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Apple MacBook (2015) vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Which should you buy?

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Apple MacBook (2015) vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Is the new MacBook a better option than the Surface Pro 3? We compare the two.

If you’re looking for a laptop that can go anywhere with you, two of the best options right now are Apple’s brand-new 12-inch MacBook and Microsoft’s hybrid Surface Pro 3.

Both are slim, light, pack gorgeous displays, some interesting hardware additions and enough power to do the majority of tasks you’ll need them to do.

While the MacBook is a laptop in the traditional sense, the Surface Pro 3 is a kickstand-toting tablet that you pair with a keyboard. Some might say it’s the best of both worlds, others might say it masters neither.

Let’s take a deeper look and see which one is worth spending your money on.

SEE ALSO: Best Laptops, Ultrabooks and Hybrids

When were the latest versions announced?

Buying a pricey piece of tech months after launch always leads to the inevitable thought, ‘when’s the next one going to come out? The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is already well into its lifecycle, so those questions are definitely worth considering if you’re looking to pick up the tablet/laptop hybrid.

Before the Surface Pro 3, the Pro 2 was released in October 2013 and the original device was available to buy in February 2013. That’s three devices in little over two years. We wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft stuck to a summer release this year and used the Surface Pro 4, if one is in fact coming, to launch the new Windows 10 update in July.

The MacBook on the other hand is brand-new, so new it’s still quite hard to get hold of. We wouldn’t bet on an updated model seeing the light of day until a similar time next year, though there could always be a slight processor bump later on in 2015.

SEE ALSO: MacBook (2015) vs MacBook Air

New MacBook 15

The Surface Pro is more powerful than the MacBook

Considering the Surface Pro 3 is a tablet, it might be surprising to hear that it packs a more powerful set of internals than the MacBook.

Powering the Surface Pro is one of Intel’s 4th generation Core chipsets, you can choose either the 1.5 GHz i3, 1.9 GHz i5 or beefy 1.7 Ghz i7 versions, with prices rising as you go. As the Surface Pro 3 is in the middle of its lifespan, these aren’t the latest ‘Broadwell’ processors, but the ‘Haswell’ models from last year.

Things are much simpler on the MacBook front, with just two configurations available and an extra boost available if required. Apple has decided to use Intel’s Core M CPU for the new MacBook, which ditches the need for a fan and allows the laptop to be much lighter and thinner.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The base model comes with a 1.1GHz dual-core processor, while the slightly speedier version increases that to 1.2GHz. You will also be able to upgrade to a 1.3 GHz version. Paired with the CPU on the MacBook is 8GB RAM as standard and either a 256GB or 512GB SSD, depending on the which model you choose.

As you might have guessed, there’s a lot more choice when it comes to the Surface Pro 3. Starting at 4GB RAM with either a 64GB or 128 GB SSD, you can increase the RAM and storage significantly to 8GB and either 265GB or 512GB.

As it’s using fully-powered Intel processors, the Surface Pro 3 comes out on top in terms of performance. Well, to rephrase that, our review unit that we used for this comparison came out on top. We were using an i5 version with 8GB RAM which, when you include the keyboard, is about £100 cheaper than the MacBook.

That’s not to say performance on the MacBook is bad, because it really isn’t. It’s snappy in general use - browsing, typing, streaming HD video and even basic photo editing didn’t cause any problems. We wouldn’t advise trying to edit video though, that’s really where this machine falls down.

Neither machine has a dedicated graphics card, the MacBook uses the Intel HD Graphics 5300 while the Surface Pro 3 packs a different one for each of the available models. The Core i3 model has Intel an HD 4200 card, the HD 4400 sits in the i5 version and there’s the HD 5000 in the i7. So while simple gaming isn’t completely out of the question, you won’t be cranking up the graphics and performance with either of these.

The MacBook has a slight resolution advantage, but no multi-touch

While these two devices might be very different in a number of areas, screen size is not one of them as they both only have one option - 12-inches. On the Surface Pro 3 that display carries the ClearType Full HD Plus branding, which basically means it looks sharp, vivid and possesses impressive viewing angles along with the a resolution of 2160x1440.

SEE ALSO: Surface Pro 3 vs MacBook Air

New MacBook 21

The MacBook Air always had to make do without a Retina display, but the new MacBook doesn’t. The 2304x1440 LED backlit IPS display matches up to other laptops in Apple’s line-up and it’s gorgeous. Sharp, rich and colourful with fantastic contrast that produces inky blacks.

