Surface Book vs. MacBook Pro: Why Apple Wins (Just Barely)

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Editors' Note (10/27/16): This article is an analysis of the previous generation of Microsoft's Surface Book and Apple's MacBook Pro. While it goes in-depth on the differences between those computers, you should visit this article for an overview of how the recently announced 2016 models compare.

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The Surface Book (starting at $1,499) isn't just Microsoft's first true laptop; it also seems specifically designed to make you ignore or trade in the 13-inch MacBook Pro. But while the Surface Book's sleek, silver design and supersharp screen bring Apple's notebook (starting at $1,299) to mind, Microsoft's laptop has some unique tricks of its own. Those include a fully detachable touch display that supports handy pen functions for sketching or taking notes.

Still, with a slim, tried-and-true design; speedy performance; and an innovative Force Touch trackpad, the latest 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro is no slouch either. To figure out which of these premium, professional-minded notebooks most deserves your dollar, we put their features and performance to the test in an 8-round showdown.

Update on 11/09: After installing the latest Windows 10 build on the Surface Book, the system is less buggy than before, but some issues persist. See Performance section.

Design and Ports

The Surface Book is no ordinary Surface, sporting a sleek, all-silver, magnesium design with a unique, flexible hinge designed to keep the laptop's removable display from getting too wobbly. But while Microsoft mostly knocks it out of the park with its first laptop, the device is still a bit top-heavy, and opening the lid is more difficult than we'd like.

The latest MacBook Pro is virtually unchanged from previous models design-wise. But with slim edges and subtle curves around each corner, Apple's flagship notebook certainly isn't hurting for a makeover.

Microsoft-Surface-Book-NW_portsThe Surface Book's weight (3.34 pounds starting, 3.48 pounds with discrete graphics) is about identical to the 3.48-pound MacBook Pro. The 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.5-0.9-inch Surface Book is just slightly wider than the 12.4 x 8.6 x 0.7-inch MacBook Pro, but both of these svelte laptops are ready for the road.

MORE: Surface Book—Full Review

Microsoft's laptop features two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, a Mini DisplayPort and a Surface Connect port, which charges the PC and allows you to connect to the optional Surface Dock.

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MORE: Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, 2015)—Full Review

The MacBook Pro has two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, an SD Card slot and two Thunderbolt 2 ports, which are ideal for connecting to large storage drives and high-definition displays.

Winner: MacBook Pro: The Surface Book's design is impressive for a debut, but the MacBook Pro's more refined construction makes it the winner.

Display

Both of these notebook's displays are undeniably gorgeous, though the Surface Book (13.5 inches, 3000 x 2000 pixels) has the slight edge over the MacBook Pro (13.3 inches, 2560 x 1600 pixels) in sheer size and resolution.

displays

A 4K trailer for Suicide Squad looked stunningly sharp on both notebooks, from the scales on Killer Croc to every terrifying detail on the face of Jared Leto's Joker. However, colors looked more true to life on the MacBook, particularly when looking at skin tones.  

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The two laptops proved virtually identical in brightness, with the MacBook Pro's 389-nit display just barely beating the Surface Book's 387-nit screen on our light meter. The Surface Book did, however, top the MacBook Pro in color representation and accuracy, reproducing 98.5 percent of the sRGB color gamut and notching a Delta E of 0.57 (closer to 0 is better). The MacBook registered 91.2 percent and 1.2 for those respective tests.

Winner: Surface Book: The Surface Book has a sharper and more colorful canvas. 

Keyboard and Touchpad

The Surface Book and MacBook Pro are both comfortable to type on, each offering an acceptable 1.5 mm of travel. But Apple's laptop delivers a much snappier experience.

Apple-Macbook-Pro-13inch-G14I blazed through the Key Hero typing test on the MacBook at 99.6 words per minute with 99 percent accuracy, but using the Surface Book's comparatively mushy keys, I typed at a slower 86.8 wpm with a lower accuracy of 94 percent.

Microsoft-Surface-Book-NW-G13Thanks to the Surface Book's glass touchpad, navigating the desktop and pinching to zoom into websites felt pleasantly smooth. However, with the MacBook Pro's unique Force Touch pad, which uses haptic vibrations instead of actual clicks, it's more feature-rich and intuitive.

Aside from letting you press down just about anywhere on the touchpad (most pads have dead zones around the edges), Apple's touchpad offers a wealth of unique functions, such as the ability to instantly look up a word or preview a website link by hard-pressing on it.

