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MacBook Pro 2016 vs Surface Book i7: Which new laptop is best?

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New MacBook Pro 2016 vs Surface Book i7: Microsoft and Apple have two directly competing high-end laptops. We compare to see which is right for you.

Having finally gotten around to building its own laptop last year in the original Surface Book, Microsoft is back in 2016 with a subtle revision. The Surface Book i7 looks familiar, but packs a much greater punch.

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Mere days after Microsoft's announcement, Apple announced its own premium laptop overhaul. The latest MacBook Pro looks to be a considerable step forward from the previous model – but then, it needed to be. The last major Major MacBook Pro update was four years ago.

So how do Apple's and Microsoft's latest 13-inch laptops stack up, spec for spec? It's the best of macOS versus the best of Windows.

Related: All you need to know about the MacBook Pro 2016

Surface Book i7 vs MacBook Pro 2016: Design

Microsoft has stuck with exactly the same external design from last year's Surface Book. But then, that was an extremely innovative take on the laptop form factor, so it's completely understandable.

This means you get the same magnesium alloy body, and the same hinge that curls around the back, leaving the middle section of the device feeling strangely open.

Thanks to Microsoft's internal tinkering, however, it has actually added weight to the Surface Book's body. It's now around 1650g, which is a little on the tubby side – at least, compared to the new 13-inch MacBook Pro it is.

Related: Best laptops 2016

Surface

By contrast, Apple has managed to shave a large chunk off the new MacBook Pro's chassis. It weighs just 1360g, which is a lot lighter than Microsoft's latest.

That lightness is down to a completely redesigned MacBook Pro. It's all-metal (so no plastic hinge) and just 14.9mm thick. That's considerably skinnier than the 22.8mm Surface – but of course, the Surface has a trick up its sleeve.

The main reason the Surface Book i7 is so much thicker than the MacBook is that its display comes away from the keyboard base to form a 13.5-inch tablet computer. The MacBook's display is extremely thin because it doesn't house a processor or a touchscreen.

Put simply, Microsoft's design is bigger and heavier than the elegant new MacBook Pro, but it's also more versatile.

Surface Book i7 vs MacBook Pro 2016: Display

We're looking at two similarly sized screens here, though the Surface Book i7's 13.5-inch display is ever so slightly bigger than the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro.

Microsoft's machine packs in more pixels, too, with a stunning 3,000 x 2,000 pixel resolution, By contrast, Apple's laptop 'only' manages 2,560 x 1,600.

As for the quality, the Surface Book attains an Adobe RGB score of 67.6% and a contrast ratio of 1,750:1, both of which were good enough to beat the previous MacBook Pro at 60% and 1,000:1 respectively. We're not so sure it will manage to keep the new MacBook Pro at bay though.

Related: Should I upgrade to the MacBook Pro 2016?

Macbook

Apple reckons that the new screen is 67% brighter than the previous version, has a 67% higher contrast ratio, and has a 25% wider colour gamut. We'll have to wait to be sure that Apple's new laptop beats the aforementioned figures, but it's shaping up to be a truly stunning laptop display.

Of course, as already mentioned, the Surface Book benefits from touchscreen functionality, and it also comes with the Surface Pen for precise stylus control. The MacBook Pro simply can't offer such a feature.

Surface Book i7 vs MacBook Pro 2016: Power & connectivity

Both of these laptops are at the very top of the laptop power game, though you'll need to pay extra to access the true top tier with either.

The base model of the Surface Book gets you 8GB RAM and the latest Intel Core i7 processor in a quad-core configuration. The more specced out machines also come with a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M GPU, situated in the keyboard, for 1.9 teraflops of GPU performance. This means the laptop will be up to even the most intensive tasks – provided you keep it in one piece.

Apple's latest MacBook Pro offers an i5 processor as the base model, and you can also select the faster i7. They're both in a dual-core configuration, but this time it's the latest Skylake version, which brings it up to the same ballpark level as the Surface Book. You also get a choice of 8GB or 16GB RAM.

Related: MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air – what should you buy?

Macpower

The 13.3-inch MacBook Pro only offers Intel's Iris Graphics with 64MB of eDRAM. You have to step up to the 15-inch model if you want a meaty discrete GPU like the Surface Book.

In performance terms, then, the Surface Book i7 appears to have the clear edge – you'll need to go with the 15-inch MacBook if you want something with the same kind of power.

