Surface Pro impressions from a recovering Mac addict

For roughly the past six years, while I worked for a well-known enterprise technology site, I was firmly seated on Apple's bandwagon. Today, I'm the managing editor of the best Windows blog in the whole damn world, and I'm wearing a Windows t-shirt. (Seriously, I love my Windows Central "Colors tee,", and I'm wearing it as I write this post.)

I recently made the switch from a 15-inch MacBook Pro (2016) to Surface Pro (2017), and I haven't looked back. But the transition wasn't always easy. Here's what I learned along the way, in the form of a list of things I like (love?) about the Surface Pro, along with some things I miss about the MacBook Pro.

See Surface Pro at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

(Note: While in some ways a comparison between the Surface Pro and iPad Pro makes more sense than a MacBook Pro comparison, I could never use the iPad Pro to replace my main work machine; it runs a mobile OS and is too limited. So in my case, the Surface Pro-MacBook comparison is more fitting.)

What Mac users will love about Microsoft's new Surface Pro

1. Surface Pro hardware is glorious

The look and feel of the new Surface Pro might be the best thing about it. From the second I removed it from the box and peeled away the protective film, I was smitten.

The Surface Pro is super slim. I was used to a 15-inch display, so the smaller 12.3-inch Surface display took some getting used. And if I'm honest, I miss that extra screen real estate when working or watching movies, but it's also nice to be able to take up less room on the tray table of a plane or train. (Of course, there is also a 13-inch MacBook Pro.)

Surface Pro 5

Surface Pro 5 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Surface Pro is lovingly light, even with my Signature Type Cover attached. After lugging around the MacBook Pro for a few months, which isn't heavy by any means, the Surface Pro feels feather-light, and it's barely even noticeable in my backpack. I really appreciate that while traveling, when my bag is packed to the brim with other stuff and every ounce matters.

The Surface Pro looks great when propped up by its kickstand and attached to my Type Cover. And I love all the sharp angles and mirrored silver Windows logo on its backside. Apple's MacBook is also a looker, and I like the space gray finish. But it looks like every other MacBook. The Surface Pro is unique, and it grabs the eye.

As with a MacBook Pro, you pay a premium for the Surface Pro. But you can tell where that extra cash goes after spending some time with it.

2. Surface Dock easily turns Surface Pro into a powerful workstation

Apple's unwillingness to release a docking station for MacBook shows the company's lack of regard for professional users.

I use my Surface Pro in a desktop configuration, along with two 27-inch monitors, speakers, a 4K webcam, a printer, wired Ethernet, a backup drive and a charging cord for my phone. All of these things connect instantly to my Surface Pro via Microsoft's useful Surface Dock and my 2-in-1's Surface Connect port. That means I simply plug one cord into my Surface when I'm working at home, and I'm up and running.

The Surface Dock is not cheap at $200 (opens in new tab), but for me it's invaluable, and I simply couldn't use the Surface Pro as my main work machine without it. It has also worked flawlessly since I first set it up. And it is simple and intuitive to use.

Apple's unwillingness to release a similar docking station for MacBook has always frustrated me, and it shows the company's lack of regard for professional users, who need to connect multiple monitors and various other peripherals to do real work. I had to buy multiple Apple USB-C adaptors to use all the above-mentioned peripherals with my MacBook Pro, and I had to plug in at least three different adapters every time I wanted to sit down and use that laptop at my office workstation. They also were flaky and often didn't work when I needed them to. It was a real pain in the ass, and all the different adapters I needed ended up costing as much or more than the Surface Dock.

There are third-party docking stations available for Mac laptops, including Elgato's Thunderbolt docks that do many of the same things, but few if any offer as many ports as Microsoft's option. And the fact that Apple doesn't offer its own solution just rubs me the wrong way.

See Surface Dock at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

3. Surface Pen and Surface Pro are a dynamic duo

I'm no artist, and to be honest, my handwriting is worse than the average physician's. But I also still love writing by hand, and I collect all kinds of pens. So I had to get the new Surface Pen to go along with my Surface Pro.

I haven't really done anything truly productive with the Pen yet. I tested a few random drawing apps and tried the basic features of the Surface stylus. But that's it. Still, it's clear that the ability to draw and sketch or just jot notes in your own handwriting could be very valuable for certain creative types. And it's an awesome option to have.

9 essential apps if you own a Surface Pen

9 essential apps if you own a Surface Pen (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Though Apple's iPad Pro works with the Apple Pencil and has some similar features and functionality, that tablet runs a limited mobile OS, meaning it cannot run all the apps available on macOS, so it was never a viable option for me. The MacBook Pro doesn't have a touch display or stylus support. So the Surface Pro has a clear advantage there, and I appreciate that.

