Microsoft Surface Laptop vs Apple MacBook (2017)

The Surface Laptop is beautiful, but it’s also a little confusing. It’s aimed at students, but it’s expensive. It runs a cut-down version of Windows 10, but has powerful components.

Its price and design appear to compete with Google’s Chromebook Pixel, but that’s no longer on sale. But there is a similar laptop that we can sensibly compare it to: the 2017 MacBook.

We've also compared the Surface Laptop and Surface Book, in case you're choosing between those.

This thin-and-light notebook was launched last year and weighs less than a kilo. Its 12in screen is smaller than the 13.5in Surface Laptop, though, and as with all Macs, doesn’t have a touchscreen.

Which laptop is cheapest?

As prices depend on the specification you opt for, we’ve summarised them in the table below

 

Core specs

Price

Microsoft Surface Laptop

Core i5, 4GB, 128GB storage

£979 / US$999

 

Core i5, 8GB, 256GB storage

£1249 / US$1299

 

Core i7, 8GB, 256GB storage

£1549 / US$1599

 

Core i7, 16GB, 512GB storage

£2149 / US$2199

     

Apple MacBook

Core m3, 8GB, 256GB storage

£1249 / US$1299

 

Core i5, 8GB, 512GB storage

£1549 / US$1599

You can buy a Surface Laptop from Microsoft’s online store, and buy a MacBook directly from Apple.

How do their designs differ?

Both laptops are high-end models with great design and precision manufacturing. They’re built using premium materials, all of which helps to explain – and justify – their high prices.

Each is offered in four different colours, with Apple offering Rose Gold in addition to the familiar Silver, Gold and Space Grey.

Microsoft has chosen similar hues Platinum (silver) and Graphite Gold, with Burgundy and Cobalt Blue for the other two.

In the UK only Platinum is currently available, but you can pre-order the Core i5 / 8GB / 256GB model in the other colours.

The MacBook has an all-aluminium chassis and the design is hard to fault. We can easily criticise the lack of ports – a single USB-C is not going to be enough for a lot of people and although adaptors are readily available, these add cost and are inconvenient.

But in terms of build and how it looks, we do love the MacBook.

Microsoft has clearly taken some inspiration from it for the Surface Laptop. It was keen to point out at its launch that the joins are seamless and that “you won’t find a single screw or fastener… anywhere”.

Some have bemoaned the fact Alcantara has been used as the cover for the keyboard deck. A material more commonly associated with car seats, it’s soft and good quality but does mark easily and will likely become grubby since you’re resting your palms on it, if not your fingertips.

What about specs and features?

Here’s how the two laptops compare on their main specifications:

 

Microsoft Surface Laptop

Apple MacBook

Operating system

Windows 10 S

macOS Sierra

Display

13.5in, 2256 x 1504, 201ppi

12in, 2305 x 1440 pixels, 226ppi

Touchscreen

Yes

No

Processor

Intel Core i5 / Core i7

Intel Core m3 or Core i5

GPU

Intel HD 620 (i5) or Iris Plus Graphics 640 (i7)

Intel HD Graphics 615

RAM

4, 8 or 16GB

8GB

Storage

128GB, 256GB, or 512GB

256GB or 512GB

Colours

Burgundy, Platinum, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold

Rose Gold, Space Grey, Gold, Silver

Connectivity

USB 3.0, 3.5mm jack, mini DisplayPort, SurfaceConnect

USB-C, 3.5mm jack

Wireless

802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Battery

Non-removable. Up to 14.5 hours

Non-removable. Up to 11 hours

Dimensions

308 x 223.2 x 14.5 mm

280.5 x 196.5 x 13.1mm

Weight

1.25kg

0.92kg

In June Apple updated its MacBook to the latest Kaby Lake processors, which was previously the main difference between it and the Surface Laptop.

However, with the MacBook offering the m3 and i5, and the Surface Laptop the i5 and i7, Microsoft's laptop stands to offer a bit more grunt. There should be plenty of performance for whatever you need to do.

And while you may already be aware that Windows 10 S allows you to install apps solely from the Windows Store, you’ve always got the option to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. This is free until 31 December 2017, and will cost £50 after that.

