Advertisement
Advertisement

Surface Pro 3 vs Macbook Air comparison – which one should you buy?

James Temperton
22 May 2014
Advertisement

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 goes head to head with Apple's Macbook Air - which is better value, which has better specs and which one should you buy?

The Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft's latest attempt to make Windows 8 work. This is a seriously high-spec piece of kit, with the company boasting the "thinnest core PC ever made". Microsoft has big hopes for its latest tablet-laptop hybrid, but how does it stack up against the competition?

While the Macbook Air is an ultra-portable laptop, it is probably the biggest competitor to the Surface Pro 3. Here we've compared the specs, prices, features, keyboards and trackpads, operating systems and ports on both the Surface Pro 3 and Macbook Air. Which one should you buy?

Surface Pro 3 best tablet image

SPECS COMPARISON

Microsoft hasn't revealed the specific processor models inside the Surface Pro 3, but we'd expect them to be similar to those found inside the Macbook Air. If that's the case, then there's little to choose between an Intel Core i5 Macbook Air and an Intel Core i5 Surface Pro 3.

In our benchmark tests the Macbook Air scored 45, while the Surface Pro 2 scored 47. Based on the information made available by Microsoft, we'd expect the Surface Pro 3 to do similarly well.

All versions of the Macbook Air are configurable with faster processors and more memory. The Surface Pro 3 cannot be customised. The 64GB and 128GB models are stuck with 4GB of memory, while the 256GB and 512GB models only come with 8GB of memory. By comparison you can reconfigure the Macbook Air how you want.

Microsoft has said the Surface Pro 3 will have a battery life of around 9 hours for web browsing. By comparison, in our light-use battery benchmark test, the Macbook Air lasted a phenomenal 14 hours and 33 minutes.

In terms of storage, both Apple and Microsoft offer plenty of choice. Microsoft has more options from 64GB all the way up to 512, while Apple goes from 128GB up to 512GB.

WINNER: Macbook Air

PRICE

The Surface Pro 3 starts at £639 and the Macbook Air starts at £749. The 11in Macbook Air comes in two versions – 128GB and 256GB, the latter costing £899. Both can be upgraded to an Intel Core i7 1.7GHz dual-core processor with turbo boost up to 3.3Ghz for an extra £120 or £130 respectively. Doubling the memory from 4GB to 8GB will cost an extra £80. The 13in Macbook Air also comes in 128GB and 256GB versions, priced at £849 and £999 respectively with similar upgrade options.

The Suface Pro 3 doesn't compare directly, nor is it customisable. The basic 64GB Core i3 model costs £649, while the i5 comes in two versions – the 128GB at £849 and the 256GB at £1,109. The high-spec Intel Core i7 comes in two versions – the 256GB at £1,339 and the 512GB at £1,649.

Macbook Air

To compare them directly, the Surface Pro 3 with 128GB of storage, 4GB or memory and an Intel Core i5 processor costs £849. The 11in Macbook Air with 128GB of storage, 4GB of memory and an Intel Core i5 processor costs £749. That makes the Macbook Air £100 cheaper. Admittedly the Surface Pro 3 has a larger screen, but the Macbook Air is a laptop, so the keyboard isn't a £110 extra, as per the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover.

In another comparison, the 11in Macbook Air with an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory and 512GB of flash storage costs £1,349. The top-spec Surface Pro 3 costs £1,649, plus £110 for the Type Cover. That makes Microsoft's offering a whopping £300 more expensive. That's a lot of money for a touchscreen that's one inch bigger.

WINNER: Macbook Air

SIZE AND WEIGHT

At its thinnest point the Surface Pro 3 measures 0.9cm, while the Macbook Air ranges from a ludicrously thin 0.28cm to 1.7cm at its thickest point.

The Surface Pro 3 weighs just 800g while the 11in Macbook Air weighs 1.08kg. That's not a fair comparison though – add on the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover and the former weighs 1.09kg, so there's really nothing to choose between the two.

WINNER: Draw

SCREEN

The 12in screen on the Surface Pro 3 has a resolution of 2160 x 1440 at 214ppi. The 11.6in screen on the 11in Macbook Air has a resolution of 1,366 x 768 at 125ppi. The lower-resolution screens on both the 11in and 13in Macbook Air is a major disappointment.

