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Two pros enter, one pro leaves: Microsoft’s Surface Pro takes on Apple’s MacBook Pro 13

Now more than ever, ultra-portable tablets and the best laptops allow us to get work done from anywhere, without sacrificing power for portability. These two features are no longer mutually exclusive, which means the market is chock-full of nimble, lightweight solutions that will appeal to consumers of all demographics. Capitalizing on the burgeoning trend, Microsoft has doubled-down on its popular Surface Pro 2-in-1, by refreshing the internal components with the latest Intel Core i5 and i7 chips, refining the internal design, and iterating on a winning form factor.

But it’s still just a tablet, right? Well, yes and no. Between the Type Cover and a full version of Windows 10, the new Surface Pro continues to provide a decent mobile computing experience in a lightweight package. Unlike the iPad Pro, which uses a modified version of Apple’s iOS, the Surface Pro is a fully-functional laptop (when you want it to be).

With that in mind, let’s see how the new Surface Pro stacks up against a portable, premium laptop: Apple’s latest MacBook Pro 13.


MacBook Pro 13

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Surface Pro (2017)

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Dimensions 13.75 x 9.48 x .61 (in) 11.50 x 7.9 x 0.33 (in)
Weight  4.02 pounds 1.69 – 1.73 pounds
Processor  6th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 7th-generation Intel Core m3, i5, or i7
RAM 8GB, 16GB 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB
Display 13.3-inch Retina display 12.3-in PixelSense Display
Resolution 2,560 × 1,600 2,736 x 1,824
Storage 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, optional LTE
Ports 2x or 4x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3), any can charge; 3.5mm headset 1x USB Type-A, Surface Connect, 3.5mm headphone jack, Mini DisplayPort, microSDXC card reader
Webcam 720p FaceTime HD Windows Hello face sign-in camera, 5.0MP 1080p front-facing camera, 8.0MP 1080p rear-facing autofocus camera
Operating System MacOS Sierra Windows 10
Battery Up to 10 hours Up to 13.5 hours
Price $1,500+ $800+
Availability Available now Available June 15, 2017
Review 6 out of 10 Hands-on

Design: Magnesium vs. aluminum

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The MacBook Pro 13, for all its faults, is a remarkably well-designed product. Apple’s industrial design is iconic, simple, and high-quality in a way most competitors have yet to match. That said, Microsoft has come closer than ever before with its latest Surface lineup, including the new Surface Pro.

The Surface Pro’s magnesium-alloy chassis feels every bit as nice as the MacBook Pro 13’s aluminum unibody. They’re both rock-solid, and nearly seamless. Metal-and-glass construction makes both a joy to use, and they’re robust enough that tossing them in a bag never feels like a dangerous proposition.

In everyday use, the MacBook Pro is just present enough — it does an excellent job of getting out of your way. The keyboard has short travel, but a welcome tactile feel, and the trackpad is large and spacious. Conversely, the Surface Pro offers a uniquely intuitive user experience with its touchscreen and Surface Pen integration.

The MacBook Pro 13 is a great laptop, but the Surface Pro is a great tablet, with some laptop functionality. The keyboard cover, upholstered with that super-soft and luxurious Alcantara fabric, gets the job done and looks good doing it — but more often than not you might find yourself foregoing it entirely to interact with the Surface Pro’s gorgeous and responsive touchscreen.

Both products exemplify different design sensibilities, delivering near-perfect craftsmanship in their own unique ways. They’re both at the top of their respective games, using clever, elegant design to elevate what could otherwise be typical and pedestrian user experiences.

Bottom line, which one has the better overall design? Considering nothing else but product design, the MacBook Pro 13 is hard to beat as a laptop, and the Surface Pro is hard to beat as a tablet. That’s really it. This is the one area where there these two products are too different to really compare. Declaring a winner here would be a disservice to both products, both achieve and execute their design goals near-perfectly.

Winner: Tie

Power: 6th-generation Iris vs. 7th-generation HD

MacBook Pro 15
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

If you just looked at the spec sheet, it might be hard to determine which one of these products was which. Both feature similar processor options, both have similar RAM and storage options, and both have a conspicuous lack of ports. Plus, neither the MacBook Pro 13 or the Surface Pro feature discrete graphics cards, instead relying on Intel HD or Intel Iris graphics.

When it comes to memory and storage, both products have a decent range of choices available. The Surface Pro dips a little deeper into the low-end with its lowest RAM and storage options than the MacBook Pro 13 does, but otherwise the mid and high-end versions of both products can be scaled up to the same maximums — 1TB of storage space, and 16GB of RAM.

In everyday use, both products provided more than enough horsepower to get through a typical workday. Neither one is going to be good for games beyond maybe Hearthstone, but neither is going to hold you back while doing some serious multi-tasking, either.

