If you are an energy-conscious user, you can probably get an hour or two more battery life with reduced brightness and a little more conservative use.
Unfortunately, there is no processor alternative from AMD – some of them lasted a little longer.
If the battery is empty, it can be quickly refilled with juice via QuickCharge. This works both with the supplied charger and via any USB-C charger with 65W watts.
Upgrade: Groundhog Day?
Unfortunately, handicraft fans have to work more complex with the Surface Laptop. That’s a shame, because the Surface Pro 8 showed that Microsoft can also make things easier for you. A maintenance hatch for the SSD was placed there.
To remove the top of the Surface Laptop 5 including the keyboard, you have to carefully loosen the four small rubber feet on the bottom again. It is best to use a guitar pick or a blunt, thin prying tool for this. Be prepared that your feet won’t look like new afterwards. You may even have to get a replacement.
Then you can loosen the screws underneath with a Torx screwdriver size T6. Now it is time to carefully lift the keyboard from the substructure of the Surface Laptop. Up to and including the Surface Laptop 2, it was still glued, since Laptop 3, strong magnets ensure adhesion. When you lift it carefully, you have to pay attention to the flat cable between the keyboard and the bottom of the Surface Laptop.
Now the interior of the Surface Laptop 5 is in front of you and you can replace the SSD. You need a spare part of the type NVMe-SSD in the 2230 form factor for them. The main memory, on the other hand, is soldered and cannot be upgraded.
In the following video we have demonstrated the whole thing to you. Here still with the Surface Laptop 3, but since nothing has changed in terms of structure and interior, the steps can also be transferred one-to-one to laptops 4 & 5.
Hidden speakers – and still good sound
Notebooks aren’t exactly known for their listening pleasure. Most of the time, cheaper models even sound really terrible. No surprise, because without a lot of resonance surface the sound volume is missing. However, some manufacturers have managed to get more and more out of the small speakers in recent years. Microsoft is definitely one of them. The speakers are again hidden under the keyboard on the Surface Laptop.
So it resonates slightly and gives the soundscape a larger volume. A well-working approach. Placed straight on a table, the Surface Laptop delivers passable sounds and even offers a slight stereo image. There is only minimal bass, but mids and highs are clean. The result can be heard especially in films and series. In addition, the speakers hardly overdrive even at higher volumes. All in all, a well-rounded sound package – for such a compact notebook.
Do they sound dramatically different (read: better) than they did in the Surface Laptop 4? This is difficult to assess without a comparison device, but I assume that they are the same good speakers.
Conclusion on the Surface Laptop 5 – You always see each other three times in life?
The new Surface Laptop 5 brings more performance – and finally a Thunderbolt interface, but what else? Microsoft is resting a little too much on the laurels of the last two generations with this model. Yes, the input devices are excellent as usual and are still the best in their class. In addition, nobody can blame the haptic impression. The display bezels, on the other hand, should shrink a bit and the touchpad doesn’t look as big anymore as it did three years ago when it saw the light of day in the Surface Laptop 3.
Is it bad now if you are using an older device and want to buy a current Surface Laptop 5? Not really. You still get a damn good Windows Ultrabook, which is of such high quality and at the same time well thought-out that it is an excellent companion in everyday life. However, this assessment also applies to the Surface Laptops 3 and 4. The direct predecessor in particular offers a little less processor performance, but can offer a longer battery life and the same feel. The Surface Laptop 5 is only a must if you absolutely need Thunderbolt and a current CPU.
Love the Surface ecosystem, but want a more up-to-date touch display with a high refresh rate? My absolute favorite in the Surface line-up has always been the Surface Pro series . The 2-in-1 devices can be turned into laptops via a detachable keyboard and offer ( from the Surface Pro 8 ) a more up-to-date design, better display, a higher-resolution webcam and a more compact form factor than the Surface laptops.