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10 Reasons to Avoid the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 in 2023

Microsoft‘s Surface Laptop line has gained a following over the years for its sleek design, vibrant displays, and balance of portability and performance. However, the latest Surface Laptop 5 fails to live up to expectations in several key areas. As someone who tests and reviews laptops for a living, I cannot recommend purchasing the Surface Laptop 5, especially with so many compelling alternatives on the market.

In this article, I‘ll share my top 10 reasons why you should avoid the Surface Laptop 5 and consider other options instead. I‘ll provide comparisons to leading competitors, discuss the most common complaints from buyers, and suggest some better alternatives at a similar price point.

1. Alcantara material wears down and peels over time

One of the most frequent complaints about the Surface Laptop 5 is regarding the Alcantara fabric material that lines the keyboard and palmrest area. While the soft-touch fabric initially provides a unique look and feel compared to metal laptops, many owners have reported that it shows wear, stains easily, and even starts peeling after a year or two of regular use.

Even with careful handling and cleaning, the Alcantara doesn‘t seem to stand the test of time like metal or high-quality plastic. For a premium-priced laptop, you‘d expect the materials to hold up better. There have been enough reports of the fabric wearing down and peeling that I consider it a design flaw rather than just a few isolated incidents.

The standard aluminum finishes on the MacBook Air, Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre x360 and many other premium Windows laptops will likely maintain their appearance and integrity much longer than the Surface Laptop 5‘s Alcantara. If you want your laptop to still look great after 2-3 years, I‘d recommend avoiding the fabric material altogether.

2. Poor battery life compared to claims

Microsoft advertises "up to 18 hours of battery life" for the Surface Laptop 5 on its website. However, many professional reviews and user reports indicate that real-world battery life is significantly lower, often in the 7-10 hour range depending on usage.

While 7-10 hours may suffice for some people, it‘s misleading for Microsoft to promise 18 hours when that‘s not realistic for most users. Competitors like the MacBook Air with M1 deliver 14-18 hours in real-world use, while many Windows laptops are now offering 10+ hours of practical use.

Battery life is such a key factor for laptop productivity and portability. Falling short of expectations by such a wide margin is a big knock against the Surface Laptop 5 and something to be aware of before purchasing. Don‘t expect all-day battery life like Microsoft claims.

3. Limited ports and no USB-C charging

Another area where the Surface Laptop 5 falls behind the competition is with port selection. It only includes:

  • 1 USB-C (USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4)
  • 1 USB-A (USB 3.1)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Surface Connect port

Notably missing is an HDMI or DisplayPort for connecting an external monitor, a full-size SD or microSD card reader, and additional USB-C ports. The single USB-C port also doesn‘t support charging. You‘re forced to charge via the proprietary Surface Connect port and included charger.

Meanwhile, laptops like the MacBook Air and Dell XPS 13 include two Thunderbolt 4 ports, with the option to charge via USB-C. Many also have full-size or microSD card slots and HDMI out. With more devices using USB-C, having only one port on the Surface Laptop 5 is very limiting. And no USB-C charging means carrying an extra proprietary charger when traveling.

4. No AMD processor option

The Surface Laptop 4 was praised for offering a custom AMD Ryzen processor that provided better multi-core performance and graphics compared to the Intel models. However, Microsoft removed all AMD options on the Surface Laptop 5, leaving just 12th gen Intel Core i5 and i7 choices.

For some reason Microsoft chose not to use AMD‘s latest Ryzen 6000 series processors, which are faster and more efficient than the Surface Laptop 4‘s custom Ryzen chips according to benchmarks and reviews. This means the Surface Laptop 5 has less configuration options and lags behind other Windows laptops that do offer current Ryzen processors.

Apple‘s M1 and M2 chips also outperform the Surface Laptop 5‘s Intel processors significantly, especially the i5 models. So if you want the most performance for your money, the Surface Laptop 5 is simply not the best choice.

5. No fingerprint reader option

In an era where mobile devices and laptops are increasingly secured with biometric authentication, Microsoft continues to omit a fingerprint reader in the Surface Laptop 5. You‘re limited to just a Windows Hello IR camera for facial recognition login.

While facial recognition works well, it‘s less secure than a fingerprint and doesn‘t work in low light. Many other premium Windows laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre x360 include a fingerprint reader standard or as an option. Apple has also had Touch ID standard on MacBooks for years now, so Microsoft is behind the curve here.

If you‘re used to the convenience and security of a fingerprint reader, not having one may feel like a significant downgrade on the Surface Laptop 5. It seems like an oversight at this price point when much cheaper laptops now have fingerprint sensors.

6. 720p webcam is outdated

With the rise of remote and hybrid work, having a high-quality webcam on your laptop is more important than ever. Unfortunately, Microsoft is still using a basic 720p camera on the Surface Laptop 5 instead of a sharper 1080p sensor.

The 720p webcam is passable in good lighting but looks significantly softer and grainier than 1080p and higher-res cameras. The difference is very noticeable in video calls, especially when other participants have better cameras.

Many other flagship Windows laptops have moved to 1080p webcams over the past couple years, including the Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre x360, ASUS Zenbook S 13 OLED, and Lenovo Yoga 9i. 1080p is quickly becoming the standard for premium laptops, so the Surface Laptop 5 feels outdated in this regard.

