MacBook Pro or Surface Book 2016: Which One Should You Buy?

The latest lineups of laptops from the biggest names in the game are now available to purchase. On one side, we have the 2016 MacBook Pro, the premier notebook from Apple. On the other side is Microsoft’s Surface Book, a laptop-tablet hybrid that runs Windows 10. While many computer-buyers stick to the operating system they know best when they replace their machines, others may be interested in what the other side has to offer. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the latest MacBook Pros and Surface Books to see which high-end laptop is right for you.

Design

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar from above

Apple and Microsoft have differing designs — which one is right for you? | Apple

Microsoft’s latest Surface Book isn’t a major overhaul, so it sticks with the the design of last year’s original Surface Book. That’s fine, though, because its tablet-laptop hybrid form factor is still something of a statement. You can open it up and use it like any old laptop, or you can remove the display from the “performance base” and use it like a tablet. It even comes with a stylus that you can use for drawing or marking up documents on the screen. On the negative side of things, the Surface Book’s hinge creates a gap between the display and keyboard when it’s closed. This design quirk looks odd and wastes a little bit of space in your carrying bag.

The MacBook Pro is a sleek machine that looks more or less how Mac laptops have looked for years now — but considering their impeccable design, that’s not a bad thing. It has a unibody aluminum chassis that comes in a few colors and a shallow keyboard that might feel strange initially, but it doesn’t take long to get used to. One other change is that the trackpad is significantly larger than in previous models. This makes it more convenient to perform trackpad gestures and move the cursor.

In terms of portability, the Surface Book is 0.9 inches tall when closed and weighs between 3.3 and 3.6 pounds, depending on the model you choose. At 0.6 inches tall, MacBook Pros are a little thinner, and they vary in weight depending on the model you choose. The 13-inch MacBook Pro weighs three pounds, while the 15-inch model weighs four pounds.

Unique features

Microsoft Surface Book and stylus

When choosing your laptop of choice, consider what operating system you prefer | Microsoft

The big point of differentiation for the Surface Book is that you can pop it off the keyboard base and use it as a tablet. You control it either with a stylus or your fingers, using the display as a touchscreen.

You can also touch the MacBook Pro’s screen, but all you’ll do is plaster it with fingerprints. On the other hand, if you buy any model other than the least expensive one, you’ll get something called a Touch Bar. The Touch Bar is a long touchscreen above the keyboard that replaces the function keys. The idea is that its functions will change depending on which app you have open. For instance, when you’re watching a video, the Touch Bar displays a scrubber that lets you skip ahead or rewind quickly. When typing, the Touch Bar can display predictive text and emoji. The jury is still out on how useful the Touch Bar will be once third-party developers start making use of it, but most reports indicate that it’s a promising new addition to the MacBook Pro’s hardware.

The other, more obvious, difference between the MacBook Pro and Surface Book is their operating systems. MacBook Pros run on the macOS operating system while the Surface Book runs on Windows 10. While both operating systems offer much the same functionality, some programs only work on one or the other. If you’re looking to switch operating systems, whichever one is new to you will take some time to get used to.

Performance

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar from the side

Both the Macbook Pro and the Surface Book boast impressive graphics | Apple

Both the Surface Book and MacBook Pro offer the sixth-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. These are certainly speedy enough, although Intel is beginning to roll out its seventh-generation line of chips. If you want those, you’ll have to wait for next year’s models. But that’s the inescapable problem with technology: If you wait, you’ll always get better hardware.

On the graphical side of things, you can get a Surface Book with Intel HD Graphics or up to an NVIDIAvGTX 965M graphics card, depending on how much money you want to spend (and how many graphically-intensive programs you’ll want to run).

On the MacBook Pro side, you can buy models with Intel Iris Graphics, Radeon Pro 450, or 455. They’re all powerful enough to perform most functions for everyday use, though if you want to play new games, you’ll get more mileage from the NVIDIA card in the top-end Surface Book.

Display

Microsoft Surface Book - PCs that look like a Mac

Both Apple and Microsoft did a great job with the displays in their products | Microsoft

The Surface Book comes in one size only. It has a 13.5-inch touchscreen display that’s packed with pixels to the tune of 3,000 x 2,000.

The MacBook Pro comes in two sizes: a 13.3-inch model with 2,560 x 1,600 pixels and a 15.4-inch model with 2,880 x 1,800 pixels. The MacBook Pro displays aren’t as pixel-dense as the Surface Book, but unless you’re leaning in with a magnifying glass, you probably won’t notice much of a difference.

As if to make up for the MacBook Pro’s pixel deficiency, Apple is touting the display’s excellent contrast ratio and wide color display. The upshot for average users is that both screens look fantastic.

Battery life

iPhone Smartphone

The Surface Book may offer better battery life | Apple

Microsoft claims you can get 12 to 16 hours out of a single charge on a Surface Book. Apple claims the MacBook Pro offers up to 10 hours of battery life. The actual battery life you’ll get on both machines depends greatly on what kinds of tasks you use them to perform. If you’re pushing these machines by editing 4K video, you’ll get shorter battery life than if you’re simply checking email and Facebook.

Assuming the companies’ battery life claims are true, you’ll get more battery life from the Surface Book. But both machines can get you through a standard work day without having to sit near a power outlet.

Ports

The ports on the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

The Macbook Pro offers faster and more versatile ports | Apple

The Surface Book comes equipped with two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader, as well as a headphone port. Those are standard ports for laptops these days, but in a few years, they’ll probably seem outdated.

Apple is looking ahead when it comes to the ports on the MacBook Pro — almost to a fault. Depending on the model, these machines come with a headphone port and either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports that use the USB-C standard. To put it in less techy terms, these ports are much faster and more versatile than the Surface Book’s USB ports, though you’ll probably need to buy a few adapters to connect any current peripherals you have. Apple is betting that most devices like external hard drives and displays will use USB-C in the future, and it’s probably right.

Price

Fry holding money from Futurama

Whichever machine you choose, you’re going to be spending quite a bit for it | 20th Century Fox

As you would expect from sleek, high-performance laptops, both of these machines will do a number on your bank account.

The Surface Book ranges in price from $1,499 to $2,999, depending on how you spec it out. Over on the MacBook Pro side of things, the prices range from $1,499 to a whopping $4,299 if you max out the specs on the highest-end model available.

In either case, you can expect to get several years’ worth of daily use out of these machines. While the Surface Book hasn’t been around long enough to see if it can withstand the test of time, many people are still using MacBook Pros from 2011 or before.

MacBook Pro or Surface Book: Which one is right for you?

Businessman holding his head

No matter which product you go with, you’re likely to be happy | iStock.com

Both the Surface Book and MacBook Pro are exceptional machines with many more pros than cons. You have more choices in terms of power and size with a MacBook Pro, but the Surface Book can be operated as a standard laptop or as a tablet.

Thanks to its touchscreen and stylus, the Surface Book is a better choice for people who draw or mark up documents by hand. It also lasts longer on a single battery charge. But the MacBook Pro is a powerful machine with a small touchscreen of its own that may prove handy. It also has more versatile ports that can transfer data much faster to compatible peripherals.

These are both very powerful and well-designed machines. Whichever one you choose, you’ll probably be happy with the results.