Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs. Apple MacBook Air 13-inch

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surface vs macbook sf1

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 tablet looks like it could be a solid alternative to some notebooks, but can it take on laptop giants like Apple's MacBook Air? Microsoft seems to think so. The company's VP Panos Panay directly challenged the Apple laptop during the latest Surface unveiling. 

The Surface Pro 3 has some obvious advantages, including a super-sharp 2160 x 1440-pixel touch display that supports some exciting pen features. It's even lighter than the Air, a notebook famous for its portability. However, while the MacBook Air provides everything you need right out of the box, the Surface Pro 3 doesn't show its full strength until you buy some accessories -- including the $129.99 Type Cover keyboard. If you're wondering if the Surface Pro 3 can truly replace the king of ultraportable laptops, here's how it stacks up with Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air


Surface Pro 3

  Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch


 $999 ($1128 w/ keyboard)  $999


 1.6-GHz Core i5-4300U

 1.4-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 




 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 13.3-inch, 1440 x 900


 Intel HD Graphics 4400 Intel HD Graphics 5000


 Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro Apple OS X Mavericks


 128GB  128GB


 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36 inches  12.8 x 8.94 x 0.11-0.68 inches


 1.76 pounds  2.96 pounds



 5-MP, 1080p front and rear cameras  720p front-facing FaceTime camera



The Surface Pro 2 looks a bit chunky when placed next to a MacBook Air, but Microsoft fixed that problem with the Pro 3. The tablet now sports a slick 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36-inch magnesium frame that weighs 1.76 pounds without a keyboard. That's more than a pound lighter than the 2.96-pound MacBook Air.  

In order to make the Pro 3 more "lapable," Microsoft has improved the slate's kickstand so that users can fold it up to 150 degrees. The optional yet practically required Surface Type Cover now clicks to the display for more stability, whereas the MacBook Air provides a solid typing experience right out of the box. 

MORE: Apple MacBook Air vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 2: Face-Off


Apple notebooks are still playing catch up when it comes to screen resolution, and the Surface Pro 3's 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 display trumps the MacBook Air's 13.3-inch 1440 x 900 screen. The Pro 3 is the only of the two with a touchscreen and smart pen, which might sway some shoppers. 

When looking at the $999 configurations of each device, the Surface Pro 3's 1.6-GHz Core i5 processor is just a bit faster than the MacBook Air's 1.4-GHz Core i5 CPU, while the MacBook's Intel HD Graphics 5000 is a slight step above the Pro 3's HD 4400. Both products pack 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. 

The Surface Pro 3 is the only device of the two to sport a rear camera, but we're not sure if you're going to be running around snapping photos with a laptop replacement. 

Features and Software

The Surface Pro 3's Surface Pen makes it a standout, as you can use the stylus to open OneNote with a single click or double-click to take screenshots. The pressure sensitive accessory works with the Pro 3 to quickly turn handwriting into digital content, which could come in handy for those who want to save their scribbled notes during meetings.  

The MacBook Air's feature set is less fancy, but you get a healthy software suite in exchange. Between the included iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) and iLife (iPhoto, iMovie, Garageband) suites, you'll be able to get plenty of mileage out of the Air. 

Bottom Line

At first glance, it's easy to assume that the Surface Pro 3 offers a sharper display and lighter body than the MacBook Air for the same $999 price tag. However, you'll need to pay an extra $129 for the Surface's Type Cover keyboard, which is essential for using the slate as a laptop replacement. It might be worth splurging for the Pro 3 if you want a touchscreen device with some neat pen features, but the MacBook Air still provides the most solid notebook experience for your money. 


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Author Bio
Michael Andronico
Michael Andronico, Associate 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, Associate Editor on
Add a comment
  • DAMO Says:

    Joke, Im using my surface pro 3 from my lap and its fine, just like a laptop. 10 mins ago my son had it on the floor drawing with the pen and his fingers on fresh paint. About an hour ago I was logged in remotely to work while also working on Azure web services with Visual Studio. Now that's productive and versatility. Im about kick back and watch Netflix. I have an Imac and hate it, Macs are pretty and built ok, but that's about it.

