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2014 MacBook Air vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 2

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May 1, 2014

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the 11-in 2014 MacBook Air and the Surface Pro 2

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the 11-in 2014 MacBook Air and the Surface Pro 2

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Earlier this week we took a look at how the new 13-in MacBook Air compares to the same-sized MacBook Pro with Retina Display. But we don't want to leave the 11-in Air out of the fun. Let's see how its features and specs compare to the Microsoft Surface Pro 2.

Keyboard and trackpad

The MacBook has an integrated keyboard and trackpad, while you'll need to buy a separate (...

Just to be crystal clear about what we're dealing with here, the MacBook Air is a traditional laptop (or "UltraBook," if you will), while the Surface Pro 2 is a hybrid, or 2-in-1. You'll need to buy a separate keyboard cover for the Surface, so it can transform back and forth between tablet and laptop. The Surface Pro 2 has a terrific built-in (dual position) kickstand, that lets you prop it up in laptop mode.

One big advantage the MacBook has is that its trackpad is much bigger and better than the small one on the Surface's covers. As we'll see in a minute, though, the Surface makes up for that with touchscreen and stylus support.

Size

The Surface will leave a smaller footprint in your bag

The Surface Pro 2 is going to leave a slightly smaller footprint in your bag. The MacBook Air is about 11 percent taller, 9 percent wider, and (technically) 26 percent thicker than the Surface Pro 2.

There are, however, a couple of things to keep in mind about that thickness comparison. First, the MacBook Air has a tapered design, and this measurement only counts its thickest point. The Surface doesn't taper in the same way; it's thickness is uniform. You're also going to want to use the Surface with one of Microsoft's keyboard covers, which will add a little extra thickness.

Weight

The Surface Pro 2 is lighter, but only when you don't include one of its keyboard covers

Without a keyboard cover attached, the Surface Pro 2 is 16 percent lighter than the MacBook Air. But that only holds up when you're using the Surface in tablet mode. The rest of the time you'll have a keyboard cover snapped onto the Surface, so this weight comparison is a little misleading.

With the Touch Cover 2 (the light one with non-moving keys) attached, the Surface becomes 1 percent heavier than the MacBook Air. With the Type Cover 2 (the one with physical keys but no battery) attached, the Surface becomes 8 percent heavier than the Air. With the Power Cover (physical keys, built-in battery) on, the Surface becomes 34 percent heavier than the MBA.

Build

Both PCs have premium build qualities

Both devices have premium builds. The MacBook uses Apple's favorite, aluminum, while the Surface sticks with the same "VaporMg" (magnesium alloy) construction that we saw in the first Surfaces. The MacBook Air has a physical design that's identical to every MBA since late 2010.

Display (size)

The Surface Pro 2's display gives you 84 percent as much real estate as the MacBook's

The Surface Pro 2 gives you 84 percent as much screen real estate as the 11-in MacBook Air. The Surface's 10.6-in screen is on the larger end of the spectrum for tablets, and the smaller end for laptops. Having spent a lot of time with the Surface, though, I think Microsoft hit a great display size balance for its 2-in-1.

Display (resolution and pixel density)

The Surface Pro 2 has a noticeably sharper display

The Surface has a noticeably sharper display. Microsoft also employs ClearType (sub-pixel rendering) technology, which makes text look a little sharper on the Surface's screen than its already solid pixel density would suggest.

Touch screen

The Surface has a touchscreen; no Mac has ever had one

As a tablet and touchscreen laptop rolled into one, the Surface Pro 2 naturally employs touch. Apple is still insisting that laptops don't need touchscreens. I've spent plenty of time with both Surfaces and MacBooks, and though I agree that traditional notebooks don't need touchscreens, I do think touch is a very nice feature to have in a productivity-based device.

Stylus

The Surface includes a Wacom-based stylus

The Surface Pro 2 also includes a Wacom-based stylus. It's great for navigating through those legacy Windows desktop apps, which were never designed for fat fingers. It also allows for pressure sensitivity, and is a great companion for Photoshop (if only Adobe would fix its display scaling issues on the Surface's high-res display).