But, there’s one thing that sets these two high-res displays apart, the one on the Surface Pro 3 is touch enabled, so you can scroll around with your finger. Microsoft also bundles a digital stylus with the device, which has some nifty palm blocking tech for accurate doodles.

Steve Jobs may have famously professed that ‘if you see a stylus, they blew it’ but we actually feel it’s a nice addition to the Surface line. It’s great for simple things like jotting down notes, but also for more in-depth tasks like Photoshop work.

Size differences

If you’re looking for a go everywhere device that is as comfortable plugged into the monitor on your desk as it is tucked into your messenger bag, both the MacBook and the Surface Pro 3 are great choices.

We’ve already mentioned this, but the MacBook is Apple’s thinnest and lightest laptop ever, taking the crown from the MacBook Air. This size shrinkage is not only down to the new Intel Core M processor, but also a new layered battery design that fits more cells in a smaller space.

The MacBook tips the scales at just 0.92kg, but the Surface Pro 3 is actually a bit lighter at just 0.8kg, though this is without the keyboard attached. Dimensions wise the Surface again comes in slightly larger, measuring in at 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36-inches, compared to 11.04 x 7.74 x 0.52-inches for the MacBook.

Another important feature for any laptop, especially portable ones like these, is having a great keyboard to type on. The MacBook keeps a full-size keyboard, but Apple has created a new ‘Butterfly’ mechanism that decreases the amount of space needed for each key. You’ve also got an individual LED backlight under every button, giving a much more even light everywhere.

Apple’s keyboards have long been some of the best in the business. The chiclet style is a pleasure to type on and there’s normally plenty of traction in the keys to give it a satisfying ‘click’ as you tap down. With the changes this time around, there’s definitely not as much travel in the keys. That makes them a little flat to type on and it’s certainly something you will have to get used to. Once you’re up to speed though, it’s another impressive keyboard.

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Moving on to the Surface 3 Pro and its keyboard is also sort of unique, in the sense that it detaches from the display and acts as a screen cover. It’s also not actually included with the Surface Pro 3, so you’ll need to spend £109.99 to get one.

The detachable aspect is great, but the keyboard itself is far from perfect. The keys are packed very tightly together, due to the sheer thinness of the thing, so mistakes and typos can often be commonplace. It is backlit though and comes in a range of nice colours.

Surface Pro 3 49

The keyboard also has a trackpad, which is fairly mundane when you compare it to the all singing, all dancing Force Touch, pressure sensitive trackpad on the MacBook that replaces an actual key press with a haptic vibration. There’s also the kickstand to take into consideration too. It’s the final piece of the Surface Pro 3 that really takes it out of tablet territory and into the laptop space. You have full control over the angle and unlike previous models it can actually be used on your lap.

Battery life is on par

These ultra-portable, chuck-it-in-your-bag type devices need killer battery life. We’d even like to be able to leave the bulky charging bricks at home and happily sit in a dark corner of Starbucks all day without worrying about hitting the red. That’s the dream, anyway.

In reality, both the Surface Pro 3 and Apple’s MacBook don’t miss the mark by much. While the Surface Pro has suffered from poor battery life in the past, the latest model manages about nine hours - as long as you’re not doing anything overly intensive. That’s enough to get you though most of the working day, but not much more beyond.

Surface Pro 3 47

Apple’s MacBook, in our tests, fell just short of the Surface Pro 3 in terms of battery, but it was a closely fought thing. We managed to get eight hours of juice before we were forced to reach for the USB-C charging cable. Again, that will probably get you through the day, but it makes for a nervous final hour as you hit the red.

We were impressed with how efficient the MacBook was when streaming video though, as a hour lunchtime Netflix break only chewed through 9%.

Connectivity is more plentiful on the Surface Pro 3….But USB Type-C is a big deal

As the Surface Pro 3 is essentially a tablet that thinks it’s a laptop, it’s far from the most port heavy machine on the market. There’s a single USB 3.0 port, a Mini Display Port for video output and a MicroSD card reader, alongside the ubiquitous headphone jack, a port for connecting up that keyboard and a slot for the charger.

For a tablet it’s plentiful, not so much for a laptop.

SEE ALSO: What is USB-C?

However, if you thought that was light, check out the MacBook’s port list. One USB Type-C connector and a headphone jack. That’s it.

