Microsoft Surface Laptop 5: frustrating but successful

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop range is the direct competitor of the MacBook line. Both lines of computers are manufactured by their operating system developers, use high-end components, and feature an aluminum unibody shell.

We can therefore expect both ranges to aim high in terms of performance and functionality. It’s hard to argue that Apple has pretty much pulled it off with the latest MacBook Pros. Microsoft, however, seems more lazy and I think that’s starting to handicap the Surface line.

Even the precision-machined chassis and incredible performance couldn’t make me overlook the overly wide bezels and nothing could make me forgive its mediocre webcam for the price. It’s a shame, because the system is excellent overall.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5

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  • Processor : 12th Generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7
  • Screen : 13.5 inch touch screen with 2256 x 1504 resolution.
  • Memory : 8 GB or 16 GB DDR5 RAM
  • Storage : 256 GB or 512 GB of removable SSDs
  • webcam : 720p
  • Battery : Up to 18 hours of use.
  • Connectivity : WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Ports : 1 x USB-C 4.0/Thunderbolt 4, 1 x USB-A 3.1, 3.5mm headphone jack. 1x Surface Connect port
  • Height and weight : 340 x 244 x 14mm (1560g)

What about build quality?

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 with lid closed

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

If you want the short answer: it’s the best-built Windows laptop you can buy.

If you want a longer answer: Microsoft has managed to create a clean, minimalist computer that no one but Apple seems to be able to emulate. From the slightly reflective Windows logo to the chassis machining, the Surface Laptop can match or beat any Windows-based MacBook or laptop.

Even the aspects you’ll barely see, like the built-in cooling vents, show a level of dedication to appreciable detail.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5's cooling vents

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

A note on materials : My test unit was the all-aluminum model. Microsoft also offers configurations with Alcantara on the keyboard. If you hate the feeling of cold metal on your wrists, this could be a great option. But, before buying, I would advise you to think about how this material will stand up to your use.

Features and Connectivity

The ports of the Surface Laptop 5 from Microsoft

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

The selection of ports on the Surface Laptop 5 is quite expected. This is a good thing. The company recognizes that many USB-A devices still exist, which is why it includes a USB-A port. Likewise, you get a USB-C port, with Thunderbolt 4 support, meaning it can connect a whole host of peripherals (storage, power, displays, etc.). Something to satisfy everyone, even if the connectivity is not very generous.

Microsoft could have added USB ports where the Surface Connect port is. This jack, which hasn’t changed much since the first Surface, is the only one on the right side of the laptop. I have two problems with this port.

First off, I’m not a fan of proprietary connectors. It will do a fine job connecting Surface-branded docking stations, but USB-C could do just as well while being much more universal.

The Surface Laptop 5's included charger

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Second, I’ve seen Surface chargers, like the one that came with this laptop, fail more frequently than chargers from other manufacturers. Not only do the tiny contacts seem prone to corrosion, but the magnets that hold the fin in place seem to lose strength over time. Luckily, there is a second charging method which we will discuss below.

The USB-A port on the Surface Laptop 5 charger

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

The charger itself has retained a very practical feature: a USB-A port. This is useful for charging just about anything you want. Still, I would have preferred an extra USB-C port or two instead of the Surface Connect port. This is just the first of the deprecated components we’re going to talk about here.

The Surface Laptop 5's display

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Let’s also talk about screen edges. These black spaces around the slab barely exist on modern smartphones, and almost all manufacturers of laptops, monitors and TVs have reduced theirs to a bare minimum. Not Microsoft.

The 2256 x 1504 display is very good looking, bright enough for outdoor use and boasts impeccable pixel density and colors. But all of that is marred by the ledges that surround it. Maybe I’m being too picky on this. But if you look at the Lenovo ThinkPad Z16, you’ll see screens that have reduced their bezels to a bare minimum.

The webcam of the Surface Laptop 5 from Microsoft

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

In the center of the top border is the worst decision Microsoft made for this laptop: its webcam. Windows Hello support is nice, but the 720p resolution is less so.

An example screenshot of Surface Laptop 5 webcam performance

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

A Microsoft spokesperson said in a recent presentation that the company’s customers are still happy with the 720p quality and Windows 11’s built-in software processing makes the camera perform better. Statements that can be doubted.

Sample of Microsoft Surface Laptop 5's webcam performance

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

That might be forgivable on a cheap computer, but even the basic configuration costs $1279. The configuration I’m testing costs €2,049. A few years ago, this point would have been forgivable, but since most of us now spend several hours a week on Zoom or video conferencing, I can no longer excuse poor webcams.

Performance and battery life

The keyboard and trackpad of the Surface Laptop 5

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Let’s go back to a much more positive aspect of the Surface: performance. The model I tested came with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of DDR5 RAM, and a 512GB SSD. With this configuration, the Surface Laptop 5 is a powerhouse. It gobbled up my heaviest Photoshop tasks, handled a huge number of Chrome tabs, and streamed videos. Best of all, it was consistently quiet and never overheated. Uncomfortably hot palm rests are one of my pet peeves, but this model lacks them.

The battery statistics window for the Surface Laptop 5

Image: Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

The Surface Laptop 5’s passive power consumption in sleep mode is one of the lowest I’ve seen on a Windows laptop.

One annoying quirk I encountered was the reluctance of Windows 11 or the Surface Laptop 5 to provide battery life estimates. A stat that usually appears in no time was simply missing here. So I had to measure the battery life the old fashioned way. The result is an average of about 10-14 hours with mixed use. This includes things like video/audio streaming, web browsing, content writing, and other mundane tasks of a typical workday.

At the extreme, I drained the battery in about 7 hours trying to run the worst possible scenarios and was able to get Microsoft’s promised 18 hours by sacrificing screen brightness, volume, and performance.

All in all, I wouldn’t mind leaving my charger at home and getting a full day’s work out of this laptop, as long as I charge it overnight. If you need to recharge the critter and you left your charger at home, all is not lost. The included USB-C port can also charge the Surface Laptop 5. A generic 65W charger I tested took the device from nearly zero charge to full charge in about two hours.


I may have come across as having high standards for this test and I do. This is a flagship laptop from the company that makes Windows, after all. While those resources and ability to optimize its own operating system showed up in things like the computer’s consistently excellent build quality and performance, it fell short when it came to meeting the modern needs of base like a decent webcam and a modern screen design.

If you never videoconference or don’t mind the wasted space around your screen, you have before you the best Windows laptop you can buy right now. Even if these things bother you somewhat, I recommend contrasting them with the outstanding performance, build, and aesthetics offered by the computer. The Surface Laptop 5 is frustrating, but close to being a leader among Windows laptops.

In alternatives

The ThinkPad Z16 features the same efficiency and build quality, while adding a few more creative features. It also has much thinner bezels and equivalent performance, although its webcam is equally disappointing.

The Acer Swift Edge can’t match the build quality of the Surface Laptop 5. However, it offers a larger 4K OLED display and equivalent performance for a few dollars less.

The latest addition to Dell’s XPS 13 line seems to be from a more distant era. It features an equally precise design and build quality, but uses every millimeter of its body for the screen or keyboard. It also includes identical configuration options, but will cost more for the same features.

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