Home / Opinions / Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro

Surface Pro 4 vs MacBook Pro

by

MBP

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

Watch – Trusted Explains: Laptops vs Tablets, which is best for you?

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.

Related: Apple MacBook Pro 2016: Everything you need to know

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.

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

MacBook

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.

Related: iPad Pro will always be a companion device, says Microsoft

MacBook ports

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.

Buy Now: Surface Pro 4 at Amazon.com from $695

Best Deals for Microsoft Surface Pro 4

  • amazon
  • ebay

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.

Surface Pro 4

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.

Power

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.

Buy Now: MacBook Pro at Amazon.com from $1,270

Best Deals for Apple 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro

  • amazon
  • ebay

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

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.

Surface Pro 4

Verdict

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.

Buy Now: Surface Pro 4 at Amazon.com from $695

Best Deals for Microsoft Surface Pro 4

  • amazon
  • ebay

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

Best Deals for Apple 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro

  • amazon
  • ebay

What's your choice, Surface Pro 4 or MacBook Pro? Let us know in the comments below

Ascanio Colonna di Paliano

January 20, 2016, 12:50 pm

"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." This sentence is highly misleading. 96% of sRGB is a measure of color space, not accuracy. Also, 96% sRGB means this display is not "wide-gamut" in any way, in fact it is not even capable of displaying true sRGB colors. This is not enough for professional work.

Peter Smith

January 20, 2016, 2:49 pm

why are you comparing a hybrid to a proper laptop and then lauding the laptop for having a superior typing experience? also how can you infer the mac is more productive because you can browse web pages from an iphone? with windows 10 you have continuum which is vastly superior and you have not mentioned it at all? this seems to be a highly subjective piece... surely the surface pro should be compared with the ipad pro for a more like for like comparison. and the mac pro should be compared to dell precision m series? i can only think you did not do this comparison because the apple products would be trounced! FYI i have an ipad, macbook pro retina (boot camped) and also the Dell M3800. the Dell destroys the mac

Dead Words

January 20, 2016, 3:08 pm

You made a mistake with storage options. You didn't say the Surface Pro 4 has a 1 TB option.

Dead Words

January 20, 2016, 3:09 pm

It seems kind of lopsided to try and compare a full laptop with essentially a tablet. The only fair comparison would be the iPad Pro to the Surface Pro 4, but we all know who would win that battle.

Roy Tyrell

January 20, 2016, 3:37 pm

Not at all thrilled with osx, like stepping back in time. but if you want to develop for iphone/ipad then that is the price to pay the piper.

for a data consumption device - which is what all tablet computers basically are - the surface pro 4 is way overkill. If you need that type of capability a flimsy foldout keyboard isn't going to work. get a laptop.

on that note - these tiny laptops are insane powerful. the surface book actually advertises that you can run autocad on it. that is laughable. who runs autocad on a 13 inch screen? No serious A&E firm sets up their cadd stations with ultra-portables.

as the mb pro can run windows and is the best constructed with a true very high quality keyboard - it is probably best overall single portable device to own.

DigitalFury

January 20, 2016, 9:22 pm

Interesting question considering I have moved from a high end MacBook Pro (quad i7 16 Gb) to the i7 16 Gb SP4.

I move a lot, the SP4 is extremely good, lighter and runs MS Office better.

Windows 10 is not perfect, but OS X is going down the tubes towards iOS with each iteration. The last really good version of OS X was Snow Leopard.

Michael Garry

January 21, 2016, 4:44 am

You are not comparing like-for-like, just as you are complaining about this review doing the same. The Dell is a mobile workstation, with Quadro GPU. The Mac is a general purpose laptop, they are not the same thing at all. To even match the Macs (15", the same size as the Dell) starting config on everything apart from the graphics card, you have to plump for the top of the range Dell - which is of course more expensive, thanks the that graphics card that 90% of the population do not need. A slight flaw in your argument there.

Michael Garry

January 21, 2016, 4:46 am

Whereas the MacBook Pro retina screen scores 99% sRGB coverage. I didn't see that mentioned in the article....

Michael Garry

January 21, 2016, 4:54 am

Even that would be quite lopsided as they are similar, but different devices aimed at different audiences......

Ascanio Colonna di Paliano

January 21, 2016, 8:34 am

Well 99% of sRGB still gets you only that far. It really depends on how much color space AND color accuracy are strategical to your job. I obviously wouldn't advise spending 5k on a professional display unless it will pay for itself. In any case once you work with a >95% AdobeRGB color space and 0.2 avg deltaE, you start becoming very sensitive to these issues.

In fact Apple has done a strange move, pusing the 5k iMac to DCI-3, which is specific to the movie industry.

Michael Garry

January 21, 2016, 9:15 am

Is that really that strange though? They went with 5k instead of 4k so you could use it to edit 4k videos at 100% zoom, so its not a big surprise they would couple that with a move to something like DCI-3.

Ascanio Colonna di Paliano

January 21, 2016, 9:34 am

Meh... I am not a movie professional, so I can't say just how much an AdobeRGB would be incompatible with that work. Certainly DCI-3 is incompatible with other kinds of work.
I'd say it doesn't make much sense to invest in such wide-gamut if you don't offer accuracy and the ability to calibrate.

