The Surface Laptop is the larger device. It's nearly 12-percent taller, 9-percent wider and 10-percent thicker than the 12-inch MacBook.
The Surface is also 26-percent heavier, though both are very light devices.
Both makers opt for aluminum builds – or, in the case of Microsoft, aluminum on the outside. The Surface Laptop's entire keyboard area has an Alcantara (fabric) covering, the same material we saw on the Signature Type Cover for Surface Pro 4.
Each machine is available in four color variants. Apple sticks to metallics, while Microsoft adds a little more color with blue and burgundy options.
The 13.5-inch display on the Surface has a 3:2 aspect ratio. The 12-inch MacBook, with its 16:10 aspect ratio, packs in 23-percent less screen space overall.
The Surface has a touchscreen display, but Apple saves the touchscreens for phones and tablets.
The MacBook display packs in more pixels, but we don't expect the Surface Laptop to fall too far behind (if at all) in terms of display quality.
Force Touch trackpad
The MacBook has a solid-state Force Touch trackpad that meets your taps and gestures with haptic feedback instead of physical movement. Not everyone may feel this to be an advantage, so it's worth considering if you have strong trackpad preferences.
As we mentioned, the Surface keyboard has that Alcantara fabric-covered keyboard area, meant for a soft touch that's also easy to clean. The MacBook has a typical backlit plastic-keys-on-aluminum-base keyboard.
Neither machine lets you log in with your fingerprint.
The Surface, however, does offer biometric logins via the Windows Hello facial recognition feature.
The touchscreen Surface also supports the Surface Pen (sold separately).
Microsoft has not published clock speeds for the Surface Laptop, but it uses the latest Kaby Lake (seventh-generation) Intel Core i-series chips.
Even the Core i5 processor seen in the entry-level Surface Laptop should be a big upgrade over the highest-end (m7 configurable) chip option for the 12-in MacBook.
If you opt for a Surface Laptop with an i7 processor, you'll get improved graphics as well.
The Surface has three tiers of RAM ranging from 4 GB to 16 GB. The MacBook has one 8 GB option.
The entry-level Surface Laptop has 128 GB of built-in storage. Beyond that, both machines are available with either 256 or 512 GB.
Microsoft's decision to use only one legacy USB 3.0 port seems like a questionable one. At its launch event, it touted the Surface Laptop as one that will last through four years of school, and the USB 3.0 standard is aging. It does include a mini DisplayPort as well.
The MacBook is at the other extreme, only providing one USB-C port. Our ideal machine would provide both legacy USB and USB-C, to help bridge the gap between past and future.
SD card reader
Neither machine has an SD card slot.
The Surface has a dedicated Surface Connect port for charging, but on the MacBook, you'll have to use the lone USB-C port.
Laptops are axing ports left and right, but they're still hanging onto the headphone jack.
Microsoft put "omnisomnic" speakers behind the keys on the Surface Laptop, which have Dolby Audio Premium. The MacBook has a standard set of stereo speakers.
Microsoft makes big promises about the battery life on the Surface Laptop. We'll put those claims to the test when we get our hands on one. If they hold true, the Surface is more likely to last through a marathon day without charging.
The webcam on the Surface has a higher resolution than the one on the MacBook, which should mean sharper video calls and conferencing.
The Surface Laptop is the first machine to be announced with the Windows 10 S operating system, which is designed for educational use. It seems to look and feel a lot like Windows 10, except for that it only runs applications from the Windows Store. For the rest of the year, Surface Laptop buyers also have the option of switching to Windows 10 Pro for free, and it will reportedly cost $50 to upgrade after that.
The MacBook, of course, runs Apple's latest desktop software, macOS Sierra.
The Surface is available for pre-order now, to start shipping and hitting stores on June 15. The current iteration of the 12-inch MacBook hit shelves a little over a year ago.
The 12-inch MacBook is US$300 more than the Surface Laptop. The expense might be worth it to Apple fans that want to keep all their devices in the same ecosystem, but for others that prioritize performance, eye specs alone or prefer the Windows operating system, the Surface Laptop provides a better value.
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