MORE: Best 2-in-1s (Laptop/Tablet Hybrids)

The Surface Book's pad supports a number of gestures, such as a three-finger tap (for launching Cortana) and three-finger slide (for changing apps). However, we found that scrolling stuttered, especially in Chrome. An update might fix this issue.

Winner: MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro sports a snappier keyboard, and its unique Force Touch trackpad allows for a variety of shortcuts.

Special Features

One of the Surface Book's killer features is its ability to double as a robust stand-alone tablet for sketching and note-taking.

detach_gifThe notebook's included pen offers 1,024 levels of sensitivity, and while I'm no illustrator, drawing doodles in Fresh Paint felt almost as good as using real paper. Plus, thanks to Windows 10's Continuity feature, the Surface Book automatically shifts to a touch-friendly interface the second you snap the display off (if you enable that feature).

Save for its Force Touch trackpad, the MacBook Pro's special features are mainly software-based. The latest version of Apple's OS X features Handoff, which allows your MacBook to operate seamlessly with any of your iOS devices. For example, you can start an email on your iPhone and finish it on your MacBook, or answer one of your iPhone's incoming calls right on your laptop.

Winner: Surface Book. The MacBook Pro has useful iOS integration, but the Surface Book's detachable screen, pen and touch features make it a true standout.

Performance

Armed with a 6th-Generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, the Surface Book has plenty of multitasking muscle. That sounds similar enough to our 13-inch MacBook Pro (5th-Gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage) on paper, though the MacBook proved slightly superior in our lab tests.

geekbench_3

The MacBook Pro edged out the standard Surface Book on the Geekbench 3 performance test, with a score of 7,113 versus the Surface Book's mark of 6,814. Apple's laptop also inched past the Surface on our spreadsheet test, in which the MacBook matched 20,000 names to addresses in 3 minutes and 28 seconds, versus the Surface's time of 4:17. 

Both notebooks sport speedy, PCIe-based flash storage, but the MacBook Pro was able to copy 4.97GB worth of multimedia just a bit faster than the Surface Book (13 seconds versus 16 seconds).

It's worth noting that we also tested a Core i7 version of the Surface Book with discrete graphics, which performed notably better than the standard version and trumped the MacBook Pro on our general-performance test. Plus, this version of the Surface Book is powerful enough to play the latest games, while the MacBook Pro 13-inch doesn't even have a discrete GPU option. On the other hand, you can add a Core i7 processor to the 13-inch MacBook Pro for an extra $300.

Test results aside, we simply had a smoother experience with the MacBook Pro. The Surface Book has been buggy, even after a recent update to the latest build of Windows 10. For example, the cursor sometimes disappears, and we've experienced a couple of system freezes that required long-pressing the power button to reset. The MacBook remains the more reliable notebook for now.

Winner: Draw. Both of these laptops are speedy, and the discrete graphics version of the Surface Book is faster than the MacBook Pro. However, the bugs in the Surface Book make this round a draw for now.

Battery Life

Both of these premium notebooks can handle a full day's work on a charge, but the Surface Book has the slight edge in battery life. In laptop mode, the Surface Book lasted a whopping 12 hours and 29 minutes on our battery test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), overtaking the MacBook Pro's 12:04 and trumping our 8-hour category average.

battery

That said, the Surface Book won't last you nearly as long in tablet mode, enduring just 1 hour and 53 minutes on our test.

Winner: Surface Book. Both of these notebooks have impressive endurance, but Microsoft's laptop gets you almost a half hour of extra juice.

Audio and Cameras

The MacBook Pro exhibited the better audio output of the two laptops, cranking Fall Out Boy's "Irresistible" with much more volume and clarity than the Surface Book did. The MacBook's speakers retained the song's thumping bass and horns, while the Surface Book made the track sound a bit too canned to be enjoyable.

photo_comparisonThe Surface Book's 5-megapixel front camera takes pretty clear selfies, but we noticed less graininess and more-natural skin tones using the MacBook Pro's 720p FaceTime webcam. Microsoft's notebook does have the unique benefit of an 8-MP rear camera, which captured our co-workers with impressive accuracy in our testing. That said, you might not be planning on taking many photos with a hulking, 13-inch tablet.

Winner: MacBook Pro. The Surface Book has an extra camera, but the MacBook Pro delivers sharp selfies and superior audio.

Value

The Surface Book starts at $1,499, packing a 6th-Gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. A $1,699 model adds discrete Nvidia graphics. If you want to go all out, you can outfit the Surface Book with a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, discrete graphics and 1TB of storage, all for a whopping $3,199.

