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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs. 2014 MacBook Air (11-in)

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May 21, 2014

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the Surface Pro 3 and 11-in MacBook Air

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the Surface Pro 3 and 11-in MacBook Air

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Microsoft may be pitching its Surface Pro 3 as "a tablet that can replace your laptop," but is it really an upgrade from the setup you already have? Let's take a look, as Gizmag compares the features and specs of the Surface Pro 3 and 11-in MacBook Air.

Size

The Surface Pro 3 is going to make for one big-ass tablet

The Surface Pro 3's bigger size should have it working better as a laptop than any previous Surface. It's 5 percent taller and 3 percent narrower than the MacBook Air.

You'll want to take the depth measurements with a few grains of salt. Yes, the Surface Pro 3 is much thinner than its two predecessors – and that's definitely a good thing. But just remember that the MacBook Air's tapered design has it sloping into a razor-like edge. This visual only accounts for its thickest point.

Also remember that when you have the Surface's keyboard cover attached, it becomes 53 percent thicker – for a grand total of 13.9 mm (0.55 in).

Keyboard and trackpad

The Surface's keyboard and trackpad combo is sold separately (for an extra $130)

In case you aren't already clear on what you're getting from these two devices, the Surface only transforms into a laptop when you attach its (sold separately) Type Cover. The MacBook Air is a classic laptop, with integrated keyboard and trackpad (both of which are quite excellent).

Weight

When you attach its keyboard cover, the Surface is a little heavier than the MacBook Air

Without its keyboard cover, the Surface Pro 3 is 26 percent lighter than the MacBook Air. But that's hardly a fair fight: to truly serve as a laptop replacement, the Surface will need its keyboard cover attached. Once you snap on the Surface Pro's Type Cover, Microsoft's PC actually becomes a smidge heavier than the MacBook.

Build

It's magnesium vs. aluminum

With the new Surface, Microsoft is sticking with the magnesium build that it used for all the previous Surfaces. Nothing is changed on the Apple side either, as MacBook Airs have always had aluminum unibody frames.

Colors

Only one silver-ish color option for either PC

They might look a little different next to each other, but both machines have silver-colored backs. Neither is sold in different color options.

Display (size)

The 11-in MacBook gives you 87 percent as much screen real estate as the Surface Pro 3

That big 12-in screen is going to have the Surface Pro 3 looking much more like a traditional laptop than the older (10.6-in) Surfaces did. And it actually gives you 16 percent more display real estate than this 11-in MacBook Air.

While there's no denying the Surface Pro 3 gives you a huge canvas, does that big of a screen even make sense in tablet mode? With more customers buying 8-in and smaller tablets like the iPad mini and Kindle Fire, I'm wondering who – besides maybe a graphic designer – would need a tablet with a gargantuan 12-in screen?

Display (resolution)

The Surface Pro 3 has a much sharper screen than the MBA

If there's one area where the MacBook Air could use an update, it's in its screen's resolution. I don't think the Air's screen looks bad at all, but if you prop it up next to a Retina MacBook Pro, it's going to look a little pixelated. The Surface Pro 3 should also look sharper, as it packs in 60 percent more pixels per inch than the MacBook Air.

Touch screen

Only the Surface has a touchscreen

Since it doubles as a tablet, the Surface would be in trouble if it didn't have touch capabilities. Apple has yet to make a touchscreen MacBook.

Stylus

The Surface's stylus is improved in the new model

The Surface Pro 3's stylus ("Surface Pen") is improved over the one you'd find in older Surfaces. Its big draw is the synced clicker on its end: a click of the cap instantly opens Microsoft's OneNote app.

Processor

The clock speed listed for the Surface is for the ($1,000) Core i5 version, while the MacB...

You'll want to take this visual with a few grains of salt. First, Microsoft is splitting up the SP3's pricing tiers among Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors. But then the company's press materials only list the clock speeds for the Core i5 model. So this visual shows the speeds for the entry-level (US$900) MacBook Air and the second-cheapest ($1,000) Surface Pro 3.

RAM

Both devices are sold in options that include either 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM

Depending on which configuration you choose, both PCs are sold in both 4 GB and 8 GB RAM options.

Storage

Storage tiers for either device

That entry-level Surface Pro 3 not only skimps on the processor, but it also only gives you 64 GB of storage. The base MBA doubles that.

