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

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

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Row 0 - Cell 2
Row 1 - Cell 0 Microsoft Surface Pro 3Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch
Price$999 ($1128 w/ keyboard)$999
CPU1.6-GHz Core i5-4300U1.4-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
Display12-inch, 2160 x 144013.3-inch, 1440 x 900
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 4400Intel HD Graphics 5000
OS Microsoft Windows 8.1 ProApple OS X Mavericks
Size11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36 inches12.8 x 8.94 x 0.11-0.68 inches
Weight1.76 pounds2.96 pounds
Cameras Rear/Front5-MP, 1080p front and rear cameras720p 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. 

Michael Andronico
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.