From iMore: The difference between Apple Pencil and Surface Pen

I mostly use my Surface Pro in desktop configuration along with multiple monitors, or with its Type Cover like a laptop when I'm working away from home, and I rarely use it as a straight tablet. But I still appreciate the ability to lay down with my Surface on the couch and surf the web or read a book in tablet mode while navigating with the touch screen. That's simply not an option on the MacBook Pro.

See Surface Pen at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

4. Here's lookin' at you, Windows Hello face authentication

I didn't expect to like Windows Hello facial recognition as much as I do. My MacBook Pro has a fingerprint reader that is reliable and works 99 percent of the time. And I've used various other biometric authentication systems that were simply too flaky to rely on. So I didn't exactly have high expectations. Except for a few cases in extreme environments — such as outside in the bright sunlight or in a dark hotel room — the Windows Hello face authentication has worked flawlessly. And it's even more convenient than having to touch a fingerprint reader, because you don't have to do anything except look at your computer.

Windows Hello is more convenient than a fingerprint reader, because you don't have to do anything except look at your computer.

Windows Hello facial recognition is not Surface specific and it's available on many other Windows PCs. But there's no native facial recognition on Mac, and I can honestly say I'd miss Windows Hello if I switched back to Mac. Of course, the system isn't perfect, and it took me a while to figure out how to get it to work with my Logitech BRIO webcam. But it turns out that's a settings issue on the Surface.

That, friends, is the good stuff about Surface Pro, from a Mac user's perspective. But it's also just one side of the story.

Switching from Mac to a Windows PC: 10 tips to ease your tech transition

What MacBook Pro users will miss after a switch to Surface Pro

1. Surface Pro 'lapability' is laughable

Before I started editing Windows Central Senior Editor Zac Bowden, I'd never heard the term "lapability." I'd also never really used a 2-in-1 PC. You can't rely on a device like the Surface Pro without at least being aware of its sad lack of lapability.

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro (Image credit: Windows Central)

What, you ask, is lapability? Simple. It's the ability to use a device on your lap without propping it up on something else. And it's damn near impossible to use the Surface Pro as you would a normal laptop on your lap. And that kind of sucks.

Say what you will about the MacBook Pro but it's infinitely more lapable than the Surface Pro.

For example, I'll often work while sitting in my car, as I wait for my significant other to come out of an appointment or finish shopping. In the past, I'd sit in the front passenger seat with my MacBook Pro on my laptop and get down to business. With the Surface Pro, I have to sit on the driver's side and shift the seat way up so I can prop the Surface Pro with attached Type Cover up so it doesn't tilt too far backward. The kickstand simply doesn't prop the device up firmly enough when it's not seated on a flat surface. It's a huge pain in the ass, and I honesty haven't found a good solution for working with the Surface Pro on my lap when I don't have something to prop it up on.

Say what you will about the MacBook Pro but it's infinitely more lapable than the Surface Pro. Of course, the iPad Pro suffers from similar lapability constraints. And if this was a major concern for me, I could have gone with the Surface Laptop.

2. Google Hangouts slays Surface Pro

Windows Central's parent company Mobile Nations is a remote organization composed of writers, editors and other really smart folks who are located all around the world. When we have meetings, team members call in from the U.S., Canada, the UK and Germany, among other locations. And we always use Google Hangouts for our video calls.

Surface Pro despises Google Hangouts.

I have no idea what it is about my Surface Pro, but it hates Google Hangouts. In fact, it despises Hangouts and even if I drop the bandwidth settings down to the lowest option, any sort of lengthy call brings my Surface Pro to crawl. I make sure to close all other resource-intensive apps but I still have issues. And I often must reboot after a long Hangout just to get things back to normal. I usually use Chrome as my default browser but I've tried Edge and Firefox too, and I have the same issue. Other Windows Central team members report similar issues as well, so the problem could be a Windows issue and not a Surface Pro problem. But it's still maddening.

I never had this problem with my MacBook Pro, even though I was connected to the same network, and even when the bandwidth was cranked all the way up.

3. Integration between iOS and macOS is grand

I use an iPhone 7 Plus as my main phone. And it was really nice to be able quickly send screen shots from my phone to my MacBook, or vice versa, using the built-in wireless AirDrop feature in both iOS and macOS. There are similar Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct file transfer options for Windows but none I've found are as seamless as AirDrop.

