The MacBook Pro 2016 and Microsoft Surface Pro 4 both offer a slew of amenities. While the Surface Pro 4 and 2016 MacBook Pro may appear at odds, they’re similar in appeal. Both devices boast a balance of power and portability. Yet the underlying ecosystems and components lend vastly different experiences. And while the Surface Pro 4 may be more a tablet than a laptop, there’s still competition between the devices.
Whereas the MacBook Pro offers the nifty new Touch Bar, discrete graphics options, and more storage space, the Surface Pro 4 maintains a balance of affordability, portability, and versatility. But which one should you buy? Here’s what you need to know about each before making your decision:
Apple’s Macbook Pro is a traditional laptop. Although Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 does have a screen and keyboard, it’s more of a tablet-laptop fusion, or 2-in-1. Its Intel Core i5 processor and 128–256 GB of RAM make the Surface Pro more powerful than the average tablet. However, Microsoft sells the detachable keyboard-folio separately. So by making the keyboard optional, the Surface Pro positions itself as a tablet first, and a laptop second. The keyboard folio also costs another $130/£90 above the already steep $900 price tag.
The MacBook Pro is still a laptop, and 2016 MacBook Pro arrives as the first major redesign since 2012. Despite revamping the processor, Apple kept the external components relatively stable. A 2016 redesign yields thinner and lighter versions of the 13- and 15-inch MacBooks. At the same time, both iterations benefit from faster graphics and hard drives, along with upgrades such as a more vibrant screen, fingerprint sensor, and boosted audio. But by far the most notable change is the 2016 MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar. It’s not quite a touchscreen and a far cry from the Surface Pro 4’s tablet capabilities. Nevertheless, it’s a nice compromise between a touchscreen and non-touchscreen device.
- 13-inch model: 14.9 x 304.1 x 212.4mm, 1.37kg
- 15-inch model: 15.5 x 349.3 x 240.7mm, 1.83kg
Surface Pro 4
- 12-inch model: 292.10 x 201.42 x 8.4mm, 0.766kg for Core M, 0.786kg for Core i. With keyboard, 1.057kg Core M, 1.075kg Core i
Verdict: If you’re seeking a tablet with the power and most of the functionality of a laptop, get a Surface Pro 4. A lower-costed alternative to the Surface is the HP Spectre X2, which offers a similar experience to the Surface Pro with the 2-in-1 format. If you’re looking for a dedicated laptop, the MaBook Pro is your best bet.
The 2016 MacBook Pro comes in two flavors: 13- and 15-inch form factors. Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro offers options ranging from a 256 GB to 1 TB SSD. The 15-inch version comes with between a 256 GB to 2 TB SSD depending on configuration. Granted, there’s always the option to upgrade on your own. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 offers storage options ranging from 128 GB to 1 TB. Furthermore, the Surface Pro includes a microSD port. Therefore, you can easily add an SDXC microSD card (currently up to 512 GB of storage).
- Up to 2 TB SSD
Surface Pro 4
- Up to 1 TB SSD + SDXC microSD expansion
Verdict: Designers and content creators who need vast storage capabilities should choose the MacBook Pro. With up to 2 TB of space, it beats the Surface Pro. Although the Surface Pro’s microSD card slot is a welcome inclusion, the ultimate winner in storage is the MacBook Pro. Still, with the ease of cloud storage, this isn’t a major concern, and the Surface Pro 4 should satisfy most average consumers.
An excellent MacBook Pro alternative is the Lenovo Yoga 910. Like the Pro, it’s available with up to a 1 TB SSD, and packs a 13.9-inch 4K UHD touchscreen, up to 16 GB of RAM and Intel HD 620 graphics into a device that weighs in at 3.04 pounds. Another great alternative is the Samsung Galaxy Book. With its folio-style keyboard, 128 GB of storage, and a microSD card, it competes in both form factor and storage space.
With integrated graphics (iGPU) offering solid performance in most computing tasks, the average user should be okay with iGPU models. The Microsoft Surface Pro’s integrated graphics varies from an Iris Pro 515 to a 540 (there’s not a big difference between the two). The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, features an Iris 550 as its baseline for the 13-inch model while the 15-inch iteration benefits from discrete graphics in the form of an AMD-powered Radeon Pro 450, 455, or 460.
- Up to Radeon 460
Surface Pro 4
- Up to Iris Pro 540
Verdict: The Radeon Pro 450 even is a big graphics leap from the Surface Pro’s integrated graphics. This won’t make a difference for the everyday user who is mostly surfing the web, running office products, and the like. However, if you’re an average gamer or designer, the MacBook Pro can’t be beaten.
Despite its beefier GPU in comparison to the Surface Pro, the 2016 MacBook Pro’s graphic processing is pretty weak compared to modern standards. The AMD discrete mobile graphics do offer GDDR5 and a 128-bit memory bus width, along with up to 4096 MB of memory. The $2,000 Razer Blade comes with a standard NVIDIA GTX 1060 GPU. This completely dominates the MacBook Pro’s graphics card. Not only that, but the Blade comes in slightly cheaper for comparable specs and a significant GPU upgrade.
If you’re considering a MacBook Pro for the graphics, the Razer Blade offers much better value. But if you want the sleekest mobile workstation around, you might want a MacBook Pro.
Say what you want, looks do matter in the tech world. Notably, screens are pretty important. The Surface Pro 4 levels up the resolution from the previous model’s 2160 x 1440 (216 PPI) screen to a 2736 x 1824 (267 PPI) display. Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro features a 2560 x 1600 (277 PPI) screen versus the 15-inch model’s 2880 x 1800 (220 PPI) monitor. For the base models, the MacBook Pro wins but for top tier configurations the Surface Pro 4 has a higher PPI.