While we’ve covered this new port in-depth in our MacBook vs MacBook Air comparison, the short version is that this USB connector (based on USB 3.1) can do everything those other ports can. So it’ll charge and power your laptop, pump out the display to a monitor and transfer data. It’s a reversible plug too, so you can jam the cable in either way and it’ll work.

We certainly agree that USB-C is the future - Android M works natively with the new connection - but having just one port on the MacBook just feels a bit restrictive.

You can’t charge the laptop and have it connected to an external monitor without a rather pricey dongle and if you’re on-the-go a lot and need to connect up a camera or charge your phone another accessory is needed.

Both machines boast plenty of wireless tech, including Bluetooth 4.0 and AC Wi-Fi.

SEE ALSO: Best OSX Yosemite Tips and Tricks

OSX vs Windows

The biggest difference between these two devices is the operating system they run. While the Surface Pro 3 runs Windows 8.1 Pro out of the box, the MacBook is powered by Apple’s latest iteration of OS X, Yosemite.

The Surface Pro 3 won’t be running 8.1 for long though, as Windows 10 is coming on July 29 (there’s a preview build available now) and that’s a pretty big overhaul, especially for hybrid devices like this. Cortana is now up and running - so you can have a chat with your laptop - and it brings back the Start menu, but makes it resizable and a place to store your Live Tiles.

SEE ALSO: What's new in OSX EL Capitan?

OS X Yosemite

Similarly, Apple has announced the follow-up to Yosemite - El Capitan. We compare this to the jump between Leopard and Snow Leopard, so completely new features are missed out and replaced by lots of under the hood tinkering to make everything run faster. El Capitan is landing as a public beta in July and we should see a full release sometime in October.

OS X is still the more lightweight of the two, but Windows isn’t quite the butt of all jokes it was during the Windows Vista period.

Which should you buy?

The MacBook is an interesting addition to Apple's laptop line-up. It’s got the looks and the sleek finish, but it's pricey and it lacks the grunt to be considered a professional machine. You also need to take into consideration the port situation - are you happy with just one? Do you have mind having to buy a load of extras to use your kit?

It’s a different story with the Surface 3 Pro though. The screen is fantastic, it works just as well as being both a laptop and a tablet, the digital pen is great and it feels like a flagship product. We love it. The only issue is the lifespan, it’s already been out for a while and a new model could be just a few months out.

You can also pick up the base model of the Surface Pro 3 for just £659, though this rises a lot if you want more power and of course you’ve got the added cost of the keyboard to take into account too. The MacBook starts at £1,049 with 8GB RAM and a 256 SSD, for a comparable price you can get a Surface Pro with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD.

Both devices are portable wonders, perfect for on-the-go work due to their light weight and slim builds. But, neither are built for gaming, or running intensive applications, so compromises need to be made.

Related : Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

torjs99

March 18, 2015, 11:18 am

24 inch surface would be great

coip

March 18, 2015, 12:54 pm

I'd rather have the 84-inch one: http://www.engadget.com/2015/0...

pimlicosound

March 18, 2015, 2:43 pm

"Windows isn’t quite the butt of all jokes it was during the Windows 7 period."

I think Windows was the butt of jokes during the Windows Vita and Windows 8 periods. The Windows 7 era was the one time in recent memory when Windows was taken seriously and had many enthusiast supporters.

Prem Desai

March 18, 2015, 9:10 pm

Nonsensical comparison.

The surface is a tablet that can be used as a tablet or a laptop.

The MacBook air is a laptop that can only be used as a laptop.

TheConciseStatement

March 18, 2015, 10:29 pm

I personally feel the new MacBook will be the best all-in-one solution in terms of portability and typing experience. It's worth stressing again that the SP keyboard is a hefty additional cost, yet every review basically says you should have it, while conceding it's still fairly awkward to sit with.

The bigger picture of course is that we should be sceptical of this supposed thinness revolution. Just like television displays, they're only achieving this by unpacking some of the essential technology. In the first case, tiny subpar speakers, and in this case, by removing optical drives and ports. Don't know about you guys but that's a triumph of design over functionality in my book. Why is that a good thing?

lovethetech

March 18, 2015, 10:42 pm

Do not insult Surface Pro by comparing it with MacNETbook with a mobile processor and 420p cam in 2015 for a price tag of 1299$. Also watch this video and it will help you https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

TheConciseStatement

March 19, 2015, 12:19 am

A better comparison would be with the XPS which has gotten some rave reviews over the years, including for its thin and light design.

