MacBook vs. Surface Pro 3: Which is More Portable?

Posted on March 10, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 0 Comments

While the new MacBook offers a stunning design and is small and light, the new fanless notebook is being promoted as “the future of the notebook,” a claim that seems to put it in direct competition with Surface Pro 3, which is likewise billed as “the tablet that can replace your laptop.” Which device is really more portable?

Here’s how the two stack up, on paper.

Weight

MacBook weighs just 2 pounds, which is heavier than Surface Pro 3’s 1.76 pounds. That said, you must factor in the weight of the Type Cover as well, and once you do, Surface Pro 3 is heavier, at a combined 2.4 pounds. Winner: MacBook.

Thinness

Apple notes that MacBook is 13.1 mm thin, and kudos to the company for using the thickest part of the device for that latter measure. (It’s just 3.5 mm at its thinnest point, thanks to a tapered design. Surface Pro 3, meanwhile, is just 9.1 mm thin, but here again we must add the Type Cover thickness for a final tally. And when we do, the combined thickness of the more slab-like Surface Pro 3 is 13.97 mm, thicker than MacBook. Winner: MacBook.

Form factor

This one is a bit subjective. Both machines appear to be very well made, but I would give Apple a small bump for offering three color choices. That said, you can pick between several Type Cover colors on Surface Pro 3. So. Winner: Tie.

Screen

“The new MacBook features a stunning 12-inch Retina display that is the thinnest ever on a Mac,” with a resolution of 2304 x 1440 (226 PPI). By comparison, the Surface Pro 3 display is also 12-inches, at 2160 x 1440 (216 PPI), which I think we can agree is comparable. So let’s look at some mitigating factors: Mac OS X scales much better than Windows on high-DPI displays, giving MacBook a point. But Surface Pro 3 provides both multi-touch and active pen support, putting it (way) over the top. Winner: Surface Pro 3.

Typing experience

MacBook includes a full-size keyboard “which is dramatically thinner and highly responsive,” Apple says, and it looks great. Surface Pro 3 users utilize Type Cover, which does come in an assortment of colors and offers two typing angles—nice. But it’s not full-sized, and is smaller than the keyboard Apple uses. This matters to me. Winner: MacBook.

Trackpad

Apple says that the “all-new Force Touch trackpad brings a new dimension of interactivity to the Mac,” and it appears that this new functionality is indeed pretty nice. But regardless, Apple already made the best trackpads on the market, an assertion for which I will hear no contrary arguments. On the Surface Pro 3 side, Microsoft did include a slightly bigger (it’s still tiny) “precision” trackpad with Type Cover 3, and it should be noted that Surface Pro 3 users can of course use their finger or the Surface Pen as a pointing device too. But there’s just no overcoming Apple’s trackpad advantage. It’s night and day. Winner: MacBook.

Battery life

Apple says that MacBook delivers “all-day” battery life, which equates to 9 hours of web browsing and 10 hours of iTunes movie playback. Surface Pro 3, meanwhile, also delivers up to 9 hours of web browsing time. (No movie playback figure is offered, but it should be noted that well-managed mobile apps like Xbox Video will probably exceed Apple’s figure.) Whatever. Winner: Tie.

Performance

This one is no contest. With a middling Core M processor, MacBook will be acceptable only for basic productivity tasks—email, web browsing, light Office application usage—while Surface Pro 3 offers your choice of high performance mainstream Core i3, i5 and i7 processors. Winner: Surface Pro 3.

Fan noise

This one is also no contest. The Surface Pro 3 fan comes on alarmingly often and is surprisingly loud. MacBook has no fan. Winner: MacBook.

Connectivity

Apple says that MacBook is equipped with “the latest wireless technologies, including built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for fast wireless connectivity.” Surface Pro 3 provides 802.11ac as well, and Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy too. Neither has LTE connectivity. Surface Pro 3 can use standard USB-based Ethernet connectivity, but at added cost and with a dongle. (And we’ll have to assume Microsoft finally fixed lingering Wi-Fi connectivity issues on Surface Pro 3.) Winner: Tie.

Expandability

I’ve often dinged Microsoft for only including one full-sized USB 3.0 port on Surface Pro 3 (though there is a separate USB port on the power supply for charging devices), but it does also include miniDisplayPort and microSD, and hardware volume buttons for that matter, and it can be docked for even more expansion. MacBook offers just a single USB-C port, for both power and expandability, and that’s inexcusable since there is room for two and it will cost you big bucks to get a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, which is yet another thing you need to carry with you. No wires is a cute marketing term, but MacBook users will be carrying plenty of crap with them, inhibiting portability. Winner: Surface Pro 3.

Pricing

MacBook comes in just two models, with the base version—a 1.1 GHz Core M processor-based system with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage—costing $1299. Or you can step up to a 1.2 GHz processor and 512 GB of SSD for $1499. Microsoft offers more options and much lower pricing: a base Surface Pro 3 with an i3 processor, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of SSD storage costs just $930 with Type Cover. But a Surface Pro 3 that is somewhat comparable to the base MacBook—an i5 model with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage—is $1430 with Type Cover. Winner: Surface Pro 3, for offering so much flexibility.

You might add up the wins and see which one came out on “top,” but in reality, your needs will determine which makes more sense for you. Some will correctly note that these two machines aren’t even directly comparable, since the MacBook is more about style over functionality, thanks to its low-end processors and lack of expandability. And of course the Surface Pro 3 is a powerhouse, with much better performance, expandability, and functionality. That Microsoft’s year-old design still competes effectively with the new MacBook at roughly the same prices is perhaps the most amazing take away of all.

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