Surface Laptop 5 hands-on: A bare minimum update

The main upgrades are 12th-gen Intel CPUs, Thunderbolt 4 and... a new sage green color option.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Today Microsoft announced its refreshed Surface Laptop 5, which just like before will be available in 13.5 and 15-inch models. The new notebooks will also feature 3:2 touchscreens with a very familiar brushed aluminum design. Actually, almost everything about the Surface Laptop 5 is the same as before, aside from the addition of new 12th-gen Intel CPUs and one Thunderbolt 4 port. And considering the advancements its competitors are making, I have to wonder if Microsoft is even trying.

Now don't get me wrong, improved performance is nice. And I suspect the Surface Laptop 5 will be a solid system. But that's mostly because the Surface Laptop 4 was pretty good too. You still get a high-res PixelSense touch display that now has some built-in automatic color tuning thanks to support for Dolby Vision IQ. There's also a new sage green color option which looks nice, though we've already seen this shade pop up on the Surface Laptop Go 2.

That's about it in the way of new specs or features. And that's really frustrating because it seems like there are a lot of low-hanging fruit that Microsoft could address that would make its mainstream laptop line a much better rival for systems like the XPS 15 or an equivalent ThinkPad.

For starters, while you get an IR camera for Windows Hello, the main webcam is still 720p, which is really not OK on a premium laptop in 2022. You also still only get a total of two USB ports: the aforementioned Thunderbolt 4 jack and a vanilla USB 3.1 (not even 3.2) Type-A socket. Look, that's fine for a budget system, but especially on the 15-inch model, there really ought to be better connectivity. How about an SD card reader or something? Thankfully, at least Microsoft is keeping the bonus 5-watt USB-A charging port on the Surface Laptop's power brick, which can come in handy when you need to charge your phone in a pinch.

On top of that, unlike the Surface Laptop 4, this year's model is only available in Intel-based configurations. There's no AMD version, which is kind of a shame. And while I don't mind only getting integrated graphics on the 13.5-inch version, I really wish Microsoft had built at least one variant of the 15-inch with a discrete GPU. It doesn't even have to be something super beefy like an RTX 3080. A 3060 or even a 3050 Ti would be just fine. I really don't think I'm asking for too much. After all, Microsoft included an optional 3050 Ti GPU on last year's Surface Laptop Studio, which is a slightly smaller, but thicker system. Honestly, one of the most interesting things about the Surface Laptop 5 are Microsoft's wallpapers for Windows 11, which are new for 2022 and designed to match the system's exterior color.

But more importantly, after seeing Dell add a new member to the XPS 13 family and all the changes Apple is making on the MacBook Air and Pro lines, it's just a bit disappointing to see Microsoft simply going through the motions. And all this is coming from the company that basically invented the modern detachable 2-in-1, so I know Microsoft can do better.

Follow along with the rest of our news from Microsoft's 2022 Surface event.