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Why Microsoft Surface still doesn’t have a true answer to the MacBook Air

Microsoft today announced new versions of its Surface line of PCs, including the Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Pro 9. The Surface Laptop 5, in particular, hasn’t changed much over the years, but has remained a very thin and light laptop with a sleek build — in many ways, the perfect foil to Apple’s MacBook Air.

The Surface Laptop 5 makes some minor adjustments to the formula, adding a new color option and updated 12th-gen Intel processors. But in 2022, it doesn’t feel like quite enough.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 15 front angled view showing display and keyboard deck.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends / Digital Trends

Apple has spent the last couple of years transitioning to ARM-powered Apple Silicon, and it’s been a stunning transformation to watch. Underpowered thin-and-light MacBooks have gone from being overpriced to an incredible value.

The M1 MacBook Air is the best example, of course. At $999 (or even lower on sale days), it’s as a good a value as you’ll find for a laptop. Despite being two years old, the performance of the M1 still surpasses Intel’s 12th-gen U-series chips, such as the ones you’ll find as options for the Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Pro 9. It runs circles around these laptops in terms of battery life, has a sharper (and more colorful) screen, and better speakers.

That’s a lot of benefits. But on paper, the entry-level Surface Laptop 5 should be a proper competitor. The 13.5-inch model also starts at $1,000, and comes with a similar configuration of 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage to match the MacBook Air. It’s even thinner at 0.57 inches — and lighter than the M1 MacBook Air too.

The lid of the Surface Laptop 5.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Those who prefer Windows as a platform or need access to Windows-specific applications will default to a laptop like the Surface Laptop 5. That’s a given. But the Surface Laptop 5, unfortunately, is yet another reason the M1 MacBook Air has converted so many people to MacOS. It has enough advantages over a laptop like the Surface Laptop 5 that Microsoft really needed to undercut it in terms of price.

The new Dell XPS 13 is a good example of how other Windows laptop manufacturers are attempting to sidestep the MacBook Air. Dell priced the new XPS 13 starting at $830 and even configures it with 512GB of storage. All of a sudden, the XPS 13 doesn’t have to compete with the MacBook Air in aspects that it simply can’t.

That’s the kind of approach Microsoft needed to take with the Surface Laptop 5 for it to really compete with the M1 MacBook Air. Yes, it’s priced under the M2 MacBook Air, but it has even more disadvantages in comparison, including the webcam and thickness of the chassis.

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Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen is the Senior editor of computing, managing all content covering laptops, monitors, PC hardware, Macs, and more.
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