I miss the phone-computer integration I used to enjoy between my Mac and iPhone

Most of the people I communicate regularly with via text messages also use iPhones, and Apple's Messages kind of became my default messaging app over time. The Messages app taps Apple's iMessage service so that you can send texts and other messages from whichever Apple device you're using at a given time. So, for example, I could use my MacBook Pro to respond to texts I received during the day without picking up my phone. It was convenient, and I haven't found any sort of replacement service for sending and receiving iMessages via Surface Pro.

I know, I know, of course iPhones work better with Macs than with Windows PCs. That makes sense. But I miss the phone-computer integration I used to enjoy between my Mac and iPhone. And I'm simply not willing to switch to a Windows phone at this point. Microsoft is working on further integrations between iPhones, Android devices and PCs, so that's something to look forward to.

4. Where the @$%# is the Surface trackpad?

I prefer a trackpad to a mouse. So one of the first things I noticed when I went all-in on the Surface Pro is that Microsoft doesn't offer a Surface trackpad, even though Windows supports tons of valuable gesture controls, and many laptops have useful trackpads that utilize them. Even the Surface Pro Type Cover has a decent trackpad. So why doesn't Microsoft release a desktop version for use with the Surface Studio, Surface Pro and other PCs?

I really like Apple's Magic Trackpad, and it wasn't until I switched to the Surface Pro that I realized how often I use gesture controls these days. Not being able to use them has slowed down my workflow, and I haven't found a suitable touch replacement on Windows.

I'm using the new Surface Arc Mouse, which supports vertical and horizontal scrolling, but there's a lot I don't like about it, and it's definitely not as versatile as a good trackpad, even the one built directly into the MacBook Pro, which is full-featured and works well.

5. No USB-C for you, Surface Pro!

I almost left this one of my list, because the MacBook Pro's lack of port selection is truly unfortunate. But it has USB-C, the latest USB standard, and the Surface does not. That's also unfortunate.

That said, the MacBook Pro only has four USB-C ports and one 3.5mm audio jack. That's it, which means most users need to buy a bunch of adapters that are pricey and don't work well anyway. That sucks. So while I wish the Surface Pro (or even the Surface Dock) had at least one USB-C port, I'd still pick the Surface Pro's port selection over the MacBook Pro's. And the Surface Connect port is also pretty awesome — it does everything — even though it's proprietary.

A former Mac addict's final take on Surface Pro

I switched from my MacBook Pro to Surface Pro about a month ago, and I literally haven't turned my MacBook Pro on once since. That says a lot. I'm completely sold on Surface Pro, and I'm no Windows fanboy.

There are some things I miss about my MacBook Pro, as detailed above. But that's to be expected. And a month really isn't a long time when it comes to learning and mastering a new OS, so my transition on the software side is still very much a work in progress; I still find myself trying to use macOS shortcuts, for example. But again, that's to be expected.

Bottom line: I'm now a card-carrying member of Team Surface, and the Surface Pro is the reason why. I also think I can sell my MacBook Pro now and spend that money on a bunch of new Surface accessories … and maybe another Windows Central t-shirt.

See Surface Pro at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Updated August 16, 2017: This story has been modified to include details on an issue with the Surface Pro's Windows Hello system and Logitech's BRIO webcam.

Al Sacco is content director of Future PLC's Mobile Technology Vertical, which includes AndroidCentral.com, iMore.com and WindowsCentral.com. He is a veteran reporter, writer, reviewer and editor who has professionally covered and evaluated IT and mobile technology, and countless associated gadgets and accessories, for more than a decade. You can keep up with Al on Twitter and Instagram.