  • Joke Says:

    The footprint of the SP3 with the keyboard and the kickstand open when held on one's lap is around 27-28 cm deep for 45 degrees angle of the screen and for the MBA 13" is about 21 cm deep at any angle of the screen. The problem with the use of the SP3 on the lap is that if you don't want the kickstand to reach beyound your knees, you have to pull the keyboard of the SP3 very close to you. Then you need to indease the angle of the screen of the SP3' thus moving the kickstand more in the back. And then you start again. It is my impression that on the lap you won't be able to use the SP3 with the screen at the optimum angle and with the keyboard a bit further away, so as to not have your elbows pushing against the back of the chair or sofa on which you sit.

  • David Says:


    How is the SP3 better for "real" work? If you actually needed a higher resolution screen in a "laptop" then you are probably looking in the wrong place with the SP3 as the

    Windows applications? Really? There are plenty of alternatives out there meaning you do not have to use Windows, and the great thing is that you can use Windows (you can't use great Mac/iOS apps on the SP3).

    If all you do is use Office applications and browse the web then the iPad is cheaper and productive with an external keyboard.

    Never really understood the point in a touchscreen laptop. How is moving your hands away from the keyboard and touching your screen more productive?

  • Jake Says:

    I think the Surface shares the build quality with all Apple products. The difference between Apple and Windows is their models all have consistent components across the board. Windows machines OEM such as Dell have products with cheaper components and uses different component manufacturers in every model. Your i3 Dells differ from your top of the line components Alienware line. The Surface is manufacturing process is much the same as Apple. Designed by MS and manufactured by ODM's with the MS brand. Every Surface 3 will have the same components.

  • GEM Says:

    Hmmm, this is the second comparision that reeks of Apple bias. I have a IPad Air, I also have a Surface Pro 2, and you what! I use the Surface Pro 2 like a regular laptop. In fact, I've retired my Dell laptop in favor of the Surface Pro. I also I have a MacBook Air (Company provided) that I rarely open up because of the functionality of the Surface Pro 2. The new Surface Pro 3 is a true laptop replacement IMO. But, the Apple bias continues on in the media!

  • Jake Says:

    You can purchase a bluetooth keyboard but It's not built to be tranported with the Surface 3 as easily.

  • Julius Says:

    I also like Macs for alot of reasons, but for being really productive the Surface Pro 3 is soo much better than the Macbook Air. Let's mention some reasons why:

    -> active Stylus (note taking, drawing, CAD, photoshop, ...)
    -> the HD 5000 Graphics don't help so much in the MBA, because of the limited heat management ...
    -> TPM (may be important for the additional security features)
    -> thickness and weight : SP3 is thinner, lighter and more compact

  • Karl Says:

    MacBook/ Mac Computers have always been overpriced, a little under featured but they have always been worth it because of their build quality, and history of longevity. The Surface Pro 3 blows the iPad out of the water, because of many things. The MacBook Air at least in this case is a better buy

  • Rann Xeroxx Says:

    Not sure why in your bottomline you noted the MBA as a solid notebook but made no reference to it not being a tablet complete at all, period. In other words, why raise the MBA for its limitations of ONLY being a notebook. I don't think anyone who is look at these are people who want a "solid" notebook.

  • Jameel Says:

    You can easily purchase any other bluetooth enabled keyboard instead of the type cover. It's not required.

  • dalestrauss Says:

    What's with all of the reviewers "choking" ovr the extra cost of the Surface Pro 3 keyboard when comparing to the MacBook Air? How much does it cost to add a high res screen to the MBA - oops, can't do that. How much does it cost to add a touch screen - oops, can't do that. How much does it cost to add an active digitizer to the MBA - oops, can't do that either...hmmmmm...maybe you need an iPad Air to go with that MBA, just like all those journalists in the front row yesterday...hmm, a minimum of $399 for the lowest end iPad Mini Retina...

  • Michael Says:

    For real work, the SP3 wins this comparison, hands down. 2.4 times as many pixels, and a stylus.

    If you need to run Windows applications on the Air, you have to purchase a copy of Windows, which costs about the same as the SP Type Cover.

    But, if you want to spend a grand on a laptop without a touchscreen, there are plenty of alternatives to the Air that don't include the Apple Tax.

    I'm not really sure why you would compare these two in the first place, but then to declare the "Air still provides the most solid notebook experience for your money" smells of bias to me.