New 12-in MacBook vs. Microsoft Surface 3

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Gizmag compares the features and specs of the new 12-in MacBook (left) and the Surface 3

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Apple and Microsoft each have new mobile computing products set to launch soon, both of which might tickle your fancy. Join Gizmag, as we compare the features and specs of the new 12-in Retina MacBook and the Surface 3.

Desktop apps

To avoid any confusion, the Surface 3 is different from the older standard (non-"Pro") Surfaces, which didn't run full Windows. The Surface 3 does, so all desktop apps are fair game.

Size

The new MacBook is 5 percent taller and also 5 percent wider than the Surface 3.

The Surface's thickness measurement isn't an even match, since it only includes the tablet. When you fold over its keyboard (equivalent to how the MacBook is measured), the Surface comes out to 13.6 mm (0.54 inch) – about 4 percent thicker than the MacBook.

Weight

Also adding its keyboard cover, the smaller Surface 3 comes out at 4 percent lighter than the new MacBook. Considering the Surface's face is 10 percent smaller, that should have the size-to-weight ratio working out in the MacBook's favor.

Build

The MacBook, like nearly every modern Apple product, has an aluminum unibody design. And like every Surface so far, the Surface 3 has a magnesium body.

Trackpad

This is still one of the best reasons to buy a MacBook, as Apple's big glass trackpads provide unparalleled quality. The new MacBook has a non-moving trackpad that will feel like it moves (thanks to Apple's new Force Touch tech). You can hit up our review of the latest Retina MacBook Pro for more on Force Touch.

We haven't yet used the Surface 3's trackpad, but it should be nearly identical to the one in the Surface Pro 3: solid quality and bigger than some, but still far behind the MacBook's pad in terms of size, materials and responsiveness.

Colors

Here's something new: Apple is giving you color options with the new MacBook. You can choose from the same silver, gold and space gray options that are familiar to iPhone and iPad owners.

Display (size)

The 12-in MacBook gives you 20 percent more screen than the 10.8-in Surface 3. Note the smaller bezels on the MacBook, as it gives you a better screen-size-to-face-size ratio.

Display (resolution)

Both displays should look very sharp, as the new MacBook is essentially the long-rumored MacBook Air with Retina Display (though it's lighter, thinner and underpowered compared to the actual MacBook Airs).

The Surface's pixel density is nearly identical to the Surface Pro 3's, which looks very sharp as a laptop and pretty sharp as a tablet (where it will usually sit closer to your eyes).

Touch screen

As a laptop/tablet hybrid, the Surface naturally has a touch screen. No MacBook, including this one, has ever used touch – relying instead on those excellent trackpads.

Pen input

If you like the Surface Pen on the Surface Pro 3, then good news: you'll get to use that same pen with this cheaper Surface 3. The only caveat is that, unlike with its Pro sibling, you'll have to buy the Surface 3's pen separately (for US$50)

Processor

Both machines' processors are compromised compared to higher-end Intel Core i5 and i7, and probably even i3, machines. Where they do excel is in power management and allowing for lighter and thinner devices.

RAM

This is a big advantage for the MacBook, as even the highest-tier Surface doesn't match its 8 GB of RAM.

Storage

The Surface's RAM options, by the way, are split up based on these storage tiers. And this is, as you can see, another big advantage for the MacBook.

Another item to note here is that the MacBook uses a faster SSD, while the Surface has a slower eMMC, like you'd find in many smartphones and tablets.

MicroSD

The Surface can make up for some of that, though, as it lets you pop in a microSD card. Like with the internal storage, though, remember that those won't be nearly as fast as the MacBook's solid-state drive.

USB

The new MacBook is an exciting new notebook that marries a high-res display with Apple's desktop software and an ultra-light and thin build. BUT … this category might make you think twice about buying one right now.

USB Type-C has the potential to be the future of data transfer on mobile PCs. It's reversible (there's no "right side up"), it's fast and it can work with a wide variety of hardware and accessories. The only problem is, right now, it's brand new – and you'll need adapters for just about every type of external storage and other accessories you might want to use. And, at the time of this writing, those adapters aren't even easy to find (hopefully Apple will have them in regular supply once the MacBook launches).

The Surface 3 has a much more common USB 3.0 port. And you can also use its microUSB charging port for data transfers.

Battery

Apple and Microsoft are using different metrics to measure their estimates, and we don't even know the specs for the Surface's battery. So consider this one a mystery until we review both machines.

Cameras

As a part-time tablet, the Surface has front and rear cameras. As a full-time notebook, the MacBook just has a front-facing webcam (that's, interestingly, in a lower resolution than every other recent MacBook webcam).

LTE model

This could be a big advantage for the Surface 3, as it's the first full Windows-running Surface that you can buy in a cellular data-enabled model.

Software

The MacBook runs OS X Yosemite, while the Surface 3 runs Windows 8.1 (and will get a free upgrade to Windows 10 once that launches).

Release

The new MacBook launches this Friday, April 10. The Surface 3 launches on May 5, with a wider rollout starting on May 7.

Starting price

The Surface may be trailing in a few key categories like storage and RAM, but you might find that it makes up for it here. Even with its essential keyboard and optional Pen, it's still $620 cheaper than the MacBook. If you like Windows at least as well as you like OS X, and don't mind using a microSD card for some of your storage, then the Surface could be worth a look before buying the new MacBook.

For more, you can check out Gizmag's new MacBook review.

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