The starting 13-inch MacBook Pro is more affordable, offering a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, all for $1,299. The $1,499 config ups the storage to 256GB, while the fully loaded $1,799 model packs a 2.9-GHz Core i5 processor and 512GB of storage. (Apple has not yet upgraded its laptop to the latest Intel Skylake chips.)

Overall, the MacBook Pro offers similar starting specs to the Surface Book for a lower price. Still, Microsoft's laptop is the only of the two that features a removable touch display and included stylus, which might justify the extra $200 for creative professionals. Plus, the Surface Book offers more configuration options, which is good for those looking for lots of power.

Winner: MacBook Pro. The Surface Book is more versatile and offers a wider range of configurations, but the MacBook Pro has a more affordable starting price.

Overall Winner: MacBook Pro

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The 13-inch MacBook Pro just barely beats out the Surface Book in this brawl, thanks largely to a superior design that has years of refinement behind it. Still, the Surface Book is plenty impressive for Microsoft's first-ever laptop, offering slightly better battery life and a gorgeous display that doubles as a highly functional tablet for drawing and taking notes.

Apple's notebook may be more attainable, at a starting price of $1,299, but the Surface Book's excellent pen and touch features may be worth the extra $200 for some people. Microsoft's notebook seems more compelling for power users who want to do it all, but the MacBook Pro's overall reliability is hard to top.

Laptop Guide

Author Bio
Michael Andronico
Michael Andronico, Editor
A devout gamer and tech enthusiast, Mike Andronico joined the Laptop team in July 2013. With a B.A. in Journalism from Purchase College and experience at GameNGuide, Examiner and 2D-X, Mike tackles everything from iPhone rumors to in-depth hardware reviews.
Michael Andronico, Editor on
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40 comments
  • Steve Hansen Says:

    Lol, and you had to ask the girl to smile for the MacBook camera and look serious on the surface book. It is also obvious that the conditions setup for both pics are different. SB has too much light seeping from background(that open door).

  • Visitor Says:

    I will say the next: for me Macbook Pro is nothing to do here just because the detachable Clipboard feature of the Surface Book is MUST HAVE and ESSENTIAL for me. That's why it is a no-brainer. Simple. Even no need for me to read this article.

  • Evan M Says:

    What a joke review which completely ignored the fact that the Surface Book has a GPU and annihilates the MacBook at anything that is graphics intensive. Yet somehow they are "equal" in performance, while the MacBook somehow wins based on some vague, subjective opinions.

  • Charles Says:

    I am an attorney at Law, not a creative person. I bought a Surface Pro three days ago and I am blown away. It is the ultimate computer. This Saturday I reviewed and annotated and highlighted a 75 pages contract in tablet mode, it was as easy as paper. Then I opened a Kindle book and took handwriting notes on onenote (which I need to learn, I am an Evernote user) switching easily from one to the other. I took a screengrab of my website and sent it to the developer with annotations. The stylus rocks. The screen beats my ipad because of the size: you actually get to see the fullpage. Then I typed some emails and found the keyboard excellent. I need to get used to Windows 10 but it seems good. The things I didn't like: can't set Chrome as default browser, the option is greyed out. Also can't find a good case, there's only some glue it yourself wooden stuff and an ugly military type case. Apart from that I know one thing: this is superior to my macbook pro, which I will be giving to my 16 yo son who is now smiling much. I feel this review misses the whole point of the surface book, another lawyer recommended it to me and he was right. This device is amazing for business.

  • destardi Says:

    Surface Book > Macbook

    This is a truly premium device with much greater features than the outdated Macbook.

    There is no comparison.

  • CrankDango Says:

    This is by far the absolute worst, most biased technology comparison I've ever read. On the dole from Apple poor guy? Let's now consider that the shit that is Macbook Pro has not had any advances in God knows how long. Let's look at Surface Pro 4 i7 with 16GB of RAM and compare it to a Macbook or iPad of any flavor. Apple fails. There's a reason the stock is going down despite all this paid publicity and BS comparisons. People are becoming aware of Apples tech inferiority. They are opting for higher performing solutions that work. Your devotion is meaningless and your comparison flawed Michael Andronico. BTW - People are by far choosing Android phones over iPhones now and with the debut of the iPhone7 it's just going to get worse for Apple. They're "Cooked".

  • Please just barely Says:

    You neatly leave out the data mining, the peer to peer use of your cpu, hardware, network to push their OS and updates, not to mention when things go wrong, like getting a temporary user profile on login, you now get to dive into a mess of an OS with convoluted, mind bending commands with Microsoft.