When you aren't using the stylus ("Surface Pen"), it magnetically snaps into the Surface Pro's charging port. It's also identical to, and therefore backwards compatible with, the Surface Pen from the 1st-generation Surface Pro.

Processor

The Surface's Haswell processor is a little faster than the 11-in MacBook's

Both devices have Intel's power-sipping Haswell processors inside. The Surface Pro 2's CPU is clocked a little higher.

If you pay Apple extra, though, you can configure the MacBook Air's processor up to a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i7 (with turbo boost up to 3.3 GHz).

Graphics

The integrated Intel GPU in the MacBook Air is slightly better than the similar one in the...

The MacBook Air's integrated graphics are a slight upgrade over the integrated GPU in the Surface Pro 2. Both of them will be able to do some light gaming, but don't expect anything close to the horsepower of a gaming PC with a dedicated graphics card.

RAM

RAM options for each PC

Both machines are available in both 4 GB and 8 GB RAM options. For the Surface, the 8 GB model is tied to the two largest storage tiers. The MacBook's 8 GB RAM model is a premium configurable option.

Storage

Internal storage options

Here we have the storage options for each device. The 512 GB MacBook model is also a configurable one that you'll have to pay to add during online checkout.

MicroSD slot

The Surface Pro 2 has a microSD card slot, that can let you expand your storage

The Surface Pro has a microSD card slot to help expand that internal storage. If you pony up an extra US$120, you can even pop in one of SanDisk's new 128 GB microSDs. Though it isn't quite the same as having more internal storage, external storage is much cheaper to add to your purchase.

Not only does this 11-in MacBook Air not have a microSD slot, it also doesn't have the full-sized SD reader that you'll find in the 13-in Air.

USB 3.0 port

The MBA has two USB ports; the Surface Pro 2 has one

The MacBook has two USB 3.0 ports, while the Surface Pro 2 gives you just one. You can, of course, buy USB splitter accessories that will effectively give you more ports on either device. But if you want an integrated solution, the MBA has the advantage.

Thunderbolt port

The MacBook Air has a Thunderbolt port

You don't see too many non-Apple notebooks with Thunderbolt ports these days. And you'll still have to pay a pretty penny for any Thunderbolt accessories you want to use. USB 3.0 is going to be the more practical answer for most customers.

Mini DisplayPort

Both devices let you hook up a Mini DisplayPort cable for HDMI out

The Surface Pro 2 does have a Mini DisplayPort for HDMI out. The MBA's Thunderbolt port is backwards-compatible with Mini DisplayPort cables.

Battery

Despite the numbers you see here, the MacBook's battery should last a couple of hours long...

Both devices' Haswell processors help them to have significantly longer battery life than notebooks from a couple of years ago. The MBA's lower-resolution display helps it to last longer (an estimated nine hours of web use), and with typical use I'd say the Surface Pro 2 should last five to seven hours. If you invest in Microsoft's Surface Power Cover, though, then you can stretch its uptimes out by about 30 percent.

Cameras

As a laptop, the MacBook Air has one front-facing webcam, while the tablet, the Surface Pr...

The MacBook Air has a 720p webcam, while the Surface Pro 2 has both front and rear cameras.

Software

The MacBook Air runs OS X Mavericks, while the Surface runs Windows 8.1 Pro

The MacBook Air runs OS X Mavericks, while the Surface Pro 2 runs Windows 8.1 Pro. Mac OS X has taken on some iOS-like qualities, but it's still a dedicated desktop OS. Windows 8.1 features both the traditional Windows desktop and the new touch-based Modern UI. As much flak as that part of Windows has taken from desktop users, I think it's a great fit for devices like the Surface.

Desktop apps

Both computers run desktop apps

Just to avoid any confusion, the Surface Pro 2 will run all of your old Windows desktop software. If you've heard anyone say that the Surface doesn't support desktop apps, then they were talking about the Windows RT-running Surface RT or Surface 2.

Office suite

These are the flagship office suites for each machine (though they also run many more)

Of course, both machines run any office suites designed for their respective operating systems (as well as web-based suites like Google Docs). But Apple now gives away its iWork suite for free with Mac purchases. The Surface Pro 2 doesn't include Office with your purchase, though you can now rent a license (via Office 365) for as little as $7 per month.

