As microchips get smaller and more efficient, so too do the devices that use them. Apple and Microsoft are the developers of the world’s top computer operating systems, so it’s no surprise that they’ve each designed compact, lightweight and versatile lineups of laptops and tablets.
When it comes to notebook PCs, the most recent version of the iconic Apple MacBook Air is an inarguable winner in terms of efficiency and a streamlined user experience. Microsoft, on the other hand, released an updated, smaller version of its premium Surface Pro called the Microsoft Surface Go 2, which looks like a run-of-the-mill tablet until you switch it on and realize it’s able to run Windows 10 with minimal slowdowns.
It’s not easy to definitively say that one is better than the other, though. There are some important and relatively straightforward points to understand in order to figure out which is right for you.
The very first MacBook debuted in 1991, and the line remains among the most talked-about laptops today. There are very good reasons for this, not least of which is that just about anyone can pick up a MacBook and begin using it without having to know the ins and outs of a computer and how to configure it for the easiest experience. Just like with the iOS operating system found on iPhones, macOS is revered for its user-friendly implementation and its ability to simply work, most of the time, without any significant maintenance.
Another reason the MacBooks and Apple devices in general are so great is the software ecosystem. Apple 100% vouches for all the apps on its App Store and will boot apps and developers that don’t follow its guidelines. One offshoot of this is that many programs, such as some Photoshop software suites, are optimized specifically for use with Apple devices. The other major benefit is that malware such as trojan horses and keyloggers is remarkably rare when dealing with Apple-approved software, to the point that you really don’t have to worry about it.
Apple laptops are ultra-trendy yet, at the same time, somewhat niche machines. That is to say, not everyone likes Macs, but if you do like Macs, you probably really like Macs. This is due in no small part to their streamlined operating system that requires practically no input or power-user capabilities for easy use.
Inside that respected operating system are a number of features that are so well implemented that they’ve become practically synonymous with their function. FaceTime, for example, is really just a fancy video calling suite, but it’s so powerful and easy to use that the word “FaceTime” itself is used interchangeably with the term “video conference.”
All of that hardware and software streamlining is capped off by the premium design that every single Apple device receives. When you buy an Apple product, you can be certain that it’s not just well built, it also looks great and should continue to serve you well for years.
The most obvious con to any Apple device, whether it’s a phone or a laptop, is the price. That high upfront cost, however, is mitigated by the fact that Apple’s tightly controlled ecosystem ensures all its supported devices will remain useful for years to come without becoming obsolete.
A slightly more pressing issue with the latest crop of MacBooks is that thanks to the architecture of the new Apple chipset and its recent updates to macOS Big Sur, older 32-bit applications are no longer supported. The reality is that most Mac users won’t have any problems with this, but it’s worth keeping in mind in case you do need to use any legacy apps.
Apple’s flagship laptop from 2020, the 13-inch MacBook Pro M1 leverages the company’s first in-house microprocessor, which includes four high-powered cores, four high-efficiency cores and a surprisingly powerful eight-core GPU. Its Retina-class display is, unsurprisingly, one of the best screens found on any laptop. There’s still the issue of cost, which is a common complaint about high-end MacBooks. Otherwise, the biggest problem is the relative lack of ports, but a capable USB-C hub such as the Anker PowerExpand+ 7-in-1 mitigates that easily.
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Switching to an in-house CPU and integrated GPU allows Apple to design its products as efficiently as possible, not just in terms of processing abilities but also in terms of form factor. The sleek, thin and feather-light MacBook Air M1 shows off that efficiency better than any of its predecessors, and in fact the hardware inside it is very nearly identical to what’s found in the MacBook Pro M1. One of the main differences between the Air and the Pro are that the Air lacks active cooling, which cuts down on size, weight and noise but also prevents it from sustaining peak load for as long. For that reason, it’s not as good as the Pro at resource-intensive tasks such as video encoding, but it is less expensive and easier to carry around with you.
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While there’s a lot of fuss made (and rightly so) about Apple’s new silicon, its older, Intel-based models are still nothing to sneeze at. In fact, if you’ll be editing videos or performing other similarly demanding tasks, this Intel Core i9-powered model can help you breeze through them in minimal time.
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Truth be told, there aren’t many true tablets that can run Windows 10 without significant slowdowns, and there are even fewer made by reputable manufacturers. With that in mind, Microsoft’s Surface Pro, now in its seventh generation, has been the go-to Windows tablet for years. While it’s compact, slim and lightweight, it’s packed with similar hardware to many full-fledged Windows laptops. The Surface Pro lineup, however, gets awfully expensive and still isn’t quite as compact as most dedicated tablets.
Enter the Microsoft Surface Go 2. As the name implies, it’s an upgrade to Microsoft’s first iteration and as such has a moderately updated processor. It also runs a special Windows 10 configuration called S Mode that disallows traditional program installation and instead limits you to apps available on the Microsoft Store. In this respect, it’s not too different from Apple laptops. Running Windows in S Mode ensures good performance from apps, just like macOS ensures good performance from App Store installations.
If you find a program you want to use that’s not in the Microsoft Store, though, that’s OK. You can easily disable S Mode and turn the Surface Go 2’s operating system into the more full-featured Windows 10 Home operating system.
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is the smallest device on the market that can consistently run Windows without constant and frustrating hiccups. While it’s small and not terribly expensive, its build quality is right on par with the more high-end Surface Pro line, and the display quality and touchscreen precision are exactly what you’d expect from something Microsoft has spent so many resources developing. If you want to run Windows on something that can fit into a small messenger bag, the Surface Go 2 is just about your only option for now. Finally, unlike its predecessor, the Surface Go 2 offers all-day battery life, clocking nearly 12 hours in a real-world web browsing test.
While it does a good job of running the relatively resource-intensive Windows 10 OS, it’s not perfect. Especially if you disable S Mode, you will experience slowdowns from time to time, in particular when multitasking or running very intricate programs.
If you’re looking for an ultra-compact tablet that runs Windows 10 respectably, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is the right choice. Anyone needing a full-featured laptop with plenty of processing power and nearly endless versatility, though, should strongly consider investing in an Apple MacBook.
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Chris Thomas Bohnlein writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.