Ask LH: Should I Buy An Apple MacBook Pro Or Microsoft Surface Pro 4?

Ask LH: Should I Buy An Apple MacBook Pro Or Microsoft Surface Pro 4?

Dear Lifehacker, I am looking for a new laptop. After pricing up a few different options I’ve settled on either a MacBook Pro or a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (i5, 256gb). They are similar specs for a similar price. As much as I prefer OSX, I’m leaning towards the Surface because it doubles as a tablet. Am I making the right decision or should I stick with Apple?

Also, since the end of the financial year is coming up, is it worth waiting for a sale? I know Apple doesn’t often give out huge discounts on their products, but I am not sure about Microsoft. Am I likely to get an EOFY discount if I buy the Surface Pro? Thanks, LaptopBuyer

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Dear LaptopBuyer,

The first question to ask yourself is: what will your laptop be chiefly used for? If it’s mainly for entertainment purposes, you should probably stick with the OS you’re familiar with. In addition to eliminating potential frustrations, this will allow you to keep using the applications you know and love. (While it’s possible to run OSX on a Surface Pro 4, first-party hardware will obviously make for a smoother, bug-free experience.)

On the other hand, if you intend to mainly use the laptop for work, it makes sense to go with your company’s preferred operating system. This will increase the likelihood of company software running on your machine and should also help with IT support.

For the rest of the article, we’re going to assume you mainly want a laptop for personal use. If you vastly prefer Macs, it doesn’t make much sense to swap to Windows just for the “free” tablet. Bear in mind that the Surface Pro 4 doesn’t come with a keyboard — you’ll need to buy the Type Cover separately which will set you back an extra $249.

It also comes with a single USB port, while the equivalent MacBook Pro packs in two, along with a pair of Thunderbolt 2 ports and a HDMI outlet. If you like OSX, the MacBook Pro is simply a better computer out of the box.

Besides, do you actually see yourself using a 12-inch tablet on a regular basis? For most users, eight to 10 inches is the sweet spot for tablet size — 12 inches can be a bit cumbersome, especially during commutes on public transport. Once you factor in the cost of the Type Cover and connectivity hub, you could probably buy a cheap tablet alongside the MacBook and still come out on top.

As to the second part of your question, we usually advise against holding off for potential sales. The nature of commerce means there’s always going to be a cheaper deal around the corner, no matter when you buy. However, in this case we’re only talking about a couple of months, so there’s really no harm in waiting. Keep an eye out for EOFY deals at places like JB Hi-Fi: you might be able to snag 10-20% off the RRP. Best of luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • “12 inches can be a bit cumbersome, especially during commutes on public transport” – really? I’m beginning to suspect most IT reviewers are petite, delicately framed individuals.

    • They drive to work. The pt references are to give the appearance of commonality with the plebs 😉

  • I thought I’d really use one of those PC-Tablet convertibles, but the truth of the matter is I use tablet mode 0.01% of the time. (probably less) – mostly because I hate grubby fingerprints on my laptop screen, but also because there’s basically nothing that a tablet does better than a laptop with a keyboard.

    • A tablet in landscape mode allows you to read digital comics way better than a laptop with a keyboard in portrait mode. And on the Surface (particularly the SP4 I have) you have the pen which allows for page turns without grubby fingerprint marks.

    • …other than drawing, notating music, manipulating maps and other imagery…

  • I been using a Surface pro3 since the release day and I would not recommend getting it for the tablet ability. I am addicted to the touch screen, but use it in conjunction with keyboard (this may seem confusing to the uninitiated) I now keep doing similar with my desktop at home, leading to come confusing gestures my wife laughs at.
    I avoid OSX due to work network issues, ease of compatibility, and because I am used to and enjoy Windows.

    I recommend switching to Windows, but realise it will take about 1-2 months to get used to it.

  • I prefer a laptop to a 2 in 1, as the keyboards are better, and you can use the machine on your lap. I even use my iPad with a keyboard 99% of the time. So I would compare a Dell 13in XPS with the Macbook Pro. Both are super machines – this pretty much boils down to 2 things: 1. Which OS do you prefer, and 2. How much you use MS Office. If you are a heavy Word/Excel/PPT/Outlook user these are that bit better on Windows. If you need Visio & Project, these only run on Windows. If you are a light MS Office user, I find Macs that bit smoother & faster to use than Windows. My personal machine is a Mac, my work machines are Windows (even when there is a BYO option). The big surprise for me is that an iPad has evolved to the point that it is now doing 90% of my personal work – but the apps I use are mainly Google (Mail, Maps, and Photos) and MS Office (surprisingly good on the iPad). The combination of Pixelmator and Google Photos works so nicely that I have dumped Lightroom (disclaimer: only a “family photos” level photographer), and this is a task I thought I’d never do on a tablet. IOS Mail and Calendar integrate well with my work MS Exchange server, so I have access to work stuff while I’m on the move.

