A new battle has emerged in the never-ending war between Apple and Microsoft with the two tech goliaths deploying a new era of troops this year: the MacBook Air M2 and Surface Laptop 5. Both are equipped with ultra-sleek designs, an arsenal of power under the hood, and battery life that keeps these machines on the battlefield for hours (as tested in the MacBook Air, at least).
In our last MacBook Air M1 vs. Surface Laptop 4, Apple’s near-perfect laptop came out victorious, but that doesn’t mean Microsoft’s excellent ultra-thin laptop went down without a fight. In this year’s skirmish, Apple pulled out its trump card: an upgraded M2 silicon chip. It even delivered a revamped design with a bigger screen and smaller bezels. But Microsoft has an ace up its sleeve with the Surface Laptop 5 now boasting a speedy 12th Gen Intel processor.
Announced during the Microsoft Surface October event, the Surface Laptop 5 will soon arrive at people’s doorsteps with shipments coming on October 25. We have yet to review Microsoft’s latest offering, so stay tuned for an in-depth look at the Surface Laptop 5. In the meantime, check out the differences between these two ultraportable powerhouses.
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Specs
|Specs||MacBook Air M2||Surface Laptop 5|
|CPU||M2 8-core CPU||Intel Core i5-1235U/i7-1255U (13.5-inch), i7-1255U (15-inch)|
|GPU||M2 8-core GPU, 10-core GPU||Intel Iris Xe|
|RAM||8GB. 16GB||8GB, 16GB|
|Storage||256GB, 512GB, 1TB||256GB, 512GB, 1TB|
|Display||13.6 inches (2560 x 1664)||13.5-inch (2256 x 1504) PixelSense touchscreen, 15-inch (2496 x 1664) PixelSense touchscreen|
|Size||11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches||12.1 inch x 8.8 inch x 0.57 (13-inch), 13.4 inch x 9.6 inch x 0.58 inches (15-inch)|
|Weight||2.7 pounds||2.8 pounds (13-inch), 3.4 pounds (15-inch)|
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Price
It goes without saying that both the MacBook Air M2 and Surface Laptop 5 are sure to put a dent in most people’s wallets, but Microsoft has a slight edge over Apple when it comes to their new iterations of laptops.
The Surface Laptop 5 starts at $999/£999 for the 13.5-inch, much like last year’s Surface Laptop 4. Cutting it just below the $1,000 mark is always more appealing to customers, and with a 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U CPU, this isn’t a bad deal. In reality, however, those after real power will want to pick up a model with 16GB of RAM, which jacks up the price to $1,499/£1,499. Still, a low-price option is there.
Unlike the M1-powered MacBook Air with its favorable $999/£999 sticker, the MacBook Air M2 starts at $1,199/£1,249 (unfortunate for the U.K.). That $200 price increase makes a considerable difference as there’s no option to get the M2 chip in a MacBook Air below the $1,000 mark. You’re still getting the powerful M2 chip, though, with the higher-priced $1,499/£1,549 option offering a 10-core M2 GPU rather than an 8-core GPU.
Both options don’t come cheap, but at least the Surface Laptop 5 can be bought for just under $1,000.
Winner: Surface Laptop 5
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Design
Sleek, sophisticated, and lightweight — the MacBook Air M2 and Surface Laptop 5 have a lot in common when it comes to design. This year, however, Apple revamped the Air’s design to make it look more like its MacBook Pro 14 sibling. It even added a selection of colors: Silver, Space Gray, Starlight, and Midnight.
Its stand-out elements include the loss of the previous model’s funky, sleek receding wedge design in favor of a uniform thickness and a bold, near-bezeless display with a notch for the camera. Its anodized aluminum unibody is simplicity at its finest, and Surface Laptop 5 matches that aspect, too.
Microsoft didn’t mix up the design for its new Surface Laptop, sticking with the refined all-aluminum chassis it’s known for. We appreciate its simple sleekness, but Apple’s redesigned MacBook Air now makes the bezels on the Surface all the more prominent. That said, the Surface Laptop 5 comes in two sizes: 13.5-inch and 15-inch. Whether you’re after something more portable or in need of a bigger display, Microsoft gives you the choice.
Like last year, what Microsoft does better than Apple is offering standout colors, like the Platinum with a soft-touch Alcantara deck. There’s also a fresh Sage green option, a striking Sandstone color, and the usual Black. These colors add some flair to an otherwise straightforward design.
The MacBook Air M2 measures 12 x 8.5 x 0.4 inches and weighs a light 2.7 pounds, which is as ultraportable as it gets when it comes to laptops. The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 5 is slightly larger and heavier, coming in at 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches and weighing 2.8 pounds. Of course, the 15-inch is even bigger, with dimensions of 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.58 inches and weighing 3.4 pounds.
The shift in design the MacBook Air M2 presents makes the Surface Laptop 5 look a tad dated now as it offers a slightly lighter and smaller notebook with a slightly bigger display.
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Ports
It’s a given that ultra-light laptops don’t come with a great selection of ports, but Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 5 has one port that gives it an edge.
Both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch Surface Laptop models come with a USB-C port with USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 support (finally), along with a USB-A 3.1 slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a Surface Connect port. Not many, but at least there’s a USB-A port to connect a selection of legacy PC peripherals.
As for the MacBook Air M2, you’re getting two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the return of the MagSafe charger. You’re getting an extra Thunderbolt port, but we all need a USB-A port from time to time.
