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Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 (13.5in) review: An almost-great business machine

Minor niggles here and there, but overall, an efficient and stylish business companion

Price
£833 exc VAT
  • Comfortable typing experience
  • Snappy processor
  • Elegant design
  • Lack of ports
  • Poor webcam

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 5 is arguably the more business-friendly device of the Surface range. Sure, it isn't as famous as the Surface Pro 9, or as showy as the Surface Studio 2+, but it offers the best bits of the two in that it's both portable and powerful – and it actually comes with the keyboard, unlike the Pro. 

For 2023 there's no AMD version of the Surface Laptop, so you'll only be able to have an Intel-powered model, but it does now come with a Thunderbolt 4-enabled port and you can also have it with either a 13.5in screen or a 15in one – here we are discussing the former. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Design

The design on the Surface Laptop 5 hasn't changed – seemingly ever – but we at IT Pro see that as a good thing. It's an elegant all-aluminium affair, with a minimalistic design, as seen with the barely-there Windows logo on the lid and the keyboard's smart, professional look. As notebooks go, it is one of the more stylish ones around, particularly in black (as is our review unit), but you can also grab it in something snazzier such as Platinum Alacantara, Sandstone, and a new greenish colour that's dubbed 'Sage' though the majority of it appears to be grey. 

It's a bit of backpack buddy at just 1.2kg, you'll barely notice you have it in your rucksack or holdall. Carrying it from meeting room to desk and vice versa is effortless, and that includes even holding it open with one hand while walking (though IT Pro does not recommend you do this). 

However, the charging port – despite being magnetised – is more fiddly than it really needs to be. The slight downward curve of the side of the chassis makes it hard to plug in one-handed, or even without lifting the device up a little. If Apple can be forced to add USB-C chargers to iPhones then we feel the same should happen to Microsoft and its Surface range. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Display

There is a 13.5in touchscreen display on the Surface Laptop 5, and while it is as good as they come, the touchscreen element isn't all that useful. We didn't receive a stylus with our review unit so reasons to actually use the screen in that way were limited. Much like the Huawei MateBook X Pro, the chassis doesn't fold into a tablet mode and you can't have it stand like a tent, so the keyboard and trackpad take precedence and you simply forget it's got that capability altogether. 

The 2256 x 1504 display itself, however, is very good. To begin with, it hit a peak brightness of 411cd/m2 which is useful in combating sunny conditions, especially with its glossy finish and the annoying reflections it can occasionally catch.  

For colour accuracy, we found the 'RGB' setting was best with a 95.6% sRGB colour gamut score (108.4% for volume). The alternative is the 'Enhanced' setting but that only produces 93.1% for coverage and 103.9% volume. Neither, however, could offer up a very good Adobe score, with 69% being the best it could muster, so it isn't something we would recommend for photographers or image editing. 

The MacBook Pro and the Huawei MateBook X Pro are that little bit more vivid across the board. Though in daily use we found the Surface Laptop 5 screen to be rather fine. It wasn't perfect, particularly when editing pictures, but it offered a consistent experience and strong colour performance. Our biggest issue with the display is actually structural as it has wider bezels than we are used to. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard on the Surface Laptop 5 is rather flat, much like a MacBook's, and some may not like the lack of travel as you can definitely feel it clunk on the base as you type. But the keys are highly responsive, so it suits the more gentle tapper. We found it to be satisfying and quiet and with plenty of room to rest the palms of our hands. 

The extra room comes from the little trackpad which is just 4.5 x 3in. Despite being on the smaller side, it still offers a decent range of motion for the cursor and the left and right click actions were also effortless.  

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Specs and performance

The Surface Laptop 5 model we received sports an Intel Core i7-1255U processor with 16GB of RAM and also 512GB of SSD. It could have had an AMD CPU, but it didn't and that isn't a significant issue. Well, for us at least. We mainly use Google Docs, Slack, and the odd bit of Adobe here and there, so hardly intensive stuff, but it handles all that with ease.

For the more stressful stuff, we use an in-house benchmark that puts the CPU through more difficult tasks. The Surface Laptop 5 produced an overall compute score of 222 which compares well to the likes of the Dell XPS 15 (272) and the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s (135), both of which are considerably more expensive. 

Going into specific usage, in GeekBench 5 the Surface Laptop 5 showcased single-threaded performance scores of 1,108 and multi-threaded scores of 6,444. The former is slightly more impressive, matching the XPS 15. But, nevertheless, it is a perfectly capable machine. 

We did notice some straining as it churned through the initial setup, but nothing excessive or loud and it didn't make a sound through the most intensive tests. For our modest workload, it is perfectly capable, but we suspect it can also handle the bigger jobs.  

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Battery

Under our looped video test, where a video file is played on repeat, with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, the Surface Laptop 5 lasted 9hrs 42mins – which is a fairly good result. Dell's XPS 15 barely made it past 7hrs and the Huawei MateBook X Pro died after 8hrs. 

In real-life the machine lasts and lasts; we managed a full work day – including travel to and from the office – and it still offered more than 15% battery life just before bedtime. Without a particularly high refresh rate on the display and our moderately intensive workload, we could quite easily work sans charger. Our tests are purposely intensive so despite the scores not seemingly immediately, in actual everyday use it's great. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Ports and features

There is a lot to love about the Surface Laptop 5, particularly its Windows 11 OS which looks great and is oh-so-simple to navigate. There's no fingerprint sensor on the keyboard but Windows Hello facial recognition is just wonderfully efficient, despite its low-quality 720p webcam which is a little grainy in video meetings. 

Port-wise you get one step forward and two steps back in that it has finally added Thunderbolt 4 to its sole USB-C port, but there is a distinct lack of other connection options; all you have is a USB-A and a headphone jack. 

There's no cubbyhole for a stylus either. As mentioned above, we, unfortunately, didn't receive a pen with our review unit, so we can't say how good or bad that is, though the touchscreen is very responsive and silky smooth. Without a stylus, there are few reasons on offer to actually use the touchscreen which is possibly why MacBooks never have them. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 review: Verdict 

After all those fairly good points, we still feel that the Surface Laptop 5 is lacking. It's not that we didn't like it, it's more that we sense it could be better. It has no glaring flaws that will make you balk at the price (it's under £1,000), it feels professional, and there isn't really anything that is annoying. Yes, people may want an AMD model, some may find the design tired, and there's that awful webcam and large bezel combo. It most certainly could be better. But, slightly better laptops are considerably more expensive (ThinkPads, MacBooks, MateBooks). What Microsoft has here is a competing product that costs just £833. So it's good value for money, if not particularly special. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 Specifications

Processor

12th Gen Intel Core i7-1265U

RAM

8GB, 16GB

Graphics adapter

Intel Iris Xe Graphics

Storage

256GB, 512GB, 1TB

Screen size

13.5in

Screen resolution

2256 x 1504

Screen type

PixelSense

Touch screen

10-point touchscreen 

Memory card slot

No

3.5mm audio jack

Yes

Graphics output

1 x Thunderbolt USB-C, 1 x USB-A 3.1

Other ports

1 x Surface Connect port

Webcam

720p

Speakers

Omnisonic® Speakers with Dolby® Atmos™4

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi 6

Bluetooth

5.1

Operating system

Windows 11 Home

Dimensions (WHD)

223mm x 14.5mm x 308mm

Weight 

1.2kg

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