MacBook Air vs. Surface Laptop 2

Microsoft's latest Surface Laptop 2 runs past the updated MacBook Air

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

A couple of laptops were released in 2018 that represent a changing of the old guard and the new guard. First, there was the Surface Laptop 2, Microsoft’s second iteration of its traditional clamshell. And then a little later was Apple’s reimagining of its venerable MacBook Air.

Both are solid offerings in the mainstream 13-inch laptop class. Which is the better machine?

Design

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

The MacBook Air resembles its original version, albeit with a slightly thinner chassis and smaller bezels. It fits Apple’s usual design aesthetic that’s elegant and not at all ostentatious, and the company offers the notebook in Gold, Silver, and Space Gray color schemes. The Surface Laptop 2 is essentially unchanged from its predecessor outside of a new black color, making it a rather typical thin and light clamshell outside of the Alcanta fabric in Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and Black.

Both of these are extremely well-built laptops, with rigid aluminum chassis and zero flexing or bending. The MacBook Air is a bit thicker than the Surface Laptop 2 at 0.61 inches versus 0.57 inches, but they weight almost the same at 2.75 versus 2.76 pounds.

The MacBook Air uses Apple’s 3rd-generation butterfly keyboard that’s responsive but has very shallow keys. The Surface Laptop 2’s keyboard has significantly more travel and is just as snappy, making it by far our preferred input option. At the same time, the MacBook Air’s huge Force Touch touchpad is excellent, and the Surface Laptop 2’s smaller Precision touchpad is good as well but can’t quite keep up. Microsoft’s laptop benefits from a touch display and Surface Pen support, though, making it more flexible.

Connectivity is another significant difference. The MacBook Air has just two USB-C ports, but both support Thunderbolt 3. The Surface Laptop 2 has a USB-A 3.0 port, a DisplayPort, and a Surface Connect port for charging and docking. The lack Of Thunderbolt 3 makes Microsoft’s laptop less flexible in terms of external display and GPU enclosure support, but you won’t need as many dongles.

Both of these are good looking and well-build laptops, but the Surface Laptop 2’s keyboard tips things in Microsoft’s favor.

Performance

microsoft surface laptop 2 vs dell xps 13 01

Performance is a more important differentiator between these two laptops. The MacBook Air is built around on Intel’s low-power Y-series dual-core CPUs that focus on saving the battery and reducing heat rather than on sheer speed. The Surface Laptop 2 picked up Intel 8th-generation (but not the latest Whiskey Lake) quad-core U-Series processors. That makes Microsoft’s laptop much faster and more capable of meeting demanding productivity and content creation tasks.

Storage performance, though, is a win for the MacBook Air. Both machines rely on fast PCIe solid state drives (SSDs), but Apple tends to source the absolute fastest SSDs available. The MacBook Air is, therefore, faster in accessing and saving data, although the difference in real-life use will be minimal unless you’re dealing with very large files.

Display quality is an area where Apple and Microsoft both excel. At least, that’s usually the case with MacBooks, which typically enjoy superior displays with wide and accurate colors, excellent contrast, and high brightness. The MacBook Air is a bit of an exception, unfortunately, given its average scores across the board in spite of a “Retina” 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. The Surface Laptop 2’s display is the usual 3:2 aspect ratio (great for productivity) at a sharper 3,000 x 2,000 resolution. It has higher contrast and equal colors, which when combined with its productivity-friendly format makes it a better experience.

The Surface Laptop 2 is faster and has a better display.

Portability

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Neither of these laptops is going to weigh you down or take up too much space in your backpack. You’ll be happy carrying either of these laptops around.

Battery life is also similar. The MacBook Air has very average battery life, at about eight hours of web browsing and 10 hours of video watching. We haven’t tested the Surface Laptop 2, but its predecessor with a less-efficient 7th-generation Core processor and equal battery capacity lasted about as long at web browsing and two hours longer when watching video.

