Surface Pro versus Surface Laptop

Should you buy the Surface Pro or Surface Laptop? Choosing between the two is no easy task.

During the last month, I've been extensively using Microsoft's new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, even jumping between different models to compare and contrast the experiences. I'm often asked which one I prefer. It's an excellent question as there is significant overlap between the two PCs but also quite a few differences.

I'll explain here which Surface I grab the most often and why. I'll also talk about the pros and cons of each.

Surface Pro vs. Surface Laptop

I'm no artist

I've noted many times that although I enjoy the Surface Pen – especially the brand new one – I do not draw and only occasionally dabble in inking. But I use the pen more than I did a year ago. More importantly, I want to use the pen more, and that validates Microsoft's efforts.

I say all of this because the decision between Surface Pro and Laptop is straightforward if you draw, take notes, or just want to ink a lot. The Surface Pro is the obvious choice because the Surface Laptop is not a drawing machine, though it supports inking.

This article is for the many consumers who do not ink regularly. Assuming you do not prioritize the Surface Pen as an essential component to your purchase, the choice between Surface Laptop and Surface Pro becomes much more complicated.

Tech spec comparison

Microsoft uses many of the same components in the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, but there are differences too. Here is how the two compare on paper. (Note the bold text, which spotlights advantages.)

Surface Pro versus Surface Laptop

Category Surface Pro (2017) Surface Laptop
OS Windows 10 Pro Windows 10 S (upgradeable to Pro)
Screen size 12.3 inches 13.5 inches
Screen resolution 2736 x 1824 (267 ppi) 2256 x 1504 (201 ppi)
Processor Intel Core m3-7Y30, i5-7300U or i7-76660U Intel Core i5-7200U or i7-76660U
RAM 4GB, 8GB, 16GB LPDDR3 4GB, 8GB, 16GB LPDDR3
Graphics m3 and i5: Intel HD 620
i7: Iris Plus 640
i5: Intel HD 620
i7: Iris Plus 640
Storage 128GB, 265GB, 512GB, 1TB (SSD) + microSD expansion 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
LTE option Yes No
Rear camera 1080p None
Front camera 1080p (With face authentication) 720p (With face authentication)
Ambient light sensor Yes Yes
Accelerometer Yes No
Gyroscope Yes No
Ports Full USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect, headset jack Full USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect, headset jack
Speakers Stereo speakers, Dolby Premium Omnisonic speakers, Dolby Premium
Height 11.5 inches 12.13 inches
Width 7.93 inches 8.79 inches
Thickness 0.33 inches (without keyboard) 0.57 inches
Weight 1.69 pounds (without keyboard) 2.76 pounds
Battery (listed) 13.5 hours 14.5 hours
Price $799 to $2,699 $999 to $2,199

Surface Pro gets the better front-facing camera, and a rear camera, plus it has an option for LTE (coming this fall) and microSD expansion. While it's not revealed on paper, the Pro's solid-state drive (SSD) for storage has significantly faster read and write times compared to the Surface Laptop.

CrystalDiskMark (higher is better)

Device Read Write
Surface Pro 512GB 1,284 MB/s 963 MB/s
Surface Book 1TB 1,018 MB/s 967 MB/s
Surface Pro 256GB 847MB/s 801 MB/s
Surface Laptop 256GB 486 MB/s 244 MB/s

Likewise, the Core i5 Surface Pro has a faster processor with a peak turbo of 3.5GHz compared to the Surface Laptop's Core i5 at 3.1 GHz.

Surface Pro versus Surface Laptop

What I like about Surface Pro

In my Surface Pro (2017) review, I noted that the Surface Pro (2017) is close to perfect. Microsoft achieved what it always wanted with the Surface Pro in this fifth generation. There are quite a few standout features that I adore about Surface Pro compared to Surface Laptop, including:

  • Display — I can't say enough about how good the new Surface Pro's display is in enhanced mode. The colors just pop, and it is noticeably better than Surface Laptop. With more pixels and more pixels-per-inch (due to the smaller screen size) combined with new color profiles (sRGB and enhanced) the Surface Pro's display is just gorgeous.
  • Nimble — At just 2.4 pounds (1.1 kg) the Surface Pro with the keyboard is very light and thin. I can't accuse the Surface Laptop of being heavy, but it is heavier than Surface Pro.
  • Closeness — I don't usually prefer 12.3-inch displays, but due to the Surface Pro's design, it tends to sit closer to my face than a traditional 13-inch laptop's screen negating the viewing difference. The Surface Pro is more immersive in that regard. I also use the touch screen more because it is physically closer to me.
  • Surface Pen — I don't draw a lot, but I still like the option. The new Surface Pro and Surface Pen are just too good to resist at times.
  • Versatility — I don't often switch to tablet mode with the Surface Pro, but again, I like the possibility of having it. It's evident Surface Pro is just a more adaptable PC than Surface Laptop. Again, I'd rather have the option than not.
  • Performance — Both the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop run Windows 10 with ease, but Surface Pro feels a smidge zippier. It may have to do with that substantially quicker SSD found in the Pro that shines in the 512GB model.

