Macbook vs. Microsoft Surface Pro — Which is better?

Last Updated September 2020
By Jaime Vazquez

If you’re looking for a top-of-the-line laptop, you’ll find outstanding options from both Microsoft and Apple — but as it turns out, each company has a very different idea of what a laptop is. On the Apple side of things, you’ll find MacBooks, which sport big, beautiful screens and seamlessly integrate with other Apple products like iPhones or AirPod headphones. If you opt for one of Microsoft’s Surface laptops, you’ll get a crazy-fast Windows machine that’s also got a high-end tablet on board. 

So which is better? 

At the end of the day, the right choice will be based on your use case and the features that will have the biggest impact on your day-to-day life. Here’s a quick rundown of both products to help you determine which is the better choice for you. 

the Surface Pro: Best-in-class portability

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7 is a marvel for a variety of reasons, but the marquee feature is its form factor. It’s got the looks of a super-thin tablet, but it manages to pack in full-size laptop tech under the hood — so it only weighs a pound, but still has an Intel i3, i5, or i7 CPU, plenty of RAM, and more than enough file storage space on board. That means it’s capable enough to keep up with traditional laptops from Dell or HP, but still thinner and lighter than an iPad. 

The Surface Pro 7 runs Windows 10, so it’s a full-featured business machine — and it also works in “tablet mode,” so you can detach the screen and use touch-friendly versions of your favorite applications. Many 2-in-1 laptops are better at being one than the other, but the Surface Pro 7 is a terrific laptop and a terrific tablet.

 

What it’s good at
 

  • Portability: They just don’t come any thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 7, so if you’re tired of lugging bulky gear around, it offers a welcome change.  

  • Stylus support.: The Surface Pro works with the Surface Pen stylus (sold separately) that lets you write and draw on the touchscreen — so it’s perfect for taking notes or sketching. If you take notes often or you’re a digital artist, stylus support is a must-have feature.

  • Windows 10: The crowded 2-in-1 laptop market is full of touchscreen Windows laptops, but we’ll let you in on a secret: Most of them are only good at being one of the two. However, the Surface Pro is both a fast, capable tablet and a reliable, work-ready Windows machine.

 

Get a Surface Pro if…
 

  • You travel or plan on using your laptop outside of your home often. The Surface Pro is the ideal laptop for traveling and coffee shops; it’s light, fits anywhere and can get you up and running in moments. There’s no way around it — the Surface Pro 7 may be the most portable laptop we’ve ever seen.
    You need a computer with a touchscreen. Sometimes you need to lean forward with a keyboard to get work done on a laptop, and sometimes it’s better to lean back and watch a movie or scroll through social media with a touchscreen. If any part of your laptop life means using a touchscreen, the Surface Pro is your best option. 

  • You’re a die-hard Windows user. Despite the rise of both MacBooks and Chromebooks, when it comes to operating systems, Windows is still home turf for most users. If you’re one of the millions of users who prefers Windows, or if you have to stick with Windows for work or school, you don’t have to settle for subpar hardware; the Surface Pro makes Windows 10 snappy and usable.

 

Don’t get a Surface Pro if...
 

  • You need above-average battery life. The Surface Pro 7 promises up to 10 hours of battery life on a single charge, but in our testing we found that it only made it through about six hours of regular use. That’s fairly typical for a lot of laptops, and it’s not a huge problem if you’ll be primarily working near a power outlet. Still, if you’re looking for a machine that can reliably last all day on a single charge, you may want to keep looking.

  • You own a lot of Apple products. If you’ve got an iPhone, an iPad, or AirPods, you may be better off getting an Apple laptop, so you can take advantage of cross-device features. For example, with a MacBook, you can answer calls that come into your iPhone or easily switch your headphones connection between your iPhone and your laptop.
     

Other Microsoft Surface computers to consider: 

 

  • If you’re looking for a more modestly priced variant, consider the previous-generation Surface Pro 6, which is nearly as powerful and definitely more affordable. 

  • If you’re looking for a more traditional laptop but love the look and feel of the product line, check out the Surface Laptop 2.

  • If you want a Surface device but need a bigger screen, consider the Surface Pro X

 

The MacBook: A unified, if pricey, ecosystem

Apple’s MacBooks take a more traditional approach to being a laptop — no touchscreens or detaching keyboards here, just a gorgeous screen attached to a whisper-quiet keyboard, all housed in a sleek shell. 

The MacBook product line has evolved a lot over the years, but Apple has always focused on creating laptops that are reliable, easy to use, and that last forever. More importantly, they’ve also created a product ecosystem, so new functionality unlocks as you add more devices. If you’ve got an iPhone, a MacBook, or an Apple Watch, you can use them in coordination to move files, get notifications, or even share screens — all things that are technically possible with non-Apple tech, but so much easier with Apple devices.

 

Variations to consider

 

There are a few different types of MacBooks available, so it helps to start by considering which one might be the best fit for your budget. 

  • The MacBook Air is the brand’s thin-and-light laptop that’s often positioned as the best entry-level Mac laptop for newbies. It’s moderately powerful and is easily the most affordable version they offer. The 13.3-inch screen is ideal for most users, and it’s perfect for working with business applications or for an evening in with Netflix. 

  • MacBook Pros come in a few different sizes ranging between 11.6 and 16 inches. The “Pro” in their name comes from the more powerful components they use — so if you need a fast machine for CPU-intensive tasks like editing video or images, you’re going to want to invest in a MacBook Pro. Just be sure to warn your wallet ahead of time: MacBook Pros are some of the most expensive laptops around. 

 

What it’s good at:
 

  • Integrating with other Apple devices. As with most Apple tech, the killer feature here is the convenience. Whether it’s controlling slide presentations from your Apple Watch or quickly backing up iPhone photos to your laptop hard drive, Apple’s product integrations just make life simpler.

  • Reliability. No laptop is perfect, but MacBooks are about as good as it gets when it comes to stability. If you need a machine that won’t force you to spend much time troubleshooting, a MacBook is one of your best options.  

  • Holding its resale value. It’s never difficult to sell a MacBook when you’re upgrading, and even older MacBooks still fetch reasonable prices. If you need a machine that will eventually help you pay for your next one, a MacBook is the only way to go. 

 

Get a MacBook if…

 

  • You need a laptop that will “just work.” The adage is true: Mac computers are as reliable as they say. We’ve got nothing against Windows (or ChromeOS, for that matter), but macOS really earns the highest praise we can give to an operating system: It doesn’t frustrate us very often.
    You own an iPhone. “Product synergy” may be marketing nonsense, but the value of integrated services is real. If you have both an iPhone and a MacBook, you can easily transfer anything you want — photos, videos, or even web links — back and forth using AirDrop. And if your WiFi ever goes down and you need to keep going, your MacBook can automatically share your iPhone’s data connectivity.
    You spend a lot of time on FaceTime. If you’re on a lot of FaceTime video chats on your phone, you know how uncomfortable it gets to be constantly holding everything at the right angle. MacBooks use FaceTime, too, so you can see everyone on a much bigger screen — without having to hold anything up while you talk. 

 

Don’t get a MacBook if…
 

  • It’s not in the budget. Apple products are generally the most expensive in any given category, which can make their prices hard to swallow. 

  • You need a touchscreen. In the Apple-verse, laptops don’t have touchscreens (yet), so if you want a touchscreen, you’ll need to pick up an iPad, an iPhone, or an iPod Touch. 

  • You want a laptop you can upgrade yourself. Most MacBooks aren’t meant to be upgraded, so if you’re looking for a laptop where you can swap or upgrade components, you’ll need to look elsewhere. 

 

 

Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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