Micro SD card slot

The Surface Pro 3 has a microSD card

On the other hand, you can easily expand the Surface's internal storage with a microSD card. The 11-in Air doesn't have any SD slots (micro or otherwise).

USB 3.0

The MacBook gives you two USB 3.0 ports; the Surface gives you one

The MacBook Air does have two USB 3.0 ports, while the Surface just has one. If you don't mind a clunky setup, though, you can attach a USB splitter adapter to connect multiple USB devices to the Surface.

Thunderbolt

If you're the rare bird that owns speedy Thunderbolt accessories, then the MacBook Air has...

You'll be hard-pressed to find many Windows laptops with built-in Thunderbolt ports. Thunderbolt is fast, and it can open the door to setups like MacBook Air-powered workstations, "daisy-chained" together via Thunderbolt. But Thunderbolt-ready accessories are also expensive enough that they probably won't be practical for most customers.

Battery

Both manufacturers estimate 9 hours of web use for their respective devices

At this point we can only base the Surface's battery life off of Microsoft's estimates. It's tossing around the same "9 hours of web use" that Apple estimates for the MacBook Air (which, after reviewing the newest MBA, sounds about right to me). Both PCs have Intel's power-sipping Haswell processors inside, so you shouldn't have much to worry about in this department.

Cellular data

Neither device has mobile data radios; you'll need Wi-Fi to go online

While you're on the go, you'll still need to find a Wi-Fi hotspot (or create your own through your smartphone), as neither machine is sold with built-in mobile data radios.

Cameras

As a sometimes-tablet, the Surface adds a rear camera

As a part-time tablet, the Surface Pro 3 has cameras on both sides – and they shoot in a higher resolution than the cameras you'd find in older Surfaces. As a full-time laptop, the MacBook Air only has a front-facing webcam.

Software platform

The Surface ships with Windows 8.1 Pro, while the MacBook Air runs OS X 10.9 Mavericks

The Surface Pro 3 ships with Windows 8.1 Pro, while the MacBook Air runs OS X 10.9 Mavericks. We should hear about the next version of OS X a few weeks from now, during Apple's WWDC keynote.

Side-by-side multitasking

Microsoft's marketing department has fallen in love with side-by-side multitasking, but th...

I'm only throwing this one in because Microsoft's marketing team is pushing Windows' side-by-side multitasking pretty hard. I agree that it's a nice feature – and one that most dedicated tablets don't have. But running two side-by-side apps on OS X isn't a problem either: just plop their windows next to each other on your desktop.

What makes Windows' approach unique is that you can automatically "snap" two full-screen "Modern" (Start Screen) apps next to each other. OS X doesn't support side-by-side apps in full-screen mode.

Bundled office suite

Apple gives away its iWork suite with all new Mac purchases; you'll need to pay to use Mic...

I imagine many a Surface Pro 3 owner will use Microsoft Office, but they're going to have to pay for it. Apple now gives away free copies of its rival iWork suite with every new Mac purchase.

There are several free office alternatives on both platforms, including OpenOffice, LibreOffice and the web-based Google Docs.

Release

The Core i5 ($1,000 or more) Surface ships by June 20, while the Core i3 and i7 versions s...

The Surface Pro 3 is already up for pre-order, but it looks like you might have to wait a while for your delivery. Microsoft estimates that the Core i5 models ($1,000 and up) will ship by June 20. If you want a Core i3 or i7 model, then the company is saying "ships by August 31."

Apple just launched an extremely incremental MacBook Air update in April.

Starting prices

Without its keyboard cover, the Surface is cheaper – but there's also little point in buyi...

At first glance, the Surface Pro 3's pricing is looking pretty good. Starting at $800, it's technically the cheaper device. But don't forget that the Surface can't replace a laptop unless you also throw in a Surface Pro Type Cover. That tags an extra $130 to your purchase. And if you want it before late August, it looks like you'll have to throw down at least $1,130.

Really an upgrade?

Circling around to our original question – whether the Surface Pro 3 is really an upgrade over a classic laptop – well, it's probably too early to say. I suppose there is something to be said for replacing two devices with just one. If you shift between work and play at the drop of a hat, then a 2-in-1 might be just what the doctor ordered.

