Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro: Which is Better?

Posted on June 21, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 57 Comments

Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro: Which is Better?

I’ve been switching back and forth between the Surface Laptop and the new Surface Pro this week in Haarlem, and thinking about which is the better road companion. And I think I’ve found a clear winner.

That winner, of course, is the new Surface Pro.

And it’s not about Windows 10 S, since anyone who purchases a Surface Laptop can upgrade to the more useful and powerful Windows 10 Pro for free. And most will. Windows 10 S is a non-factor in this decision.

Surface Pro is just the more versatile device, very much in keeping with Microsoft’s new marketing slogan. It’s smaller and lighter than Surface Laptop, but it provides an excellent and full-sized typing experience, killer battery life, and the same connectivity as its laptop-based cousin.

Surface Laptop features a bigger screen, which I do prefer. And it has a more traditional laptop form factor, which I like. But that fact is offset by Surface Laptop’s lack of additional connectivity. There is plenty of room on this device for another USB port, and certainly for a USB-C port. Surface Laptop should save me from the dongles that Surface Pro also necessitates.

I’m mostly positive on the Alcantara keyboard deck that can be had with both machines. But at least with Surface Pro, you can replace that keyboard easily if the Alcantara gets stained or messy: The Type Cover comes right off and can be interchanged at any time. Better still, you can change your mind after the fact. With Surface Laptop, you’re stuck with what you chose at purchase time.

Surface Pro can be used with Surface Pen, and with Surface Dial on the screen, should you need such a thing. Surface Laptop cannot do either, not really: Yes, the Pen is compatible, but no one is going to write on a laptop screen, especially one that cannot lay flat.

Ultimately, the choice and versatility of Surface Pro are what put this device over the top. It’s also a known quantity, a proven and established product that fulfills a need.

Surface Laptop is gorgeous, and it’s new. But it’s also an unknown. And it feels like a 1.0 product, one where there are color choices, but only on some models. For some reason.

Both Surface devices are expensive, premium PCs that are well made and desirable. But if I had to choose, the new Surface Pro is the better device. And it’s the one I feel a lot more comfortable recommending to others.

That may change over time, of course. But for now, Surface Pro is the clear winner.


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Comments (60)

60 responses to “Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro: Which is Better?”

  1. Watney

    False dilemma. Buy both! Be happy

  2. Ugur

    Totally sense making points to me. I would like a surface laptop, too, but if it had card reader and usb-c/thunderbolt 3 next to the usb-a port and allow folding the keyboard back to be able to use the pen properly with it and ideally also offer larger and better internal specs (beefy gpu) options. With none of those, yeah, the surface laptop just feels like an expensive laptop which is nice but under delivers a lot for that price range.

    The surface pro in contrast still only has the same few connectivity options but at least can be used way better with the pen and can be used at way more angles and with keyboard detached, too. So yeah, big usability wins right now.

    None of these issues of the surface laptop are things MS couldn't address easily, but yeah, dunno if they will anytime soon.

  3. harmjr

    I have a pro 4 with the last years Alcantara Type Cover and a friend of mine spilled a Small amount beer on the bottom left hand corner around the start button. I wiped it off and honestly it does not feel like anything ever happen. I was very surprised with it.

  4. Otto Gunter

    Define "killer battery life". My SP4 sucks out loud in that category, so I'd be willing to upgrade to the SP2017 just for that reason. But I'm no longer willing to just believe the marketing hyperbole. 13.5 hours? Snort!

  5. Waethorn

    Why did you exclude the Surface Book from the comparison?

  6. BigM72

    I feel like you're comparing apples and oranges here Paul.

    Yes you could use Dial on the Surface Pro but it's such a small screen and dial would obscure a decent amount of the screen that why would you want to do this?

    If Pen matters to you, you would pick the Pro (or Book maybe). If it doesn't you would pick the Laptop - bigger screen and lappability.

    The Pro's other benefit - replaceable keyboard if it gets dirty is diminished by the fact that it costs more. The i5, 8GB, 256GB Pro WITHOUT keyboard costs the same as the equivalent Laptop, i.e. Pro is $150 more expensive than Laptop on like-for-like basis.

