One of the most intriguing stories in laptops in recent years is the emergence of Microsoft as a legitimate rival to Apple. Microsoft, the software giant, has begun making some very nice hardware for those who appreciate a high-performance, portable and well-designed laptop--with one recent example being the Surface Laptop 3. The notebook is clearly meant to serve as a challenger to Apple's MacBook lineup, and in many ways it stacks up favorably, including with Apple's refreshed MacBook Pro for 2020.
Both Microsoft and Apple, of course, have the advantage of being the operating system creators for their respective laptops--in this case the Surface Laptop 3 and the MacBook Pro.
But which of the two laptops is a better match for you? In the following slides, CRN USA compares the latest Apple MacBook Pro vs Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 on price and specs.
While both notebooks in our comparison actually come with choices between two sizes, we'll just be looking at the smaller, 13-inch versions in this comparison.
The latest MacBook Pro features a 13.3-inch display with Apple's vibrant Retina technology, strong resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 and brightness of up to 500 nits. Like all Apple notebooks, the display is not a touch screen.
By contrast, the Surface Laptop 3 does feature a touch screen, and it's also a bit larger at 13.5 inches. Microsoft offers vibrancy in its display technology, PixelSense, as well--though resolution is a bit below the MacBook Pro at 2,256 x 1,504. Microsoft doesn't disclose the brightness rating for the Surface Laptop 3 display, but tests have found brightness reaching about 400 nits--make it not as bright as the MacBook Pro display.
One of the major updates on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is that the keyboard design has been changed up. The notebook's "Magic Keyboard" design uses a scissor mechanism and offers 1 mm of key travel, providing improved typing comfort and a more-stable feel (compared to the shallow "butterfly" keys on previous models). Apple has also added a much-requested physical escape key, though the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro still features the Touch Bar above the physical keyboard.
The Surface Laptop 3 has also gotten a keyboard redesign. Key travel is now 1.3 mm--which makes the keys deeper than those of the MacBook Pro, but not quite as deep as the 1.5 mm key travel on the Surface Laptop 2. The trackpad is 20-percent larger this time around, and the Surface Laptop 3 continues to feature Alcantara fabric around the keyboard and touchpad. However, this time the fabric is only included with two of the colors--blue and silver--while the black and gold models have aluminum around the keys and touchpad instead.
Processor and RAM
Both notebooks offer strong performance with the inclusion of recently released Intel Core processors. One difference, though, is that Apple is offering entry-level configurations of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with eighth-gen Intel Core processors, in addition to higher-end models with the current 10th-gen processor series. Microsoft only offers 10th-gen Core processors for the Surface Laptop 3. For both notebooks, the top-level processor available is an Intel Core i7 (quad-core) from the 10th generation. But, the MacBook Pro processor is rated to offer slightly faster speed with up to 4.1 GHz available, compared to a clock speed of 3.9 GHz on the Surface Laptop 3 Core i7 CPU.
On RAM, Apple is offering configurations up to 32 GB for new MacBook Pro--the first time this much RAM has been offered on a 13-inch MacBook. The Surface Laptop 3 will only go up to 16 GB of RAM, however. Other options are 8 GB of RAM on the Surface Laptop 3 and either 8 or 16 GB on the MacBook Pro.
Portability and battery life
Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 comes out the winner on portability in our comparison, with a starting weight of 1.26 kg (for the blue or silver models) and a thickness of 1.4 cm. The latest 13-inch MacBook Pro is 11-percent heavier at 1.4 kg and slightly thicker, too, measuring at 1.5 cm thick. For the Surface Laptop 3, getting the black or gold models will add a small amount of weight, bringing it to 1.28 kg.
When it comes to battery life, Surface Laptop 3 appears to have a modest advantage, with Microsoft promising up to 11.5 hours of "typical device usage." Apple says the latest MacBook Pro offers up to 10 hours of wireless web usage.
Storage and ports
On storage, Apple has doubled the amount at the entry-level for the MacBook Pro, with the starting point now at 256 GB. There's a wide range of other storage configurations for the notebook, too--512 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB or a stunning 4 TB. Microsoft targets the Surface Laptop 3 to users with lower internal storage needs--with the starting level at 128 GB, and other options consisting of 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB. However, the Surface Laptop 3 does stand out in one way on storage--the notebook's hard drive is removable, for improved serviceability, while the MacBook Pro's hard drive is not.
Ports are not a major selling point for either notebook. The entry-level MacBook Pro models offer two USB-C ports, while the higher-end models offer four USB-C ports--and that's it. The Surface Laptop 3, meanwhile, offers one USB-C port and one USB-A port, along with a Surface Connect port for charging.
Apple's latest 13-inch MacBook Pro and Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 both offer what might be considered entry-level price options. The 13-inch MacBook Pro price starts at $1,999, but that model would come with an eighth-gen Intel Core i5 chip.
Due to recent price drops from Microsoft in Australia, the Surface Laptop 3 price starts at $400 below Apple's price--$1,599--and for that amount you get a 10th-gen Core i5.
Pricing for the 10th gen Intel powered MacBook was not available at the time or writing.