But you also can't deny that a multiple-device setup has its own advantages. It's all about specializing. A laptop is better at work than a tablet or smartphone. A tablet can be better at reading or browsing than a laptop or phone. And a smartphone has the advantage of being highly portable and pocketable.

Along those same lines, 2-in-1s seem to always have compromises. The Surface Pro 3 plugs one of the Surface Pro 2's holes (it made for a very beefy tablet) but then it adds another potential hole: an enormous screen that's going to be too big for many tablet shoppers. I'm not sure if you can, at this point, create a 2-in-1 that doesn't have some significant level of compromise.

But we're just getting started with the Surface Pro 3, and these thoughts will likely evolve as we move towards its official launch. If you want to dig a little deeper on the MacBook side, you can hit up our review of the 2014 11-in MacBook Air.

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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
11 Comments

You see to have a MBA bias. You either don't really highlight or you seem to downplay any plus for the Pro 3 and talk up any plus for the MBA, the same with cons. You even try to make the 12" a con. I mean its the size of a magazine. Could it be that Apple *trained* you into thinking that anything bigger than 10" in a tablet is too big? Where do you think you are getting your standards from (hence, bias).

What it boils down to is if you want a clamshell and only a clamshell and want Mac OS then you would get the MBA. The Surface on the other hand does everything the Mac does with better res, touch, stylus, tablet mode, and being able to double your storage with a SD Card is a HUGE plus for cost savings.

Rann Xeroxx
21st May, 2014 @ 08:43 pm PDT

I agree with Rann. I would most likely not purchase either one, but I definitely felt bias seeping through almost the entire article.

Catroast
21st May, 2014 @ 11:27 pm PDT

Rann you seem to have a Microsoft Bias. This is the 4th version of the Surface (counting RT) and still no one is buying it. Microsoft is trying to squeeze a PC into a tablet. WHY? If you want a PC buy one. If you want a tablet why should you be strapped with a bloated PC OS (128GB storage uses about 64GB for the OS) If their paradigm was so right for the consumer, MS would have nailed the Tablet space 10 years before Apple released the iPad and changed everything. But they didn't their offerings were bloated, heavy junk. In an attempt to change their focus they took ZUNE and made it Windows. Really? Unfortunately for MS No one wants it and the sales figures back me up. PC Sales are tumbling. No one wants a Mobile OS on a PC and a PC OS on a tablet. People are tired of being forced to purchase substandard products when there are better alternatives available at a better price point. Maybe what you should do instead of blindly backing everything Microsoft take a look at the alternatives. Office is no reason for the purchase, it has had its clock cleaned by all the free office replacements available. They are more stable the documents can be opened in Office and most importantly they are FREE. You take Office out of the mix and the reasons to by a Microsoft product falls to ZERO. I could go on but I won't. Just be wary of Swiss Army Knife solutions they are always expensive and difficult to use. My proof Surface 3.

edski
22nd May, 2014 @ 07:33 am PDT

edski. You are purposely not mentioning the FREE version of Microsoft Office Online. Better than google docs, or whatever online version of iWork is available. And, its totally free. And yes it meets your criteria of "the documents can be opened in office, and more importantly FREE!".

www.office.com

If office was truely getting its "clock cleaned" by competitors, why did 27 million people download office for iPad already?

jonnyutah
22nd May, 2014 @ 11:10 am PDT

I agree with others this article was totally biased towards the MBA. I will admit I have a bias towards Microsoft as I despise anything that has to do with Apple. That being said I always try to look at everything objectively...even Apple products. The truth is both products have their points.

Where Apple seems to excel is in the entertainment industry. More Apple products are used by DJ's and video producers than Windows based PC. On the other hand, there is the inherent familiarity that comes with a Windows based product.

Both products are expensive. By the time you add the keyboard to the Surface your talking the same price as an MBA. While I like Microsoft I couldn't justify spending that much on a tablet.