In terms of ports, the Surface Book i7 has two full size USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader, while the MacBook Pro has four USB-C standard Thunderbolt 3 ports which can all do everything: Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort, HDMI, VGI, and of course charging.

This means you won't be hooking up all of your existing devices without some new cables or adaptors, though – we're thinking in particular of those standard HDMI display connections.

Surface Book i7 vs MacBook Pro 2016: Software

You know the drill here – Apple's MacBook Pro runs macOS Sierra, while the Surface Book is powered by Windows 10. They're completely different, but it has to be said that they've grown closer in the recent updates. Both have app stores, you can set-up multiple desktops, and they look great.

Windows 10 does have Cortana in its corner though. The digital voice assistant is implemented well and most importantly it's accurate. You can perform searches with your voice, scour through all your files, and create notes. If you've already got a Windows phone (hey, some of you might), all your Cortana settings will transfer over.

Of course, with macOS Sierra, Apple has brought over its Cortana rival Siri from iOS, though it doesn't yet feel particularly well integrated, and could do with being rolled up with the useful Spotlight function.

Windows is better optimised for touch displays, obviously, so detaching the display enables a tablet mode that makes it easier to navigate with your fingers. It's far from perfect, though.

Related: MacBook Pro 2016 vs Dell XPS 13

Surface

MacOS is great, and it's even better if you have an iPhone. Continuity lets you take calls on your computer, while a Safari tab you've been looking at your iPad pops up on your MacBook. Windows 10 doesn't have anything similar yet (Continuum promises to develop in this regard), but as it's essentially the same operating system whether you're using it on a PC or on a phone, apps works across each and settings should easily transfer over.

But let's not kid ourselves here – the interoperability with each company's mobile ecosystem is a much bigger selling point for Apple than it is for Microsoft.

Generally speaking, it's all down to personal preference. If you're a Windows person, we think the Surface Book will be the best way to experience it, just like the MacBook Pro is the ultimate macOS machine.

Whether the new Surface Book will suffer with the same initial glitches and bugs as the original remains to be seen, of course. These were alleviated with updates, but the original machine still isn't as solid or reliable a system as Apple's laptops tend to be.

Surface Book i7 vs MacBook Pro 2016: Input

Putting aside the software and that removable Surface display, it's in the field of input methods that these two devices really differ the most.

While this is an all-new MacBook Pro, Apple hasn't fundamentally changed the way we use laptops to the extent that Microsoft has with its transforming Surface Book. It has given it a healthy tweak, though, in the shape of the Touch Bar.

This is the MacBook Pro 2016's big new feature: a long, thin OLED Retina Display that sits in place of the old function keys at the top of the keyboard.

This doesn't just replace the media keys and settings shortcuts of the old physical buttons – it changes function according to what you're doing. It provides quick-type suggestions when typing, favourite websites and tab previews when browsing in Safari, and a straightening tool when editing images in Photos, to name just a few examples.

Related: Microsoft Surface Studio vs iMac

Touchbar

Third parties are also getting in on the Touch Bar deal, and you can customise the default functions according to your needs. What's more, to the right of the Touch Bar you'll find a Touch ID system. Yes, Apple has brought its popular fingerprint sensor across from the iPhone, enabling quick password-free access and online payment authentication.

Conversely, the Surface Book doesn't have a fingerprint sensor, but it does make use of Windows Hello, which can use the camera to scan your iris.

Of course, where Apple is making a song and dance about its multitouch-sensitive control strip, the Surface Book again has a multitouch-sensitive display. You can reach right up and interact with what's on the screen at any time, making for a more hands-on, immersive relationship with media content.

Given the two diverging approaches to software, we can see the strength in both arguments, but the Surface Book wins for sheer flexibility.

You can extend that to the Surface Pen, which comes bundled with every Surface Book. This excellent stylus lets you draw and scrawl on the display, making for a great note-taking and drawing tool. Of course, both the touch and stylus system are most effective when the screen is disengaged from the base – it's all a bit wobbly and awkward in classic laptop mode.

One other neat input trick of the new MacBook Pro remains from the previous model in the form of its touchpad. Apple has brought across its Force Touch technology from other recent MacBooks, enabling pressure sensitivity and precise haptic feedback in place of a mechanical action. It's also twice as big as before.

It's still not a massively groundbreaking usage of the technology, in truth, but it is neat.