The MacBook runs macOS Sierra (with a free upgrade to High Sierra later this year) and while this means it can’t run any Windows apps, there are of course many popular apps available on both platforms.

Add in web-based services and macOS is really only limited in the choice of games compared to Windows. And neither of these is really designed for gaming.

We’ll have to wait until we can benchmark the Core i7 Surface Laptop, but it does benefit from Iris Plus Graphics 640, which could well be able to handle some of the latest titles, albeit not at the screen’s native resolution we suspect.

Which operating system you prefer is down to you, and which apps you need to run.

Microsoft said at the Surface Laptop’s launch that the Core i5 version was 50 percent faster than the Core i7 MacBook Air, and it’s likely to be an even bigger percentage quicker than the Core m3-equipped MacBook.

Both laptops have backlit keyboards, but Apple doesn't offer a UK layout. Traditionally, Microsoft has offered different layouts for different regions and languages, with specific UK layout keyboards for Surface Pro tablets. We've not had confirmation that the Surface Laptop will be the same, but we'd be surprised if it wasn't the same.

The MacBook has its clever Force Touch trackpad which lets you use different amounts of pressure depending on what you're trying to achieve. Plus, multi-finger gestures let you zoom and scroll just like on a touchscreen.

Which has the best screen?

One of the biggest differences aside from performance is the display. The MacBook has a 12in IPS screen which makes it smaller than the 13.5in Surface Laptop. Resolutions are similar, though, which means the Surface has a slightly lower pixel density.

It’s not so low you’ll wish you’d chosen the MacBook and also has the benefit of being a touchscreen. That’s impressive given the screen is just 3.5mm thick – it’s currently the thinnest laptop touchscreen in existence.

It also works with the Surface Pen – the stylus bundled with Microsoft’s Surface tablets - so you can draw, annotate and sketch. That won’t be a killer feature for everyone, but for some people it will be a deal-maker and a key reason to choose the Surface Laptop over a MacBook.

You don’t get a Surface Pen with the laptop, though.

Microsoft Surface Laptop: Specs

  • Windows 10 S with option to switch to Windows 10 Pro for free until Dec 31, 2017
  • Includes 1 year of Office 365 Personal
  • 13.5 in PixelSense Display, 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI), aspect ratio 3:2, 3.4 million pixels
  • Surface Pen enabled
  • 10-point multi-touch
  • Corning Gorilla Glass
  • 7th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
  • 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB RAM
  • 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD
  • Intel HD 620 (i5)/Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 (i7
  • ) 720p HD camera (front-facing)
  • Stereo microphones
  • Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • USB 3.0
  • mini DisplayPort
  • Surface Connect
  • Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Up to 14.5 hours video playback
  • 308.02 mm x 223.20 mm x 14.47 mm
  • 1.25 kg
  • Ambient light sensor
  • 1-year limited hardware warranty
  • Windows 10 S with option to switch to Windows 10 Pro for free until Dec 31, 2017
  • Includes 1 year of Office 365 Personal
  • 13.5 in PixelSense Display, 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI), aspect ratio 3:2, 3.4 million pixels
  • Surface Pen enabled
  • 10-point multi-touch
  • Corning Gorilla Glass
  • 7th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
  • 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB RAM
  • 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD
  • Intel HD 620 (i5)/Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 (i7
  • ) 720p HD camera (front-facing)
  • Stereo microphones
  • Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • USB 3.0
  • mini DisplayPort
  • Surface Connect
  • Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Up to 14.5 hours video playback
  • 308.02 mm x 223.20 mm x 14.47 mm
  • 1.25 kg
  • Ambient light sensor
  • 1-year limited hardware warranty

OUR VERDICT

It’s rare to have a clear winner in a versus battle, but in this case the Surface Laptop gets our vote over the MacBook. Partly it’s because Apple’s laptop uses a less powerful CPU, but it’s also because even the entry-level Surface Book has a sensible specification. Plus it has more ports and a touchscreen and you can upgrade to ‘proper’ Windows if you want to. Sure, it may lack USB-C, but that’s its only real flaw.