The Surface has a lot going for it, unfortunately its price will be its demise. If your in the market for a new device I would suggest looking elsewhere. If I had a choice between the two, unfortunately the MBA wins this one (and I hate to say that). Bring the price of the Surface down and its hands down Microsoft. The features of the Surface don't justify its high price point.

cadueces
22nd May, 2014 @ 12:44 pm PDT

I have to say that I have the original Surface Pro and my wife has the ipad Air that I bought her. But, she carries a PC laptop for work as well.So if you add up the Air 499.00 plus the PC laptop 599.00, you are at 1100.00 give or take a few bucks. Plus she has to take both if she wants to travel. I never cared for this idea which is why I got the Surface in the first place. The other big difference is the stylus pen. I have to get contracts signed all the time and it was scan, print, sign and scan and email process. No longer with the Surface Pro. Sign and send. That's it! I think the Surface Pro is like that SUV. Not a small car but not a full sized truck...It's a nice medium which is ideal for travel. On a side note, I'm hoping they make a touch cover still. I'm probably alone on this but I'm used to it now.

Danny Arias
22nd May, 2014 @ 01:11 pm PDT

I thought this was an even-handed comparison. All the points raised were fair. The higher resolution screen and stylus of the Pro3 will come in handy for many, but some aspects of the overall form factor and performance/disk capacity work in the MBA favor. What is versatility for some is compromise for others, and this article provides a good amount of information to help make that assessment for ones own needs.

PS: In no way is Office Online a substitute for the real Office application. It is convenient, and quite nice actually, but it is no substitute. I have not tried the iPad Office app, but I use Office on both Windows and Mac. The real app is where its at...maybe that is why so many have downloaded the iPad version (although the fact that it is free--if only for use as a viewer--may have something to do with it).

Nibblonian
22nd May, 2014 @ 01:13 pm PDT

I tire of articles that have very little good to say about any Microsoft Surface product. Most that I have read are diehard Apple fans. What is more disappointing is that the Surface 3 isn't even out yet and the writers are out in force to sway opinion on a product that isn't even on the shelf. Get a grip. I have owned a Surface since they came out and it is the only thing that I use. I have a top end laptop 18" laptop that stays home. I have been using the Surface Pro (1st Gen) for over a year exclusively for everything. I even at times have added a larger monitor when I want, even a full size 55" TV screen or a projector to display my screen. I have apps and full blown software on my Surface (Office 365, Visio, MS Project, Adobe Acrobat, etc.) with no problem running software and it isn't a slouch for capabilities. It is all in one device. All I ask is for the writers to give the product a fair review. But that as I have seen from the 1st Gen to the 3rd Gen seems to be all but impossible.

Greenster
22nd May, 2014 @ 09:20 pm PDT

You Guys are just a bunch of haters

I like Apple as I like Microsoft, they are both good Companies.

What I don't get is why you guys hate so much Microsoft?

Ipad is for those ones who wants a device to navigate on the Internet, do some email, and do simple tasks. In that regards it is good, but when it comes to productivity it is a failure.

Microsoft Surface is for those ones who wants more. So if you do not like it, don't bother just buy something else.

Microsoft is not forcing anybody to buy Surface you buy if you want to, and if you don't, don't buy. It is just as simple as that.

Delton Agostinho Esteves
23rd May, 2014 @ 03:12 am PDT

I have never commented here before, but as I read this article, I knew I had to comment even before I read the other comments.

This article is clearly biased towards Apple (or against Microsoft, however you want to look at it.) Almost every positive for Microsoft was downplayed, and almost every negative against Apple was downplayed as well. You can accuse me of bias all you want, but I am not a fanboy of either company. I just think the author needs to learn what unbiased writing really means. The bias was obvious to me.

dsunde
27th May, 2014 @ 03:29 pm PDT

I created an account on this website solely to reply to this article. If you cannot see that the author was heavily biased towards Apple you must be blind.

The whole article you tried to compare the surface to being as good of a laptop as the MBA. But you never once looked back to compare the MBA to being as good of a tablet as the surface, which obviously is impossible. Yeah, the surface will really break the bank with another $30 on that $900 investment definitely. (sarcasm) You're basically paying $30 for a screen that is not only bigger than the MacBook, but has a higher resolution and is TOUCH SENSITIVE. The MacBook Air cannot compete with the surface at the same price level. Apple products are notoriously over priced because of brand loyalty and recognition. Mainstreamers want apple products.. They charge higher. But for anyone who cares to look, Microsoft has now beaten Apple in both the laptop and tablet aspects. It's just a shame they showed up to the tablet market too late, after Apple has dominated since the release of the iTouch/iPad.

talbotcw
19th June, 2014 @ 02:08 pm PDT
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