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Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Pro

Microsoft has a new laptop, and if you’re in the market for a laptop today, you’re most likely going to be comparing it to the MacBook Pro. Both laptops were recently refreshed with Intel’s latest 8th-Generation processors, come with plenty of configuration options, and are targeted to users who need performance.

This year, to match Apple’s space grey finish, the Surface Laptop 2 is also available in black. To help you choose, we’ll take compare the important features offered by each laptop.

Design

Microsoft

Neither Microsoft nor Apple made noticeable changes to the design of their laptops this year. Both share similar attributes, like a premium unibody aluminum build and compact form factors, though Microsoft and Apple each put their unique spins on the designs. Microsoft chose an aluminum shell and a keyboard deck covered in Alcantara fabric, which adds warmth and texture to an otherwise cold metal design. Another major difference is that while the 13-inch MacBook Pro is only available in space grey or silver, Microsoft offers more color choices, including black, burgundy, platinum, and cobalt blue.

The Surface Laptop 2 measures 12.13 x 8.79 x 0.57-inches, making it slightly slimmer than the MacBook Pro in height. The 13-inch MacBook Pro measures 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61 inches. This means that Apple’s notebook will occupy a slightly more compact footprint on your desk or in your bag, but the differences here are only marginal.

Both laptops stay true to their clamshell form factors — you won’t be able to spin the screen around and use either device as a tablet. There are options for touch, however. The Surface Laptop 2 comes with a touchscreen that supports inking and pen input, while Apple took a more reserved approach with a Touch Bar positioned just above the keyboard to quickly access shortcuts. Both devices offer biometric security. Microsoft built in a Windows Hello infrared camera into the display for facial recognition, while Apple sticks with a fingerprint Touch ID sensor next to the Touch Bar.

Both Microsoft and Apple claim that the keyboards on this year’s models are quieter. Apple’s butterfly key switches make for shallow key travel, while Microsoft relies on a traditional keyboard. It will take some time to adjust to the MacBook Pro’s keyboard, though the main concern is finger fatigue. Both models offer a precise touchpad that supports gestures.

Performance

Even though the Surface Laptop 2 and the MacBook Pro ship with Intel’s quad-core 8th-Generation processors, there are differences. Microsoft opted for a U-series processor with a slightly faster base clock speed than the MacBook Pro, albeit a slower Turbo Boost speed. The Surface Laptop 2 starts with a 1.6Ghz Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.4GHz), while Apple’s MacBook Pro starts with a 1.4GHz quad-core processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz.

Both companies offer plenty of configuration options for processor upgrades, storage, and memory. The 13-inch MacBook Pro tops out with a 2.8GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 2TB of solid-state storage and 16GB of RAM. If you need extra power, the 15-inch MacBook Pro goes all the way up to a 2.4GHz eight-core Core i9 processor, a 4TB SSD and 32GB of memory (but kitting it out with that much will cost an arm and a leg). The Surface Laptop 2’s highest configuration includes a 1.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of solid-state storage.

If you’re comparing the 13-inch models, neither the Surface Laptop 2 nor the MacBook Pro comes with an option for discrete graphics — the MacBook Pro tops out with a better Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 on the highest configuration, while Microsoft uses the Intel UHD Graphics 620 in the Surface Laptop 2. However, the 15-inch MacBook Pro does offer discrete graphics, with your choices ranging from an AMD Radeon Pro 560X all the way up to an AMD Vega 20. It’s worth noting that both sizes of the MacBook Pro have Thunderbolt 3 ports, which means you can boost their graphics power by connecting an external graphics card (eGPU); you can’t do this with the Surface Laptop 2.

The Surface Laptop 2 uses Microsoft’s 13.5-inch PixelSense display, which supports touch and a resolution of 2,2256 x 1,506, while the MacBook Pro comes with a non-touch IPS panel in 13.3-inch and 15.4-inch flavors; depending on the size you choose, you’ll get a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels or 2,880 x 1,800 pixels. The 3:2 aspect ratio on the Surface Laptop 2 may be more suited for productivity tasks, which requires less scrolling. Apple went with a wider display on the MacBook Pro with a 16:10 aspect ratio. Microsoft and Apple both quote contrast ratios within the 1,500:1 range, so you’ll get deep blacks. Apple claims that its Retina display also supports a wide color gamut, while the Surface Laptop 2 supports touch and pen input.

While Apple completely embraced the future of ports by going all-in on with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, Microsoft is sticking to the present with a single USB-A 3.0 port and a Mini DisplayPort. Another upside with the Surface Laptop 2 is it uses a magnetic charging cable, which can quickly unlatch in the event you trip over the cord. Ironically this works like Apple’s MagSafe connector, which it no longer uses.

Portability

The Surface Laptop 2’s lighter weight may make it a winner for frequent travelers or students who need to tote their laptops between classrooms. The MacBook Pro’s weight of 3.02 pounds make it almost a quarter-pound heavier than the Surface Laptop 2.

Apple advertises 10 hours of battery life for the MacBook Pro, while Microsoft claims that the Surface Laptop 2 will last for 14.5 hours during video playback. The Surface Laptop 2 relies on a 47 watt-hour battery, while Apple’s MacBook Pro comes with a heftier 58 watt-hour battery. The bigger battery on Apple’s notebook is likely used to accommodate the stronger processor.

Windows or Mac? It’s in the ecosystem

MacOS Mojave 10.14

While comparing specifications may be fun, the numbers game doesn’t paint an accurate picture of which laptop is more deserving of your money. You should buy a laptop that will tie into your workflow. If you’re locked into Apple’s ecosystem, going with a MacBook Pro may be a no-brainer, especially when features like Continuity exist.

While the Surface Laptop 2 starts at just $1,000, the notebook tops out at $2,700 for the highest configuration. Every MacBook Pro now comes with a Touch Bar, with the most affordable model starting at $1,300. That’s a little more than the base Surface Laptop 2, but you get a stronger processor.

The Surface Laptop 2’s color options make it a good choice for students and users who prefer a touchscreen, but the MacBook Pro’s faster performance, refined design, and better display may still win out with creatives, so as long as they don’t need pen support. It’s a toss-up, though we’ll have to give the slight nod to the MacBook Pro.

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