103 Comments
  • The part of the text messages caught my attention. I use Skype on my phone and PCs to achieve that but I thought I was alone in the camp of using text messages in these days. Nice reading. I might buy a Surface when it's time to replace my laptop in a couple of years. PS: Lapability is "important" to me but it's a once a month situation in which I need to have it.
  • I just started using Skype as my SMS default across devices. Love the ability to read and reply from any computer I'm using, and have a record of work conversations too. I'm using Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 PCs, does anyone know if Skype SMS works with iPhone and Android too?
  • I was just going to tell him the very same thing.     
  • Just wondering how you made Skype the default for SMS messaging. I looked in on my Android device at the skype settings and there is nowhere where I can make it the default app for SMS (like you can for Hangouts). 
  • You need a Windows phone for SMS/Skype to work.
  • I tried to use Skype as my default Win10 mobile messaging app for about a month or so. It was too glitchy. Some messages were delayed, in back and forth messages would display out of order, and for some contacts, it keep switching to other non-mobile numbers, so I was never aware my messages were sent to a landline until too late. Even though I miss using it with my surface pro, I switched back to regular SMS in my Lumia 950.
  • I have problems whenever the Contact app is updated since it un-links my contacts. I have to open contacts and hunt down and re-link my usual contacts, other than that and the few minutes it takes the changes to propagate to Skype I'm happy.
  • I had the exact same experinece on my Lunia 950. Last night I updated my 950 to the latest Insider Fast Ring build, and i am now seeing full sync of my text messages in Skype on my Surface Pro (on Insider Slow ring) even though I don't have skype installed on my 950!
  • Same here on my x3, skype gets installed automatically, even after you remove it. Text through skype can be turned off in the skype settings.
  • I was having a lot of those issues, so I switched away. I've switched back, and for me, it now seems to work fine. I still have the issue of messages out of order. I can see the pattern of when it happens, but it's still annoying. Still not perfect.
  • Lapability is (and rightly should) be important to anyone purchasing a laptop/hybrid. Our two Surface Pros (SP3) were the best pc purchases we've made - so flexible in many scenarios from chilling, veging out on Netflix, casual browsing to working, office tasks and programming. They certainly are not as lapable as full-on laptops, but I wouldn't say they are 'not lapable' - maybe it took a few weeks to find the sweet spot, but I use my surface on my lap 90% of the time... and it is comfortable. (just for reference if considering a surface/hybrid, but are put off by these types of comments/reports)
  • Well, I have a small, silly, but amazingly useful solution for the lapability thing. Just use a writing pad. Keep it on your lap, and put the device on it, and then use it.
    For myself, I have found a perfect shaped board, which is light yet very strong, and I use my 15" Asus ROG on my bed by keeping it on it. Renovation work had been going at my place, so they had removed the wallpapers from the walls, and some part of them were very intact. As the paper was thick, I stuck it to my board, and put a nice black tape around the edges. So it looks really posh and fresh. So that's how i made my own table. ;)
    I know i use a laptop, so it has those rubber feet, which prevents them from sliding, which isn't the case for surface pro. The solution? Simple. Find a sweet spot on the board and put a double sided tape there, so that it works as a stopper for the surface pro, and it doesn't slide away. ;)
  • I agree. I have had a number of Dell laptops that I used while commuting (two XPS 15s from 2 or 3 generations ago, plus an XPS 12 with the screen that flips in its frame). A while back, I gave the XPS 12 to my partner as the old XPS 15 that she'd inherited from me died and got a Surface 3 to use on the train while commuting to and from work. I was concerned about how the kickstand might feel on my legs because it's so thin, but the device is so light that there's no enough pressure for me to feel any discomfort. My new Surface Pro is bigger and heavier, so I was again concerned about how it might feel on my lap but I have had no issues again. I'm typing this on the Surface Pro on my lap right now and I've been pleasantly surprised at how stable it feels. Because the kickstand extends back from the device, you need to push it slightly further forward in your lap than you would a similarly-sized fixed laptop, so that might be a slight issue for touch-typists, which I'm not. Other than that, I'd say that a Surface Pro has at least 80% the lapability of a traditional laptop.
  • Same here. I have a Google Pixel and I installed Cortana. Now all of my text messages pop up in the notification center. Works perfectly well for me. I reply inline on my HP Spectre to all my text messages when I am working.
  • Telegram has a desk top app and since Telegram is cloud based it works great on phone or PC.
  • I'm getting tired of reading about Surface this and Surface that as if they were the only Windows devices existing.  Can you please talk also of other Windows devices, often more affordable and better than Surface series. This site starts to feel like a Surface advertising site.
  • My last two reviews have been more affordable and/or budget devices and I have a third next week. You're just seeing what you want to see and ignoring the rest. Also, this was a personal story about a Mac user switching to Surface. Mac users don't switch to budget PCs.