Surface Book i7 vs MacBook Pro 2016: Storage

Both the new MacBook Pro and the new Surface Book i7 are available with the same 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB storage configurations. If you switch up to the 15-inch model you can double that to 2TB, but we're comparing like for like here.

One thing to emphasise here is that the new MacBook Pro has ditched the SD card slot from previous MacBook Pro models, which will no doubt enrage certain photographers out there.

Summary

We'll have to wait until we've been able to review both laptops before offering a definitive verdict on which of these two devices is the best, but we're truly excited by both.

To a certain extent, though, both are known quantities. The Surface Book i7 is essentially a subtle spec bump for last year's revolutionary effort, while the all-new MacBook Pro is essentially a slimmer, more powerful version of what we had already.

Will the Touch Bar prove to be a revolutionary input method? Early impressions suggest that it could be really useful, but it's an enhancement of the way we already use our laptops rather than a fundamental change.

Certainly, it doesn't seem to be as radical a change as the one to an all-touch display, which occurred on Windows years ago. The Surface Book i7 is the ultimate realisation of that.

Related: Apple's new Touch Bar explained

TouchBar

The touchscreen aspect and the fact the display is detachable are two aspects the Surface Book has over the MacBook, as is the addition of a dedicated Nvidia GPU tucked away in the keyboard. Its core components are a little faster than the 13.3-inch MacBook's, too.

Given its simpler, tried and tested design and its more stable and developed software environment, we'd still choose the latest MacBook Pro for our daily work machine. There's a reason this iconic machine has retained its basic design for so long, and why pretty much every other top-end laptop looks a bit like a MacBook.

But the Surface Book, in its second year, is a formidable alternative that will be of great interest to power users and those who demand the utmost flexibility from their pro laptop.

Watch: 2016 MacBook Pro first look

New MacBook Pro or upgraded Surface Book? Let us know which laptop you think is best in the comments below.

ElectricSheep

October 19, 2015, 11:01 am

I'm wondering if this odd creation could be perfect for my photography needs. Converting and editing thousands of RAW files through Lightroom on the road. So, do you only have the NVidia GPU option if you spec everything else up too? Can the RAM be user upgraded? Do you need the seperate dock to get an HDMI out? I'll go do some actual research ;)

magus007

October 19, 2015, 11:22 am

So when Apple copies the surface, Microsoft's Surface is its answer to the Macbook? Surely you mean that the Macbook is Apple's answer to the Surface not the other way round? Unless you really believe that Apple created everything first in which case you should hand in your reviewer's badge,

Dead Words

October 19, 2015, 11:22 am

The top spec Surface Book is a Skylake Core i7 with 16GB of RAM, 1TB of SSD storage, and a dGPU. I believe you get miniHDMI but not full HDMI.

wn

October 19, 2015, 3:16 pm

Safari is crap. Any trackpad stinks.

Kevin

October 19, 2015, 5:29 pm

For your use I think it's a perfect machine: blazing fast SSD to move big files, enough power with the keyboard attached to edit photos and you don't need an external Wacom digitizer to draw filters, etc...
All ports are in the base: 2 USB 3.0 (no 3.1 or type-c) full SD card reader and full DP

inverse137

October 19, 2015, 6:58 pm

I bet you're a lot of fun at parties.....

inverse137

October 19, 2015, 6:59 pm

I'm not exactly certain what you think "business" is about, but let me educate you.

It makes ZERO difference who creates something first....NONE.

It's about who makes a bigger profit.

You might want to go back to whatever jr. college you dropped out of an re-enroll.

First? Seriously?

inverse137

October 19, 2015, 7:00 pm

I need to carry a lot of cargo for my job. So, after extenisve research I'm buying a Miata.

DOes "using the right tool for the job" not mean anything to anyone anymore?

inverse137

October 19, 2015, 7:01 pm

Spec weenie...... :-)

GBH100

October 19, 2015, 7:06 pm

Bigger profit is great for the company making it, not so much for the user. It is really about who makes it better. I don't personally care about the profit unless I'm a shareholder which is a different question.

Profit? Seriously?

magus007

October 19, 2015, 7:11 pm

Apple did not invent the Surface.... I know after mocking the Surface Apple is desperate to claim it it invented it (now it has cloned it) but it didn't. Now as I understand your strawman arguement because Apple cloaned the Surface Pro, we are expected to believe that because Apple "markets stuff better" it is automatically producing a better product.More over, the press is expected to state this. It appears tha the surface is doing rather well as users have twigged it is a stage ahead of what Apple has on the market right now, It seems to me that your degree is not business but theology But we all know you are just another mouthy fanboy who insults with pretend superiority when you know nothing.

