MacBook Pro vs Surface Laptop: This Face-Off's a Nail-Biter

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Microsoft and Apple both want you to buy their new 13-inch notebooks, but which is right for you? Does its high-end performance make the 13-inch MacBook Pro the machine of your dreams, or does the stylish looks and light weight of the Surface Laptop put it over the top?

  Surface Laptop 13-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro
Intel Processors 7th-Gen Kaby Lake Core i5, Core i7 7th-Gen Kaby Lake Core i5, Core i7
Starting Price $999 $1,299
Battery Life 9:03 8:40
Display (pixels) 13.5 inches (2256 x 1504) 13.3 inches (2560 x 1600)
Ports 1xUSB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect, Headphone Jack 4xThunderbolt 3, headphone jack
RAM 4GB, 8GB, 16GB 8GB, 16GB
SSD Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Thickness 0.6 inches 0.6 inches
Weight 2.8 pounds 3.0 pounds
Special Features Windows Ink, Surface Dial support Touch Bar 

Design

As a product, the MacBook Pro is far from new, but the recent updates to its looks -- slimming down and adding a space grey color -- breathed some life into the notebook. That makeover doesn't stand up well when compared to the brand-new Surface laptop, which features even cooler colors (burgundy red and cobalt blue) and a soft, comfy Alcantara fabric-covered keyboard deck.

The only downside about the Surface Laptop is that only the $1,299 configuration is offered in different colors, meaning budget shoppers and power users are left out in the platinum-silver cold.

image 3129271497533298Measuring 0.6 inches thick and weighing 2.8 pounds, the Surface Laptop is a tad lighter than the Air (0.6 inches, 3 pounds).

Winner: The Surface Laptop, and not just by the threads of its Alcantara deck. The color options are better.

Display

These 13-inch notebooks both feature high-res displays, but which is best? The MacBook Pro wins the battle of resolution, with a 2560 x 1600-pixel panel that edges out the Surface Laptop's 2,256 x 1,504-pixel display. The MacBook Pro's also got a brighter screen, emitting up to 458 nits, outshining the 361-nit Surface Laptop.

image 3129271497533278

The Surface Laptop is no slouch, though, as its display accepts touch input, which no MacBook can. The only problem? As a traditional laptop, its display doesn't fold-back or detach, so it always feels awkward to reach out to, as if you're E.T. stretching a digit in the air. The Surface Laptop offers another small win, reproducing 135 percent of the sRGB color spectrum, which is slightly better than the MacBook Pro's 123 percent reading.

Winner: The MacBook Pro's brighter, sharper display feels more important than the ability to tap to click.

Keyboard

The MacBook Pro and Surface Laptop both feature backlit keyboards, but offer drastically different typing experiences. The Surface Laptop's easy to type on, thanks to keys featuring 1.4 millimeters of travel, beating the 0.7mm-deep keys in the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

It's not hard to get used to the MacBook Pro's flatter butterfly mechanism, but I'd rather not.

image 3129271497533267

Winner: The Surface Laptop, because it doesn't require a learning curve. 

Ports

The most controversial aspect of the MacBook Pro is its lack of traditional USB Type-A ports, pushing four Thunderbolt 3 ports on users (or two if you're without the Touch Bar). That means you'll need some dongles for your existing accessories, though one Type-C port can be split into many others with a dock.image 3129271497533165

The Surface Laptop went the other direction by only offering a single a USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort and the proprietary Surface Connector for power and docking. That's great for those with a budget for accessories, but lacking for the rest. And it means you better hope USB Type-C doesn't become the dominant port.image 3129271497533177

Both notebooks feature a traditional headphone jack, which we're happy to see survive.

Winner: Draw. Nobody's feeling like a winner with either selection.

Performance

This year's MacBook Pros made headlines by finally upgrading to Intel 7th Gen Kaby Lake processors like every other notebook has had for months. However, the MacBook Pro features a higher-end, 28-watt Core i5 or i7 CPU, as compared to the 15-watt model used in the Surface Laptop.  Combining its faster CPU with a speedy SSD, Apple's laptop is clearly more powerful than Microsoft's.

On the Geekbench 4 general performance test, the MacBook Pro (Core i5-7267U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 512 PCIe NVMe SSD) scored 9,213, which clearly beats the 7,157 from the Surface Laptop (Intel Core i5 7200U, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD) we tested. That Apple SSD is definitely the faster of the two, as the MacBook Pro copied files at a rate of 727 MBps, trouncing the 110.6 MBps speed from the Surface Laptop.

image 3129271497533319

The Surface Laptop's sole win here came on the Dirt 3 racing game, which it ran at 68 frames per second. The MacBook Pro reached a slower 41 fps rate.

image 3129271497533333

Winner: The MacBook Pro's dominant general performance is more valuable than the Surface Laptop's minor edge in gaming.

