Mobile Technology

New 12-in MacBook vs. Microsoft Surface 3

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the new 12-in MacBook (left) and the Surface 3
Gizmag compares the features and specs of the new 12-in MacBook (left) and the Surface 3
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Battery
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Desktop apps
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Dimensions
Display (resolution)
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LTE model
MicroSD card slot
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MicroSD card slot
Pen input
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Pen input
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RAM
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RAM
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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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Gizmag compares the features and specs of the new 12-in MacBook (left) and the Surface 3

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

Desktop apps
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

Dimensions
Dimensions

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

Weight
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

Build
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

Trackpad
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

Color options
Color options

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)

Display (size)
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)

Display (resolution)
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

Touch screen
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

Pen input
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

Processor
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

RAM
RAM

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

Storage

Storage
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

MicroSD card slot
MicroSD card slot

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

USB ports
USB ports

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

Battery
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

Cameras
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

LTE model
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

Software
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

Release
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

Starting price
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.

11 comments
Rann Xeroxx
Hmm, the devices are actually closer in some aspects than I would have thought. I still think the Surface Pro 3 is a better comparison to the Macbook as its closer to the same price, screen, ram, and storage. The Surface 3 is a rather impressive device.
Lilyy All
As for me, the new MacBook is the best for movie enjoyment until now considering its high resolution and extended battery life. While this can't be the only target we choose a computer.
Njoi Fontes
The surface pro 3, at half the price of the MacBook, not to mention with actual ports and micro SD card expansion, an amazing touch screen and pen support, destroys the MacBook in value for money. If money is not an issue, then the surface pro 3 represent the better option, having a higher resolution display to the MacBook, a much faster processor and similar storage capacity choices added to all the before mentioned advantages of the surface 3. The surface pro 4 is probably around the corner and will widen the gap even more.
EricP
Never once has a reviewer accounted for screen size when comparing a Surface Pro 3 to an iPad, which by the way have the same surface density Weight/Area. But compare Apples new feather weight PC to a lighter windows machine and the caveats begin: "considering the Surface is x% lighter but y% smaller should have the size to weight ratio working out in favor of the Macbook"
robo
The Mac is a laptop, the Surface is a tablet. Why would anyone who has decided on buying a tablet even consider buying a laptop?
Nick Heidl
Is it possible to swap out supplied SSDs? Can the Surface accept the new 512GB SDs? Can I connect to an external LCD screen? Will Gizmag reviews become more detailed or just chat about what is found on a brochure?
Firehawk70
@robo The Surface, albeit not a true hardware laptop, is also not "just a tablet". All tablets, per se, run scaled down OS's. This runs full OS. It's fully functional as a PC. You can even plug in a keyboard and monitor and use it as a full home PC. Many windows laptops now come with touchscreens and flipover screens, and that doesn't make them tablets. Some even with detachable keyboards, surface-like. Really the only downside might be if someone hated the keyboard, but many true laptops have similar keyboards.
Firehawk70
Also - all be careful to note - this review is for the Surface 3, NOT the Surface PRO 3. The Surface Pro 3 actually does run a full Intel i3, i5, or i7 processor, has larger storage, and costs a bit more. These 2 devices with scaled-back processors are compared as apples to apples. The Pro 3 would compare better to a Macbook Pro perhaps?
harybronson
I love Macbook Pros and nothing can change that! While the Microsoft Surface 3 looks great, I am too big an Apple fan to ever venture away. Informative and helpful post, though, especially to those debating between the two.
NicoleStratelak
Quick advice for anybody using a Mac or a MacBook: don’t freak out if it starts going slow sometimes. It’s 100% annoying 100% of the time, but most of them can be easily fixed unlike Windows. I switched because of the functionality that Apple offers. There’s free software at http://www.macbooktips.net that will make it run like new again and maintain it :) Just stay on top of that clutter! You'll notice a lot of extra space and a longer battery life, as well.
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