  • I own an SP3 and have found it to be very useful for precisely the fact that it can do both laptop and tablet functions well for half the weight and price of a laptop and tablet. I am a high school science teacher and no day goes by that I don’t detach the keyboard and use the digital stylus to solve problems on the main classroom screen wirelessly. At the end of class I usually share my OneNote lecture file with the students for their later access. After class I reattach the keyboard (wich cost only US$129) and plug in an external monitor at my desk a get to work on lesson plans and do grading. Later in the day I am glad to take my SP3 with me to various staff meetings where again I use the pen to take notes, highlight important text, and draw whatever helps me to capture more than just the words being spoken. At the end of the day I hardly notice the minimal weight of the SP3 in my bag as I head home. After dinner, I may plug my SP3 into a monitor on my desk or wirelessly send the screen to my television in the living room for a big screen movie experience. I can even use the kickstand to avoid holding my SP3 for the length of the movie. The cost of my SP3 is much less than the equivalent MacBook (although with no touch screen or pen it is hard to consider any MacBook an equivalent). I would not hesitate to suggest an SP4, over a MacBook to someone about ready to replace their laptop.

  • There is nothing cumbersome about the SP4 in tablet mode on public transport.

    MacBooks are pretty blah these days, nothing really outstanding about them, where the SP4 is an amazing piece of engineering.

    • You don’t think the new 12″ Macbook is an amazing piece of engineering?

      Its not a beast in performance but if you look at it closely you will realise what an achievement it was to create it.

      It all comes down to OS, I used windows for most of my life until I converted to OS X 4 years ago… Now I swear by OS X.

      • No, not even close. The keyboard is the worst I have ever come across. Th ekeys hardl ymove at all, making them mor elike buttons than keys. Asus have made a thinner, lighter Core M machine with a much better keyboard and more I/O options.

        And I’ve been using both Windows and OS X for around 15 years now and I don’t swear by OS X, I swear at it several times a day.

  • No contest. MacBook. Windows is a terrible operating system and the only reason to have it installed is for gaming…

    • Why is it? Give us some verifiable reasons. because I can give you plenty of reasons why it is so much worse. e.g. Window management in OS X is the worst of any OS ever made. Even the worst Linux window managers do it better. OTOH, Windows sets the standard for window management, particularly in Windows 10 with it’s extended snapping options and split-screen.

      • Window management worse than Linux? Have you used OSX after Snow Leopard?

        I guess if you only use a mouse or touchscreen, window management is great in Wondows. I use a keyboard though so it’s awesome when I jump on Windows and every time I hit the super key my windows snap all over the place, or the start menu comes up. I prefer operating systems where the super key actually does stuff.

        Now that you mention it, where do I define my system wide key commands in Windows? Oh…

        You can pick any pure Windows feature and I can explain how OS X / Linux does it better… Except gaming, as I said.

  • In terms of timing, there is an expected announcement around a new Macbook Pro / Macbook Pro refresh at WWDC on June 13. This could change your buying based on what the new product is or discounts on the older Macbook Pro models after the new one is out.

    I own both a SP4 and Macbook Pro. Love both but have gone back to the MacBook Pro for battery life. I found the benefits of the SP4 (pen, touchscreen and smaller / lighter) were not enough because the battery lasted much less than the MacBook Pro. I had a lot of issues with sleep mode on the SP4. If Microsoft could improve battery management on the SP4, I think it would be killer.

  • If you are buying the new device as a work asset primarily then you may want to wait till the start of the next financial year.
    You will then be able to claim a full year worth of depreciation (based on usage – check with tax agent for specifics).
    I made the mistake of buying a new laptop during June last year and was only able to claim the number of days I had it for on tax.
    Mine is an exclusively work related laptop so I didn’t have to worry about calculating the percentage of usage I use it for personal and work usage.
    As to the choice of OS you use that is a more complex question and is largely dependant on your usage demands. If you are looking to run OSX AND Windows applications then you may be able to use something like Parallels or set up a virtual machine running Windows thus providing you with both OS options using something like VM Fusion. Both of these methods have pros and cons and I am not advocating either – just providing information that you can use to investigate options.

  • Battery is the big decision maker for me. .
    SP4 Advertises 9 hours. In reality it only gets you 6 hours.
    I bought the SP4 thinking i would get the full 9 hours.
    Used it on a flight just watching movies with everything turned off and brightness set to 25%. Only got 5.5 hours.

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