Creatives have a tough choice to make. Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro is now more powerful than ever with its 7th-generation processor, but Microsoft’s gunning for it. The Surface Book invites artists and designers in with its amazing stylus, beautiful touch screen and the ability to remove the display to use it as a tablet.
So which one should you get? Let’s break it down.
Editor’s Note: This page was updated on June 23 to include the new 2017 MacBook Pro. Check back for further updates if Microsoft announces changes to the Surface Book.
|Surface Book||MacBook Pro (13.3-inch with Touch Bar)|
|Starting Price||$1,499||$1,799 ($1,299 without Touch Bar)|
|Price as Tested||$3,299||$1,999|
|CPU||6th-Gen Intel Core i5, Core i7||7th-Gen Intel Core i5, i7|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics, Nvidia GeForce GPU (optional)||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650|
|Display||13.5 inches, 3000 x 2000||13.3 inch, 2560 x 1600|
|Ports||USB 3.0, SD card reader, Surface Connect, headphone jack, mini DisplayPort||Thunderbolt 3|
|Size||9.1 x 12.3 x 0.9 inches||12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches|
|Weight||3.3 pounds||3 pounds|
The MacBook Pro isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s still a beauty in both silver and space gray. It’s just 0.6 inches thick and, at 3 pounds, extremely light. Apple has also refined its logo over the past few years, and it no longer glows.
The Surface Book’s design is part of its innovation. It’s also a sleek silver, but what’s unique is its fulcrum hinge, which lets you remove the tablet from the keyboard.
However, it creates a strange-looking gap where we’re not used to seeing one.
The Surface Book is not too heavy, at 3.3 pounds, but it’s noticeably thicker, at 0.9 inches.
Winner: MacBook Pro. The Surface Book’s design is more versatile, but the MacBook Pro is sleeker and more professional.
USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 are the future, but if you’re on a MacBook Pro, they’re also your present. That means you need dongles for any of your existing gear. The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar has four ports, though the base model offers just two ports.
The Surface Book avoids USB Type-C altogether. It’s an unfortunate decision we hope to see reversed soon, but Microsoft does offer a full suite of other ports, including two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, a mini DisplayPort, a headphone jack, and its proprietary Surface Connect port for charging and using the Surface Dock, which offers even more ports.
Winner: Surface Book. Although Microsoft’s machine doesn’t have Thunderbolt 3 or USB Type-C, the MacBook Pro limits you to those ports, while the Surface Book has a full set of ports.
If you’re going for pure size and resolution, the Surface Book wins on both counts. The MacBook Air has a 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600 display, while the Surface Book (below) has a 13.5-inch, 3000 x 2000 touch-screen display. However, the Surface Book has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which means a taller screen.
But the MacBook Pro is brighter and more vivid, measuring 458 nits and covering 128 percent of the sRGB color gamut. The Surface Book’s 376 nits and 112.6 percent are nothing to scoff at (in fact, they’re really impressive), but they don’t match what Apple offers.
Winner: Draw. The Surface Book’s touch-screen display has a higher resolution, while the MacBook Pro is brighter and more vivid.
The MacBook Pro’s keyboard uses a low-travel butterfly mechanism that takes a little time to get used to. It has just 0.7 millimeters of travel and requires 74 grams of force to actuate. It also has a digital Function row, thanks to the Touch Bar, that presents different options based on the apps you’re using.
The Surface Book’s keyboard has 1.5 millimeters of travel, but it felt just a tad mushy in our testing.
Winner: Surface Book. The higher-travel keys are more comfortable to use and don’t require a learning curve.
Apple replaced the MacBook Pro’s Function row with the Touch Bar and an OLED touch screen with different features depending on the app you’re using. While Apple’s apps and several others — like Spotify, Evernote and Dashlane — are compatible with the Touch Bar, most applications are not, and several features aren’t intuitive because you have to look at a second screen.
The Surface Book’s killer feature is that the touch-screen display can not only detach from the keyboard to be used as a tablet, but also attach securely enough to be used as a regular laptop. Additionally, it works with the Surface Pen (included) and the Surface Dial ($99.99).
Winner: Surface Book. Its design enables more use cases and it works with accessories that allow you to be your most creative.
The MacBook Pro’s Intel Core i5-7267U CPU, 512GB PCIe SSD and 8GB of RAM enable powerful performance. The laptop earned a score of 9,213 on the Geekbench 4 overall performance test and copied 4.97GB of data at 727 MBps.
The maxed-out Surface Book with Performance Base’s Core i7-6600 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of PCIe SSD storage notched a score of 7,559 on the Geekbench 4 test, and it transferred data at 363.6 MBps. At least part of this has to do with the 6th-gen CPU in the Surface Book. Apple’s MacBook has a newer, 7th-gen processor.
But the Surface Book has a leg up on graphics performance. Select models, like our test unit, have a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. The MacBook uses Intel’s Iris Plus Graphics 650. On the Dirt 3 test, the Surface Book ran the game at 117 frames per second, whereas the MacBook reached just 41 fps, even at a lower resolution.
Winner: Draw. The MacBook Pro is faster at overall computing, but people who need discrete graphics will get more power if they get an upgraded version of the Surface Book.
The MacBook Pro endured for 8 hours and 40 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which continuously browses the web over Wi-Fi, while the Surface Book lasted 9 hours and 10 minutes. If you’re willing to live with integrated graphics, the Surface Book can last up to 12.5 hours.
Winner: Surface Book. It lasts a bit longer on a charge.
Both the Surface Book and the MacBook Pro come in several configurations. For the starting price of $1,499, the Surface Book comes with a 6th-gen Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The MacBook Pro delivers a newer 7th-gen Core i5 chip and the same RAM and storage for $1,299.
To get our recommended Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, you’d have to pay $1,499 for the MacBook Pro (with just two ports and no Touch Bar) or $1,699 for the Surface Book. Microsoft’s 2-in-1 comes with more functionality and its Surface Pen in the box.
If you need discrete graphics, you’ll have to pay more for the Surface Book ($2,399).
Winner: MacBook Pro. A lower starting price makes the MacBook Pro more accessible, though the Surface Book offers more configuration options, including a discrete GPU.
|Surface Book||MacBook Pro|
The Surface Book beat the MacBook Pro 6 to 4 (including two ties), with big wins because of its selection of ports, a variety of configurations and longer battery life. More importantly, this system doubles as a tablet, which you can use with the included Surface Pen. It really needs an upgrade to the latest generation of Intel CPUs, but it’s hard to argue with a computer for creatives with a more powerful discrete GPU.
The MacBook wins on design and portability, and it offers more processing power because of its newer CPU. Its display, while amazing, doesn’t have the touch functionality that the Surface Book offers. If you’re set on macOS, know that you’re making a fine choice but one with less flexibility.