Surface Pro 3

It goes without saying that the 11in Macbook Air has a smaller screen than the 12in Surface Pro 3. It is also fairly obvious that the Surface Pro 3 has a touchscreen and the Macbook Air does not. In terms of screen quality, size and in having a touchscreen the Surface Pro 3 excels.

The Surface Pro 3 has a strange aspect ratio of 2:3 while the Macbook Air hasa more traditional 16:9 aspect ratio.

WINNER: Surface Pro 3

DESIGN

The Surface Pro 2 was a bit of an ugly beast and Microsoft has slimmed down and polished up the Surface Pro 3 to make it look great. The flexibility of having a tablet or a laptop depending on what the situation requires is a big selling point for Microsoft, but critics will still argue that the iPad is a better tablet and the Macbook Air is a better lightweight laptop.

Despite this, the Surface Pro 3 is superbly designed. The Kickstand gives it even more flexibility while the Surface Pen is included, which is great news for artists, graphic designers and budding amateurs. The Surface Pro 3 is thin, light and attractive with the optional (but arguably essential) Type Cover coming in purple, red, cyan, blue and black to give it a more striking appearance.

Macbook Air

Apple has always prided itself on design and the Macbook Air is probably the pinnacle of this. It is improbably thin and well crafted. That said, it is just a very skinny laptop. Microsoft has taken the bold step by attempting to make a genuinely usable tablet/laptop hybrid and for that it should be applauded.

WINNER: Surface Pro 3

KEYBOARD AND TRACKPAD

For starters the Macbook Air comes with a keyboard well and truly attached. The keyboard on the Surface Pro 3 is an optional extra – called the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover costs £110. By general consensus the Type Cover 2 was decent enough, although most people hated the trackpad. Microsoft says it has now made it bigger and better.

The keyboard and trackpad on the Macbook Air are one of its biggest plus points. In our review of the 2014 Macbook Air we said:

"When it comes to laptop keyboards, the Macbook range has the best. Typing accurately and at speed is incredibly easy and you won't find yourself longing for a desktop keyboard."

Macbook Air

Enough said. The trackpad is equally excellent – no Windows laptop has ever come close to matching the quality of Apple trackpads.

WINNER: Macbook Air

PORTS

Functionality ought to be where Microsoft wins big, but the Surface Pro 3 isn't blessed with a plethora of ports. It has one USB 3 port, a microSD card reader and a Mini DisplayPort. There are also two 5MP cameras, one on the front and one on the back.

The 11in Macbook Air has two USB 3 ports and one Thunderbolt port, while the 13in model also has a SD card slot. All models of the Macbook Air come with Apple's 720p FaceTime HD camera. Apple's advantage is that the Thunderbolt port is very powerful and versatile, albeit costly to buy adaptors for.

WINNER: Draw

WINDOWS 8.1 VS OSX MAVERICKS

Windows 8 has its critics, but it felt relatively at home on the Surface Pro 2. As the Surface Pro 3 combines better specs with improved design, there's no reason why it won't replace its predecessor as the best Windows 8 device. The touchscreen tiled interface continues to be a problem for Microsoft and many of the apps in the Windows Store just aren't up to scratch. It was encouraging to see Adobe showing off a touch-optimised version of Photoshop, but more of this kind of support is needed before Windows 8 fully convinces.

By comparison, Apple's OSX Mavericks is a very refined and superbly designed operating system. The very core of OSX has remained unchanged for years, with Apple happy to build upon it by adding new features and functionality.

Surface Pro 3

Weighing up Windows 8.1 and OSX Mavericks is a bit like comparing apples and pears. The two operating systems will appeal to different people for different reasons. Yet, despite all Microsoft's hard work to improve it, Windows 8.1 still has major issues – mostly around its touchscreen tiled interface. OSX Mavericks is slicker and better designed and feels superbly well suited to the Macbook Air.

WINNER: Macbook Air

SURFACE PRO 3 VS MACBOOK AIR – VERDICT

The Surface Pro 3 is undoubtedly impressive, but few things can come close to the superb Macbook Air, which is easily the winner.

Read more

News