It’s worth mentioning that the Surface Pro is running the latest 7th-generation “Kaby Lake” processors from Intel, so even though they’re comparable to what’s under the hood of the MacBook Pro 13, they’re going to have a little bit of a leg up when it comes to raw performance and energy efficiency.

Also, the MacBook Pro features Intel Iris graphics up and down the line, which is a bit of a step up from the Intel HD graphics featured on the Core m3 and Core i5 versions of the Surface Pro. However, you can enjoy Intel Iris graphics if you opt for the Core i7 model of Surface Pro.

Overall, the systems are very similar in performance. The MacBook Pro is more powerful in its base configuration, but also more expensive. They’re about equal in top-tier trim; however, the Surface Pro uses the latest Intel processors, so it obtains the win.

Winner: Surface Pro

Form factor: Tablet vs. laptop

Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Pen 2017
Kyle Wiggers/Digital Trends

This is a battle between two ultra-portable computers, after all, so portability is of critical importance. Which one has the greater work-from-anywhere factor? Well for that answer, we’ll need to carefully weigh our options. Seriously, weight is an important aspect here.

The MacBook Pro 13 is remarkably small; it’s svelte and slim, and at just four pounds, it fits in almost any messenger bag or backpack with ease. The Surface Pro is also thin and light, weighing in at just under two pounds. You could stuff two Surface Pros into a bag and it would still be lighter than a single MacBook Pro 13.

It’s almost cheating, though. The Surface Pro’s keyboard doesn’t house any hardware — it’s just a keyboard — and it’s partially made of fabric. Still, the Surface Pro is far lighter than the lightweight MacBook Pro 13, and it has a few other advantages worth mentioning.

Namely, it’s a 2-in-1. Need to type up a paper from a coffee shop? No problem, just pop the keyboard on there and get started. Need a tablet to read before bed? Sure thing, Surface Pro has you covered… just snap the keyboard off. These are two things that the MacBook Pro 13, as a traditional laptop, just can’t do.

Add on top of that the Surface Pro’s superior battery life, and we have a clear winner here. The Surface Pro lasts around 13 hours on a single charge, while the MacBook Pro 13 only made it about nine hours on our internal tests. While the MacBook Pro 13 is one of the most portable laptops on the market today, the Surface Pro has it beat because of its versatility — it is by its very nature more portable.

Winner: Surface Pro

Price: A lot of money vs. even more money

Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Pen 2017
Kyle Wiggers/Digital Trends

Well, this one’s pretty straightforward, right? Just point out which one costs more, full stop. Unfortunately, it’s actually a little tricky to tease out which one is the better value. Sure, the MacBook Pro 13 starts at $1,500, and the Surface Pro starts at $800 — that’s a pretty clear-cut difference — but that’s for the barebones versions of both products, and the prices only go up from there.

For $1,500, you can get a decent MacBook Pro. For $800, however, you’d get a very underpowered Surface Pro running an Intel Core m3 processor that has pretty low headroom when it comes to real computing tasks — like running more than a handful of applications at a time.

Moving on up the spectrum, the MacBook Pro 13 tops out at $2,900 for the fully tricked-out version, while the Surface Pro tops out at $2,700. At those prices, that’s a pretty narrow margin, and both products net you nearly identical specs.

It’s also worth mentioning that no matter how much you spend on the Surface Pro, it doesn’t come bundled with any of the above-pictured accessories. That’s right, no Type Cover, Surface Pen, or Surface Dial will be in the box — even if you invest in the fully-loaded version. It’s an odd choice, given that the Surface Pro isn’t a 2-in-1 without the keyboard component, and you’ll have to spend an extra $130 for the privilege. Add on to that another $60 for the Surface Pen, and the grand total comes out to $2,890. That only puts it at ten bucks cheaper than a fully maxed-out MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar.

Add the keyboard cover and pen to the low-end version of the Surface Pro and you’re looking at $990, which is an awful lot to spend on a “laptop” with an underpowered Intel m3 processor and the bare minimum amount of RAM and storage space.

Winner: Tie

Innovative design gives Surface Pro the win

Which one should you buy? Well, there are plenty of great laptops, tablets, and hybrid 2-in-1s on the market today, and some of them might even require less compromise than one of these two products. The Surface Pro suffers from unfortunate up-charging, and the MacBook Pro 13 is a little too expensive for what you end up getting, and the Touch Bar is only available on the mid and high-end models.

Still, the Surface Pro gains the nod. It’s slightly less expensive and more versatile than the MacBook Pro 13, yet also takes a minor edge in hardware. Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 is no slouch, but it feels a bit old-fashioned compared to Microsoft’s latest.

Editors' Recommendations

Jayce Wagner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
A staff writer for the Computing section, Jayce covers a little bit of everything -- hardware, gaming, and occasionally VR.
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