  7. Simard57

    Did Microsoft ever provide insight into why the Surface Laptop was not a 360 design? It would address your main issues that differentiate the two platforms.

    would that sway your choice?

  8. lvthunder

    Speaking of the dial does anyone know when they added the option to create app specific custom function and not just the one custom one like when it launched. When I found that out last week by accident it makes the dial much more useful in Photoshop and Lightroom.

  9. SleepingPelican

    Paul... didn't you state last week that the Surface Laptop will be their biggest seller? Do you think that will still be the case or do you think Surface Pro will outsell the Laptop?

    My new Surface Pro just arrived at home and I am itching to leave work to start playing with it. We have a Surface 3 (non-Pro) so it will be a nice upgrade.

  10. glenn8878

    Surface Pro seems more versatile, but if the Surface Laptop offered a 360 degree hinge and more ports, it would be seen as a logical upgrade instead of an entirely different category. Then there's the Surface Book with the weird detachable hinge. What separates them is size of the screen and the little annoyances of excluding ports and usability. So just spend as little as possible and go with Surface Pro or buy a competitive similar portable computer.

  11. rameshthanikodi

    I think we'd need to wait for the Surface Laptop to reach the maturity of a 2nd or 3rd generation product before it can really compete with Surface Pro. The Surface Pro is just such a mature product now, from the fanless core i5 model to the kickstand allowing it to go back aaaaaall the way back, it's just such a unique machine, and it will take a while for all those copycats out there to really reach Microsoft's finesse.

    Laptops on the other hand, many laptop makers have been making laptops for far longer than Microsoft, and there are still some things that HP/Acer/Lenovo/Dell get right that Microsoft doesn't with the Surface Laptop. I'm sure Microsoft will get there, but for now, not yet.

  12. glenn8878

    They need to simplify the line. Eliminate the Surface Book. Increase the screen sizes by one inch for both the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop. Add at least 2 USB-C ports to each along side an USB A port. Add a 360 degree hinge to Surface Laptop. Make the Surface Laptop user upgradable. Without the Surface Book, consider a Surface+ Pro that's 13.5"

    • Jaxidian

      In reply to glenn8878:

      I would add that they should release a "Laptop Docking Keyboard" accessory to the Surface Pro line as they eliminate the Surface Book. That way they really just consolidate the Surface Book and Surface Pro lines by whether you get the super thin Type Cover or a much thicker Book Cover (with optional integrated GPU). I agree with you - I don't think both products need to exist. That said, I've been clamoring for such a laptop docking keyboard for years, so I may be biased.

  13. MacLiam

    I registered my vote on this question over the weekend when I picked up a Pro. The laptop is a beautiful device, but I already have a couple of older laptops that are still adequate for the uses I put them to.

    I hadn't intended to look at a Pro until later in the year when the eSIM versions were released, but I recently read some details of Microsoft's data service offerings under their deal with Transatel and didn't think there was anything there for me. With no reason to put off a purchase, I bought one now to replace my original 2012 Surface Pro that still works well but just has too small a display without hooking it up to a larger monitor. The speed of that old processor now seems a little disappointing as well. The new Pro is also in a sense a replacement for a Pro 3 that went to one of my daughters over a year ago to solve a computer crisis in her house. So I was back-filling a specific hole in my device pile

    After three days I'm as happy with the Pro as I could possibly be. People who are traditionally oriented might find the Surface laptop to be the proper choice for them. If they don't mind a flexible keyboard and are comfortable with the tablet format for some or even most of their needs, maybe the Pro is what they need.

  14. Waethorn

    Which companies offer Surface Pro knockoffs with Thunderbolt3 USB Type-C ports?

  15. Polycrastinator

    I think this comes down to whether you need to use your device in your lap. If you do, get the laptop. If you're always going to be at a desk or on a table, get the Pro. It's really that simple.

  16. LuxuryTravelled

    I would agree with you Paul. I originally made an order for the Laptop, but switched after the Pro was announced. The battery life was surprising for me.

