Form factor is a major differentiator between these two machines. The Surface Laptop is a notebook in a classic clamshell form. The Surface Pro 4 is a large tablet that can double as a laptop thanks to its built-in kickstand and optional Type Cover add-on. The Type Cover is sold separately, however. There are a few variants, but it starts at US$130.
The Surface Laptop is larger (about 10-percent taller and 5-percent wider) but keep in mind it's an all-in-one device. The dimensions shown here for the Surface Pro 4 are for the tablet only, without accessories.
Again, the Laptop is about 38-percent heavier than the lightest Pro 4 tablet. For reference's sake, the basic Type Cover for the Pro 4 adds another 0.31 kg.
In the Surface Laptop, Microsoft made a departure from other Surfaces and opted for an aluminum body instead of a magnesium alloy build. For more about the Alcantara fabric keyboard, see "Keyboard" below.
The Surface Laptop is available in four colors – two metallics, plus more colorful burgundy and blue options. The Pro 4 tablet only comes in silver, but you can get your color fix from the Type Cover, which comes in several colors/styles.
The 12.3-inch Pro 4 has 83-percent of the Surface Laptop's overall screen area.
Both devices have touchscreens.
The Pro 4 tablet has a sharper, more pixel-dense display than the Surface Laptop. But since the Laptop has no tablet mode, it will typically sit farther from your eyes – and possibly have a similar effect, despite the lower PPI.
The keyboard that is built into the Surface Laptop is backlit and has an Alcantara fabric covering (often found in auto accessories) for a soft feel that's also easy-care. The entry level Type Cover for the Pro 4 is plastic, but there is also a Signature edition (for $30 more) made of a similar fabric material.
There's no fingerprint sensor on either the Surface Laptop or Pro 4 tablet. However, you can buy a Type Cover with fingerprint sensor for the Pro 4 if you don't mind shelling out an extra $30.
Both devices offer a secure facial recognition login option, thanks to Windows Hello.
Surface Pen included
Both devices support the Surface Pen stylus, which is not included with the Surface Laptop. In most cases, the Surface Pen comes with the Pro 4. Be careful during the checkout process, though – it is possible to buy one without it.
The Pro 4 has sixth-generation Intel core processors, ranging from the m3 entry-level processor to the significantly more capable i5 and i7 chips. The Surface Laptop has seventh-generation Intel core i5 or i7 processors. We're still waiting on clock speeds for those, but the entry level i5 chip on the Surface Laptop likely trounces the m3 base model of the Pro 4.
Since the Laptop's processors are a generation newer, they have improved embedded graphics.
You can buy either device with 4, 8 or 16 GB of RAM.
Either device is available with 128, 256 or 512 GB of built-in storage. There's also a 1 TB option on the Pro 4.
Microsoft VP of Devices Panos Panoy mentioned a 1 TB option at the Surface Laptop's launch event, but we've yet to see it reflected on the Microsoft product page. Perhaps it will be added later or available as a special configuration.
Both machines have one legacy USB 3.0 and a mini DisplayPort. We're surprised that the newly unveiled laptop did not get a USB Type C port, which is a newer standard.
Of these, only the Pro 4 tablet has a microSD slot.
Dedicated charging port
Both machines have a Surface Connect port for charging.
Laptop makers may be streamlining their I/O ports, but the headphone jack is sticking around.
The Surface Laptop has "omnisonic" speakers which are built into the keyboard, while the Pro 4 keeps things simple with standard stereo speakers. Both machines have Dolby Audio Premium, which should indicate a certain level of audio quality.
Microsoft makes some impressive claims about the Surface Laptop's battery, which we'll put to the test when we conduct a review. We're still waiting for product breakdowns to confirm the actual battery capacity.
The Laptop has a 720p webcam, while the Pro 4 has an 8 MP rear and 5 MP front camera, which is more consistent with the types of cameras usually seen in tablets and phones.
The Surface Laptop runs Windows 10 S, Microsoft's newly announced walled operating system. From what we can tell so far, it looks and acts very much like Windows 10 – except it adds some education-focused features and only runs apps from the Windows Store, similar to how Chrome OS works with the Chrome Web Store.
If that sounds insufficient, Surface Laptop buyers can opt for a full version of Windows for free until the end of the year (after that, the upgrade price is expected to be $50). Alternatively, the Surface Pro 4 instead comes with Windows 10 Pro from the get-go.
The Surface Laptop was announced earlier this week to start shipping and hitting shelves in mid-June. The Surface Pro 4 has been around since October 2015 – and many of us had expected to see a follow-up by now.
If you buy an entry-level Surface Pro 4 ($849) and the basic model of Type Cover ($130) you'll pay around $979, though we have seen these prices fluctuate as Microsoft runs promotions. You'll pay slightly less than you would for the base model of the Surface Laptop, but you'll also have a weaker processor. On the plus side, you can enjoy greater flexibility and mobility with the Pro 4's 2-in-1 form factor.