  • Drow Drew Says:

    LOL this article is a complete joke. Ive seen many apple biased comparisons, and this has to be the dumbest one of all.

  • Rakesh Says:

    I'm surprised that this comparison is all about hardware. The real pain point of microsoft is its operating system and iOS would be rated several points over windows if you ask users who use both.

  • Shane Smith Says:

    That thread claiming the surface book is 3x as fast, thats regarding gpu only. if you actually read the thread you would see that the macbook pro is better in every way except gaming, according to that threat, i have 1 macbook pro 2015 13inch, a surface pro 2, lenovo thinkpad t510 i7, lenovo thinkpad t430 i5 much newer then the i7, old macbook with core 2 duo that runs smoother then many new windows pcs, now dont get my wrong, my thinkpads are workhorses but my macbook is just so smooth, in real world use it blows everything out of the water, even without touch

  • Hmmmmmm Says:

    Except that apple has better service than Microsoft....

  • Nipomo Says:

    I'm an apple user since 2011, two MacBook Pros, 15 and 17 inch. IPone 6s and 6, iPad version 2 and 3. I have not touched a Surface Book, but I might bite the bullet and go with the S.Book for the touch screen. My wife used the 15 inch and I the 17 inch- too big. I have an old PC and have installed Win 10 on it and via Parrelles on the MBP. If Win 10 is doable I will shell out for the S.Book. Sorry Apple.

  • Cipasdasdf Says:

    This is so biased.
    Mac wins in value ?! Come ON !

  • Ramses Says:

    Lol design and port, camera and audio O_o winer apple ... u're crazy

  • thebeardenpack Says:

    The camera comparison is bogus. The light coming from in behind the subject is affecting the light you see on the subject. That is a negligent factor. Even myself an avid user of macbookpros for over 10 years like the surface book better.

  • Brian Says:

    Wow! Microsoft got fanboys too... let the flounce off begin...

  • FrankyJ Says:

    My macbook pro 2015 13 retina only runs windows 10 and its a clear winner in all aspects. that's the way a mbp is ment to be run.

  • anirudh Says:

    I thought surface comes with a touch screen and pen and still it lost when compared to Apple. Microsoft should stop making products for good and start sucking the reviewers balls. Such a shame on you laptop mag.

  • apsodmapsodm Says:

    ... 4 - 5
    Design and ports.. @o@
    Guy's u're crazy

  • bobby Says:

    No offense, but you are comparing a HYBRID vs a stand alone laptop. Apples to Oranges, most of standalone laptops right now beat hybrids of the same price.

  • Toniton Says:

    On paper the surface sounds good. In reality the touchpad is ridiculous. You have to touch most things 3-4 times until it will eventualy do something. Some application only accept pen input, some only finger, some none of them at all. Unbelievable, this is not the first surface generation. It does have a lot of power, and allows to do more then an ipad(and costs more then a macbook pro) in functionality in theory. In reality you will just hate this thing. I'm selling mine. Microsoft has it in hands this time, they deliver hardware and software, and they delivered a crap product. If I would deliver my customers products that don't work, they would not pay me.

  • Warner Says:

    The surface book is the ultimate student tool for students that have extended class hours and need a bit more power.

    Use just tablet when you want it lighter add the base and reverse it a bit heavier but you can go through a lot of classes with the base attached at least you have the option.

    Surface book track pad and keyboard are superior to Mack Book Pro look at most reviews of the product and you will see this is true.

    Some one said a 15" Mac Book pro is superior well that's a 15" i'm sure if surface book had a 15" model it would match or surpass watch out apple 15" surface book may be just around the corner.!5" Pad might be a bit for some as a pad I for one would love to have a slim 15" Pad.

    I would like to add that I have been a long time Apple user. I currently have a Mac Book Pro i7 15" mid 2010, Ipad retina and Iphone 4s. My apple days are over these will be last apple products. For many reasons I won't get into here.

    For portability and future purchase on laptop type devices for travel and such I'm looking at Surface Pro or Surface Book.

    For home use I'll always pick a tower over a laptop.

    For a feasible on the road Laptop ATM of all the choices right now If In was going to buy one it would be a Surface Pro 4 or a Surface Book and I am leaning more towards the surface book ATM. Better WIFI connectivity for one reason. Wifi is what most people will use on a laptop and let's just say apple leaves a lot to be desired in all it's products when it comes to WIFI.

    So coming for what once was an Apple lover till the last few years IMHO Surface book is far superior to a Mac Book Pro 13" which is the same class. Apple has gone downhill and I refuse to feed them money anymore.

