Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: not good enough for the price

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5: Two minute review

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is a middling laptop… possibly as middle of the road as you can get. While it’s technically functional and isn’t awful, there’s very little actually going for this machine, especially at this price. The market is simply too competitive for a mediocre option such as this to be worth buying.

At first glance, the price isn’t too steep, with the cheapest configuration being $999 / £999 / AU$1,699. But that’s for an Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD, which is pretty bad. For that amount you could nab the far superior MacBook Air M1 (2020) instead, or even the recent M2 MacBook Air. If you want something decent – like an i7, 16GB RAM, and 512GB SSD – be prepared to spend about $1,700 / £1,700 / AU$2,700, which is right at Ultrabook prices. At least it’s readily available in the US, UK, and Australia.

Though it’s refreshing to see several colors available for the laptop, they all end up looking drab and washed out, with the exception of the gorgeous Sandstone. The design itself is also rather dated. 

Then there are the performance issues. As it turns out, there are a lot of background processes going on while the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is running. This not only slows you down whether browsing the internet or working on a spreadsheet, but also has the added effect of crashing random programs if they take a certain threshold of memory to run. In fact, we experienced it during one of the benchmarks we tried to run, PC Mark 10. 

Nor is the battery life the 18 hours that was claimed during the October Surface event. In fact, the final scores show a battery life of half of that, with productivity work running down the laptop after around 10 hours while movie streaming will give you just seven and a half hours. It does charge quickly, but the Surface Connect port seriously needs to go by the wayside to make room for Thunderbolt 4.

On the plus side, though, the keyboard and trackpad are quite lovely to use and the touch screen is also sensitive and responsive. We also welcome the newly added features plus a true revamping of the accessibility options, which are now easy to activate across all your apps.

It’s a shame that so much care was taken to make these accessibility and productivity features work, because they do – and well. But when you slap them on a laptop with so many issues, it’s hard to appreciate them.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5: Price and availability

(Image credit: Future)How much does it cost? 13.5-inch starting at $999 / £999 / AU$1,699, 15-inch starting at $1,299 / £1,299 / AU$2,149When is it out? It’s out nowWhere can you get it? In the US, UK, and Australia

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 Key Specs

Here is the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: Intel Core i7-1255U
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: 16GB
Screen: 13.5-inch PixelSense Display, 2256 x 1504
Storage: 512GB LPDDR5x
Optical drive: None
Ports: 1 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A, 1 Thunderbolt 4 port, 1 3.5mm combo audio jack, 1 Surface Connect port
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.1
Camera: 720p
Weight: 2.8 lb
Size: 8.8 x 12.1 x .57 inches (W x D x H)

Though the starting price for a 13.5-inch version of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is $999 / £999 / AU$1,699, the configuration TechRadar received costs $1,699 / £1,699 / AU$2,699. And honestly, it’s difficult to justify that price when you consider how barebones the laptop’s specs are.

Availability is excellent, however, with the laptop readily available not only in the US but in the UK and Australia too – and in almost every configuration you could hope for.

Value: 2 / 5

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5: Design

(Image credit: Future)Thin and light form factorOutdated lookBad port selection

The Surface Laptop 5 is a very thin and light laptop, weighing just 2.8 lbs. for the 13.5-inch model. And for those sticking with that size, there are four colors to choose from: Sandstone, Platinum (which features an Alcantara fabric), Matte Black, and a new Sage color, which is the one we received. The Sage version isn’t bad per se, but it’s a bit underwhelming due to its muted nature.

The port selection remains pretty weak, with one USB Type-C, one USB Type-A, an audio jack, and a Surface Connect port that should have gone to the wayside ages ago. At least Microsoft kept the Type-A option, but the number of ports should be higher considering how much it costs. 

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(Image credit: Future)

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The bezels on the screen are a little on the thick side, which is why it’s perplexing that the webcam is still 720p. At times, said camera has surprisingly clear picture quality due to auto-correcting capabilities that fix any white balance issues, but in anything other than good lighting the image looks a bit pixelated.