For a laptop designed for productivity, Microsoft really should have included a better camera. It‘s a key feature that was clearly overlooked, which is disappointing for a flagship machine.

7. RAM and storage are soldered and can‘t be upgraded

The Surface Laptop 5 continues Microsoft‘s trend of soldering the RAM and storage to the motherboard, making user upgrades impossible. Once you configure the laptop with 8, 16, or 32GB RAM and 256GB to 1TB storage, you‘re stuck with that forever.

While many thin and light laptops have moved to soldered components, some still offer an upgradeable M.2 SSD slot or SODIMM RAM slots for future upgrades. Business and gaming laptops are also increasingly offering this flexibility.

The inability to upgrade RAM or storage on the Surface Laptop 5 means you need to pay extra upfront to future-proof it or just plan on a shorter lifespan. You can‘t start with a cheaper model and add more RAM or a bigger SSD later as your needs change. For students or anyone on a budget, this can be a real drawback.

8. Lack of configuration options

Tying into the lack of upgradeability is the Surface Laptop 5‘s limited configuration options, especially on the 13.5" Intel models. Your choices are very narrow:

13.5" models:

  • Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
  • Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD
  • Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD
  • Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD

15" models:

  • Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
  • Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD
  • Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD
  • Core i7, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD

That‘s it, just 8 pre-built configurations to choose from. Competitors like the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Air offer a lot more flexibility to choose your processor, RAM, and storage independently. Many also have larger 2TB or even 4TB SSD options.

On the Surface Laptop 5, you can‘t mix and match a Core i5 with 16GB RAM or a Core i7 with 32GB RAM and 512GB storage. You‘re forced into very limited combinations that may not meet your needs or budget.

9. Better alternatives exist

Perhaps the biggest reason to skip the Surface Laptop 5 is simply that you can get a better laptop for your money from competitors. Here are a few of the best alternatives:

MacBook Air M2
If you value battery life, display quality, and premium design, the MacBook Air M2 beats the Surface Laptop 5 in almost every way. You get 14-18 hours of real-world battery life, a fast M2 chip that beats Intel‘s offerings, a better keyboard and trackpad, and a sleek chassis with USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports. Unless you need Windows, the MacBook Air is the clear choice for most people.

Dell XPS 13 Plus
For a premium Windows ultrabook, the Dell XPS 13 Plus offers a more powerful 12th gen Intel Core i7 processor, 4K touchscreen option, compact design, and better port selection with two Thunderbolt 4. It also has an edge-to-edge keyboard, large trackpad, 1080p webcam, and fingerprint reader. User reviews have been very positive.

ASUS Zenbook S 13 OLED
If you want to best display quality in a Windows laptop, the ASUS Zenbook S 13 OLED‘s 2.8K OLED touchscreen is unbeatable. It also has fast performance from a Ryzen 6000 series chip, long battery life, Thunderbolt 4 ports, Harman Kardon speakers, and a 1080p webcam. The design and build quality are excellent as well.

HP Spectre x360 14
Another great 2-in-1 option is the HP Spectre x360 14, which can fold into tablet mode and has an included stylus. It features a gorgeous 3K2K OLED touchscreen, 12th gen Intel processors, 1080p webcam, quad speakers, and Thunderbolt 4 ports. The gem-cut design and color options are also very stylish.

10. Bugs and quality control issues

Lastly, many early adopters of the Surface Laptop 5 have reported various bugs and hardware issues that required exchanges or repairs. Some common complaints include:

  • Random shutdowns and blue screens
  • Unresponsive trackpad or touchscreen
  • Speakers crackling or buzzing
  • Battery not charging or holding a charge
  • Excessive fan noise even when idle
  • Backlight bleed or dead pixels on the screen

While some issues are expected with any new tech product, the Surface Laptop 5 seems to have more than its fair share of quality control problems based on user reports online. Microsoft will likely work out these kinks over time with firmware and driver updates, but early units seem to be quite buggy.

For a flagship laptop at this price point, I expected better QA before release. Having to deal with troubleshooting or exchanges out of the box is a real frustration. I would advise waiting a few months for Microsoft to address these problems before purchasing a Surface Laptop 5, if at all.


While the Surface Laptop 5 does have some redeeming qualities like its sleek design, sharp display, and solid speakers, it ultimately falls short in too many areas to recommend. The peeling Alcantara material, poor battery life, limited ports, lack of AMD options, outdated webcam, missing fingerprint reader, and buggy behavior all add up to a subpar experience compared to the competition.

Unless you‘re set on the Surface brand and don‘t mind these shortcomings, I would strongly suggest considering one of the alternative laptops mentioned above. The MacBook Air, Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre x360, and ASUS Zenbook S 13 OLED all provide better value, performance, and features in my opinion.

Don‘t settle for less just to have a Microsoft logo on your laptop. With so many great options on the market across Windows, macOS, and Chrome OS, you can definitely find a better fit for your needs and budget. Do your research, read reviews from trusted sources, and try out devices in person if possible before making your decision.

At the end of the day, a laptop is a big investment that you‘ll likely use every day for years. Make sure you choose one that will serve you well long-term. The Surface Laptop 5 simply falls short of that bar in my book. Avoid the frustration and go with a more well-rounded alternative instead.