RickJJ

March 19, 2015, 2:33 am

Very good article but BIG miss on your battery claims for the Surface 3 Pro...I have one and it's lucky to get 4-5 hours of battery life. Apple's estimates are generally accurate (I really did get 10+ hours with my old MacBook Air) so the new MacBook will probably be nearly double the battery life of the Surface.

It's too bad Microsoft can't optimize its OS for battery life like Apple did - maybe it will with Windows 10 (but I'm not holding my breath).

Manzoor E Elahi

March 19, 2015, 4:20 am

With all respect to OSX, absolutely nobody should by the new MacBook. Surface Pro 3 wins by default. This would be a more taxing question if the comparison was against Mac Air, but with it's age old specs it'd have little chance.

Hamish Campbell

March 19, 2015, 1:18 pm

'The MacBook starts at £1,049 with 8GB RAM and a 256 SSD, for a comparable price you can get a Surface Pro with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD.'

So the prices are surprisingly similar. I'm guessing the new core-m is a bit pricey as it's so new so on par with i7's?

fast_call

March 19, 2015, 2:09 pm

Please keep in mind that the MacBook uses Intel's new 5th generation "Broadwell" processors, which bring solid improvements to battery life. It would be fair to compare it to the (yet to be released) Surface Pro 4, which will surely use the same processor family.

mothergoose85

March 19, 2015, 3:43 pm

I think you mean "(yet to be announced) Surface Pro 4"?

You're right though either way - there's also the fact that the Surface Pro has a touch screen and a pen, all things that use up some juice.

Comic BookGuy

March 20, 2015, 8:22 pm

I believe the core-m is way slower than an i7, they just take way less power.

Kullman_

April 10, 2015, 11:50 am

You can find 600$ tablets with the Core-M, so what's pricey is not the CPU, but the computer.

If Apple ever sells a car, and release a Volkswagen Golf for the price of a Ferrari... you should say... price is surprisingly similar with the Ferrari... i guess the Golf motor is pricey...

Kullman_

April 10, 2015, 11:58 am

You are missing the point pal...

You are comparing a Core i7 CPU to a Core-M CPU, and the power consumption is quite different.

Kullman_

April 10, 2015, 12:01 pm

¿What about the LG UltraPC 13Z940?

fast_call

April 10, 2015, 12:49 pm

Pal, if you make an effort to read again carefully (it's only two sentences) you will notice I am talking about the new 5th generation/family of processors (Broadwell -- on a new 14nm process), not stating they use the same models.

I am fully aware that Macbooks use the Core-M and Surface uses a more powerful (and more energy-hungry) Core-i, but my point still stands, I think: the 5th generation (Broadwell) Intel Core processors do bring power consumption improvements across all models so the next Surface should benefit from this, once it switches to it.

Kullman_

April 11, 2015, 8:33 am

If you compare a Core i7 Haswell with a Core i7 Broadwell and you will see the power consumption is almost exactly the same.

The point here is than the Core-i7 requires three times more power than the Core-M, and that's why battery life is better on the Macbook than on the Surface 3 Pro.

n11

April 16, 2015, 4:26 pm

Hardly, the i7 blows the Core M out of the water. Core M is efficient, but isn't much of a work-horse when compared to any i3/5/7 series.

Michael

April 24, 2015, 6:29 pm

I got mine for £1.079 which is the i5 with 8GB RAM and 256 SSD, so this is not really accurate..check your sources!

Erique Lamont

May 24, 2015, 9:58 am

Another piece of Apple junk for the fanboys...I was a fanboy until a while back, Apple are building pricey inferior products, with shorter lifespans...this latest abortion says all I need to know.

Apple notebook users have been saying for years about increasing connectivity, I am writing this on a 2006 MBP it has two USB-2 ports [four if I insert my ExpressCard 32 USB-3 card], mic in, headphone, Firewire 400, Firewire 800, Ethernet and DVI out. Contrast that to my 2012 13" MBP -non-Retina- two USB-3 ports so close together most devices I used happily on my 2006 MBP won't fit -so I need to take a hub everywhere, one Firewire 800, one Thunderbolt, Ethernet, mic and headphone...already a reduction in usable ports.

Then look at the latest equivalent MBP 13" model with two USB-3, two Thunderbolt, mic and headphone. Apple are making smaller devices BUT you need another bag of dongles, cables and adaptors to do any serious use with them.

