When Microsoft unveiled its Surface Pro 3 tablet last month, Panos Panay, the corporate vice president of Surface, promised the tablet would be able to replace your laptop.
Speaking to a crowd of journalists and analysts buried in MacBook Airs, Panay vowed the Surface could offer everything Apple’s ultrathin notebook could provide and more.
The MacBook Air and Surface Pro 3 certainly have a lot in common. One is technically a tablet and the other a laptop, but they’re built to serve the same purpose. Both machines seek to cram a full-fledged desktop experience into the lightest, sleekest package possible.
Before the Surface Pro 3 begins shipping June 20, take a look at how it stacks up against Apple’s MacBook Air.
The MacBook Air and Surface Pro 3 fall into similar price ranges, which means their respective hardware elements match up on paper for the most part. Still, there are some noteworthy differences to consider.
Both devices ship with Intel’s previous generation Haswell processor and can be configured up to Core i7.
The MacBook Air 11-inch model starts at $US899, while the 13-inch version starts at $US999. The Surface Pro 3, with its 12-inch screen, starts at $US799, but you need to buy the $US130 TypeCover case to really get the tablet’s full benefits. That bumps the total starting price up to $US930.
The display quality is one of the key differences between the two devices. The Surface Pro 3’s display has a 2160 x 1440 resolution, which comes out to roughly 216 pixels per inch (ppi). Comparatively, the 11-inch MacBook Air’s display has a lower resolution of 1366 x 768 (135 ppi) while the 13-inch MacBook Air’s display resolution is a bit higher at 1440 x 900 (128 ppi).
It’s not exactly clear why Apple hasn’t raised the MacBook Air’s resolution up to Retina standards like it has with its MacBook Pro line. Perhaps it’s trying to to keep the cost down. Regardless, the difference in image quality becomes fairly noticeable when compared alongside sharper competitors, including the Surface Pro 3.
When looking at the same high-res image of a flower with yellow, orange, red, and purple colours in its petals, the photo looked more vibrant on the Surface Pro 3.
Colours appeared deeper and warmer on the Surface, while the same colours looked a bit overexposed and washed out on the MacBook Air.
Since the Surface Pro 3 is also a tablet, you get the added benefits of a touchscreen that also supports pen input, which the MacBook Air doesn’t offer.
Both the MacBook Air and Surface Pro 3 have both been rated for excellent battery life, according to reviews, but the MacBook Air lasted longer.
During Ars Technica’s in-house standardized Wi-Fi test, which is designed to test how long a device can last while browsing, opening and closing apps while lightly consuming media, the Surface Pro 3 lasted for about 8.75 hours.
The 2013 MacBook Air lasted for nine hours and 48 minutes, falling just short of 10 hours of battery life. However, in everyday use, Business Insider’s Steve Kovach said the Surface Pro 3 only lasted for about five hours.
The Laptop Experience
Although Apple’s and Microsoft’s devices are created to serve a similar purpose, they were both designed from different perspectives. Microsoft is trying to make a tablet that can replace your laptop, while Apple’s MacBook Air seeks to be the best laptop you can get in the thinnest form factor.
The problem with the Surface Pro 3 is that it’s not the best laptop you can buy — and it’s also not the greatest tablet you can buy. It’s an impressive product, but if Microsoft wants it to stand up to the MacBook Air (and it definitely does), it should pursue the laptop angle and stick with it.
Granted, Microsoft has made some advancements on this front. The redesigned kickstand makes it easier to use the Surface Pro on your lap, and the keyboard’s improved touchpad allows for a much smoother scrolling experience.
Still, the Surface Pro 3’s keyboard cover just feels flimsy and cheap compared to the MacBook Air’s sturdy aluminium build. Some users may not mind this trade-off to have a device that functions as a laptop and a tablet. But if your job requires you to type for long periods of time, you may want to opt for the stronger keyboard.
After using the Surface Pro 3 on my lap for a while, the device felt-top heavy.
I also felt that I had to sit a certain way when using the Surface Pro 3 on my lap to prevent it from falling. If I fidgeted slightly or shifted my weight, the positioning began to feel precarious.
The MacBook Air felt much more natural as a laptop since it is, well, a laptop.
I was able to sit comfortably cross-legged, or however I wanted, without the laptop losing its balance. This is largely because the MacBook Air isn’t top- heavy like the Surface Pro 3 — the whole design is razor thin and sleek.
If you’re going to drop nearly $US1,000 on a new laptop (or laptop replacement), you’ll want to make the right decision. Ultimately, it’s all about what matters more to you.
Do you prefer a strong, comfortable keyboard over a touchscreen? Then the MacBook Air is definitely for you. Do you use your notebook in your lap more often than you do on a desk or table? The Air will probably feel more comfortable. Not to mention, it can last for nearly 10 hours on a single charge, which blows most competitors out of the water.
The Surface Pro 3 shines in other areas, but it’s not the best laptop you can buy. If you consume content (i.e. read the news, check Facebook, look at photos, watch Netflix) more than you create it, you may benefit from the Surface’s detachable form factor and its beautiful high-res touchscreen.
The keyboard, for which you need to pay an extra $US130, is fully functional but not nearly as durable and pleasant to type with as the MacBook Air’s.
The improved kickstand makes it easier to use the Surface Pro 3 in your lap, but it still feels top-heavy and wobbly compared to a regular laptop — especially one as thin and light as the Air.