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 (57)

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

  1. Watney

    False dilemma. Buy both! Be happy

    • cyloncat

      In reply to Watney:

      And that's what I will end up doing. As a developer, the Surface Laptop is exactly what I need; it doesn't need to be maxed out like my desktop primary development machine, but the larger display is essential. As a photographer with interests in graphics, the Pro is going to platform of choice for Photoshop and other visual tools. All I need is for Microsoft to start shipping the model I want.

  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?

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Waethorn: My guess is the Surface Pro and Laptop are roughly in the same price bracket. They would be in consideration by the same folks. The Book is a whole 'nuther tax bracket.

  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?

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Simard57:

      They have the Surface Book for that. I figure they'd cut into Surface Book sales, or call into question the validity of a heavily over-engineered hinge if they made a cheap hinge on the Surface Laptop.

      • Simard57

        In reply to Waethorn:

        the SB is not a 360 model. I do wonder if there will be a V2 of the SB - has it been successful for them so far? I have never seen one in the wild but I have seen many SP

    • SenorGravy

      In reply to Simard57:

      I figure Microsoft intentionally gimped this product to minimize angering their OEM partners. No 360° hinge. No USB-C. No sale.

  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.

    • bbold

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      Or, you could own one of each of the Surface devices. I have an SP4 Core M and a Surface Laptop, also have a first gen Surface Book, so my options are endless! haha. Surface studio.. don't really need it, and who has 4K to spend on one?

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      Well . . . there's also the screen size. Not much, but not nothing.

    • JanesJr1

      In reply to Polycrastinator: It's also the use case. I use pen for client notes, continuing ed and editing photos. In those use cases, the unit is held closer to my eyes than a laptop would be, and the apparent size of the screen is about the same as a larger, laptop screen set further back. And the pro has higher resolution, assuming my eyes could keep up with it. And of course, the need for an SD card slot, which the laptop version omits.

  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.

    • chaad_losan

      In reply to mtalinm:

      I'm not, the laptop is a giant glue sandwich and scratches and scuffs easily. If it dies, just throw it away. I've handled them at a Microsoft store. They feel cheap and disposable. I also like the surface pro much better. You can actually take it apart with screws and repair it. Unlike the Laptop.

      • Simard57

        In reply to chaad_losan:

        ifixit rated the laptop as a 0 for repairability. the pro was a 1 - not much better

      • Tallin

        In reply to chaad_losan:

        The Surface Pro requires a heat gun and praying tools to open, not a screwdriver. It's held together by glue, just like the Surface Laptop. Only reason Pro is better is because it is technically possible, though difficult, to take apart and put back together. The new Pro doesn't even have the replaceable SSD of the previous model (though that was of dubious use with the luck required to open the thing up in the first place).

    • SvenJ

      In reply to mtalinm: Me too. I figured I knew the answer, just reading the title. Surprise, surprise, surprise (Gomer Pyle).
      I too wonder about the port complaint. Both have the same port complement, right?

  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?

    • fanchettes

      In reply to Bats:

      Lol now the millennials are hitting Wikipedia to figure out who Mary Ann and Ginger are.

      • chaad_losan

        In reply to fanchettes:

        17 incher? Seriously? That not only defeats the purpose of thin and light. It would make it unwieldy and much too heavy to hold or even every placing on small surface such as an airplane seat tray.

        • jimchamplin

          In reply to chaad_losan:

          Not everyone has the same wants from a machine. Personally, I want a ‘book that’s 2+ inches thick, crammed with drive bays, expansion modules, replaceable parts, and a battery big enough to get me through the Apocalypse.

          Thin and light is the last thing I care about.

      • Daekar

        In reply to fanchettes:

        Thank God for Ginger. The world is a better place because of her.

    • JanesJr1

      In reply to Bats:HP cosmetics are "bling" to me. Like putting a Caddy indicia on the front of an SUV, the homey's will love it.
      Give me minimalist any time.

    • Ugur

      In reply to Bats: Yeah, i'd like a 17 inch model, too and also one with all the ports and high end gpu options.
      Because those are really the main remaining advantages of laptops over tablets and convertibles to me, if one has none of those,why then a laptop instead of a convertible like a SP or a tablet =)

  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.