    I am a unbiased person when it comes to devices I could care less who makes the device it comes down to functionality.

    Surface Book > Mac Book Pro 13" hands down no contest. It baffles me you would even say other wise, TBH.

  • Michael Says:

    The Surface Book was designed to compete with tablets, especially the iPad pro. The fact that it is being compared to Apple's flagship MacBook Pro is very telling. The Surface Book definitely achieved its goal of dominating the iPad Pro in every way. And the fact that it is practically equal to the MacBook Pro is a definite success. It's about time Apple had some pressure! Good job Microsoft! Let the competition begin! We consumers are ready to enjoy the benefits!

  • Kevin Says:

    The trackpad on the surfacebook is far inferior to macbook one. It doesnt scroll smoothly and is not nearly as responsive (in a good way) as the my 2011 macbook pro.

  • Venugv Says:

    This article is a joke. And the comments seem to be sponsored by Microsoft. Had anyone tried using a Windows PC for work recently? So buggy and continuous wait for programs to load. The fan nose is terrible and machines go bad in two years. And can you run Windows without Antivirus? How about when you plug in a device to the USB port? Windows seems to have been built by amateurs. In fact, most companies seem to moving towards macs. Also check Windows vs Mac sales figures in the last couple of years. For me, the software alone makes the MBP a huge winner.

  • SomaKonijeti Says:

    This review is a big joke. I don't understand how can these guys can rate Surface Book lower, if performance and battery life is more than the competitor and with special features.

  • kubica Says:

    what kind of comparision, a laptop/tablet with stylus vs a laptop, and you compare front camera quality?... is a joke?

  • Reader Says:

    It's funny how your comparison makes them look even and this PC World article says MS is three times as fast as MBP: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2995599/laptop-computers/surface-book-vs-macbook-pro-it-isnt-twice-as-fast-its-three-times-as-fast.html

  • Hshsu Says:

    Although the apple mbp 13 inch is a bit slower than the discrete model of the sb, the mbp 15 inch with AMD Radeon graphics kill the 2700 sb

  • tririver Says:

    I can then write an electric calculator v.s. MBP, why electric calculator wins. The MBP only win in a small section called 'special features'.

  • fmorenop Says:

    I guess when you talk about 'special features' mean little things like a touch screen, deteachable screen, stylus fully professional ... yes, it certainly is a small section that barely worth comment,

  • Jon Londrezos Says:

    The conclusion of this comparison does not agree with the point-by-point analysis.

  • samir Says:

    WTF? "A devout gamer and tech enthusiast" trying hard to defend your beloved Apple produc huh?
    did you really try surfacebook trackpad and keyboard? this article is sponsored by apple

  • Ventolin63 Says:

    Only for a 'devout gamer and tech enthusiast' a score of 7279 vs 7113 would be a 'DRAW' This is exactly why in order to not look like a bunch of fools, you guys should get people that actually KNOW something about software/hardware engineering to write those articles...or at least somebody that passed 4th grade math. I can perfectly understand that from people with diminished capacity, a closed system like Macintosh represents the epitome of happiness, but let's get real...you're comparing a very expensive toy that has a stupid apple on it's back, to a computer that we can actually use for work! It's getting embarrassing :) And keep in mind that I have no problem with this guy being 'on the take' from Apple. Just please, make it less obvious, I know 10 year old computer literates that would laugh their brains out reading this article...

  • Jonathan Says:

    Obvious Apple bias review. Please state clearly how much you were paid for this.

  • Matt S Says:

    Yeah, no. The trackpad and keyboard on the Surface Book are infinitely better than the Macbook. The keys are much softer, have more travel, and are much better for long periods of working.

  • Joonatan Partanen Says:

    If you have 1300 dollars to spare, it is unlikely that the extra 200 make a big difference, especially with the features and performance the Surface Book offers.

  • HolyG Says:

    The MacBook Pro’s SSD/Flash Storage tops out at 1 TB (built-to-order) and not at 512 GB, as mentioned incorrectly in both the text and the comparison sheet. Moreover, a Core i7 CPU option is available built-to-order. See http://www.apple.com/shop/buy-mac/macbook-pro?product=MF841LL/A&step=config#.

  • Tim Thompson Says:

    According to a text chat with a Microsoft store rep, the CPU in the i7/16gb/512gb model of the Surface Book is the i7-6650U, which is a dual-core CPU.

  • DennyOR Says:

    I don't understand why none of these new desktop operating system tablet mode capables come with an internal GPS sensor. Can someone explain that to me.

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