Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro vs Surface Book: Which Is Right for You?

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Microsoft's Surface notebooks give users chance to experience Windows 10 as its creators intended. But do you want the newly updated Surface Pro, the detachable Surface Book or the more-traditional Surface Laptop?

  Surface Pro Surface Laptop Surface Book
Starting Price $799 $999 $1,499
Display 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824-pixel 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504 13.5-inch, 3000 x 2000-pixel
CPUs 7th Gen Core m3, Core i5, Core i7 7th Gen Core i5, Core i7 6th Gen Core i5, Core i7
Battery Life 7:30 9:02 12:29
Graphics Intel HD 615 (m3), HD 620 (i5), Iris Plus 640 (i7) Intel HD 620 (Core i5), Intel Iris Plus 640 (Core i7) Intel HD Graphics (i5), Nvidia GeForce (i5, i7)
Storage 128 to 512GB SSD, 1TB PCIe NVMe 128 to 256GB SSD 128GB to 1TB SSD
RAM 4 to 16GB RAM 4 or 8GB (Core i5), 8 or 16GB (Core i7) 8 or 16GB
Weight (pounds) 1.7 pounds 2.8 pounds 3.7 pounds
Thickness (inches) 0.3 inches 0.6 inches 0.9 inches
Colors Silver Silver (all but $1,299 model) Burgundy, Graphite Gold, Cobalt Blue, Silver ($1,299 only) Silver
Keyboard Not included, at least $129 extra Alcantara Aluminum

Each of Microsoft's laptops has its pros and cons. To help you choose, we've broken down the differences below and come up with some recommendations.

Surface Pro: Best for Mainstream Users and Designers

surface pro whiteboard app (1)

A tablet with a kickstand that attaches to Microsoft's keyboards to form something that resembles a laptop, the Surface Pro is the jack-of-all-trades in this lineup. And starting at $799, it's the most affordable Surface there is. Mainstream consumers who can't afford to spend well over $1,000 for a laptop should consider the Surface Pro, as should designers who need to do a lot of sketching, but don't require a ton of graphics horsepower.

Pros: The Surface Pro is the lightest of Microsoft's devices and the least expensive. It also provides the best tablet experience as the Surface Book's detachable screen only lasts for a couple of hours on a charge when it isn't docked. The Pro also has a current-generation Intel 7th Generation CPU while the Surface Book still has a processor from fall 2015.

The Surface Pro also has the brightest and most colorful display of the three, emitting up to 396 nits and producing 140 percent of the sRGB gamut. The panels in the Surface Laptop (361 nits, 135 percent) and Surface Book (387 nits, 98.5 percent) are close, but still trail the Pro's screen. 

Cons: Of Microsoft's three notebooks, the Surface Pro offers the shortest amount of battery life, turning in a time of 7 hours and 30 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test (web surfing at 100 nits), falling behind the Surface Laptop (9:02) and the (docked) Surface Book (12:29).

Unfortunately, the Surface Pro's lower price doesn't include a keyboard, so you'll spend at least $129 extra for an attachable Surface Type Cover ($159 for one covered in the luxurious Alcantara). And even after you buy one, it's still not as lap-friendly as the Surface Laptop and Book, which offer a more traditional design. 

The Surface Pro is available from Microsoft.

Surface Laptop: Best for Students, Business Users

mssurface b studio table

Starting at $999, the Surface Laptop can only be used as a clamshell, which makes it ideal for users who don't need tablet mode at all. Because it's more affordable than the Surface Book and comes with the education-focused Windows 10 S preloaded, the notebook is targeted at students. However, knowledge workers will also find this the best choice, because it balances well on the lap and promises the longest battery life.

Pros: Students, essayists and bloggers will likely prefer the Surface Laptop, the best Microsoft notebook for typing. The Surface Pro will bounce around if you try and use its laptop-mode on your lap, and the Surface Book costs $500 more. Unlike that expensive Surface Book, the Laptop offers a cushy and hard-to-stain Alcantara-covered keyboard. 

The Surface Laptop -- which comes in silver, burgundy red, cobalt blue and graphite gold, is also the best option for those looking for a notebook that stands out from the crowd. The Surface Book and Surface Pro only come in silver (the sold-seperately Type Covers for the Surface Pro are available in the same colors as the Surface Laptop, except for the gold option).

Cons: The Surface Laptop's limited design makes it the only member of the family to not offer a detachable tablet display (though its screen supports ten-finger touch input). You also have to spend at least $1,299 to get it with what we consider decent specs: a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Also, those fancy colors are also restricted to the $1,299 model.

Our testing revealed that the Surface Laptop's SSD is the slowest in the pack, copying files with a transfer rate of 110.6 MBps. The speeds from the drives in the Surface Pro (339 MBps) and Surface Book (318.1 MBps) are more than 2.5 times as fast.

The Surface Laptop is available from Microsoft.

Surface Book: Best for Video Editors, Anyone with Deep Pockets

surface book lead 3112561495478965

The Surface Book is the best of the bunch, earning its higher price. Not only does its detachable design give you a real laptop (no kickstand here) and a full-fledged tablet, but it's the Surface with the most graphics power, which many creative professionals require. So, if you can afford to spend at least $1,499, this is your best choice. And if you need to do professional video editing or 3D modeling, you'll have to get the Surface Book with Performance Base, which starts at $2,399.

Pros: The Surface Book provides the best of both worlds: a high-res tablet that you can use on its own and a notebook that balances well on your lap. It also has over 12 hours of battery life if you use it with an integrated GPU.

Unlike every other Microsoft notebook, the Surface Book can also be purchased with a discrete graphics card. Video editors can get the notebook with an Nvidia 965m GPU, which reached 78.5 fps on the Cinebench OpenGL graphics test, a rate more than twice as fast as we saw in systems with Intel integrated Iris graphics.

Cons: Starting at $1,499 without discrete graphics, $1,899 with a low-end GPU and $2,399 with an Nvidia 965m chip, the Surface Book is restricted to those with a mountain of cash to burn. Also, annoyingly for this price, it's still rocking generation Intel 6th Gen CPUs while its siblings have already stepped up to 7th Generation Core processors.

The Surface Book is available for purchase from Microsoft.

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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