At first glance, Surface Pro looks like a MacBook Air with a Retina display and is priced like one too. Start adding options, though, and you quickly reach MacBook Pro pricing. But with only one port, like a MacBook, but USB-A rather than the newer USB-C. So, depending on how you look at it, Surface Laptop might be the best of all the MacBook worlds. Or the worst.
Which is it?
TL;DR: Do you need to run macOS?
If you know you want to run macOS, you have to get a Mac. If you want to run Windows, you can get a Surface Laptop or a Mac — the latter lets you run both. Keep reading the rest for more details, but if running Mac software, including developing for iOS, are key to you, your decision tree is already done.
Surface Laptop vs. 13-inch MacBook Air
Microsoft's Surface Laptop looks like a MacBook Air, is as light and portable as an Air, and is priced like an Air, so that's the easiest comparison to get started with. There are several important differences, though.
Surface Laptop comes in Burgundy, platinum, cobalt blue, and graphite gold, while MacBook Air only comes in aluminum. It also has a high-density, multi-touch capable display, something Apple has never gotten around to adding to the Air. Plus, Surface Laptop has current-generation Intel Kaby Lake processors while MacBook Air hasn't had a spec bump in years.
On the down side, Surface Laptop has only a single USB-A port + DisplayPort (and a proprietary Surface Connect port) while the MacBook Air has two USB-A ports and a Thunderbolt 2 port. It also has a faux-fabric finish around the keyboard and trackpad which… may not hold up to dirt and grime the way MacBook Air aluminum will.
- If you need to run macOS on as inexpensive a laptop as possible, you need to get a MacBook Air.
- Otherwise, unless and until Apple updates it's entry level, Surface Laptop is the better bang for your buck.
Surface Laptop vs. 12-inch MacBook
Because the Surface Laptop has only one USB port, it's easy to draw comparisons to similarly single-ported 12-inch MacBook. There are, however, differences.
MacBook has a USB-C port, the modern standard that the entire industry is moving towards. Surface Laptop has USB-A, the legacy standard the entire industry is moving away from. Both will require dongles or docks, though MacBook will require them less as time goes on and Surface Laptop will require them more.
Both have high-density displays, though MacBook lacks the multi-touch functionality of the Surface Laptop. It also lacks the faux-fabric finish around the keyboard and trackpad which…may not hold up to dirt and grime the way Apple's aluminum will.
Surface Laptop comes in Burgundy, platinum, cobalt blue, and graphite gold, while MacBook comes in silver, space gray, gold, and rose gold. Surface Laptop, however, has an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor which, while requiring a fan and increasingly noise, is more powerful than the virtually silent Intel coreM series in the MacBook.
- If having the absolute smallest, lightest, and quietest — and potentially pinkest! — computer is imperative to you, get the MacBook.
- If you want more power, a multi-touch display, and a cobalt blue color option, get the Surface Laptop.
Surface Laptop vs. 13-inch MacBook Pro
Surface Laptop might look like and be priced like a MacBook Air, but start upgrading it and you quickly reach MacBook Pro price points. With a few differences, of course.
No matter how much you pay for a Surface Laptop, you still only get the one, legacy USB-A port that sounds like a good idea today but will become more and more of a constraint over the next few years. MacBook Pro, on the other hands, comes with the option for two or four USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports that may need a dongle now but will become table stakes in a year or two.
Surface Laptop comes in Burgundy, platinum, cobalt blue, and graphite gold, while MacBook Pro only comes in silver and space gray. MacBook Pro lacks the faux-fabric finish around the keyboard and trackpad which… may not hold up to dirt and grime the way Apple's aluminum will.
Both have high-density displays, though MacBook lacks the multi-touch functionality of the Surface Laptop. MacBook Pro does have the option for Touch Bar, a multi-touch strip that replaces the function keys with something more dynamic, though arguably not much more useful. Better, though, Touch ID, which lets you use your fingerprint to log in and authenticate for apps and purchases, including Apple Pay.
Surface Laptop is a generation ahead when it comes to Intel processors but it's arguable how much, if at all, that helps with graphics. Apple stayed on Skylake, in part, for Iris Pro options that didn't yet exist on Kaby Lake. If graphics are more important to you than central processing, you may be better off with MacBook Pro.
- If a multi-touch display or brighter color options are a must, go with Surface Laptop.
- If Touch ID and more numerous, advanced ports are what you need, go with MacBook Pro.
Still undecided or have more questions?
If you're still not sold on either the MacBook or the Surface Laptop, take a breath. The higher-end Surface Laptops won't be shipping for a while and Apple is rumored to be updating the MacBook lineup as soon as June. Take your time, check out all the options, and see which one suits you best.
If you still have questions, drop them in the comments below!
Master your iPhone in minutes
iMore offers spot-on advice and guidance from our team of experts, with decades of Apple device experience to lean on. Learn more with iMore!
Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.