Apple MacBook Pro vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 6

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

Surface Pro 6 Review
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Apple and Microsoft have competed for decades on the operating system front, but in more recent years they’ve had competitive hardware too. The MacBook and Surface lines both have their standouts and strengths, so picking between them isn’t easy. To nail down some firmer recommendations for you, we set the MacBook Pro versus the Surface Pro 6 in a classic head to head.

One is a celebrated 2-in-1, the other an iconic workhorse of a laptop with classic Apple styling. Which will come out top when the dust has settled?

Design

macbook pro 13 inch non touch bar vs 15 2016 keyboard 1200x9999

The MacBook Pro has been at the forefront of laptop style for generations, helping to redefine what a premium laptop looks and feels like. While there are many more contenders for the best looking laptop today, the MacBook Pro stands apart as an exquisitely built machine. While we still don’t quite see the point in the Touch Bar, the overall look and feel of Apple’s MacBook Pro is top-notch.

The Surface Pro 6 both redefines its image and barely iterates upon it. It has a new black paint job which helps set it apart from the silver of so many of its contemporaries, but it’s no thinner, trimmer, or lighter than its predecessors. Indeed while you might prefer its darkened exterior to that of the MacBook’s, it has thicker bezels than the Apple device. In a laptop marketplace that so often sees just millimeters of extra material surrounding displays, feels decidedly retro.

While the Surface Pro 6 might hold on to some style-trappings of the past, its inputs are a bit more pleasing. Its Type Cover ($130-$160 extra depending on color choice) is a fantastic accessory that is a must-have if you plan to do any real typing. Its touchpad is excellent too; easily one of our favorites of any Windows laptop.

The MacBook Pro’s keyboard is a disappointment in comparison. Apple’s gone through several iterations of its butterfly key design and though they are improving, we’re still unimpressed. Sticky and broken keys are common, and the typing experience is far from our favorite, with stiff, overly shallow keys that don’t give you the tactile feedback for a comfortable and efficient typing experience. Fortunately, the touchpad is much better, so if you plan to browse and surf more than type, the lackluster keyboard may not be too problematic for you.

As for ports, Apple’s device has just two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack on the 13-inch version, meaning you’re going to need adapters for a wide range of external devices. Microsoft has yet to embrace USB-C like other manufacturers, so the Surface Pro 6 comes with a USB-A 3.0 port, a headphone jack, mini-DisplayPort output, a Surface Connect port, and a MicroSDXC card reader.

The Surface Pro 6 is also a 2-in-1 — and our favorite 2-in-1 at that — which means you can ditch the Type Cover and use it as a very functional, lightweight tablet. That’s something that the MacBook Pro simply cannot do. It’s 100 percent a laptop, where the Surface Pro 6 can be either within a moment’s notice. The Windows 10 tablet mode doesn’t do it many favors, but as an add-on to the full Windows 10 experience, it’s serviceable.

Performance

surface pro 6
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The entry-level Surface Pro 6 comes with an Intel Core i5 8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage and costs just $800. You can increase the storage on that same configuration for a couple of hundred dollars more, or there’s the option of a Core i7-8650U, 16GB of RAM, and up to a terabyte of storage, for between $1,700 and $2,100.

Apple’s MacBook Pro does have a $1,300 option without a Touch Bar, but that configuration is a bit out of date at this point and hard to recommend compared to the competition. Unfortunately, that makes its next “entry-level” option far more expensive. It starts at $1,800, but does come with higher-powered hardware, sporting a Core i5 8259U processor paired with 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage. The CPU is newer and has a much higher boost frequency for increased performance. It also has an onboard Intel Iris Pro 655 graphics core, which is bit more capable than the HD 620 found in the Surface Pro 6’s chip, making it slightly better for gaming. Then again, neither are fit for 3D gaming, anyways.

The MacBook Pro has options for a Core i7 CPU, as well as 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of storage. Upgrading just the memory and CPU would increase the price to $2,300, while additional storage capacity can raise the price to as much as $3,700.

MacBooks have always been known for their fantastic displays and the latest generation of MacBook Pro doesn’t disappoint. It’s bright and high-contrast with a decent resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. It’s also fantastically colorful, with a wide ranging color gamut support and an impressively low color error value. The Surface Pro 6’s smaller 12.3-inch display has a higher resolution, a much greater pixel density (2,736 x 1,824 and 267 pixels-per-inch) and is bright and colorful too. It’s not quite as strikingly bright as the MacBook Pro, but it’s not far behind.

Portability

macbook pro vs surface 6 2016 thin 1500x1000
Kelly Hodgkins/Digital Trends

At  11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33-inches and just 1.7 pounds in tablet mode (around 2.4 pounds with the Type Cover) the Surface Pro 6 is the leaner and lighter device. The MacBook Pro is a slim and relatively light laptop, at 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.36-inches and three pounds in weight, but it just can’t compete with how easy the Surface Pro 6 is to carry around.

Our battery life tests saw the MacBook Pro fall behind its Windows competition too. The Apple laptop managed just over 10-hours in our 1080p video loop test where the Surface Pro 6 lasted 14-hours. Both devices can get you through a workday, but you’ll still be able to use the Surface Pro 6 on your commute home, where the MacBook Pro could have you searching for a power outlet if it’s seen a lot of use throughout the day.

The best 2-in-1 is the better laptop

Surface Pro 6 Review
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

It’s rare that a 2-in-1 can provide serious competition for a dedicated laptop, but that all changes when the 2-in-1 you’re talking about is the best we’ve ever tested. The Surface Pro 6 has its drawbacks, most namely its smaller screen and overly chunky bezels (for 2019 at least). But where it excels, it steams past Apple’s MacBook Pro, dominating it in battery life and keyboard comfort, making it a more enjoyable device to use, for longer, and a far more portable one too. The lightweight tablet mode is the cherry on top.

If you need more grunt and prefer the sleek look and forward-thinking port selection of the MacBook Pro, it’s certainly a great option — although we might try to tempt you with the MacBook Air or bump you up to the more powerful 15-inch MacBook Pro. Compared to the base 13-inch MacBook Pro, though, Surface Pro 6 is a better all-around device. Even with its must-have Type Cover accessory, it’s far cheaper when configured with comparable hardware, especially if you want to throw in some extra storage.

The MacBook Pro looks and feels the part, but the Surface Pro 6 delivers where it can’t.

 

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