MacBook Air vs. Microsoft Surface Laptop 2: Which should you buy?

MacBook Air vs. Surface Laptop 2
MacBook Air vs. Surface Laptop 2

MacBook Air vs. Surface Laptop 2 is the face-off you'll want to spectate to figure out which laptop is best for you. Luckily, you've landed in the right place. We, at Laptop Mag, thoroughly test laptops' performance, battery life and more, so we have cold, hard facts about which laptop reigns supreme.

Apple has completely revamped the MacBook Air, making it thinner and lighter while giving it what it always deserved: a Retina display. As such, it's finally poised to take on one of our favorite ultraportables, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2.

However, between the MacBook Air's Butterfly keyboard and its Y-series chip, can it really compete with the Surface Laptop 2's U-series CPU and those snuggly Alcantara palm rests? Let’s find out.

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air: specs Compared

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Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air
Row 0 - Cell 0 Microsoft Surface Laptop 2Apple MacBook Air
Price (Starting/as configured)$999 ($1,299)$1,199
Display13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504-pixel13.3-inch (2560 x 160)l
CPU8th Gen Core i5, Quad Core i78th Gen Core i5 (Y series)
RAMUp to 16GBUp to 16GB
GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics 620 (i5), Intel UHD Graphics 620 (i7)Intel UHD Graphics 617
SSDUp to 1TB SSDUp to 1.5TB SSD
Key Travel1.3mm0.55mm
PortsUSB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect port, headphone2 Thunderbolt 3, headphone
ColorsPlatinum, Black, Cobalt Blue, BurgundyGold, Silver, Space Gray
Size 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.7 pounds2.8 pounds

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air: design

The MacBook Air and Surface Laptop 2 are both slim, stunning aluminum creatures that come in a variety of colors.

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air

The Surface Laptop 2 has a sleek matte chassis that comes in Platinum, Black, Cobalt Blue or Burgundy. Meanwhile, the MacBook Air is made from 100 percent recycled aluminum, has a softer finish with more-rounded corners and comes in Gold, Silver or Space Gray.

The interiors are radically different, as the Surface Laptop 2 sports a stunning Alcantara fabric that makes it feel like you're typing on a cloud. Meanwhile, the MacBook Air has a full aluminum interior with a significantly large touchpad that looks slightly more premium than that of the Surface. The bezels on both laptops look similarly thin.

MORE: Screen Guide

These two machines are virtually identical in size and weight, though the MacBook Air has a slightly smaller footprint. The MacBook Air weighs 2.8 pounds and measures 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches, while the Surface Laptop 2 comes in at 2.7 pounds and 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches.

The Surface Laptop 2 and MacBook Air both scream premium and go toe-to-toe with each other regarding design.

Winner: Draw

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Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air: ports

While the Surface Laptop 2 and the MacBook Air both skimp on ports, they still manage to serve different users. The Surface Laptop 2 has one USB 3.0 Type-A port, a Mini DisplayPort, a 3.5mm audio jack and a Surface Connect port, while the MacBook Air has two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and a 3.5mm audio jack.

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air

The Air has the advantage of offering USB-C, but if you’re charging the laptop, you'll have access to only one port. The Surface only gets you one USB port, but since it's Type-A, it's slightly more universal when working with most peripherals. The Surface Laptop 2 also has a Mini DisplayPort, although the Air's Thunderbolt 3 ports can be used to connect to displays. Overall, these laptops are equally scant on connections.

Winner: Draw

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air: display

The Surface Laptop 2's display is 13.5 inches, while the MacBook Air's is 13.3 inches, so you get slightly more real estate with the Surface. However, the MacBook Air (2560 x 1600) has a higher resolution, compared with the Surface Laptop 2 (2256 x 1504).

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air

When Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston paraded around in the trailer for  The Upside, the walls popped bright yellow and Cranston's blue shirt was especially vivid on the Surface Laptop 2's panel. While the MacBook Air's panel didn't look bad, the yellow wall and the orange flowers in the background were less vibrant.

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air

On our tests, the MacBook Air covered 109 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is just shy of the 116 percent premium laptop average. However, the Surface Laptop 2 nailed a whopping 176 percent.

The Surface Laptop 2's display proved brighter in our tests, producing 321 nits of brightness compared with the MacBook Air's 234 nits (our average is 317 nits). We also found that the viewing angles were much more generous on the Surface Laptop 2, as the MacBook Air darkened at 45 degrees to the left and right while the Surface did not.

Both of these laptops offer crisp screens, but the Surface Laptop 2 wins for overall quality.

