Laptops

Microsoft Surface 3 vs. 2015 MacBook Air

Microsoft Surface 3 vs. 2015 M...
Gizmag compares the features and specs of the new Surface 3 (left) and 11-in MacBook Air
Gizmag compares the features and specs of the new Surface 3 (left) and 11-in MacBook Air
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Battery
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Battery
Build
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Build
Cameras
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Cameras
Color options
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Color options
Processor
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Processor
Desktop apps
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Desktop apps
Dimensions
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Dimensions
Display (resolution)
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Display (resolution)
Display (size)
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Display (size)
Form factor
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Form factor
LTE option
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LTE option
MicroSD card slot
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MicroSD card slot
Pen input
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Pen input
Starting price
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Starting price
RAM
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RAM
Release
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Release
Software
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Software
Storage
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Storage
Thunderbolt
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Thunderbolt
Trackpad
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Trackpad
USB ports
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USB ports
Video out
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Video out
Weight
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Weight
Gizmag compares the features and specs of the new Surface 3 (left) and 11-in MacBook Air
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Gizmag compares the features and specs of the new Surface 3 (left) and 11-in MacBook Air
View gallery - 24 images

Microsoft's new Surface 3 takes many of the qualities that made the Surface Pro 3 great, and puts them in a smaller, cheaper and lower-octane package. Let's see how it compares to Apple's latest 11-in MacBook Air.

Form factor

Form factor
Form factor

In case you're playing catch-up here, the Surface 3 is a transforming 2-in-1. The device itself is a touchscreen tablet, but you can snap on its keyboard cover (and pop out its kickstand) to turn it into a laptop.

The MacBook Air is a traditional (non-touch) laptop.

Desktop apps

Desktop apps
Desktop apps

The older non-"Pro" Surfaces ran the (now more or less defunct) Windows RT, which couldn't run traditional Windows desktop apps (Modern UI Windows Store apps only). But this one does run x86 apps.

Size

Dimensions
Dimensions

The new Surface 3 is 3 percent shorter and 11 percent narrower than the 11-in MacBook Air.

The above spec lists the Surface 3's thickness without its keyboard attached. But when you attach the cover and fold it over (equivalent to how the MacBook is measured), it jumps up to 13.6 mmm (0.54-in).

… that's technically 20 percent thinner than the MacBook Air, but remember that the Air has a tapered design, and its thickness measurement only counts its thickest point. The Surface has a mostly uniform thickness.

Weight

Weight
Weight

With its keyboard attached, the smaller Surface 3 is 18 percent lighter than the MBA.

Build

Build
Build

If you've used any version of the Microsoft Surface, then the Surface 3's magnesium build will be very familiar. Ditto for the aluminum unibody on the MacBook Air, a design that hasn't changed since the late 2010 MBA.

Trackpad

Trackpad
Trackpad

This is a huge advantage for the MacBook, with its huge, ultra-responsive glass trackpad. The Surface uses a smaller, plastic one.

Colors

Color options
Color options

No choices here, as both devices ship in silver only. You can, however, add a little color with the Surface's keyboard or pen – both of which are now sold in different colors.

Display (size)

Display (size)
Display (size)

The Surface 3's screen is 94 percent as big as that of the 11-in Air.

Display (resolution)

Display (resolution)
Display (resolution)

This is a big advantage for the Surface, as the MacBook Air's display resolution is stuck in another era. For a much sharper MacBook display, you can check out either that new 12-in MacBook or the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

Pen input

Pen input
Pen input

The Surface 3 plays nicely with the same Surface Pen that you get with the Surface Pro 3. You'll have to buy it separately (for US$50) with this new model though.

Processor

Processor
Processor

The Surface 3 uses an Intel Atom processor, a great fit for this kind of device. It runs full Windows, but has power management that's closer to ARM-based devices, like iPads and smartphones. Its horsepower, however, is going to lag behind that of the MacBook Air's Core i5.

You can also configure the MacBook Air with a faster Core i7 chip (not pictured), if you order from Apple's website.

RAM

RAM
RAM

The higher storage tier of the Surface 3 jumps to 4 GB of RAM, but the entry-level version only has 2 GB. The MacBook Air uses 4 GB in the base model, and is configurable to 8 GB.

Storage

Storage
Storage

Keep this in mind when we get to pricing: the base MacBook Air doubles the internal storage of the Surface 3.

MicroSD

MicroSD card slot
MicroSD card slot

The Surface does, however, let you augment that by popping in a microSD card. Though the 13-in MacBook Air has a full-sized SD slot, this 11-incher doesn't have any card slots.

LTE

LTE option
LTE option

You can add $100 to your purchase to get a version of the Surface 3 with 4G LTE radios. We've yet to see a MacBook with cellular capabilities (though if you're an iPhone owner, Apple lets you set up a mobile hotspot without even touching your phone).

Battery

Battery
Battery

Microsoft hasn't yet announced any details on the Surface 3's battery, other than to estimate "up to 10 hours of video playback." The MacBook Air's estimate is "up to 9 hours of wireless web use."

Cameras

Cameras
Cameras

As a part-time tablet, the Surface has two cameras – with very tablet-like resolutions. As a dedicated notebook, the MacBook only has a 720p webcam.