Then there’s the touchscreen. While the MacBook Pro doesn’t have a touchscreen, new for 2016 is its new Touch Bar. The Touch Bar provides a taste of touchscreen capabilities without going all-in. Apple’s Touch Bar is an OLED strip above the keyboard in place of the Function bar. Touch-sensitive controls vary and are app contingent. It’s a neat change, and certainly the most drastic. Unfortunately, at least initially there’s pretty limited app support. So it’s a cool feature for the few programs that have compatibility.
- 13-inch model: 2560 x 1600 (277 PPI)
- 15-inch model: 2880 x 1800 (220 PPI)
Surface Pro 4
- 2160 x 1440 (216 PPI)
Verdict: The Touch Bar provides a solid update without turning the MacBook Pro into a two-in-one. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 benefits from a full touchscreen, and it’s got a keyboard. Resolution is generally on par, the Pro 4 beating out the MacBook at the entry level and a slight edge to the MacBook Pro when maxed out. When it comes to display, this is a toss up, but the Surface Pro still wins for the combo of keyboard and full touch control.
Apple sure knows how to make a beautiful device, and not only that, pack in some great components. But this comes at a cost, and yep, it’s monetary. A 13-inch MacBook Pro sans-Touch Bar starts at $1,499. Want a Touch Bar? The 13″ model with Touch Bar begins at $1,799. The 15″ model with a Touch Bar starts at $2,399.
Compare that with the Surface Pro 4’s starting price of $899. Sure, you still have to purchase the keyboard cover, and the MacBook Pro does feature better components at the lowest tier, but it’s hard to beat such an affordable machine. Unless you need the performance improvements that come with better graphics, or absolutely must have something closer to a laptop, the Surface Pro 4 trounces the MacBook in affordability.
MacBook Pro 2016
- 13-inch model: Starts at $1,499 without Touch Bar, $1,799 with
- 15-inch model: Starts at $2,399
Surface Pro 4
- Starts at $899
Verdict: The Surface Pro 4’s extreme price-performance ratio wins out.
MacBook Pro 2016 or Surface Pro 4?
Ultimately, while many consumers will debate whether they should buy a MacBook Pro 2016 or Surface Pro 4, the decision isn’t that simple. Although specs do matter, it’s more a matter of use. Designers working with video, pictures, and game development, or more graphic intensive tasks will be better suited to a MacBook Pro. Plus, the MacBook does feature a better processor even with its entry model.
- Discrete graphics options
- Larger storage available (up to 2 TB SSD)
- Touch Bar presents a taste of touchscreen functionality
- No microSD card slot
- No headphone port
- Really high price for the performance
Who should buy: Designers, those with higher performance graphics needs. Anyone heavily invested in the Mac ecosystem.
For MacBook Pro 2016 alternatives, there are many devices in the small but powerful category. The Razer Blade is an excellent option, with a much better GPU. What it lacks in a Touch Bar it makes up for with features like an SD card slot and headphone jack (the MacBook Pro doesn’t have either). Though the Blade may be touted as a gaming notebook, it’s a tiny, powerful machine that should suit users with design or gaming needs. Ultimately, it’s hard to justify the MacBook Pro’s high price, especially when there are more reasonably priced competing options.
CNET editors concluded that the Touch Bar is worth the extra cash, but it’s a considerable premium. Moreover, the Touch Bar only supports a small smattering of apps at least at launch. Plus, the move to USB-C forces users to rely on lots of expensive adapters.
Despite the substantial price tag, the MacBook Pro remains an excellent device. Picking between the MacBook Pro and the Surface Pro 4 primarily comes down to which ecosystem you’re married to, OS X or Windows, and everyday use.
- Budget-oriented ($899 starting price)
- Good price-to-performance ratio
- Best of the tablet and laptop worlds
- Incredibly portable
- Entry-level (Core M) model is underpowered
- Not quite a laptop replacement
- Fewer apps when compared to Android and iOS
- Type Cover still sold separately
Who should buy: Consumers seeking an ultra-portable machine that’s flexible enough to offer the functionality of a laptop.
The Surface Pro’s paltry base model is powered by a Core M3, but there are i5 and i7 offerings. While the new keyboard cover inches ever closer to giving the Surface Pro a laptop-like experience, it’s still not perfect. Our own Christian Cawley found the base Core M a “…surprisingly flexible piece of kit” in his Surface review. At the same time, the Surface Pro 4 isn’t a true tablet replacement. With the Windows ecosystem, there’s not much mobile development so you can’t share apps with your phone.
In their review, CNET editors noted that the Surface Pro 4 benefits from better resolution, a slimmer form factor, and improved stylus. However, their benchmarks found battery life a bit lacking. It wasn’t able to sustain an entire day. Plus, the Type Cover still isn’t included as a standard accessory. But ultimately, there are plenty of configurations, and it’s the leading Windows tablet.
Since this article was published, Microsoft has released a newer version of the laptop, the Microsoft Surface Pro.
While both devices are solid picks, there are plenty of options in each category. The Dell XPS 13 is an excellent ultra-portable notebook that straddles the line between the MacBook Pro and Surface Pro 4. HP’s EliteBook 840 presents a similarly priced laptop that even has a touchscreen to provide a bit of the tablet experience of the Surface Pro. It’s a worthy opponent for Microsoft’s adorably awkward not-quite-tablet-not-quite-laptop. Still, it’s a solid device to be taken seriously. For similar portability in a more laptop form, try Microsoft’s Surface Book.
Which device will you choose, or what alternative do you prefer?