Winner: Surface Laptop 2

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air: keyboard and touchpad

The cost of entry into the macOS world, aside from the ridiculous price, is getting used to the keyboard and touchpad. Apple has integrated its new Butterfly switches into the MacBook Air, and the switches yield only a measly 0.6 millimeters of key travel (we typically look for 1.5 to 2.0 millimeters). The keys were actually pretty well spaced, but it felt like I was typing on a solid surface.

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air

Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop 2 features one of the most comfortable palm rests I've ever laid my hands on, making typing the most seamless experience ever. While it's 1.0 mm key travel didn't meet our mark, it felt like a real keyboard.

Surprisingly, my results on the typing test were eerily similar, as I typed 65 words per minute on the MacBook Air and 66 wpm on the Surface Laptop 2. My pace with the MacBook Air could be attributed to how well-spaced the keys are, despite their low travel.

MORE: Surface Laptop 2 Hands-on: MacBook-Killing Keyboard, 85 Percent

The MacBook Air features Apple's large Force Touch touchpad that uses haptic feedback in lieu of a physical click. Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop 2 has a smaller touchpad with a meaty click.

Winner: Surface Laptop 2

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air: performance

As expected, the Surface Laptop 2's Intel Core i5-8250U processor dominated the MacBook Air's Intel Core i5-8210Y CPU, as the U-series chip has four cores and the Y-series only has two.

On the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, the Surface Laptop 2 scored 12,744, which soars over the MacBook Air’s 7,871.

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air

The Surface Laptop 2 took 1 minute and 15 seconds to match 65,000 names and addresses on our Excel test, obliterating the MacBook Air's time of 3 minutes and 26 seconds.

On the HandBrake benchmark, the Surface Laptop 2 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in a speedy 17 minutes and 30 seconds. The MacBook Air took a sluggish 37 minutes and 24 seconds.

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air

The MacBook Air plays some major catch-up when it comes to its 256GB SSD, as it copied 4.97GB of data at a ridiculous rate of 2.1 gigabytes per second. That destroys the Surface Laptop 2's 256GB SSD (203 MBps) and crushes our 500 MBps premium laptop average.

The Intel UHD 620 GPU in the Surface Laptop 2 performed at a smooth 82 frames per second on the Dirt 3 benchmark, while the Intel UHD 617 GPU in the MacBook Air managed only 22 fps, putting it below the 30-fps playability threshold.

Winner: Surface Laptop 2

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air: battery life

The MacBook Air and Surface Laptop 2 have pretty similar battery life, considering that the Surface draws a lot more power due to its U-series chip. The MacBook Air lasted 9 hours and 32 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuously surfing the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness), climbing above the 8:09 category average. The Surface Laptop 2 wasn't too far behind, lasting 9 hours and 22 minutes.

Winner: Draw

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air: value

The starting price for the Surface Laptop 2 is $999, which gets you a Core i5-U series CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The MacBook Air starts at $1,199 and is outfitted with a weaker Core i5-Y series CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. For a cheaper price, you get nearly double the performance with the Surface Laptop 2.

Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air

When the Surface Laptop 2 is maxed out it costs $2,749 and features a Core i7-U series CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. The MacBook Air's maxed-out $2,599 configuration features 16GB of RAM and a 1.5TB SSD, but it sticks with the same Core i5 CPU.

While the MacBook Air does offer beefier storage options, the Surface Laptop 2 provides more power for the money.

Winner: Surface Laptop 2

Overall Winner: Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

The MacBook Air matched the Surface Laptop 2 tooth and nail on multiple rounds, but eventually, the Surface claimed its victory over Apple's newest premium machine due to its better display and keyboard, and raw performance.

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Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Air
Row 0 - Cell 0 Microsoft Surface Laptop 2Apple MacBook Air
Design (10)99
Ports (10)33
Display (15)1410
Keyboard/Touchpad (10)74
Performance (20)1613
Battery Life (20)1515
Value (10)65
Overall (100)7059

If you're keen on tossing Windows aside for macOS, then the MacBook Air will still provide solid battery life, a blazing-fast SSD and a sharp Retina panel all packed into a sleek premium design. However, you'll be getting nearly half of the overall performance of the Surface Laptop 2, a dimmer panel and an awkward keyboard.

Overall, the Surface Laptop 2 is a champion of ultraportable laptops that can easily replace a MacBook anyday.

Credit: Laptop Mag

Rami Tabari

Rami Tabari is an Editor for Laptop Mag. He reviews every shape and form of a laptop as well as all sorts of cool tech. You can find him sitting at his desk surrounded by a hoarder's dream of laptops, and when he navigates his way out to civilization, you can catch him watching really bad anime or playing some kind of painfully difficult game. He’s the best at every game and he just doesn’t lose. That’s why you’ll occasionally catch his byline attached to the latest Souls-like challenge.