Who really works with color knows just how difficult and subjective things can become: I have found Eizo to be the only solution that makes things manageable, especially at a team level. In my opinion, the 5k iMac's display, albeit DCI-3, is NOT a professional tool. If you are serious about color you are still going to grade and validate on another screen. So what's the point?

Dead Words

January 21, 2016, 1:46 pm

Apple marketed the iPad Pro at the same market ad the Surface Pro 4, even though it's not as capable to that market. Even though they are very different devices, Apple tried to put the iPad Pro in the same league.

Michael Garry

January 21, 2016, 3:23 pm

Looking at their marketing now, they talk about being able to do more and "be more productive", but they still also mention that its a mobile OS running it all. I think the iPad is a device still looking for a market and strangely for Apple this is something they have started to do - the Apple Watch being in a similar situation. Either way, it doesn't change the fact that its aimed at a different demographic to that of the Surface Pro.

Chris Duke

March 5, 2016, 10:03 pm

You can't really call the surface pro a tablet though when it runs specs like the latest i7 and SSD. It's running full fledged OS so it puts it in the same market as the macbook pro. An iPad is a tablet in the sense that it runs a mobile OS. It'll be interesting to see what apple do here, I can see these hybrid devices becoming very popular and if apple do the same they will no doubt either lose a big chunk of their ipad consumers or macbook consumers, as they would be selling a device that covered both needs. Interesting times ahead for sure. For now though I love that microsoft have finally done something innovative.

Dead Words

March 5, 2016, 10:52 pm

It is a tablet, but I agree with you for the most part. The Surface Pros are pretty great. Apple doesn't have anything that compares right now.

Butthurt BGR users everywhere

April 26, 2016, 9:29 am

Neither. Dell XPS 13 all the way!

Cake_is_good

May 8, 2016, 3:43 pm

I'm looking for a new computer but I'm torn on which one to buy. A surface pro 4 or Mac book air. I'm the worst at making discussions, please help me chose

Andres Esteban Pinto

May 19, 2016, 5:52 am

meh... buy an ASUS ROG series laptop, way better than any macbook pro, even the top of the line macbook pro has this mediocre amd midrange card, whereas ROG laptops come with GTX cards

Rann Xeroxx

June 20, 2016, 3:14 am

The Surface devices are dockable and screen expandable. In fact you can connect two screens if you like. The MBP is a better laptop but its a lousy tablet (as its not a tablet at all). I use my SP as a tablet all the time.

Rann Xeroxx

June 20, 2016, 3:16 am

The SP4 is a full desktop computer if you have it docked with monitors and keyboard/mouse. On the go it makes a decent laptop and flip the keyboard around its a decent tablet (I actually like Windows tablets the best for tablets as I mostly browse the web and run web apps for work).

Dani

July 3, 2016, 5:25 am

Been researching the Surface vs Mac debate on so many different forums recently. I'm not a "tech" person, which is why I have been reading 100's (+) comments on this topic. I hope one of you guys/gals can answer a few very basic questions for me? #1 - are most comments left by people who are already "sworn" Mac products or vice versa? (Meaning I have to take all these comments & the articles themselves with that in mind?). #2 - I have always had Microsoft running computers yet a friend swears by and uses Mac only. I have found that Mac products don't have as many glitches and don't take as long as PC to open, start, run, etc. Is this accurate? And finally #3 - I recently set up a Surface in my office for my boss and the keyboard wasn't working. From my research online, I see this is a common problem. How come none of these Surface vs Mac articles address this? My thanks to anyone who is willing to respond to my simple, and probably basic questions for this tech site, and my apologies for being a non-tech gal looking for answers to such basic questions here...

nasqb112

August 19, 2016, 3:23 pm

1) In most cases, people have a dog in the race. I have both PCs and Apple products in my home as well as Android so I like to think I'm open minded. As a Surface & MacBook user, I personally like that MacBook Pro is strictly a laptop and use it in conjunction with my iPad. The MacBook Pro works well for nearly all tasks, except printing when I'm at a location other than my home can be an issue. If you like seperate devices, MacBook is the better option.

Surface Pro 4 is more versatile and Windows 10 is a return to grace from previous iterations. I find myself using it strictly as a laptop and not both tablet/laptop. If you think you would use as both, Surface might be the better option.

2) I find that OSX has fewer glitches that Windows. If you're a windows user, you'll be able to pickup OSX easily. The major difference is installing programs, settings, finding files. It is a very elegant interface. The workflow between iPhone/iPad and the MacBook is awesome. Also, if you miss Windows, you can use bootcamp or Parallels.

Since Windows 10, I can only recall one or two times across multiple machines where there has been an issue so I think they are on par for the most part. I think Office on Windows is a lot better than Mac (interface/shortcuts, etc).

3) I've never had an issue with my Surface keyboards and I have 3 of them. I hope it is an isolated incident with you. Perhaps look at the connection points on both the keyboard and Surface device and ensure it is clean.

I hope this helps you! For me, it came down to the fact that I like having two separate devices. MSFT has been consistently improving the Surface line, so there is a good chance I may switch back to the Surface (or a Razer laptop) at some point in the future.

comments powered by Disqus