The Surface Laptop 4 is an excellent all-around notebook, providing plenty of power within a thin and attractive design. It also happens to have some unique advantages over the MacBook Pro — one of our picks for the best laptops you can buy.
With a taller-than-average display, a combination of modern and classic ports and one of the best keyboards we’ve tested, the Surface Laptop 4 makes a strong case for your workspace when pitted against the latest MacBook Pro. That said, Apple’s latest premium laptop still wins big in many areas, especially when it comes to sheer speed, battery life and connectivity.
One quick note: For this comparison, we’re talking specifically about the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 4 with an Intel processor, and the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Apple’s M1 chip inside. With that said, let’s break down the big strengths and weaknesses of these two portable powerhouses to help you find the right notebook for your needs.
Surface Laptop 4 (starting at $999; microsoft.com): You should get the Surface Laptop 4 if you want a Windows laptop with a superb keyboard, a slim and comfortable design, a mix of classic and modern ports and a touch screen. MacBook Pro (starting at $1,149; amazon.com and expercom.com): You should get the MacBook Pro if you want the most powerful laptop in this price range, need long battery life, are big on creative work or want something that will play nice with your iPhone and iPad. Mike Andronico/CNN
The Surface Laptop 4 and MacBook Pro both sport familiar-looking (and very attractive) designs, but we have to give the edge to Microsoft when it comes to sheer aesthetics.
Microsoft’s notebook is a hair thinner and lighter than the MacBook Pro and comes in a splash of attractive colors, including Matte Black, Sandstone and the especially eye-catching Ice Blue variation we tested. By comparison, the MacBook Pro is limited to just Space Gray and Silver.
But where the Surface Laptop 4 really stands out is with the soft Alcantara fabric covering that’s available on select 13.5-inch models, which doesn’t just look better than the all-metal MacBook Pro — it also proved easier on our wrists while typing. Speaking of which, both of these laptops have excellent keyboards, but we enjoyed hammering away on the Surface Laptop 4 just a bit more. The Laptop 4’s keyboard offers a deep 1.3 millimeters of travel and felt satisfyingly bouncy and comfortable as we spent hours typing up documents and emails.
The Magic Keyboard on the MacBook Pro is no slouch either, with snappy keys that are much less shallow than the butterfly keyboards of old. But the Laptop 4’s keys just feel better, especially when paired with the comfortable wrist rest provided by the Alcantara models.
These slim laptops are also slim on ports, each offering a handful of connection options that differ in some key ways. The Surface Laptop 4 gets you one USB-C port, one USB-A port, a headphone jack and a Surface Connect port, the latter of which connects to the included charger and can be used with supported docking stations. Meanwhile, the MacBook Pro features four USB-C Thunderbolt ports in addition to a headphone jack.
If you’re still using accessories that connect via the older USB-A standard (such as mice and storage drives), the Surface Laptop 4’s USB-A port is a nice perk that may prevent the need to spring for a separate USB adapter. But the MacBook Pro’s four USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports are faster than the standard USB-C slot on the Surface Laptop 4.
These ports can transfer data at up to 40 gigabytes (GB) per second, which is up to twice as fast as what you’ll find on regular USB-C and is useful for quickly transferring files from a hard drive or connecting to multiple 4K displays at once. As such, Apple’s notebook has a slight edge for power users in terms of port selection. Fortunately, you can expand the connectivity of either of these laptops with one of the best USB-C hubs.
The displays on the Surface Laptop 4 and MacBook Pro both delivered vibrant colors and impressive detail in our testing, and sport similarly sharp resolutions of 2256 x 1504 for the Surface versus 2560 x 1600 for the MacBook. But they each have some key perks that are worth keeping in mind when deciding between the two.
The Surface Laptop 4’s screen has a unique 3:2 ratio, which is taller than what you’ll find on most modern laptops and has about an extra inch of height compared to the MacBook Pro. That’s beneficial for seeing more of an Excel spreadsheet or a webpage at once without scrolling, and may be enticing for heavy multitaskers. And unlike the MacBook Pro, the Laptop 4 has a touch screen for when you want to pinch to zoom into photos or doodle around in Paint.
The MacBook Pro’s display stands out with Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the color temperature of the screen based on what room you’re in to keep things looking natural no matter where you’re working. We’ve also found Apple’s screen to be slightly brighter than the Surface’s in side-by-side comparisons, which is important if you’re going to be spending long hours combing through emails and editing photos and videos.
As far as multimedia goes, these two laptops trade blows in some key areas. The Surface Laptop 4 and MacBook Pro each have 720p webcams, and while they’re both grainier than we’d like, we found that Microsoft’s notebook takes sharper, brighter and less saturated photos. But Apple’s laptop wins on the audio front, pumping out richer and louder sound that better elevated individual instruments, such as guitars and bass, in our listening.
The Surface Laptop 4 delivered plenty of muscle for everyday multitasking in our tests, but the latest MacBook Pro is on another level. That’s all thanks to the new Apple M1 chip powering the company’s latest computers, which runs circles around the 11th Gen Intel Core i7 chip in our Surface Laptop 4. Apple’s processor seriously sets a new standard for laptop performance.
The MacBook Pro’s benchmark scores more than doubled that of our Surface Laptop 4 on the Geekbench 5 test, which measures a laptop’s overall speed. In terms of real-world use, all that power meant that we were able to power up 16 different apps (including Final Cut Pro and Photoshop) on Apple’s laptop without any crashes or slowdown.
But the M1 chip doesn’t just allow the latest MacBook Pro
The Surface Laptop 4 is great, but can it top the MacBook Pro?
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