Release

Release dates for the latest MacBook Air and the Surface Pro 2

Apple just released this minor update to the MacBook Air earlier this week. The Surface Pro 2 has been around since late 2013.

Pricing

Starting prices are equal, though this doesn't include the Surface's keyboard cover (they ...

With the small speed bump, Apple also dropped the MBA's price by $100 across the board. That has it starting at the same $900 as the Surface Pro 2.

Just remember that there's no point in buying a Surface without also throwing down for one of Microsoft's snap-on keyboard covers. The Touch Cover 2 rings up for $120, the Type Cover 2 costs $130, and the battery-extending Power Cover has a $200 price tag. The Surface Pro 2 is also backwards-compatible with the 1st-generation Surface covers, which you might be able to find discounted, though I think the new models are enough of an improvement to warrant the extra cash.

For more on these devices, you can read Gizmag's full reviews of the 11-in MacBook Air (the very slightly slower mid-2013 model) and the Surface Pro 2. You can also hit up our Surface Power Cover review, if you're thinking about tagging that onto your purchase.

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
13 Comments

One big advantage of the macbook is that it is fast and easy to pull out and put into a bag, where the tablet with keyboard would need some extra protection. Also the mac backlit keyboard is the same universal design that makes you able to type fast and reliable on all apple computers and laptops.

MS Office purchase is $110

Touch Cover weighs 200gram

The Power Cover weighs 500gram and makes it equal the mac power:)

Aurin Ræder
2nd May, 2014 @ 03:43 am PDT

Hmm, I just bought my surface, my colleague has a mac air, both need a protective case. Did not know that this was who could pull out their computer faster.

Alexander Sinclair
2nd May, 2014 @ 07:10 am PDT

The Surface 2 has the really big advantage of being more portable than the Mac. It's keyboard protects it screen and you don't need an extra case like any other tablet. You can use it even in your hands wherever you want... Even when you are walking. You can install all the games and apps that where designed for tablets and all the programs that where designed for desktops. The Surface Pro 2 is the best of two worlds.

Dany
2nd May, 2014 @ 08:17 am PDT

I like the form factor and flexibility of the Surface Pro 2 over the clamshell non-touch of the MBA although the touchpad on the air is far better (I tend to use a mouse even with my tablets though).

One thing that I found an issue was the higher screen res on the Pro made it a pain to connect larger monitors that had lower res in that resizing the objects on the desktop is needed when using it on the 10" but they became huge on the monitors. There is suppose to be an ability to allow differing size settings on each monitor but I could not get that to work. Also always felt the need to keep it plugged in, could not go through a typical work day cordless.

IMHO, I like a convertible like the Yoga over the Surface as it gives a bit larger screen and less compromises in keyboard and such.

Rann Xeroxx
2nd May, 2014 @ 10:52 am PDT

Mac guaranteed to last 5x longer. I had 3 windows laptops in 5 years (with several complete windows refreshes). I've had 1 macbook air in 3 years. Apples OS is just so much smoother and cleaner.

Seth Auser
2nd May, 2014 @ 11:08 am PDT

before purchasing Surface Pro 2, I was about to get Macbook Pro but I always felt something missing (touch screen and stylus function.

Then, I finally decided to go with Surface Pro 2 and I was grateful with my decision.

It's two months I have been using Surface Pro2 and it's perfect.

I used it for heavy tasks except playing games....

MS Office, Lightroom, Photoshop CS6, some other photography softwares and it never failed me...

Steve Jo
2nd May, 2014 @ 07:51 pm PDT

I've had a Windows laptop (Toshiba) for the past 4 years. Used for gaming and photoshop mostly. I carry it in a backpack with no extra protection. It is now feeling slow by comparison to newer laptops, but runs perfectly well.

My iPad2 struggles to even run stock apps smoothly now and it isn't nearly as old. My colleagues that updated to iOS 7 have even worse performance on their iPad 2's. My wife's 2 year old iphone already broke under normal use. Her new one is not faring much better.

So no, I don't believe Apple products are "guaranteed to last 5x longer."

I would love to get my hands on a Surface Pro2, it's just too expensive currently.

