Microsoft says the new Surface Pro 3 can replace your laptop. The Surface Pro 3 is actually a tablet, but when paired with the Type Cover keyboard accessory it functions a lot like a traditional laptop computer. And in some ways, the new Surface is even more functional than the average laptop, thanks to its touch screen and included stylus. But adopting the Surface Pro 3 means making a few compromises. So how does Microsoft’s sleek new slate stand up to Apple’s 13.3-inch MacBook Air, one of the best business notebooks around? Read on for a feature-by-feature comparison.
- Surface Pro 3: The centerpiece of the Surface Pro 3 is its huge, 12-inch display. In comparison, the Surface Pro 2 has a 10.6-inch screen. That translates into a lot more digital real estate on the new Surface Pro for screen-intensive tasks, and almost as much space as on 13-inch laptops like Apple's MacBook Air. Screen space is especially important for business users who want to do real work on their tablets. The Surface Pro 3's screen is sharp as well as large, with an eye-popping 2560 x 1600-pixel resolution. It also ships with a pen for writing and drawing on the tablet’s pressure-sensitive display, which greatly boosts its note-taking potential.
- MacBook Air: The MacBook Air’s Retina display is sharp and bright but can’t match the resolution of the Surface Pro 3. But at 13.3 inches, the 2160 x 1440-pixel display offers a bit more space for productivity. An extra 1.3 inches can go a long way toward making basic tasks like checking email or browsing the Web more comfortable. The MacBook Air lacks a touch screen, however, so don’t expect stylus support here.
- Surface Pro 3: The entry-level Surface Pro 3 packs an Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM, providing plenty of power for basic computing. More demanding users can opt for a pricier model; the Core i5 and Core i7 models of the Surface Pro 3 will offer extremely zippy performance for processor-intensive tasks. Overall, Microsoft says the Surface Pro 3 is about 10 percent faster than last year’s Surface Pro 2, which already offered a surprising amount of power for a tablet.
- MacBook Air: In terms of performance, the new MacBook Air is about on par with the midrange Surface Pro 3 model, and it offers a nice performance boost over last year’s MacBook Air. The laptop features a 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, which amounts to extremely smooth multitasking and overall good performance in daily use.
- Surface Pro 3: The Surface Pro 3 is slimmer and lighter than the MacBook Air, even with the Type Cover keyboard attached. That makes it a good pick for commuters and frequent travelers who want to pack light. Microsoft also improved the tablet’s kickstand, which you’ll use anytime you want to stand the device up. The new kickstand can be adjusted to any angle you want. This is a big improvement over the Surface Pro 2’s kickstand, which supported only two different angles.
- MacBook Air: You can’t detach the MacBook Air’s display, nor can you write on its screen using a stylus. But the MacBook Air remains one of the slickest and thinnest notebook computers ever made. And you don’t need to fuss with a kickstand, either, since it sports a tried-and-true clamshell design that rests easily on your lap so you can work just about anywhere.
- Surface Pro 3: The Surface Pro 3 is far more productive than the average tablet. It runs on the full version of Windows 8.1, so it can easily handle all the programs you use on your home or office PC. And since the tablet works with all USB accessories, you can easily connect a mouse or an external monitor. Microsoft is also launching a new desktop dockwith the device; just snap in your Surface and get working. The dock packs three USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port and an audio jack.
- MacBook Air: The MacBook Air is a capable workstation that runs on Apple’s OS X desktop operating system. It comes preloaded with the iWork productivity suite, which includes the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet editor and Keynote presentation maker. The apps are fully integrated with Apple's iCloud online storage platform, so you can access and edit your documents from any Web-connected device.
- Surface Pro 3: The Surface Pro 3 offers average battery life compared with other ultraportable notebooks. It lasted about 7 hours and 40 minutes in tests that involved continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. Last year, Microsoft released a special version of the Surface Pro 2’s keyboard that included an extended battery, but there’s no word yet on whether a similar accessory will launch for the Surface Pro 3.
- MacBook Air: If good battery life is one of the most important features for business users — especially those who depend on their laptop when away from the office — then the new MacBook Air is the device to beat. It lasted an incredible 12 hours and 20 minutes in the same battery life test, making it a notebook you can depend on.
- Surface Pro 3: The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. Next, the $999 model packs an Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB of RAM and a 128-GB SSD. Several high-end variants are also available, including a $1,949 model featuring an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. And Microsoft's Type Cover keyboard case is sold separately for $130.
- MacBook Air: Apple's MacBook Air is a premium notebook for a premium price, but a recent price drop makes it more affordable for budget-minded business users. Apple cut the price by $100 for the 2014 model, so the 13-inch version now starts at $999 with 128GB of storage. A pricier model with 256GB of onboard storage costs $1,999.
Microsoft’s new Surface tablet is an impressive business slate that transforms into a capable notebook when paired with a keyboard. But can it really replace your work laptop? It depends. The Surface Pro 3’s improved kickstand is a big step forward over previous iterations, but do you want to fuss with a kickstand at all? For everyday use, there’s no beating the set-up-and-go simplicity of the MacBook Air’s traditional clamshell design. And once you factor in the cost of the keyboard, the midrange Surface Pro 3 is pricier than the MacBook Air. But if you want tablet functionality and stylus support, those trade-offs could be well worth it.