Surface Laptop 6 vs Surface Laptop 5: Here are the biggest upgrades

Surface Laptop 6 vs Surface Laptop 5
(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 6 was unveiled during this month's Microsoft Surface event, and it starts shipping May 8 for a starting price of $1,199. 

Are you going to buy one?

It's a tricky question unless you need one for work, in which case someone at your company is probably planning to buy them in bulk. That's certainly who Microsoft is targeting with these laptops, which sport characteristically simple Surface Laptop designs with comfy keyboards and tall displays with a 3:2 aspect ratio.

But anyone can buy a Surface Laptop 6, and if you love Surface Laptops it might be worth upgrading from an old model for the new features. While Microsoft hasn't radically redesigned the Surface Laptop, this sixth iteration offers some minor upgrades that could be really compelling to the right customers.

I know because I've reviewed the last two Surface Laptops, and ever since my disappointing time with the Surface Laptop 5 I've been eager to see Microsoft give this basic clamshell laptop a glow-up. In my Surface Laptop 5 review I called out the comforts of this clamshell design but criticized the poor battery life, low-quality webcam and glare-prone screen.

Now Microsoft is making a bunch of claims about the new Surface Laptop 6 that have me wondering whether they've addressed all my concerns about the previous model. If you're also on the fence about whether to get your hopes up about a new Surface Laptop, let me quickly run through some of the biggest upgrades you get on the Surface Laptop 6 vs Surface Laptop 5.

Surface Laptop 6 vs Surface Laptop 5: Matte screen upgrade

Surface Laptop 5 outdoors on patio table, websites on screen

The Surface Laptop 5, like its predecessors, had a decent screen that was fine indoors but hard to use in direct sunlight. (Image credit: Future)

The Surface Laptop design is straightforward and a bit staid at this point, as it's barely changed over the past few years. The basic clamshell build feels like a productivity enhancer since you get a nice keyboard and a touchscreen with a tall 3:2 aspect ratio, but there's a major downside to that screen that I discovered as soon as I tried to use it on a coffee shop patio: glare.

As you can see from the photo above or those sprinkled throughout my Surface Laptop 5 review, the Surface Laptop's PixelSense touchscreen can't outshine direct sunlight. That's not a deal-breaker for most of us, but it is frustrating if you like to work in bright light or outdoors since even at maximum brightness, the Surface Laptop's screen throws off some serious shine.

A screen that gets brighter would solve this issue, but unfortunately, the Surface Laptop 6's display is rated to achieve the same peak 400 nits of brightness as its predecessor. And when we got the Laptop 5 into our testing lab and pointed our Klein K10-A colorimeter at it we found it did in fact achieve an average brightness of nearly 400 nits (393.8, to be precise), so it's not as though the Surface team can get this display much closer to its advertised max brightness.

Surface Laptop 5 open on patio table running game

The glare issue is real, and real frustrating when you want to enjoy a little fresh air while working. (Image credit: Future)

But Microsoft has specifically called out the screen on the new Surface Laptop 6 as coming with a new anti-reflective matte coating, which is nice to hear. I don't know how much of a difference that will actually make in real-world use, but I'm looking forward to finding out when we get one in for testing and review. 

Surface Laptop 6 vs Surface Laptop 5: Better webcam

Surface Laptop 5 open on desk showing Windows 11 desktop

The Surface Laptop 5's webcam leaves a lot to be desired. (Image credit: Future)

While I was perfectly content knocking out articles and emails on the Surface Laptop 5, I always felt a little unhappy when it came time to hop on a team meeting. 

The 720p camera mounted on the Surface Laptop 5 just never did me any favors in the vanity department, and especially during early-morning calls I often felt better switching off my video feed rather than trying to look presentable through the grainy smear of the webcam.

This has been a problem with the Surface Laptops for years, and luckily it looks like Microsoft is moving them into the modern era with the Surface Laptop 6. I say that because the Laptop 6 will ship with a 1080p webcam, so hopefully it will capture images and video that look a lot sharper and more detailed than previous models.

Surface Laptop 6 vs Surface Laptop 5: Meteor Lake muscle

Surface Laptop 5 on desk with Fortnite playing on-screen

The Surface Laptop 5 was speedy enough for some light gaming, but it lacked real power. (Image credit: Future)

The Surface Laptop 5 was plenty powerful enough for getting work done and a bit of light gaming here and there, but it was hardly a speed demon. 

Worse, it offered middling battery life that was something of a disappointment, since the Laptop 5 actually performed worse in our battery rundown test than its predecessor and couldn't even go a full ten hours without running out of juice.

Better battery life has been one of the big benefits of Meteor Lake touted by Intel, and I'm hoping those claims prove true because Apple's MacBooks have been beating even the best Windows laptops on battery life."

I'm hopeful that the Surface Laptop 6 will do better on both fronts, since it will be the first Surface Laptop to ship with one of the new Intel Meteor Lake CPUs onboard. You can order a Surface Laptop 6 with one of two CPUs, the Intel Core Ultra 5 135H or the Intel Core Ultra 7 165H, which are some of the most powerful Meteor Lake chips yet released. 

A better CPU could not only deliver better performance when you're blazing through 30+ tabs of work or flipping between spreadsheets, streaming music and playing games, but it could also improve battery life. 

Better battery life has been one of the big benefits of Meteor Lake touted by Intel, and I'm hoping those claims prove true because Apple's MacBooks have been beating even the best Windows laptops on battery life.

The best MacBooks can easily last 15 hours in our battery rundown test, so it would be nice to see a new Meteor Lake laptop like the Surface Laptop 6 do at least 12 or better. And I think that's very possible with the new Surface Laptop 6 -- especially if you listen to Microsoft, which claims that you can wring up to 18-19 hours of use out of these laptops on a single charge.

The company made similar claims about previous models that never held water in our testing or real-world use, but hope springs eternal. The Surface Laptop 6 really needs to be significantly better than its predecessor in terms of both raw processing power and power efficiency if it wants to compete with the best laptops on the market, and this Meteor Lake upgrade might get it there.

Surface Laptop 6 vs Surface Laptop 5: Outlook

We can't know for sure whether the Surface Laptop 6 is worth upgrading to for Surface Laptop owners because we haven't yet had a chance to review it. I'm looking forward to getting one in for testing because I'd really love to see Microsoft make a great laptop, and I've yet to feel that way about a Surface Laptop.

But these Windows productivity machines do have their fans, and the fact that Microsoft first unveiled the Surface Laptop 6 for Business during a business-focused livestream should tell you a lot about who buys these laptops. But I like their keyboards and their screens, and I'm hoping Microsoft builds on those strengths to ship a Surface Laptop 6 that feels like a Windows flagship.

Hopefully we'll find out soon — stay tuned!

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Alex Wawro
Senior Editor Computing

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.