Battery Life

The Laptop Mag Battery Test shows how long a notebook (set to 100 nits of brightness) can last when constantly opening web pages. The MacBook Pro (8:40) earned a slightly shorter time than the Surface Laptop (9:02).

Winner: The Surface Laptop's 22 extra minutes isn't something to brag about, but a win's a win.

Special Features

The slim Touch Bar in the MacBook Pro brings a sliver of touch screen input to macOS, but we haven't seen an app that makes this option a must-have. The big perk of the OLED panel is its integrated Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which works with Apple Pay and other apps such as 1Password.

image 3129271497533351

Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop offers a touch screen, and it supports the new Surface Dial and Pen accessories. However, both accessories cost an extra $99. The Surface Laptop's webcam supports Windows Hello logins for unlocking your machine with just your face, but you can't use it to buy things.

Winner: Having a touch screen and optional pen input on the Surface Laptop is nice, but those features are better served on a 2-in-1, not a clamshell. You'll get more out of the Touch Bar and Touch ID sensor on the MacBook every day.

Value

The Surface Laptop is more affordable, as it starts at $999, compared to $1,299 for the entry-level MacBook Pro.

image 3129271497533459

The Surface also wins when comparing the $1,299 models, as it offers twice as much storage, with 256GB (vs the MacBook Pro's 128GB). Further, that $1,299 MacBook Pro doesn't come with the Touch Bar, instead offering traditional function keys.

This trend continues for those who want the Touch Bar, as pricing for those models starts at $1,799, with a configuration that packs a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Those looking at the Surface Laptop get more for $200 less, as that notebook's $1,599 model features a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

Winner: The Surface Laptop, the dollar-for-dollar favorite on storage and processors.

Bottom Line

  Surface Laptop 13-inch Touch
Bar MacBook Pro
Design  
Display  
Keyboard  
Ports
Performance  
Battery Life  
Special Features  
Value  
SCORE 5 4

While this isn't the knockout-level victory that the Surface Laptop took over the MacBook Air, it's still a victory. Of course, for you, the scales may tip in the other direction, say if you have a roomier budget and need better performance.

Laptop Guide

Author Bio
Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey,
After graduating from Bard College a B.A. in Literature, Henry T. Casey worked in publishing and product development at Rizzoli and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, respectively. Henry joined Tom's Guide and LAPTOP having written for The Content Strategist, Tech Radar and Patek Philippe International Magazine. He divides his free time between going to live concerts, listening to too many podcasts, and mastering his cold brew coffee process. Content rules everything around him.
Henry T. Casey, on
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5 comments
  • Zeeshan Khan Says:

    I am not an apple fan, and I have owned both windows laptops and macbook pro. The thing is, the macbook pro is miles ahead of any windows laptop in terms of reliability and performance. I don't believe comparing specs is a very good way of comparing two machines, since both laptops run entirely different operating systems.

    I switched from a 13 inch macbook pro to a lenovo yoga 710 i7 model. Yes, it is good, but I regret this move. I have many problems with windows, especially wifi problems, and I never had problems with my macbook. On top of that, the speed and performance of the macbook does not disappoint, and neither does the battery life.

    Again, not an apple fan. Just talking from experience.

  • Marcos Mathias Says:

    The base model of Macbook pro ($1,299.00) doesn't have touch-bar. So you can't say "You'll get more out of the Touch Bar and Touch ID sensor on the MacBook every day." if you don't pay for it.

  • Usman Mahmood Says:

    I don't see how Surface having a touch screen and support of stylus and surface dial still loses in special features.
    Also talking about performance, the MacBook model (Core i5-7267U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 512 PCIe NVMe SSD, touch bar) you chose costs 1,999$ and the surface laptop in comparison costs 1,299$. The MacBook pro which costs 1,299$ has the same 7200U i5 processor @2.3GHz and is a touch slower than surface i5 2.5/2.7 GHz. So there goes the performance advantage. Also the ssd model (512 PCIe NVMe SSD) you had on which file transfer rate of MacBook is 700+ MBps is (512 GB PCIe NVMe SSD, where is the one in SL is 256GB SSD. The surface model which has 512 GB PCIe NVMe SSD almost the same file transfer rate.
    In short you compared the performance and SSD speed of a MacBook which costs 1,999$ vs the Surface laptop which costs 1,299$.
    Compare the performance and specs of 1,299$ models and then see who wins. By the way the 1,299$ MacBook has 128GB SSD and SL has 256GB SSD.

  • Rayman Says:

    Michael Lynch, you seem to be confused. The article started by comparing the Surface Laptop to the 13 inch MacBook Pro and ended by comparing it to the 13 inch MacBook Pro. In the end, the author merely pointed out that while the Surface Laptop dominated the MacBook Air (a DIFFERENT comparison in a DIFFERENT article), it barely won against the MacBook Pro.

  • Michael Lynch Says:

    Hi Henry:
    You started off comparing the Surface Pro with the MacBook Pro and ended up comparing it to the MacBook Air.
    What's this; hunting about for an Apple product that the Surface is better than?

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