Recently a friend of mine came to me and asked me what kind of laptop he should get. My friend is an iPhone user, but had traditionally used Windows PCs. He loves his iPhone and was seriously thinking about making the jump to Mac due to the company’s just-released upgraded MacBook with Retina display.
However, he really likes the idea of having a tablet hybrid, so was also thinking about getting Microsoft’s Surface Book (the iPad Pro was out of the question as he wanted a device that runs a full desktop OS). His predicament got us thinking about how the two devices compare, so without further ado, we put a Surface Book and a MacBook (2016 model) head to head to see how they stack up against the other.
Surface Book vs MacBook (2016): Specs
Microsoft's Surface Book
Display: 13.5in PixelSense display, 3000 x 2000 (267 PPI) resolution
Design: Hybrid laptop with detachable keyboard
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB
CPU: Intel Core i5 or i7
RAM: 8GB or 16GB
Ports: 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, Surface Connect, headphone jack, mini DisplayPort
Apple MacBook (2016)
Display: 12in display, 2304 x 1440 (266 PPI) resolution
Design: traditional laptop
Storage: 256GB or 512GB
CPU: Intel Core m3 or m5
Ports: 1 USB-C, headphone jack
Surface Book vs MacBook (2016): Storage, CPU, and RAM
Just looking at the raw specs of the two devices, the Surface Book has more generous offerings. First, the Surface Book comes in 128, 256, and 512GB SSD offerings, while the new 2016 MacBook only comes in 256 and 512GB flavors. That’s not too big of a deal, but the lower 128GB Surface Book offering is nice for people who live in the cloud. The Surface Book also offers either 8 or 16GB of RAM; the MacBook only offers 8GB (there’s no choice for an upgrade). As for processors, Apple stuck the lower-powered Core M series into the MacBook—a weird choice since the MacBook is a traditional laptop (more so than the Surface Book is). The Surface Book, on the other hand, gets the higher powered Core I series chips.
Surface Book vs MacBook (2016): Display and form factor
Of course the biggest differences between the two are their form factors. Hands down on the design front the MacBook wins here. It’s just so slim and sexy looking and its choices of colors (black, silver, gold, and the new amazing Rose gold) are all beautiful. The Surface Book, on the other hand, doesn’t look near as slim or sexy.
However, the Surface Book is a hybrid, so that means it’s display is a full-blown tablet and its bottom keyboard is detachable. This means you can use the Surface Book as a regular laptop or a keyboard-less tablet. What it lacks in design, it makes up for in function. Given that the Surface Book is also a tablet, that means you can interact with it not just via keyboard and mouse, but via touch or stylus too. The MacBook offers no touchscreen or stylus support.
As for the display technology, the Surface Book offers the better display coming in at 13.5in and a 3000 x 2000 (267 PPI) resolution. The 12in MacBook display is still a Retina display but its resolution maxes out at 2304 x 1440 (266 PPI).
Surface Book vs MacBook (2016): Ports
And now we come to…the part APPLE MESSED UP ON. As beautiful as the new MacBook is, it has been (rightfully) slighted in the press because of its lack of ports. The MacBook comes with a single USB-C port. While we commend Apple for embracing the future of USB, the fact that they put only one port on this beautiful laptop really kills it. It would be different if the MacBook had a dedicated charging port, but Apple has done away with that too, opting to charge through the USB-C port. This means if you have an USB device plugged into your MacBook, you can’t charge it at the same time.
The Surface Book on the other hand is packed with most ports you’ll need. You get TWO USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, a mini DisplayPort, and a Surface Connect, which is where the keyboard plugs in. Both devices have a headphone jack too.
Surface Book vs MacBook (2016): Operating system
Both devices run the latest OSes. The MacBook runes the latest OS X and the Surface Book runs the latest Windows 10 Pro.
Surface Book vs MacBook (2016): Price and verdict
The MacBook comes in two options: £1049 (256GB storage) and £1299 (512GB storage and *slightly* faster processor). The Surface Book comes in four options starting at £1299 (128GB storage/8GB RAM) and goes all the way up to £2249 (512GB storage/16GB RAM). But the various prices aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison since the tech inside is so different.
Let me be clear: there is no easy choice. No one device wins here. The MacBook is an excellent laptop for someone who loves OS X and just needs a light device to send emails, do basic photo editing, and browse the web. But it's hindered FOR SOME PRO USERS by its lack of ports and no option to upgrade the RAM.
The Surface Book is an excellent hybrid. It’s a great laptop AND tablet. However, I would stress that it's ONLY for people who want a hybrid–ie: they use both devices frequently. If you’re just looking for a Windows laptop, there are plenty of cheaper and better options available.