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Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 hands-on: This looks familiar...

Microsoft's fifth edition of its Surface Laptop comes in essentially the same package as the previous two generations. In this early look, we start to get a feel if it's a case of sticking with what works, or Microsoft being stuck in a rut.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer
Microsoft's Surface Laptop 5 closed, on a desk

The exterior uses the same all-metal finish and sturdy-feeling build as the previous two generations.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Microsoft is once again revamping its entire lineup of Surface devices. This includes a brand-new, fifth edition of its Surface Laptop.

I've only had about a day with the unit so far. So, I thought it made sense to focus on giving my first impressions of the company's latest take on what a laptop designed for its Windows operating system should be. 

At first sight, you'd be hard-pressed to differentiate the Surface Laptop 5 from its predecessor, or its predecessor's predecessor, for that matter. Microsoft once again went with essentially the exact same external design and layout. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5's keyboard

The tactility and travel distance of the keyboard are both still excellent. 

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

I was happy to find some features have stuck around. The touchpad's real, mechanical click, for instance, is something that has been left behind by other leading laptop lines. The keyboard also continues to be right up there with Lenovo's offerings for typing experience and quality for me. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5's display

The 2,256x1,504 display's unusual resolution provides a taller-than-average, gorgeous image that's only somewhat dampened by the dated-looking bezels.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

However, some components are definitely starting to show their age. The display, while beautiful in brighter settings, has bezels that date this layout to the last decade more than any other aspect of its design. Likewise, the single USB-C port feels limiting, even if it does sit next to an increasingly rare USB-A port. 

The ports of the Surface Laptop 5 from Microsoft

The right side (top) includes just the single Surface Connect port for charging or Surface Dock pairing. Meanwhile, the left side sports 1X USB-A 3.1, 1X USB-C (Thunderbolt 4), and a 3.5mm combo jack for audio in and out.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Internals saw significantly more updating, thankfully. The review model I've got on hand comes packed with a 12th-gen Intel Core i7 CPU, updated from the Surface Laptop 4's 11th-gen models, as well as updated support for both Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1, for faster wireless connectivity. Meanwhile, the 16GB of included RAM was updated to the newer, speedier DDR5 variety, with a new 32GB option being added for users with the most memory-intensive needs. Storage options are relatively unchanged with 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB options once again available. 

Review: Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Sleek, stylish, speedy, and sensible

While I've only just scratched the surface in my performance testing, everything from basic Windows tasks to browsing to general media consumption has felt snappy and near-instant on the pre-installed Windows 11 platform. 

Battery life also seemingly remains as good as, if not better than, its predecessor's. Although it's far too early to make a firm call on this stat just yet. 

I'll close out this quick piece with some early musings that struck me during my initial hours testing the Surface Laptop 5:

  • Something causes Surface series screens to produce more annoying reflections and glare than most other glossy displays I've used. 

  • The included webcam falls firmly into the "showing its age" side of things. It's a 720p webcam in a premium laptop at a time when 1080p webcams can be had for $50. I'm not sure it'll hold up in testing.

  • I truly hope the model's USB-C PD (Power Delivery) support is at parity with its proprietary Surface charger. This isn't always the case for Surface models, resulting in a loss of the convenience nearly ubiquitous USB-C PD chargers could provide.

  • I'm still a fan of the Surface line's use of taller-than-16:9 displays. The extra vertical space is just so useful when getting work done on smaller laptop displays. 

  • Having the same starting price as the previous generation in a time of high inflation is a great move on Microsoft's part. It remains to be seen if the company was required to sacrifice too much from what the Laptop 5 could have been to achieve that price point.

That does it for my first impressions of the Surface Laptop 5. Once I've spent a bit more time with Microsoft's new flagship notebook PC I'll be following up this stream-of-consciousness-style hands-on with a more analytical full review, so stay tuned!

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