Though the laptop and keyboard function just as they should, there’s an oddly artificial feeling to them; they bring to mind the plasticky older MacBook models from the mid-2000s. Plus, the shape of the laptop itself is outdated, which lends itself to a boring and drab look. Thankfully the touchscreen itself is great, hitting the right blend of sensitivity and responsiveness, though the panel itself looks rather dim as it’s not OLED.

Design:  3 / 5

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5: Performance

(Image credit: Future)Sound quality is top-tierGreat new features that utilize the touchscreenTerrible performance all around

Performance on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is a mixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s deal with the good first – namely the expanded accessibility options and productivity features.

First is the Focus function, which locks out notifications for a certain period of time so you can focus on productivity. Another addition is Snap, which allows you to divide your screen into various areas, then place windows into those sections for easy multitasking.

File explorer is another quality-of-life change in which you can open multiple tabs of computer file folders in the same window. The Start menu itself also houses some quality-of-life changes, including being able to organize apps within folders, as well as scroll through recommended apps.

You can also activate a host of accessibility options within Windows 11. This has the benefit of automatically working across 20,000-plus apps, avoiding the need for you to make changes within individual programs. 

Sound quality is also excellent – in fact, this is one of the best non-gaming laptops we’ve ever heard. Music is clear enough that you can hear every instrument and voice in a single track, yet loud enough to blast said song from the rooftops. It’s everything you could ever want from a laptop’s sound system.

Finally in terms of positives, the touchscreen is impressively responsive, especially when using a stylus. Too bad said stylus isn’t included out of the box but instead is an add-on.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark: Night Raid: 16,871; Fire Strike: 4763; Time Spy: 1793
Cinebench R23 Multi-core: 8499 points
GeekBench 5: 1674 (single-core); 8709 (multi-core)
Battery Life (Web Surfing): 9 hours and 50 minutes
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 7 hours and 38 minutes
Civilization VI (1080p, Ultra): 42 fps; (1080p, Low): 55 fps 

However, both the bad and ugly rear their ugly heads once you delve into the Surface Laptop 5’s performance. While the benchmark testing places it squarely at its market average, actually using the laptop is its own issue.

In the first screenshot below, you can see how many processes are running in the background, which is a staggering 43. That’s after we installed all current Windows 11 updates as well as the benchmark programs.

(Image credit: Future)

Here’s the second screenshot, which shows how many programs are running in the background, which is an unbelievable 57. And this is just after we fully wiped the PC, without any updates or program installations.

(Image credit: Future)

As you can imagine, this much going on in the background has a profound effect on how well the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 runs. We could not run PC Mark 10 in the slightest, for instance. No matter how many times we uninstalled, reinstalled, and reset the laptop, it would instantly crash the moment we tried to do anything. And at one point it even crashed Geekbench.

Keep in mind this is a laptop with a Core i7, 16GB RAM, and 512GB SSD of storage. And it’s perplexing, because Google Chrome and other browsers ran without crashing, even when displaying tabs full of YouTube videos. However, we did notice some slowdown when running more taxing productivity tasks.

For the price, these performance issues are absolutely unacceptable.

Performance: 3 / 5

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5: Battery life

(Image credit: Future)Battery life isn’t bad but not greatCharges decently fast

Microsoft claims “up to 18 hours” of battery life for the Surface Laptop 5, but in our testing we achieved nothing like that. When web surfing, the laptop lasted for nearly 10 hours, while our movie test netted a battery life of seven hours and 38 minutes. At least it charges decently fast.

Still, the Surface Laptop 5 should last long enough for a full day’s work, unless you plan to stream a movie during your lunch break. This is an acceptable result, albeit a little disappointing considering there’s no OLED screen or HDR draining power. 

Battery Life:  3.5 / 5

Should you buy a Microsoft Surface Laptop 5?

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

Also consider

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 Report card

ValueIt’s simply not worth the asking price considering all its failings.2 / 5DesignAn outdated design and washed out colors, but the keyboard, touchpad, and touchscreen is solid.3 / 5PerformanceWhile it adds a host of new features and accessibility options, major performance issues hold it back.3 / 5Battery LifeA battery life that will carry you through a full work day and charges somewhat quickly.3.5 / 5Total 3 / 5

First reviewed November 2022

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