Matthew Dickson
3rd May, 2014 @ 08:07 am PDT

Easy win for the MacBook.

The 'surface' (daft name aside) is just too clunky, and has lost money for M$ from day one. What company sells their gear at a loss??

I've seen only one in the wild, and was definitely not impressed.

The MacBook hardware and software on the other hand is sleeker, and wins simply by *not* being windows 8. I mean, come on, just look at the pics!

Buying an 11" asap.

Neil
3rd May, 2014 @ 08:36 am PDT

I've had a Surface Pro2 for about a month now. I also have an iMac, iPod Touch5g and an iPhone5g. Also have a Sager Gaming Laptop.

The Surface Pro is nothing short of awesome. The interface, the look and the feel is addictive. It feels very expensive and elegant. it is fast and gaming on it works very very well. Especially if the game is 2-3 years old.

The MSFT app store is underrated. One thing I learned about the Apple app store is that there are so many clones. The Apple App store is not as big as you think. By the same token, I think MSFT needs to keep an eye on the junk apps, but the MSFT App store is certainly not bad...and it continues to grow.

The abilty to install my x386 apps on the Surface Pro 2 is probably the most valuable thing it can do. Windows 8 works great on the Surface Pro 2. You can use your finger, stlus or mouse exclusively or in combination...It ends up being a very efficent and rewarding interface. The only snag is that on my old x386 apps, using your finger can be a challenge...however, those apps were not designed for touch. So can't hold that against the device.

The split screen function is great for comparing documents, webpages or just general multitasking. You can literally have a netflix on one side while surfing the internet on the other half of the screen. I typically have email on one side with a document on the other side. Either way, it works flawlessly.

I won't say the Surface Pro 2 is an iPad killer. iPad is a little more focused on the casual/simple user. So I continue to see the iPad selling more units. But the Surface is an amazing device the brings things tothe table that the iPad neve will. I hope MSFT sticks to it and continues to improve the device. I think they have a real winner here.

Jjoohhnn
4th May, 2014 @ 06:37 pm PDT

'Jjoohhnn': The 'surface' has been a sales flop, despite the fact that M$ loses money on every one they sell in order to price it to match the MBA.

It's a laptop you can't put on your lap, with a subpar keyboard, woeful OS and lackluster app selection.

This is what happens when M$ takes on Apple head to head:

Zune

W8 'Metro'

Windows Phone

'Surface'

You *must* be an M$ employee. :D

Neil
5th May, 2014 @ 11:42 am PDT

Microsoft has gained significantly with the pro 2 and that's why there is a pro 3 coming.

The only thing I would say it needs is a better battery and a internal holder for the pen.

The device has far reached my expectation and my old mac air is retired.

People with scaling problems to large monitors is odd but not uncommon I seam to have no issue even when I screen stream to my smart TV with out the cord and its 4k compatible as well.

Joe Filardi
5th May, 2014 @ 04:35 pm PDT

Neil, it's great that you like Apple products; we get it. It sounds like you've never even given the surface a look. I have to say, though, I don't understand why you call them M$ and then make fun of them for not making a profit. I don't think bragging about how much you overpay for hardware is helping your case either.

jefhart
5th May, 2014 @ 07:29 pm PDT

I caved in and purchased the Surface Pro 2 after giving various 2 in 1's a try. I must say that the Surface Pro 2 is awesome. I have has a Samsung ativ 500t, Lenovo lynx, dell venue 11 pro 5130 and an acer w510. I will say, after so many 2 in 1's I started to lose all faith in them and contemplated getting an ultra book. After purchasing a Dell Venue 11 pro 7130 that had a bad motherboard (I probably would have stayed with the Venue if they weren't on back order). I contemplated getting the MBA, but thankfully I gave the Surface Pro 2 a try. What makes the Surface Pro 2 so appealing is it IS thee best representation of the windows 8 infrastructure there is from a hardware prospective. Like anything else it has it's short comings but the positive does out weigh the negative for sure. I had a Mac Book Pro 15 and ended up selling it for an Alienware 14, as I am impressed with the Mac's ergonomics, from a performance prospective, atleast for what I do for a living, it lacks big time.

imanym
7th May, 2014 @ 04:18 pm PDT
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