Now look at the abortion that is the new Macbook, ONE port, a single port to either charge the thing or connect a USB device such as a graphics tablet -which I do use. The alternative being buying yet another piece of kit that allows you to charge and use the USB at the same time. Am I on crazy pills?

Add the lack of useful functionality, and a very basic hardware set, with the fact that the latest Macbook, and its siblings Air and Pro, are virtually unrepairable, with their glued in batteries and soldered in memory lol Take this 2006 MBP, over its lifespan I replaced one ram stick because one went bad -and in fact this upgraded it from 2 to 3 GB- and I bought a replacement battery about two years ago, BOTH events that would mean a modern MBP would be SCRAPPED!!!!

At a stroke Apple has reduced the usable lifespan of these things to about four to five years, if you are lucky, and you can only get their support for the first three years -and two of those you have to pay £200 to get lol

They also forget that many adopters upgrade by selling on their old Macbooks, but the resale of the newer models is dropping compared to the older models -look on ebay, a a standard 2012 MBP sells higher than a 2012 Retina does...the word is out.

Sure, most Apple fanboys have money to waste, and don't care if the thing collapses after a year or two, BUT, Apple claim to be a green company lol

Expensive junk for gullible idiots.

Erique Lamont

May 24, 2015, 10:02 am

LMAO yes, Apple would be selling a VW Golf, claim the headlights are a new innovation, take the paint off and give a bare metal finish, then stick a picture of a part eaten Apple on the grill and sell it for the price of a Bentley -sad thing is, the fanboys will still buy it because "It is Apple"...lol

Erique Lamont

May 24, 2015, 10:25 am

The new Macbook is junk, it is but a Netbook, look at its connectivity, you have a choice to use the USB for something useful, or charge the thing -unless you spend MORe money on a 'dongle' that allows both. Pathetic.

In fact, I am doing Netbooks/Chromebooks a disservice, they have better connectivity, and you can use any USB socket they have WHILE charging the device without carting around yet another piece of kit.

The thinness revolution is stupid, when I'm away I watch DVDs a lot, and Apple would either have me buy an external DVD drive or buy ALL my films again from their store -some films are not at their store.

This old 2006 MBP I a using today -my favourite Mac of all time- I have watched a DVD using the DVI port, whilst connecting a graphics tablet to a usb and working using the display, with Time Machine backing up on my firewire port, and another machine connected to my Ethernet port for file sharing.

Using a modern MBP, I'd need to buy an external DVD player, an adaptor for Thunderbolt to firewire and another for Thunderbolt to Ethernet...although the HDMI port should only need a cable...and this is the company of innovation?

Even budget Windoze notebooks have better connectivity than the best Macbooks...

Then we have the 'most advanced operating system in the world' -essentially claiming someone else's hard work in UNIX as their own- an operating system so advanced that its in built Time Machine will -for no reason- stop backing up your computer. Yep, that's right, it was the last straw with me and Apple...I just happened to look up a file on my Time Machine backup and realized the last backup was 6 days ago, when I had been using it every day. No warning about it, it just decided it didn't want to backup anymore. Even a chats with Apple ''geniuses'' didn't resolve it, no matter what was done the MBP put the main drive in the "Do Not Backup" list...imagine if I had a month's worth of important information and the SSD died? Luckily I always have other backups...but many don't, they believe Apple's bull about how reliable Mac Os X is with its built in backup software....Apple never mentions this issue BUT it is not unknown to them.

...and what genius decided to make wifi the main connectivity for all the Macbook ranges, then cover the thing in aluminum, making it almost like a Faraday cage? My partner's Chromebook has at least twice the range from our router as does any of my Macs...

Colm O'Connor

June 11, 2015, 3:35 pm

No one here seems to get this new MacBook, My wife has a 2014 Air, if she wants to show something on the big screen, she uses airplay, if she wants to watch a movie, she streams from Netflix. file transfer is done wirelessly. Nothing but the charger cable is ever plugged in.
Apple knows their customers, they're not trying to sell this to hardcore gamers or IT professionals. This is for trendy college students to take notes and watch Netflix, for housewives (or houseguys) to look for recipies and post stuff to pintrest . I saw a student last week use her MacBook air as a makeshift umbrella to protect her hair....There is your target, and considering that, the MacBook is perfect.

Paul

June 11, 2015, 4:11 pm

smells like an apple victory

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