I’ve long been a fan of Microsoft’s Surface devices, thanks to their clean design, lack of bloatware and excellent keyboards. While it doesn't transform, the Surface Laptop won me over by providing a superb slim machine with an excellent Alcantara- waddled keyboard, great Precision trackpad, a responsive touchscreen and Windows Hello integration. But I feel Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is destined to let me down.
The Surface Laptop 2 I had to test back in 2018 took me through multiple events and trips, allowing me to file copy at speed and just get all manner of tasks done without annoying bundled software or performance issues getting in the way. But laptops have evolved a lot since then, with super slim bezels and interesting designs such as the trackpad-less Dell XPS 13 Plus or the notched display of the MacBook Air M2 (my current go-to laptop).
So after the Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Laptop 4 pretty much stuck with the design of the original Surface Laptop, I had my fingers crossed for something different with the fifth-gen machine.
But my hopes were dashed.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 design is a disappointment… again
The Surface Laptop 5 looks pretty much identical to its predecessor, and the laptop before it, and the laptop before it, and the laptop before it… sigh.
While I was hoping for a new display drawing inspiration from Dell’s InfinityEdge, my eyes were greeted by the PixelSense display in the familiar grip of some chunky bezels.
I find this deeply frustrating as once again Microsoft has popped a 13.5-inch screen into a laptop that I’m sure could fit a 14-inch panel. And for 2022 I think such bezels are unacceptable; simply look at our selection of best laptops and you’ll see precious few of them have notable bezels — the MacBook Pro M2 being a notable exception.
What’s annoying here is when you look at the inventive design of the Surface Laptop Studio, it’s clear Microsoft can be inventive with its device design. So I don’t get why it’s not pushed things further with the Surface Laptop 5.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, as Microsoft has dragged its heels before with the Surface Laptop; an Intel representative told me in 2019 that it’s baffling why Microsoft didn't give the Surface Laptop 3 a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port, as the Intel chip the laptop used supported that connectivity standard.
Add into the mix that the Surface Laptop 5 doesn't get the neural processing unit the Surface Pro 9 has via its SQ3 processor powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon, and it feels like Microsoft has given up a bit with the Surface Laptop.
Talking to senior computing editor Alex Wawro, we came to the conclusion that Microsoft seems to have missed an opportunity to set the Windows 11 laptop standard for others to follow. That was something I felt Redmond’s finest managed to do with the Surface Laptop 2 and thus saw the likes of Dell refine the XPS 13 and 15 further. But now it looks like Microsoft isn't really interested in standard laptops.
Maybe spending some time with the Surface Laptop 5 could change my mind. But I’m not convinced by that. And with how impressive I’ve found the MacBook Air M2, inside and out, I feel like Microsoft will have to do something special to win back my affection for its Surface products. Here’s hoping 2023 surfaces something special for the Surfaces.
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I was eagerly looking forward to an improved design this year for the surface laptop 5, especially after having seen what Microsoft did with the surface laptop studio. In particular, I was expecting 120hz, thinner bezels, and haptic/force trackpad - ie all the latest tech found in the laptop studio but ported over to the surface laptop.
So I was sorely disappointed when they showed off the laptop 5. Even the surface pro looked the same. And I tried to understand why: surface devices just don’t have the sales volumes to justify changing the hardware. Insignificant sales volumes > immaterial impact to company’s bottom line > no real push to improve/innovate to actually compete. But then again it’s a chicken and egg thing no? If they bothered to compete, sales volumes might end up being high enough.
But I think they know that the sales volume they’re looking for is just not possible with the segment they’re playing in: mid-premium windows laptops. It’s hard - not only are there other notable brands selling windows laptops in this segment, Apple’s m1/2 laptops are taking away PC market share from these brands + Microsoft. Without a clear edge, the surface team is left to make do with the current sales volume (and corresponding support by the company). Regardless, I’m still hopeful that things in future change and that laptop 6 might be the one!