Finding a reasonably priced and spec’d laptop for business use is never an easy task. It always feels like there is a compromise to make somewhere, whether it be size, use experience, specs or even the overall cost. For the last handful of years, Microsoft has been making their lineup of Surface Laptops aimed to fill all needs as best they can, targeted at the higher end market to compete alongside Apple with their line of MacBooks. This year, Microsoft has added up-to-date Intel processors and hardware to their whole lineup in hopes of attracting more users to their products. Is this minimal update over last year’s lineup enough to take a larger slice of the ever growing premium laptop pie? And should you consider the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 as your next on-the-go laptop?
Powering the Surface Laptop 5 that Microsoft sent us was an Intel Core i7-1255U processor and 16 GB of LPDDR5x RAM. While storage was only a 512 GB SSD drive, others can opt for either a smaller 256 GB or 1 TB drive for different costs. RAM is also configurable from 8 GB all the way up to 32 GB. While I am glad Microsoft allows users to configure their Surface Laptop to fit their needs and future-proof it, costs add up very quickly and make the Surface Laptop very expensive for what you get. Laptops range in price from 1299.99 CAD for a 13.5” screen model, all the way up to $3119.99 CAD for a top spec 15” model. Unfortunately, Microsoft does not offer any form of dedicated graphics card in any version of the Surface Laptop, something I feel many users would find useful.
Straight out of the box, the build quality of the Surface Laptop 5 is immediately impressive. The closest laptop comparable in terms of build, would be an Apple MacBook. The screen and main deck do not have any noticeable flex and the whole laptop is made of premium aluminum, making for a very sturdy feel in the hands. Unfortunately, Microsoft has not done any work to soften the edges of the Surface Laptop 5, so I found them to be quite sharp when resting my rests on the deck while typing or while carrying the laptop to different places.
Looking around the Surface Laptop 5, branding and stickers are minimal which I rather like as I often find myself peeling off any unnecessary stickers from my laptops anyways. I feel it gives a much more premium look to the laptop. In terms of ports, Microsoft has not included very many, like they have done on previous Surface laptops. On the left side, you only find a single Thunderbolt 4/USB C 4.0 port, a USB A 3.1 port and a headphone jack. On the right side, you find the Surface connect port used for charging or Surface Accessories.
Inside you are greeted by the large glossy 15” screen and 720p with Windows Hello support. I wish Microsoft had added at least a MicroSD card slot or an additional port as the selection is so minimal. While dongles are always an option, they just take up additional space, and it is something additional to have to carry when on the go. The display on the Surface Laptop 5 is nothing less than gorgeous. Colours are sharp and punchy and there is plenty of space to complete different tasks on the large 3:2 aspect ratio.
“Straight out of the box, the build quality of the Surface Laptop 5 is immediately impressive.”
The 2496 x 1664 resolution, while a little unconventional, ensures all content viewed is sharp and crisp and looks incredible. The display also gets extremely bright, making use outdoors easy to do and also gets dim enough to be easy on the eyes while in a darker room. The addition of 10-point multitouch support, while useful in some circumstances wasn’t something I found myself using too much only because I do not enjoy seeing fingerprints on my display.
The speakers on the Surface Laptop 5 reminded me of an Apple MacBook in terms of their sound. They were clear and sounded adequately good for a laptop as thin as this form factor. While I do wish the bass tones were a little deeper and fuller, the mids and high tones were full and rich, delivering a decent listening experience when listening to both videos and music. The speakers also got a lot louder than I had expected them to, which was a pleasant surprise for me.
Battery life was certainly an area that Microsoft has nailed with their Surface Laptop 5. I was easily able to get a full day out of a single charge when doing lighter tasks such as typing out documents, listening to music or podcasts and even watching movies. While more demanding tasks obviously drained the battery much faster, that’s not uncommon for any portable device. I have no problem recommending the Surface Laptop 5 to office workers who need a laptop with a large screen but also need as much battery life as they can get.
“The display on the Surface Laptop 5 is nothing less than gorgeous. Colours are sharp and punchy and there is plenty of space to complete different tasks on the large 3:2 aspect ratio.”
Typing on the Surface Laptop 5’s keyboard was another aspect of that Microsoft has done an incredible job on. Keycaps were reasonably large while delivering a truly satisfying and comfortable keystroke. I was very quickly able to reach my full typing speed within a few minutes and did not find myself making many mistakes or errors while typing. A number pad would’ve been a nice addition given the Surface Laptop 5’s 15” screen design, considering many other manufacturers often include one at this size.
The top function key row has a rather unconventional layout and I often found myself accidentally hitting the power button instead of the delete key. If the power button had a little more resistance while pushing it, or if it took a few milliseconds longer to register as a press, it would certainly prevent a lot of mis-presses that often caused me to unintentionally shut the screen or laptop off.
Microsoft has included 3 levels of white backlighting on the keyboard for use in dim or darker environments. I do also occasionally find myself wishing Microsoft had incorporated a fingerprint reader either in the power button or somewhere else on the laptop as an additional form of authentication. While the overall typing experience was great, I can’t help but wish that Microsoft had made the up and down arrow keys larger given how much extra space is available on the chassis.
“While using the Surface Laptop 5 in light tasks such as typing emails and documents or web browsing and video watching, operation was a smooth and fluent experience.”
When navigating Windows with the built-in touchpad on the Surface Laptop 5, I found it delivered a great experience. My fingers easily glided across its surface with minimal resistance needed. Button presses had a consistent feel and sound along the bottom when both left and right clicking. The surface area is also adequately large, and I had minimal, if any, difficulty navigating through different windows and screens when using the laptop.
While using the Surface Laptop 5 in light tasks such as typing emails and documents or web browsing and video watching, operation was a smooth and fluent experience. At all times, I never heard any fan noise from the Surface Laptop 5, and it remained cool to the touch and on my lap. The 3:2 aspect ratio allowed me to use 2 windows side by side easily while still being tall enough to view enough content that I wasn’t having to constantly scroll down through what I was viewing.
Gaming or higher demanding tasks is certainly not what the Surface Laptop 5 was designed for as it does not have a dedicated graphics card. While the Intel XE integrated graphics card generally performs decently well in some games when settings are tuned correctly, the Surface Laptop 5 does not perform very well. Games, even in lower settings, did not usually pass 30FPS. Given the fact that the thermal envelope is meant to be a thin and light laptop and not a gaming laptop, it doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise to me. However, competitors like Dell offer NVidia graphic cards in equally thin and light laptops, I do wish Microsoft at least gave the option for one.
While I feel Microsoft has made a robust and solid feeling laptop with their new Surface Laptop 5, I often found myself just wanting a little bit more out of it. Whether it be more powerful graphics options, smoother edges, or even additional ports along the sides for more flexibility, the Surface Laptop 5 just didn’t quite have enough to truly impress me. Overall though, the Surface Laptop 5 is a great laptop for business workers who want a minimalist and professional-looking laptop with great battery life. Though it may not necessarily fit my use case as much as other laptops on the market, it by no means is a bad laptop.