Apple and Microsoft are archrivals, and not just when it comes to software. These days, both companies’ hardware offerings present seriously tempting options, and that’s particularly true when it comes to the MacBook Pro and the Surface Pro 7 — two of the best laptops you can buy right now.
So, which should you go for? The former is a top-class pro laptop, while the latter is a classy 2-in-1 device with plenty of flexibility, so it’s not an easy choice. Luckily, our guide is here to lay out your options and help you navigate this tricky pathway.
The MacBook Pro has long been a trendsetter in the laptop space, helping to redefine what a premium laptop looks and feels like. With increased competition and many pretenders, it’s contemporary design isn’t quite so revolutionary, but it still stands above the crowd with its build quality and clean aesthetic. Even if we still don’t see the point of the Touch Bar, the look and feel of Apple’s MacBook Pro is excellent.
The Surface Pro 7 is disappointing in terms of its design. Whereas in the past we gave its minor design iterations a pass, this year we’ve finally had enough — as we said in our review, “The Surface Pro 7’s minor revisions are hardly worth a numeric bump from 6 to 7.” It still has large, unsightly bezels, which are looking increasingly out-of-place in 2019. Indeed, in a laptop marketplace that so often sees just millimeters of extra material surrounding displays, it feels decidedly outdated. It’s also a tad too heavy for comfortable tablet use.
Fortunately, that doesn’t extend to its inputs. We really like its Type Cover, which starts at $130 and gives you a comfortable, pleasing typing experience. It gives you an excellent trackpad too, which we consider one of the best you can get on a Windows device. It’s a must-have accessory if you plan to do any real typing on the Surface Pro 7.
By comparison, the MacBook Pro 13’s butterfly keyboard fails miserably. It’s no secret that even Apple isn’t satisfied with its performance, as evidenced by its repeated attempts to tweak the mechanism to give a more pleasing typing experience. So far it’s all been in vain, with shallow key travel and issues with failure rates dogging it over the years. The MacBook Pro 16’s new Magic Keyboard is far, far better, but right now is only limited to this model and isn’t available in the MacBook Pro 13. Given the price of the larger MacBook Pro, we don’t think it’s worth the outlay if you just want a decent keyboard.
How about ports? The MacBook Pro 13 comes with either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, depending on the model you choose. These use the USB-C form factor; depending on your peripherals, you may need some adapters to get them to work with the MacBook Pro. There’s also a headphone jack, too.
As for the Surface Pro 7, Microsoft also gives you a USB-C port, but it doesn’t offer the same blazing speeds as Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 ports. Elsewhere, there’s a USB-A 3.0 port, a headphone jack, a Surface Connect port, a Surface Type Cover connector, and a microSDXC card reader. That means it loses the Mini DisplayPort output from the Surface Pro 6 days.
One final note on design: the Surface Pro 7 is a 2-in-1 device, whereas the MacBook Pro is 100% laptop. We’re not fully convinced by the Windows 10 tablet experience just yet, but the extra flexibility you get with the Surface Pro 7 is definitely worth considering.
As for the MacBook Pro, the entry-level model gives you an 8th-generation quad-core 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. There are options to boost the processor to a 2.8GHz quad-core i7, add 16GB of memory, and take a 2TB SSD. Maxing out the MacBook Pro 13 in this way will set you back $3,099. It’s also worth noting that every MacBook Pro model now comes with the Touch Bar; while we’re not fully convinced of its usefulness, it’s worth taking into consideration.
So, how do the two devices stack up in terms of performance? While the MacBook Pro’s processor is behind the Surface Pro 7’s in terms of generation, the base clock of its top-end chip is twice as fast as that of the most expensive Surface Pro. If you’re interested in doing processor-intensive work, that may tip the scales in the MacBook Pro’s favor.
However, you also need to consider the price. Even when you bump up to the i5 processor and throw in a Type Cover, the Surface Pro’s $1,029 price tag is some $270 cheaper than the entry-level MacBook Pro, despite giving you a comparable machine. That could make all the difference to your decision.
Ultimately, both Apple and Microsoft give you plenty of options to configure their devices to your needs, so you won’t be lacking choice. If you have demanding workloads, the top-end MacBook Pro is likely to be your best bet. For everything else, though, the attractive price tag of the Surface Pro 7 may give it the edge.
At 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33-inches and just 1.7 pounds in tablet mode (1.74 pounds with the i7 chip and around 2.4 pounds with the Type Cover), the Surface Pro 7 is the leaner and lighter device. The MacBook Pro is a slim and relatively light laptop, at 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.59-inches and 3.02 pounds in weight, but it just can’t compete with how easy the Surface Pro 7 is to carry around.
Both the MacBook Pro and Surface Pro 7 are a little disappointing in terms of battery life. The Apple laptop managed just over 10-hours in our 1080p video loop test and has a smaller-capacity battery than previous versions, while the Surface Pro 7 also took a step back, lasting almost an hour and a half less than its predecessor in light web browsing. Both devices can get you through a workday, but you may find yourself reaching for the power cord sooner than you’d like.
In late 2019, Apple brought out the MacBook Pro 16, which boasts the largest battery ever in a MacBook at 100 watt-hours (that’s the largest battery the FAA will let you take on an airplane). There are rumors aplenty that Apple is planning on bringing out a smaller version of this MacBook Pro in 2020, which is definitely worth keeping an eye on if battery life is important to you. For now, though, the MacBook Pro 13 lacks this super-sized battery.
The Surface Pro 7’s flexibility wins out
It’s rare that a 2-in-1 can provide serious competition for a dedicated laptop, but that all changes when the 2-in-1 you’re talking about is one of the best we’ve ever tested. The Surface Pro 7 has its drawbacks, namely its smaller screen and overly chunky bezels. But where it excels, it steams past Apple’s MacBook Pro, offering more versatility and keyboard comfort, making it a more enjoyable device to use, for longer, and a far more portable one too. The lightweight tablet mode is the cherry on top.
If you need more grunt and prefer the sleek look and forward-thinking port selection of the MacBook Pro, it’s certainly a great option — although we might try to tempt you with the MacBook Air or bump you up to the more powerful 16-inch MacBook Pro. Compared to the base 13-inch MacBook Pro, though, the Surface Pro 7 is a better all-around device. Even with its must-have Type Cover accessory, it’s cheaper when configured with comparable hardware, especially if you want to throw in some extra storage.
The MacBook Pro looks and feels the part, but the Surface Pro 7 delivers where it can’t. That may change if Apple brings out a revamped MacBook Pro 13 in 2020, but for now Microsoft’s 2-in-1 takes the crown.