If you’re looking for a good ultraportable laptop, Apple and Microsoft both have appealing options in the Surface Laptop and MacBook Air. Both laptops weigh well under 3 pounds and start at around $999.
So, should you choose the tried-and-true MacBook Air, which recently got a minor spec bump, or Microsoft’s brand-new sexy Surface Laptop? We’ve compared them to help you decide.
|Surface Laptop||MacBook Air|
|Intel Processors||7th-Gen Kaby Lake Core i5, Core i7||5th-Gen Broadwell Core i5|
|Display Resolution (pixels)||13.5 inches 2256 x 1504||13 inches 1440 x 900|
|Ports||USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect, Headphone Jack||2 USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2, Headphone Jack, MagSafe 2, SD memory reader|
|PortsThickness||1xUSB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect, Headphone Jack0.6 inches||2xUSB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2, Headphone Jack, MagSafe 2, SD memory reader0.7 inches|
|Dimensions||12.13 x 8.79 x 0.57 inches||12.8 x 8.94 x 0.11 x 0.68 inches|
|Weight||2.8 pounds||3.0 pounds|
With its colorful designs and soft-touch Alcantara deck, the Surface Laptop is a strong contender for the best-designed ultraportable notebook. We all felt the same way about the MacBook Air when the company introduced it in 2008, but the model today looks practically the same as the ones that came before.
That’s not to say MacBook Air isn’t still a sleek, well-designed machine, it’s just that consumers have moved onto devices with thinner bezels and more eye-catching colors. While we wish that all Surface Laptop models (and not just the $1,299 configuration) came in something other than Platinum, its Cobalt blue and Burgundy red options are too cool to ignore.
Measuring 0.6 inches thick and weighing 2.8 pounds, the Surface Laptop is also thinner and lighter than the Air (0.7 inches, 3 pounds).
Winner: The Surface Laptop wins by a mile, due to its fresh design and vibrant colors.
When Microsoft announced the Surface Laptop, my first thought was that it was the high-res display MacBook Air that I’ve been clamoring for. Its 2,256 x 1,504-pixel screen makes the MacBook Air’s 1,440 x 900 panel seem even more antiquated.
If the refreshed MacBook Air’s display is similar to the one in the 2015 model we tested (it likely is), the Surface Laptop is brighter and more colorful. The Surface Laptop emits up to 361 nits of brightness, beating the Air’s 334 nits, and produces 135 percent of the sRGB spectrum, which is more than twice the Air’s 65.8 percent reading.
Winner: The Surface Laptop is brighter, more colorful and sharper, making this an easy victory.
Both the MacBook Air and Surface Laptop feature backlit keyboards, but the comfy, stain-resistant Alcantara deck on Microsoft’s machine makes it more comfortable on your wrists.
The Air offers great keys for a MacBook, with 1 millimeter of travel that makes for more comfortable typing than the shallower ones in the 12-inch MacBook (0.5mm) and MacBook Pros (0.7 – 0.8mm). The Surface Laptop, though, offers one of the best typing experiences on any ultraportable notebook with 1.4mm-deep keys.
Winner: The Surface Laptop is easier on your fingers.
While Apple isn’t adding any new ports for its refreshed 2017 MacBook Air, its port selection is still strong, offering dual USB 3.0 connections, an SD memory reader, a headphone jack, a Thunderbolt 2 port and MagSafe 2 for power.
Microsoft went comparatively light on the Surface Laptop’s connectors, with only one USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort a headphone jack and the proprietary Surface Connector for power and docking.
Winner: The MacBook Air, by a USB 3.0 port and an SD memory reader.
We look forward to giving the 2017 version of the MacBook Air a full, comprehensive test, but we’re not expecting much. This year’s Air still sports an outdated 5th-Gen Intel Broadwell CPU, which is 1.8 GHz, a small tick up from the 1.6-GHz processor in the previous version.
The Surface Laptop, though, packs modern 7th-Gen Intel Kaby Lake processors, and the Core i5-7200U chip in our test model pushed it to a solid 7,157 on the Geekbench 4 general performance test. While Geekbench 4 wasn’t available when we tested the 2015 Air, it earned a 5,783 on the Geekbench 3 test.
If Apple uses the same SSD storage in the new MacBook Air that it used in the previous model, it will best the Surface Laptop in that category. The Air duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files at a rate of 358.4 MBps, which is more than three times as fast as the Surface Laptop (110.6 MBps).
Verdict: Surface Laptop, thanks to its more up-to-date processor.
The Surface Laptop lasted a fairly long 9 hours and 2 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, but that’s not enough here. We expect that the 2017 MacBook Air will offer similar battery life to the 14-hour time the previous model turned in, and Apple’s advertising a more-modest “up to 12 hours.” It’s easy to get longer battery life when you have a low-res screen.
Winner: The MacBook Air is almost certain to blow the Surface Laptop away.
Both the Surface Laptop and MacBook Air start at $999 with Core i5 models that offer 128GB of storage, but the similarities end there. At that same price, the Surface Laptop offers a better screen, keyboard and a more modern processor.
The upside of the Air is that its $999 model offers 8GB of RAM, while Microsoft only gave the entry-level Surface Laptop 4GB of memory. We wish that weren’t the case, but it’s not enough to tip the scales back.
Winner: The Surface Laptop, though it is a little shy on RAM.
As it stands today, the MacBook Air’s only wins come from its extra ports and longer battery life, which probably aren’t enough to sway anyone who isn’t gung ho on the macOS platform. If Apple wants to do better, it ought to reconsider making the look, screen and processor more modern and competitive. As of now, the Air is only for die-hard Apple fans.