Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro: Should you go Apple or Microsoft?
Apple has ruled the laptop market for years with its imperious MacBook range, and the current top dog is the MacBook Pro.
But in recent years, Microsoft has swept in with the biggest challenge to Apple’s authority yet in the shape of the Surface Pro family – and the Surface Pro 4 is the best iteration yet.
We thought it high time that we pitch the latest and greatest models of both against each other. So, which is better, the Surface Pro 4 or the MacBook Pro?
We’re going for the most direct comparison possible here, so we’re considering the 13-inch model of the MacBook Pro – which, fittingly enough, was the first to receive Apple’s latest batch of improvements.
Related: Everything you need to know about the Microsoft Surface Pro 5
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Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro: Design
Surface Pro 4: Magnesium casing, 292.1 x 201.4 x 8.4mm, 786g, 1 x USB 3.0, microSD slot, 3.5mm headphone port, Mini DisplayPort
MacBook Pro: 314 x 219 x 18mm, 1.58 kg, Native Mini DisplayPort, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, SDXC slot, 3.5mm headphone port, 2 x Thunderbolt 2
We take it for granted now, but the MacBook Pro was a bit of a design pioneer when it first turned up a few years ago. Here was a top-end laptop that didn’t feature a physical disc drive.
Now, of course, it’s very common for a new laptop to omit physical media in the interest of remaining compact and efficient. It’s led directly to the possibility of smaller hybrid designs such as the Surface Pro 4.
The MacBook Pro remains a hugely influential and timeless design, with its all-metal body both appealing to the touch and ever-robust.
From the front, the Surface Pro 4 looks like nothing other than the screen section of the MacBook removed from its keyboard. However, from the side and back it’s very much its own device.
It has has a solid, premium all-metal build that could accurately be described as post-MacBook, but it has a distinctively angular look that has attracted widespread praise. You also get the Surface Pro 4’s signature kickstand, which can see it deployed at various angles.
Of course, some would argue that the Surface Pro 4’s design is fundamentally flawed as a laptop. It’s definitely trickier to use on your lap than the MacBook Pro, despite its smaller and significantly lighter dimensions.
And this highlights the fact that there’s a massive difference in design philosophy here. The MacBook Pro is a traditional laptop, whereas the Surface Pro 4 represents a new kind of hybrid device that combines laptop functionality with tablet accessibility.
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This does has some knock-on effects in the MacBook Pro’s favour. For example, it is much better connected than the Surface, with double the USB ports, a handy HDMI output, and a full-sized SD card slot – the benefits of having a permanently attached keyboard.
Of course, if you want to throw your laptop in a back and dash off, the Surface Pro 4 is considerably more portable.
Related: Surface Book vs MacBook
Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro: Display
Surface Pro 4: 12.3-inch PixelTouch display, 2736 x 1824 resolution, 267ppi
MacBook Pro: 13.3 inch IPS LCD, 2560 x 1600 resolution, 227ppi
Though there’s a fundamental difference in design, the screen dimensions of these two devices aren’t all that far off. The MacBook Pro’s 13.3-inch screen is just an inch bigger than the Surface Pro 4’s.
Despite having the smaller screen, however, the Microsoft device manages to pack more pixels in: 2736 x 1824 versus 2560 x 1600. This results in a considerably more pixel-dense picture of 267ppi against the MacBook’s 227ppi.
Related: iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4
As well as being sharp, we found the Surface Pro 4 display to cover 96.2% of the sRGB spectrum. It’s pretty darned accurate.
Of course, the MacBook Pro continues to offer one of the better laptop displays on the market. What’s more, its 16:10 aspect ratio is arguably better suited to media than the Surface Pro 4’s 3:2 equivalent.
Ultimately, though, both screens are among the best in the business, and there should be few complaints with either.
Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro: Power
Surface Pro 4: 6th gen Intel m3 / i5 / i7 CPU, 4GB / 8GB / 16GB RAM
MacBook Pro: 5th gen Intel i5 / i7, 8GB / 16GB RAM
Microsoft employs the newer sixth generation of Intel processors in the Surface Pro 4, while the MacBook Pro is still on the fifth generation. This doesn’t make a huge difference in purely practical terms, however.
We reviewed equivalent models of the two devices – both with i5 CPUs and 8GB of RAM. We got broadly the same benchmark results, with a Geekbench 3 multi-core score of 7,010 for the MacBook and 6,727 for the Surface Pro 4.
However, the Surface Pro 4 has the slightly more modern and capable Intel HD graphics 520 on board, which slightly outclasses the Intel Iris 6100 of the MacBook Pro. You wouldn’t use either as a gaming machine, however.
It’s worth pointing out that the MacBook Pro range starts with a much more capable entry-level model – the aforementioned i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. The entry-level Surface Pro 4, meanwhile, comes with a much less capable Intel m3 CPU and just 4GB of RAM.
Both max out with an i7 CPU and 16GB of RAM, but as mentioned, the Surface Pro 4 employs the newer Skylake chip.
Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro: Input
Surface Pro 4: Optional Type Cover, Surface Pen
MacBook Pro: Keyboard, Force Touch trackpad
We’ve discussed the fundamental difference in design principle and purpose between these two devices, and that difference is seen most strongly in the input options.
The MacBook Pro is a traditional laptop, and it offers a pretty much unmatched typing experience on its full-size qwerty keyboard. Apple has set the standard for key quality and layout, and noone has bested it in years.
Microsoft certainly hasn’t with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, but that’s kind of inevitable. The Surface doesn’t come with a physical keyboard as standard – you have to buy one separately, and these double as lightweight covers.
The trackpads on these covers also don’t hold a candle to the MacBook Pro experience – especially not with its new Force Touch capability.
This means that the MacBook’s touchpad is responsive to pressure as well as movement. The application of this hasn’t been fully exploited as yet, but it does open up a new world of analogue possibilities and additional control shortcuts.
Of course, one massive input method the Surface Pro boasts is a multitouch touchscreen. After all, it’s just as much a tablet as a laptop.
There’s much to be said for touch input when it comes to navigating through photos and web pages. It lends a level of intuitiveness that the old-fashioned MacBook can’t match.
With the Surface Pro 4 you also get a Surface Pen – a stylus that opens up a new world of sketching and annotating capabilities. The MacBook Pro offers no such tool, unless you plug in a specialist graphics tablet – and even then the potential for usage is limited.
Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro: Software
Surface Pro 4: Windows 10 Pro
MacBook Pro: OS X 10.11
The old question ‘are you Mac or PC?’ can just as easily be rephrased ‘are you OS X or Windows.’ For all the fancy hardware on both sides, it ultimately comes down to software.
OS X has arguably had bragging rights over Windows in recent years, with false turns like Windows Vista and Windows 8 marking wrong turns in terms of design and implementation.
Windows 10 feels like a return to form, with a much cleaner implementation of some of Windows 8’s more positive ideas.
Windows 10 and OS X 10.11 are actually more similar to one another than they’ve been in some time. Both rely on app stores, both allow for multiple desktops, and both have adopted crisply modern designs.
In Windows 10’s favour, there’s Cortana – Microsoft’s personal assitant, which has made its way over from mobile to desktop. Apple may have missed a trick in not doing the same with Siri before now.
Windows 10 is also optimised for touchscreen inputs where OS X is not, but as both of these devices are fully designed with this difference in approach at their core, it’s not really a criticism of either.
Where OS X really wins out is in its interplay with smartphones. It lets you continue web browsing sessions from iPhone to laptop and vice-versa, and to take calls and texts on your laptop.
Of course, Windows 10 has the benefit of essentially being the same OS on a smartphone as it is on a desktop, so the level of crossover has even more potential. But given that no one seems to want a Windows 10 smartphone right now, it remains just that: potential.
Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro: Storage
Surface Pro 4: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
MacBook Pro: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB
Here’s a confusing one. The MacBook Pro is a larger, more capacious device with arguably bigger potential for productivity and better suitability for power users.
And yet while its storage options appear to max out at 512GB, the Surface Pro 4 offers the potential of a 1TB SSD.
Or at least, that’s how the situation appears on the surface (pun unintended). In practice, it’s still not possible to buy a 1TB Surface Pro 4 on the Microsoft UK web store, while you can specify a 1TB SSD for the MacBook Pro as you progress through the specification options. It’ll cost you, mind.
Speaking of which…
Related: Windows 10 vs Windows 8
Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro: Price
Surface Pro 4: £749 – £1,799
MacBook Pro: £999 – £2,129
At just £749, you can join the Surface Pro 4 club for £150 less than the MacBook Pro. However, as we’ve mentioned above, there’s a major performance-based caveat.
The entry-level Surface Pro 4 is considerably less capable than the entry-level MacBook Pro at £999. To get a Surface Pro with an equivalent level of power to that entry MacBook Pro, you have to pay £1,079.
Beyond that, the top-of-the-range Surface Pro 4 will set you back £70 more than a MacBook Pro with similar specs.
What do you want to do with your laptop? You need to answer that question before you establish which of these two devices to opt for.
If you’re going to be out and about a lot, grabbing opportunities to work and browse when propped up in a bar, coffee shop, or on a train, then the Surface Pro 4 could well be the better bet.
The way it allies true laptop power and a full desktop OS with tablet intuitiveness is unmatched by any other device on the market. It’s truly liberating.
However, there’s no getting away from the fact that for pure all-day productivity and ‘power’ tasks, the MacBook Pro remains the laptop to beat. There’s just no topping its crisp typing experience, proven design, and solid-as-a-rock operating system.
If you’re an iPhone user, too, OS X grows more compelling every year.
Buy Now: MacBook Pro at Amazon.com from $1,270
What’s your choice, Surface Pro 4 or MacBook Pro? Let us know in the comments below