USB

USB ports
USB ports

The MacBook Air has two USB 3.0 ports, while the Surface has only one.

It's worth noting, though, that the Surface's microUSB charging port can transfer data as well. With the right combination of cables or adapters, you could say that it has two USB ports as well.

Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt
Thunderbolt

Before long, Thunderbolt will probably be about as relevant as Firewire is, as Apple is phasing it out in favor of USB-C in that new 12-in MacBook. But the MacBook Air does still give you one Thunderbolt port.

Video out

Video out
Video out

Even if you never buy a single Thunderbolt accessory, the MacBook's port still doubles as a Mini DisplayPort for video out. The Surface has a dedicated Mini DisplayPort, though it isn't Thunderbolt-compatible.

Software

Software
Software

The Surface runs Windows 8.1, and will get a free update to Windows 10 when it launches. The MacBook Air runs OS X Yosemite.

Release

Release
Release

The latest MacBook Air launched after Apple's latest event last month. The Surface 3 launches on May 5, with a wider rollout starting on May 7.

Starting price

Starting price
Starting price

Even with its keyboard cover and (optionally) Surface Pen, the Surface still comes out at $220 cheaper. Just remember that you only get 64 GB of storage vs. 128 GB for the MBA. If you get a 128 GB Surface, the price difference is only $120.

We haven't yet reviewed the new Broadwell MacBook Air, but for a very similar product, you can revisit our review of the 2014 (Haswell) model.

View gallery - 24 images
7 comments
phissith
Come from some one who still own Surface Pro 128 GB i5 core, I though this is Microsoft April fool joke. Why would I consider this an up grade to my old faithful in anyway? Had they leave the screen at 12" maybe and the kickstand. LOL
Þorvarður Kjartansson
"Come from some one who still own Surface Pro 128 GB i5 core, I though this is Microsoft April fool joke. Why would I consider this an up grade to my old faithful in anyway?" It's not supposed to be an upgrade for you. If you want an upgrade, look at the Surface pro 3. This is supposed to be an upgrade for the Surface RT and surface 2.
Chris White
phissith - this isn't replacing the Surface Pro. This is replacing the non-pro line that was previously a tablet only.
Chris White
One key missed here in the comparison (and most comparisons between the macbooks is that all macs (except iPad) lack touch interface. This is one area where Mac continues to lag behind PC.
Calson
It's the operating system. No comparison between the two in terms of performance with the same CPU and amount of RAM. Windows 8 has a 50% performance decrease compared to XP and this applies to OS X as well. Add in the problems with needing anti-virus and malware and registry cleanup programs and running them on a daily basis with a Windows PC and the total cost of ownership is higher for the Windows OS computer. That does not factor in the time spent keeping Windows computers up and running. 99% of my time fixing my computers is spent with the ones running Windows. With my Mac OS X computers I run an update every 6 months and that is it. The operating system is why I returned my Android tablet after a few days and bought an iPad mini instead. World of difference in the user interface and ease of use. Small wonder that the Microsoft operating system was installed on only 9% of the computing devices sold in 2014.
DeLa
I forgot to add in my last post I am open to alternatives, if there is a laptop out there with more bang for its buck.
GammaV
Calson is exaggerating quite a bit in his post. I am going to break down some of the points that are much closer to the truth. • Calson claims windows 8 has a 50% performance decrease over XP. This is a moot point as XP is no longer supported, outside of the fact that he is incorrect. Windows 8.1 boots faster and is more stable than any windows OS I have ever run, and more stable than my mac pro, especially when working. • Windows defender built into win 8 works just fine for me as an "anti virus" that and the firewall works great. But I also do not frequent sketchy sites as I have no business there. • Registry and cleanup. Windows does need maintenance. I use CC cleaner by Piriform which is a free download. It can be set to automatically clean your browsing date etc daily if you like, I prefer to tell it when to clean. You can also clean the registry with CC cleaner if you choose. I have not had registry issues nor suffer performance loss. My 5 year old win 7 to win 8.1 PC runs just as fast as the day I built it. When Macs break, they break good. Another misconception about the quality of apple. Here is the thing. Apple has HUGE margins on their products, this is because they build them very cheaply, with cheap parts. The case looks nice, the screen looks nice but the internal parts are meh at best. If you take a 2500 dollar mac and build a PC with that same amount of money, you will afford the 'best' PC parts and get a very very substantial gain in performance, storage and capability. You will also get parts that last longer because of military spec components etc etc. Macs also cost and arm and a leg to repair, its usually just best to buy a new computer once they break, and dont fool yourself, they do break. PC's are much less expensive to repair due to their modular approach. Yes this means you have an ugly case (mine is hidden on the flood on the other side of the desk, so meh) but it also means more freedom to expand, change out, swap, clean, repair etc etc. I run a mac pro (16,000 dollar computer) at work and it barely outshines my home built PC at home for 2500 bucks. Macs have terrible terrible value. As far as Microsoft OS being only installed on 9% of computing devices in 2014. What he fails to mention is that number includes tablets and mobile. Don't let this number fool you, Mac OS on a desktop hold about 4% market share, windows has 92% of desktop market share.