  17. cseafous

    Got the pro. Couldn't be happier (so far). Coming from Surface 2 to this is like coming from bi-planes to jets. Hello modern times!

  18. mtalinm

    Quite surprised to read this as you have been calling for a laptop for years, among other things due to the Pros lack of lapability. But now it has an excellent time typing experience?

    I understand that the laptop lacks ports but otherwise don't understand the reasoning here.

  19. JerryH

    Interesting take. It shows that there is a good reason to make multiple types of computer - one person will pick the Surface Pro, anther will pick the Surface Laptop. And both people will have great reasons and make the correct decision for their own use cases. I went the other way. I have had a Surface Pro 2, a Surface Pro 3, and a Surface Pro 4 (and a Lenovo X1 Tablet too). I ended up using them without the keyboard attached maybe twice. And that kickstand is not very good for use as a laptop or even on a table really as you need more space behind your computer than you do with a normal laptop. So my choice was to go with Surface Laptop this time around. So far so good, but I've only had it for a week at this point.

  20. Bats

    Without question, I think the Surface Pro is better. If they made a 17 incher or more, I would most likely buy it instantly, despite the fact I just pre-order the new HP Spectre X2 (2017).

    To be honest, I don't understand this issue with "lapability." I never owned a Surface Pro, though I almost did (version 1), but I do own an HP Spectre x2 (2015). LOL...I used that thing on my lap all the time.....ALL-THE-TIME. Doin so, I never felt any discomfort, no pain, no "nothin'." To be honest, I don't even think about it. My Spectre X2 is awesome during plane rides, because you can watch movies on your personal table, without.....taking up much space.

    The only problem I have with the Surface Pro and Laptop line are it's looks. These two are among the most "plainest" and "boringest" looking portable computers in the market. They are so simple looking, particularly the laptop. Can anyone seriously say with a straight face that the Surface Laptop is better looking than the HP Spectre line (Ash Gray/Copper)? Ya know....I was ready to buy the new Surface Pro ("5"), then HP announced and showed the new Spectre X2. Oh man, that was a tough decision. I always wanted to own a genuine Microsoft computer, but when it came down to it, I chose the new Spectre X2, because, other than the batter, the computer was all around better, and most of all.....extremely extremely, elegant. The Surface Pro is "MaryAnne" to the Spectre X2's "Ginger."

    LOL...seriously, you can't trust a tech geek's overall sense of style. LOL...especially Paul. I used to debate back and forth with an Android blogger on his website on how plain, bland, and boring the Moto 360 watch was. The fact is, when you turn the display off on the Moto 360 watch, leaving it blank, all you have is a circular watch with a band. It's when you turn on or use a particulary watch face is when that plain watch has a sense of style and character. LOL...the thing is, you can do that with all smart watches and if you can do that, than how does it make the Moto 360 the best looking?

  21. PhilipVasta

    I wish they would provide color options for the surface pro.

    • bbold

      In reply to PhilipVasta:

      I'm sure they will for "Surface Pro 5", but after Paul's comments re: how easily the paint is scratched off the Surface Laptop, I would almost prefer the aluminum silvery standard color on my SP, especially if it being used for business. Just looks more professional, hence the "pro" name I guess :)

  22. straker135

    I agree with many that the usage case should determine the device you select. I also am disappointed that there isn't a USB-C port and microSD card slot on the Surface Laptop. Having said that I have bought the burgundy Laptop and am very happy with it. The battery life was one of the main attractions and I was rather nervous about not taking the charging cord to my first all day meeting with it. It is now 5:40pm where I am and I am browsing after the meeting having had wifi on all day, taking notes and viewing linked documents on line and have just hit 50% battery using the recommended brightness and other settings. Very impressive! My Surface Pro 3 usually gets 4 1/2 to 5 hours tops and has shut down several times on me under similar circumstances when I have not been able to get to a power outlet.

    I am interested in the new Surface Pro battery life which is said to be only slightly less. If I used the pen more I would probably have purchased a Pro. One more comment, the speakers are the best I have heard on an ultrabook device for a long time, although my expectations were pretty low.

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