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Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 vs. Apple MacBook Pro: Which laptop wins?

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

If you're looking for the most premium Windows alternative to a MacBook, consider Microsoft's Surface lineup. The company has been trying to catch up with Apple for the past few years by releasing compelling premium products.

Now, the 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 is out in the wild, but how does it hold up against Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro? Both laptops are going to cost you quite a few dollars, and while these machines are definitely overpriced, they do offer premium features, from great performance to colorful, sharp displays.

Here's how the two premium laptops stack up.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch) vs. Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch): Specs compared

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch)Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch)
Price$1,399$1,499
Display13.5 inches, 2256 x 1540, 3:213 inches, 2560 x 1600, 16:9
CPUCore i7-1065G78th-Gen, 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5
RAM16GB8GB
SSD256GB256GB
PortsOne USB 3.1, one USB Type-C, headphone jack, Surface Connect portTwo Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack
ColorsSandstoneSpace Gray
Size12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.9 pounds3 pounds

Design

The Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch) sports its usual Space Gray aluminum chassis, and while this machine is sleek, it's not exactly striking. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been playing with a bunch of new colors, such as the pretty Sandstone shade on the new Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch), which presents a brighter and more approachable look.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Lifting the lid of the MacBook Pro reveals a look you'd imagine a gray laptop with black keyboard keys to have: standard but clean. What I like about the interior is that the bottom bezel of the MacBook Pro is superslim. The sandstone deck that surrounds the Surface Laptop 3's slightly darker keyboard gives the laptop a playful appearance. Its bottom bezel is slightly thicker than the MacBook's, but the top bezel is thinner, so there's some give and take.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Both laptops are pleasantly light and thin. The MacBook Pro has a smaller footprint, at 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches and 3 pounds, but the Surface Laptop 3 is a bit lighter, at 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches and 2.9 pounds.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch)

Ports

At 0.6 inches thin, both the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 and Apple MacBook Pro are skimpy on ports, but the Surface Laptop 3 gives you more variety. The MacBook Pro packs two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack, while the Surface Laptop 3 offers one USB Type-C port, one USB 3.1 port, a headphone jack and the Surface Connect port.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch)

Display

Even though both are 13-inch laptops, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 and Apple MacBook Pro support different screen sizes, aspect ratios and resolutions. The former sports a 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1540 panel at a 3:2 aspect ratio, while the latter features a 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600 screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I watched the F9 trailer on both laptops, and while the Surface Laptop 3's panel made the red rocket car pop, the MacBook Pro's screen highlighted not only the car, but also everything else around it, including the dirty concrete wall and the steel crates in the background. MacBook Pro takes the cake on brightness, as the Apple device detailed the surrounding tunnel during Han's surprise entrance. The MacBook's panel also has a better anti-reflective coating. The two screens revealed the same amount of stitching in Dom's shirt.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

According to our colorimeter, the MacBook Pro nailed 163% of the sRGB color gamut, sliding past the 121% from the Surface Laptop 3. The MacBook Pro's panel was brighter, too, emitting 441 nits to beat the 348 nits from the Surface Laptop 3.

Winner: Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch)

Keyboard and touchpad

Not even the MacBook Pro's feature-packed macOS operating system can distract us from the horrors of this laptop's keyboard. Typing on the MacBook Pro left me in a constant state of anxiety because of how my fingers bottomed out. To be fair, the keyboard travel on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is relatively low, but its keys are clicky and the situation is not as bad as on the MacBook Pro.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I took the 10FastFingers.com typing test and hit 72 words per minute on the Surface Laptop 3's keyboard, managing 70 wpm with the MacBook Pro's. The Surface Laptop 3's keys felt bouncy, while the MacBook Pro's were stiff.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The MacBook Pro's 5.3 x 3.2-inch touchpad offers a lot of real estate, and it's incredibly soft, but its Force Touch function is hard to get used to. The Surface Laptop 3's slightly smaller, 4.5 x 3-inch touchpad is just as smooth to use, but it offers plush buttons that you can actually click.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch)

Performance

With the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, you'll get an Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU and 16GB of RAM, while the Apple MacBook Pro will stick you with an 8th-Gen, 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Surface Laptop 3 scored 19,078 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall-performance test, sliding past the MacBook Pro's showing (17,366). 

On our HandBrake benchmark, the MacBook Pro transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 14 minutes and 42 seconds while the Surface Laptop 3 completed the same task in 24 minutes and 55 seconds. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Apple's 128GB SSD nailed a transfer rate of 1,220 megabytes per second on the Blackmagic test, whereas Microsoft's 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD copied 4.97GB of multimedia files in 9.4 seconds, for a rate of 541.4 megabytes per second.

On a real-world graphics benchmark, we put both laptops' Intel Iris Plus GPUs to the test. On the Dirt 3 benchmark, the Surface Laptop 3 nailed 47 frames per second, surpassing the MacBook Pro's 31 fps.

Winner: Draw

Battery Life

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 and Apple MacBook Pro both have good battery life, but only one can be the victor here. When the laptops continuously surfed the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits, the MacBook Pro lasted 10 hours and 48 minutes, while the Surface Laptop 3 died at 9 hours and 17 minutes. Both laptops will easily last you a full workday, but the MacBook Pro will get you there and then some.

Winner: Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch)

Value and configurations

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 and Apple MacBook Pro are offensively overpriced for what you get, but the Microsoft device is still the better deal.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

You can get the base Surface Laptop 3 (Platinum) for $799, and it'll come with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. For $999, you can get a 256GB SSD and expand your color options to include Sandstone, Cobalt Blue and Black. We reviewed the $1,299 model with a Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Doubling storage to 512GB raises the price to $1,699. If you want a 1TB SSD, it'll cost you $2,099.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 and is outfitted with a 1.4-GHz 8th-Gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The $1,499 model we tested bumps you up to a 256GB SSD. For $1,799, you can expand the ports from two to four Thunderbolt 3 ports and get a faster, 2.4-GHz 8th-Gen Core i5 CPU. For $1,999, you get a 512GB SSD, and if you want to bump up to a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, it'll cost you a hefty $3,099.

Paying for additional storage in a laptop should not cost an arm and a leg, but both companies seem to believe so. Ultimately, the Surface Laptop 3 gets you a better price for the components.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch)

Overall winner: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch)

In a surprising victory, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 surpassed the Apple MacBook Pro, as the Surface boasts a more colorful design, a wider variety of ports and a more comfortable keyboard, all for a relatively cheaper price.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch)Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch)
Design (10)98
Ports (10)65
Display (15)1214
Keyboard/touchpad (15)139
Performance (20)1717
Battery life (20)1618
Value (10)65
Overall (100)7976

However, if you're still clinging to macOS, rest assured that the MacBook Pro offers some other advantages: a sharper and more colorful display, as well as longer battery life. And it's still one of the best laptops you can buy. 

Overall, the Surface Laptop 3 took the victory lap, propelling itself into the lead thanks to its infinitely better keyboard.