There’s not enough of an advantage here in either portability or battery life to call a winner.

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2 proves that performance counts

microsoft surface laptop 2 vs dell xps 13 02

The MacBook Air starts at $1,000 though that’s not the 2018 version. The model used for this comparison starts at $1,200, which comes with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.

The Surface Laptop 2 starts at a very similar $1,000 for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD, but it has a much higher top-end at $2,699 for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.

The Surface Laptop 2 is just as good looking and well built, and it lasts a bit longer on a charge — while being significantly faster. It’s expensive as you ramp up the configuration, but you get what you pay for in this case.

|

Computing

Old Nvidia graphics cards to get ray tracing support in upcoming driver

Nvidia's RTX ray tracing technology will no longer be limited to RTX graphics cards. An upcoming driver update will add support for low-end ray tracing to GTX 10-series and 16-series graphics cards.
Computing

Struggling to pick between a MacBook Pro and Surface Pro 6? This guide can help

Unsure how to choose between a Windows and MacOS laptop? There are plenty of options out there, with some better than others. We pitted the MacBook Pro vs. Surface Pro 6 to see which is the best, whichever operating system you prefer.
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for March 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Computing

We gave both notebooks a perfect score, but there can only be one best laptop

Dell's XPS 13 has been our favorite 13-inch laptop for a while, but HP's latest Spectre x360 13 2-in-1 presents a serious challenge. Which wins out in a head-to-head comparison?
Computing

These cheap laptops will make you wonder why anyone spends more

Looking for a budget notebook for school, work, or play? The best budget laptops, including our top pick -- the Asus ZenBook UX331UA -- will get the job done without digging too deeply into your pockets.
Computing

Edit, sign, append, and save with six of the best PDF editors

Though there are plenty of PDF editors to be had online, finding a solution with the tools you need can be tough. Here are the best PDF editors for your editing needs, no matter your budget or operating system.
Computing

Apple iMac gets more powerful with new Intel CPUs, Radeon Pro graphics

Apple on Tuesday, March 19 refreshed its iMac lineup with new models featuring slightly more powerful Intel processors and new AMD graphics cards. The new 27-inch 5K model comes with options for Intel's six-core or eight-core ninth-gen…
Cars

Nvidia’s new simulator brings virtual learning to autonomous vehicle developers

Nvidia introduced a simulator for testing autonomous vehicle technologies. Drive Constellation is a cloud-based platform technology vendors can use to validate systems efficiently, safely, and much faster than with vehicles on real roads.
Photography

Paper designs digitize in real time using an Illustrator-connected paper tablet

Love graphic design, but prefer the feel of real paper? The new Moleskine Paper Tablet - Creative Cloud Connected syncs with Adobe Illustrator in real time, turning paper sketches into digital drawings.
Computing

Make the most of your toner with our five favorite color laser printers

Color laser printers have improved dramatically over the years, and today's models offer both blazing print speeds and great image quality. Here are our favorite color laser printers, from massive all-in-ones to smaller budget options.
Computing

Firefox 66 is here and it will soon block irritating autoplay videos

Do web advertisements have you frustrated? Mozilla is here to help. The latest version of the browser will soon block autoplaying videos by default and will also help make web page scrolling smoother.
Computing

USB4 will be the fastest and most uniform USB standard yet

USB4 is on the horizon and alongside a massive boost in speed it's also unifying with the Thunderbolt 3 standard to help finally create a singular wired connection protocol that all devices can enjoy.
Computing

The U.S. government plans to drop $500M on a ridiculously powerful supercomputer

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced plans to build a $500 million exascale supercomputer by 2021. The project, known as the Aurora supercomputer, is expected to boost research efforts in fields such as public health.
Buying Guides

Apple has powered up its iMac lineup, but which one should you opt for?

With new processors and graphics cards for both the 4K and 5K models, the iMac feels like a good option for creatives again. But which should you buy? Here's our guide to choosing the right Apple all-in-one for your needs.