I could also add the corny but somewhat accurate "cool factor" of the Surface Pro. Microsoft's 2-in-1 design is now iconic.

See Surface Pro at Microsoft

What I like about Surface Laptop

The Surface Laptop is really nice. It's the equivalent of getting into a $90K car for the first time and realizing why your Honda is a third of the cost. And once you try that luxury, it's hard to go back to anything else as you start to notice design flaws everywhere.

Surface Laptop Core i5 vs. Core i7: Comparing performance and battery life

Compared to the Surface Pro these are the things that are better with the Surface Laptop:

  • It's a laptop — Going with obvious, the Surface Laptop is truly "lapable," meaning it works well on your lap. Whether you are sitting, laying in bed, or riding the bus, the Surface Laptop has a very natural and sturdy form factor. Surface Pro's kickstand is great, but it's still an extra thing to open and not everyone likes that digs into their thighs.
  • One-handed open — You can open Surface Laptop with one hand versus the two hands – and some flipping – of the Surface Pro. It's just easier to jump into your work with no fiddling.
  • Larger display — I like the 13.5-inch screen size of the Surface Laptop. While Surface Pro sits closer, negating some of the difference, at the end of the day, and side by side, the Surface Laptop's screen size is just bigger.
  • Better audio — Surface Pro has some great front-firing speakers, but the Omnisonic speakers in the Surface Laptop are better.
  • Longer lasting battery — Surface Laptop gets about one hour to ninety minutes more life than the Surface Pro on a single charge. While I consider both models "all day" devices that last at least eight hours, the Surface Laptop has slightly longer legs.
  • Colors — While you can get the Surface Type Covers is burgundy or cobalt blue, the Surface Pro is still magnesium. That two-tone looks great, but a burgundy Surface Laptop? It's a whole other look that is stunning.
  • Larger trackpad — If you're a trackpad zealot who insists on the biggest and best, Surface Laptop is your winner. Surface Pro uses all the same materials and drivers, but the Surface Laptop has the edge for sheer size.

As I wrote in my review, Surface Laptop is about having the best-balanced Windows 10 experience, and I think it delivers. It's not the fastest laptop, it lacks ports, and it's not a value compared to what HP and Dell are making, but you are getting top notch quality, and precision engineering like PC users have never seen.

See Surface Laptop at Microsoft

What they have in common

There are many overlapping features that place both Surfaces at the top of their classes, including:

  • Displays — Both have excellent screens. While the Pro's is better, the Surface Laptop's is also one of the best I have seen.
  • Ports — With just one USB Type-A, a mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect, and headphone jack, you can't give a lead to either Surface Pro or Surface Laptop. Or can you? I'd argue that Surface Laptop should have enough room for one more port compared to a tablet and yet it doesn't. Also, in favor of Surface Pro is that micro SD slot that Surface Laptop lacks.
  • Typing — Both Surfaces use the same Type Cover format as the Surface Pro 4. Surface Pro and Surface Laptop feel very similar. Surface Laptop has deeper key travel at 1.5mm compared to Surface Pro's 1.3mm, but in my opinion the Laptop is not automatically better.
  • Alcantara — If you like luxurious fabrics, you can get that with the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop and Alcantara. You get more Alcantara with Surface Laptop, but should the material break down or wear out over the years, Surface Pro is easier to replace since you can just buy a new Type Cover.
  • That look — Surface Pro has the more iconic, tradition-breaking design, but these are both handsome devices. It's hard to love one more than the other when side by side.
  • Premium engineering — The Surface team out did itself with Surface Pro and Surface Laptop. These two PCs are the highest quality and engineering, and they feel it.

Conclusion: Surface Pro wins ... but not by much

Spending the last month with the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, I learned that one is not leaps and bounds better than the other. There is no critical component or feature with either that makes me grab one when running out the door. In fact, I barely have an answer to this question of which Surface I prefer – I'm OK jumping between either at any moment. That consistency in delivering a satisfying experience is a testament to the Surface team's work.

Nonetheless, the Microsoft Surface Pro wins for me. The display is pure eye candy. The form factor is much more versatile, letting me do more, and I just like its size.

Microsoft didn't cut corners to ditch the fan in Surface Pro (2017) with Core i5

Once Microsoft figured out the battery life and fan situation with the Surface Pro it suddenly became the device it was supposed to be all along. Surface Pro is just a more impressive PC. I'd also argue it's the future of PCs, whereas Surface Laptop is an excellent execution of an old idea.

The new Surface Pro is just too good for me to pass up.

See Surface Pro at Microsoft See Surface Laptop at Microsoft