Dave Subsea

October 19, 2015, 7:31 pm

What came first, the iPad or the Surface?

In God we trust,

Windows 10 or El Capitan.... hmmm difficult choice there ;)

By the way - There is no "a" in clone and no e in argument.

Dave Subsea

October 19, 2015, 7:35 pm

My 2011 17" MB Pro handles thousands of NEF files on the road, and runs PS CC and Photomatix in conjunction with LR CC. Just saying ;)

Dave Subsea

October 19, 2015, 7:37 pm

Hmmmm

inverse137

October 19, 2015, 8:32 pm

So, you're idiotic response proves that "first" is important? I missed that in your rambling.

My statement: first is irrelevant.

I can't really make it any simpler for you.

Let me give you a simple example that your simple brain might be able to understand:

Apple didn't invent the MP3 player. But the iPod and the iTunes store was a game changer. Tell me, how many years has it been since you set foot in a record store?

Does this help things for you?

First doesn't matter and your argument is stupid.

ElectricSheep

October 19, 2015, 10:05 pm

Cheers Dave, but I'm one of those photographers who likes to build his own systems and swears loudly on a hill top in the middle of nowhere, that, 'I'm never having anything to do with Windows ever again' as it crashes for the third time in the middle of an export. It's just what I'm used to 😉

ElectricSheep

October 19, 2015, 10:12 pm

What are you on about inverse137? Everything is a compromise. I can fit everything I need into a ThinkTank airport roller Derby. 2 pro bodies, 4 lenses, couple of flash heads, pocket wizards, batteries & cables and a load of other junk and a Dell 15" xps. Something this slim and powerful with proper ports (that isn't a MBP, which isn't for me), looks good. What's your beef? 😀

ElectricSheep

October 19, 2015, 10:16 pm

Just need a CF reader and I'm good to go. Tempted by the i5 with dNVG (runs cooler than the i7, everything i7 I own is very loud and hot running).

magus007

October 19, 2015, 10:19 pm

You do know that there is a Godwin variant which says the argument is lost when one of the
parties tries to score points by correcting the spelling or punctuation of the other side? :-) Microsoft was making tablets years before the iPad and Windows 10 was out in beta and known before El Capitan was widely known.

magus007

October 19, 2015, 10:21 pm

It is one of the daft arguments of fanboys which states it does not matter what Apple does to its customers, if it is making huge profits it is successful and right. My point at the beginning of this thread was that Apple was so out of ideas that it had to start stealing them from Microsoft.

Dead Words

October 20, 2015, 12:46 am

I definitely want to read some of his reviews...

Dead Words

October 20, 2015, 12:48 am

I like to stay updated on all these things. I could do that with most any major phone out today and in the last year or two and with quite a few laptops and tablets. Mostly the USA and UK though (little local companies I understandably don't know much about).
This of course makes me a colossal Class 47 Nerd but I'm okay with that. I'm getting into programming now so I'm simply expanding my knowledge.

Dead Words

October 20, 2015, 12:52 am

What an intriguing argument. I'm not a fan of Apple software so I've never invested too heavily in it, but I stay up to date on all modern consumer technology and from everything I've seen and heard and held and felt and used...Microsoft is on to something with their latest slough of software and devices.

Dead Words

October 20, 2015, 12:54 am

It's been stated and accepted many times that Apple is not quite adept at original innovation but rather stealing ideas and snippets from other companies and "improving" them then re-releasing them with far superior marketing and with the full might of their Apple brand behind it. I do have to admit that Apple has had some neat, innovative products and I do respect their abilities to make quality devices and efficient software, but I do not enjoy using their software nor do I believe Apple does any more than any other major technology corporation to change and alter the market other than what its brand does. Microsoft is far more innovative than Apple is even if a lot of those innovations die before the average consumer ever sees it. I could go on and on but I've grown rather bored of typing this out so I'll go back to my rock music and wait for Visual Studios to install.

FFoghorn

October 20, 2015, 4:06 am

I'm frustrated with these manufacturers who rape the public on better-spec'd machines. I mean, RAM upgrades cost nothing these days and you can double an SSD for $75. I understand the desire to maximize profit, but don't bitch about your declining sales.

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