  • "Mac users don't switch to budget PCs" I love it, so true! I use a mixture of apple kit and a lone surface pro. I do quite like the Surface and the cost does clue you in that it is aiming for high build quality, which is novel for a windows machine. I don't use the pen either generally and I just use it for work and don't need the extra processing chops of the MacBook. I also miss the integration of the mac ecosystem though and the trackpad of course, and would have gone back by now if the new MacBook Pro wasn't such a wallet busting ripoff in the uk. In terms of Lappability I mainly use it on my desk at work. Using it in your lap is precarious at best and a cracked screen at worst.  Laughing at the hardcore windows users who hate that MS is hell bent on becoming Apple...because a sea of plastic ****** feature laptops running spinning HDD's and covered in stickers was somehow preferable.
  • Remember that Surface is largely responsible for triggering the whole new generation of hardware that you are referring to... (Windows) PCs were mostly as dull as android phones until Surface (and dell XPs) started to demonstrate flair and ignite the industry to put some effort in. ... Plus remember - he's used to buying Apple products, he's probably still getting over the shock that he had change in his pocket despite buying a surface.
  • Hey Al, cool article! Please do the same with a Surface Book!
  • No USB-C? Please do tell us, which USB Type C devices would you connect to it? An iPhone, nope, that is USB-A and proprietary lightning. Your external HDD? None of the major makers have a Type C external drive, and if you did it would still run at a speed that would not saturate the bandwith. Type C is the most overhyped connector since Apple's FireWire. Maybe someday it will become popular, but not for a while. And just yesterday USB 3.2 was announced, if Microsoft started shipping last month a device with 3.1, people would be complaining about Microsoft shipping an outdated device for not supporting 3.2.
  • Oh, and as for lapability, Apple's solution to the SP is the iPad Pro. How is lapability on that device with the keyboard that requires a college degree in origami to fold properly?
  • lol. This! :D 
  • Not to mention awful keys.
  • Not to mention a single position to stand up the iCant which was something every tech site ripped the original Surface Devices for.
  • There is a USB-C to lightning cable available from Apple. Seagate, LaCie, and several smaller manufacturers (e.g. Glyph) make USB-C external drives; Samsung and SanDIsk make USB-C external SSDs that eat up that lovely bandwidth. The USB 3.2 spec won't even be finalized until the end of this year at the earliest, with hardware coming sometime in 2018 (at the earliest), so it's pointless to bring up.
  • So carrying around an adapter is the fix? Apple tries to make everything slimmer, smaller so that you have less to carry, but then they heap adapter after adapter on you to use for something such as charging a phone. SSDs do not eat up bandwith of a Type C cable. Even though SATA-III is 6Mb/s, when they are connected to a SATA-III port they do not operate at that speed. For example, some of the faster Type C, USB 3.1 paired with faster SSD (such as Samsung 960 Pro) only work around 4 to 4.5 Gb/s (read the reviews of Type C, 3.1 enclosures on the more reputable sites). Not the 10Gb/s that Type-C supports. The maximum speed of USB 3.0 is 5Gb/s, so you are not anywhere near saturating the connection. The problem is the drives are not fast enough. I have a Samsung M.2 960 which is about 3200 MB/s or 25 Gb/s, but they do not make Type C enclosures for those drives, yet. When I got my Lumia 950XL, I went out and bought all the Type-C cables, cards to plug it into my PC, enclosures, etc. I would love for devices to be all Type-C, 3.1 compliant, but it is going to be a long time until that happens. Not just because of device manufactutrers and devices like the SP, but because the devices to attach through Type-C is not there yet. Why force conversion to a new cable when there is no benefit to it yet? Why make people throw away their old cables and buy adapters, when they get no speed benefits (yet)? Type-C is nice, it is reversable, the ends of the cable are the same shape, you can power things off of it (but a consistent output is near impossible), but there is no reason for it and I don't see it happening for a couple years.
  • Yeah,  all the apple fanboys keep harping on USB C as the future,  and they are "futureproofing" their computers.  By the time USB C becomes the standard....if it does,  They will have purchased new computers again....ha ha.  Apple knows whatever they say the fanboys will eat it up and take it as gospel.  
  • A) it would help adoption B) who the hell uses a display port these days?
  • You did not just say that about DP. DisplayPort especially over tb3 is currently the most powerful display tech right now.
  • Try this if you are from Mac.
    Type "aple" then press space, "aple' will be highlighted. How do you normally fix it?
    1. move your cursor all the way across screen, right click on "aple" and then click on "apple"
    2. press left → press menu key (or shift-f10) (→ you might need to press down key in the older windows) → press enter. * window / task manager
    win, win+a, win+b, win
    win+m, shift+win+m
    win+arrowKeys
    win+number
    alt+tab * dialog
    alt + underlined letter
    ctrl+tab * in editor / notepad
    ctrl+left/right
    ctrl+shift+left/right
    shift+alt+arrowKeys (this one will normally be available in ide or advanced text editor)
    home, ctrl+home
    end, ctrl+end
    ctrl+backSpace, ctrl+del etc, etc Eventually, I can operate Windows (os, dialog, chrome, edge, file explorer, settings, visual studio, office, etc) with no pointing device (except graphical applications).
  • With OSX it is as if there is 40% of the OS that you can use only with the keyboard, 40% you can only use with a mouse, and 20% where you can use both mouse or keyboard.
  • Lapability is why I went with the surface book. It counters every con you had against the surface pro, except for maybe the Hangouts part. I don't use hangouts so I'm not sure.
  • Maybe it's a Hangouts problem not working well with Windows and not a Windows problem not working well with Hangouts.
  • It seems to me that most of your p