Apple MacBook (2016) vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: The sub-1kg showdown

If you’ve got around £1,000 burning a hole in your pocket and you want an ultra-light, go-anywhere portable, then you shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself paralysed by indecision. I know I would be. At that price, however, it’s fair to say that the Apple MacBook and Microsoft Surface Pro 4 are about as good as it gets.

Apple MacBook (2016) vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: The sub-1kg showdown

If you’re struggling to decide between Apple’s featherweight and Microsoft’s lightweight powerhouse, then you can consider this the helping hand you need. Here, you’ll find an in-depth comparison of every single aspect of each device, pitching the pair head to head in every category, from size and weight all the way through to accessories and expandability. 

Size and weight

Apple MacBook (2016) rear

Despite appearances, the two devices really aren’t all that dissimilar. They both weigh around a kilogram, share a similarly sized 12in display and are as handsomely constructed as anyone could ask for. These are the pinnacle of design in their respective fields.

“In size and weight terms, there really isn’t much to separate the two.”

In size and weight terms, there really isn’t much to separate the two. The Surface Pro 4 is lighter at 766g (Core m3 version) and 786g (Core i5/i7 versions), but that’s only if you leave the all-important Type Cover at home. With the Type Cover clasped to the front, the Surface Pro 4 weighs 1.06kg. The Apple MacBook weighs 920g.

It’s a similar story with the two devices’ dimensions. The Surface Pro 4 is around a centimetre wider and a handful of millimetres deeper than the MacBook, but snap the Type Cover to the front and the thickness swells from 8.5mm to 13.4mm. The MacBook measures 13.1mm thick. There’s precious little to choose between them.

Winner: DRAW

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Design and usability

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

The huge difference is that, while the MacBook is a traditional laptop, the Surface Pro 4 is a stylus-equipped tablet that – with the help of Microsoft’s optional clip-on keyboards – can also double as a laptop. Microsoft claims it’s the “tablet that can replace your laptop”, and for some people that may be the case.

There’s not a shred of doubt that the Surface Pro 4 is the more versatile of the two. It’s a capable, stylus-equipped tablet that doubles as a usable laptop, and if you’re a budding artist or just love the idea of scribbling handwritten notes directly onscreen, then it’s in a class of its own. Clip on the optional Type Cover and you get a decent, if not earth-shatteringly great, touchpad and keyboard to play with.

“The Surface Pro 4 is the more versatile of the two.”

Unless you intend to take full advantage of the Surface Pro 4’s versatility, however, the Apple MacBook is by far the stronger laptop. Forget the stylus, and most people won’t even notice the lack of a touchscreen: the Force Touch trackpad is simply the best in its class, and the array of responsive, multi-fingered gestures make the MacBook a delight to use. The keyboard’s wide, short-travel keys might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I personally think it’s great – and prefer it to the Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover.

By far the MacBook’s greatest appeal, however, is that it’s more comfortable to use – and far more so on a lap. Where the MacBook has a solid, stable base that makes it easy to use in most situations, the Surface Pro 4 relies on an adjustable kickstand, and its Type Cover lacks the rigidity to work really well on a lap.

Winner: DRAW

Display quality

Apple MacBook (2016) lead image

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of both displays, both Apple and Microsoft should be congratulated – these are pretty much as good as it gets. Both are high-DPI displays, so offer more than enough pixel-dense sharpness for the most exacting eyeballs, and with both capable of reproducing almost all of the colours in the sRGB gamut, and accurately too, there’s nothing to moan about at all. Whichever you choose, you’ll be very happy indeed.

“Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 narrowly takes the lead.”

Break down the specifications and performance of each display, however, and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 narrowly takes the lead. In addition to a higher maximum brightness (388cd/m2 to the MacBook’s 335cd/m2), it has a much higher contrast ratio, which provides a slightly punchier, more solid-looking image (1,218:1 to the MacBook’s 805:1). It also packs in a few more pixels to trump the MacBook’s 226ppi with a 267ppi pixel density, but this isn’t especially noticeable in everyday use.

One other difference is that the two companies have used very different display ratios: the MacBook uses a 16:10 display, whereas the Surface Pro 4 uses a 3:2 display. Why? Well, because the Surface Pro 4 is a tablet it needs to provide enough screen space in both vertical and horizontal orientations, thus a fatter, more squared-off display is preferable.

WINNER: Surface Pro 4

Continues on page 2: Performance, battery life and value for money

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