Whatever the case, to get better connectivity options, you’re going to need a reliable docking station or USB-C hub.
Winner: Surface Laptop 5
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Display
Displays are a big part of any premium notebook, and the MacBook Air M2 and Surface Laptop 5 sport dazzling panels.
We're fans of the Surface Laptop 4's display, whether it be on 13.5-inch or the 15-inch. In the Surface Laptop 5, Microsoft is bringing more of the same, except with a subtle change on the 15-inch model.
We'll see the same 13.5-inch (2256 x 1504) PixelSense touchscreen with 10-point multi-touch support, but with Dolby Vision IQ support. However, the 15-inch model is a little different, delivering a 15-inch (2496 x 1664) PixelSense touchscreen compared to last year's model (2256 x 1504). They'll still see the signature 3:2 aspect ratio.
We have yet to test out the Surface Laptop 5, but seeing as it's identical to the Surface Laptop 4, we know it's a great panel that can hold its own against anything short of OLED.
Thing is, the MacBook Air M2 will be hard to contend with. The MacBook now boasts a 13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664-pixel Liquid Retina display, compared to the previous version’s 13.3 inches. Bigger is better, and in this case, that certainly rings true.
When we measured the MacBook Air M2’s color reproduction, the Air registered 75.9% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. It could be better, seeing how the Surface Laptop 4's display covers 77%, meaning the Surface Laptop 5 may have something similar to that. When it comes to brightness, the MacBook Air shines. It averaged 489 nits compared to the M1’s 366 nits. That beats the Surface Laptop 4’s 349 nits, so the next-gen model will need to boost its brightness capabilities to match it.
There’s still more testing to be done, but it will be hard to beat the MacBook’s bigger, bright display.
Winner: Undecided pending testing
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Performance
This year, Microsoft fitted a highly-praised 12th Gen Intel CPU in both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch Surface Laptop 5 models. That’s sure to bring it up to speed, especially if it’s facing off against the might of the MacBook Air’s M2 chip.
The 13.5-inch model comes in two options including a 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U processor or an i7-1255U CPU, while the 15-inch laptop sticks with one i7-1255U chip. However, for commercial sales, you can expect either an Intel 12th Gen i5-1245U CPU or an i7-1265U processor. Microsoft claims it's 50% faster than its predecessor, but we'll have to put that to the test.
Here’s the kicker: there are no AMD configurations in sight (for now), so you’re stuck with Intel, which isn’t a bad thing. We’ve tested many laptops equipped with 12th Gen Intel processors, including the Huawei MateBook X Pro (Intel Core i7-1260P CPU). I bring this particular laptop up as its CPU hit a Geekbench 5.4 multi-core score of 11,142. The MacBook Air M2 reached 8,919. That’s a good sign for the Surface Laptop 5. That said, its chips and make are different, so we still need to test this out ourselves.
The M2 chip still shines in other areas. On the Handbrake test, the Air M2 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 7 minutes and 52 seconds, which roasted the 10 minute average. When we ran the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test, the M2 Air’s 1TB SSD turned in a read speed of 2,800.1 megabytes per second while the M1 Air reached 2,692.9MBps. Now that’s speed.
With a 12th Gen i7-1255U CPU, the Surface Laptop 5 has a chance to shine.
Winner: Undecided pending testing
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Battery life
Microsoft has a big chance to come out on top when it comes to battery life as it claims to have a few hours over the MacBook Air M2’s 14 hours and 6 minutes.
Microsoft states the Surface Laptop 5 13.5 offers up to 18 hours of battery life while the 15-inch option delivers up to 17 hours. In our reviews of the Surface Laptop 4 models, we saw the 13.5-inch variant reach 10 hours and 46 minutes, and the 15-inch model lasted just over 12 hours. That’s quite the jump.
The Surface Laptop 5 must also beat the Air’s fast-charging capabilities. In our test, the Air could get a 50% charge in 30 minutes with the 67W power adapter. The Surface Laptop comes with a 60W power supply, meaning it may not be as fast.
Winner: Undecided pending testing
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Webcam
It seems the MacBook Air M2 will have the upper hand in the webcam department; Apple upgraded it from the usual 720p shooter to 1080p. In our review, we stated it did a good job at capturing color and clarity, even if details were a bit grainy.
The webcam doesn't sound like a highlight on the Surface Laptop 5, which keeps the same 720p snapper. That said, Microsoft does state there are "enhanced camera experiences" thanks to Windows 11's interactive features. Plus, there a dual far-field Studio Mics.
At least it comes with Windows Hello Face Authentication for easy log in. Whether these enhancements will be enough to boost the quality of the same 720p webcam? We'll have to test it out.
Still, if you want a better video conferencing experience, it’s worth checking out our best webcams page.
Winner: MacBook Air M2
MacBook Air M2 vs. Surface Laptop 5: Outlook
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 5 is more of a minor update compared to Apple’s revamped MacBook Air M2, but the changes under the hood give the Surface a chance to properly wage war with Apple’s highly esteemed MacBook.
Of course, it’s about the software as well. If you’re more attuned to Windows 11, the Surface Laptop 5 will be your cup of tea. Prefer the macOS experience? The MacBook Air M2 will be your mug of coffee.
We still need to test the 13.5-inch and 15-inch Surface Laptop 5, so watch this space for those reviews. In the meantime, check out our face-offs between the Surface Laptop 5 vs. Surface Laptop 4 and Surface Pro 9 vs. Surface Pro 8, along with the best 13-inch laptops on the market.