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Which to get: Surface Pro or Surface Laptop?

By Kenny Yeo - 25 Nov 2018,10:21am

Which to get: Surface Pro or Surface Laptop?

Note: This article was first published on 26th January 2018.

It is finally here!

First things first, what is a Surface Laptop?

It’s a laptop, duh. No really, it is.

The long version answer is this: It is Microsoft’s take on a premium and ultra-stylish ultraportable. It is relatively portable, weighing around 1.25kg and measuring about 14.47mm thick. It has a keyboard covered with luxurious Alcantara - the same material used in Microsoft’s Signature Type Cover keyboard for the Surface Pro - which makes it standout from the rest of the ultraportable notebooks in the market. It also comes in four colors - platinum, cobalt blue, graphite gold, and burgundy - but only platinum is available in Singapore. Hopefully, Microsoft will make the other colors available at a later date.

Check out our hands-on of the Surface Laptop here.

 

What are the available models?

The Surface Laptop will be powered by Intel’s seventh generation Core processors. You can get it with either a Core i5-7200U (2.5GHz, 3MB cache) or Core i7-7660U (2.5GHz, 4MB cache). And you can get them with either 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB of RAM. Storage options range from 128GB all the way up to 1TB. In total, there are five different configurations.

The configurator at Microsoft’s website is a bit of a mess, so here’s a handy table detailing the various Surface Laptop models that you can configure. You can thank us later.

Microsoft Surface Laptop SKUs
Processor Memory Graphics Storage Price
Intel Core i5-7200U 4GB Intel HD Graphics 620 128GB S$1,488
Intel Core i5-7200U 8GB Intel HD Graphics 620 256GB S$1,788
Intel Core i7-7660U 8GB Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 256GB S$2,288
Intel Core i7-7660U 16GB Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 512GB S$3,188
Intel Core i7-7660U 16GB Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 1TB S$3,888

 

 

Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro, which is more powerful?

Performance should be nearly identical since their processors are almost the same. We say almost because the Core i5 Surface Pro has a slightly faster Core i5-7300U processor, while the Core i5 Surface Laptop gets the Core i5-7200U processor. We are nitpicking really because the differences between the two is quite marginal. Here's a table detailing their difference.

Core i5-7300U vs. Core i5-7200U
Processor Intel Core i5-7300U Intel Core i5-7200U
Cores (threads) 2 / 4 2 / 4
L3 cache 3MB 3MB
Base clock speed 2.6GHz 2.5GHz
Maximum clock speed 3.5GHz 3.5GHz
GPU Intel HD Graphics 620 Intel HD Graphics 620
Base GPU clock speed 300MHz 300MHz
Maximum GPU clock speed 1100MHz 1000MHz
TDP 15W 15W

As you can see, the main difference is in their base CPU clock speed and their maximum GPU clock speed.

The Core i7 models for both the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro are both powered by the same Core i7-7660U processor. So how does that perform? We've a review of the Surface Pro using the Core i7-7660U.

 

Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro, which is more portable?

In terms of battery life, Microsoft’s claims are “up to 13.5 hours” of video playback for the Surface Pro and “up to 14 hours” of video playback for the Surface Laptop. So the Surface Laptop nicks it when it comes to outright battery life. To get an idea of battery performance under more intensive use, you can check how the Surface Pro fares in our review to get an idea where the Surface Laptop will stack up considering the official claims.

As for weight, the Surface Pro, along with its detachable keyboard, weighs about 1.1kg and measures about 14.15mm thick. The Surface Laptop, on the other hand, is about 1.25kg heavy and measures 14.47mm thick. So if we were to apply our Portability Index formula using Microsoft’s claimed figures, the Surface Laptop comes in 10.8 at while the Surface Pro scores 12.96. So the Surface Pro is slightly more portable.

 

Ok, what about ports?

The Surface Laptop only comes with a single USB 3.0 port and mini-DisplayPort.

The Surface Laptop and Surface Pro have pretty similar ports. Both have a full-size USB 3.0 port, a mini-Displayport, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The Surface Pro, however, has an additional microSDXC card reader.

 

They sound similar, so what’s the key differences?

The most obvious difference is their form factors. The Surface Laptop is a traditional laptop with a display fixed to a keyboard base. The Surface Pro is a detachable laptop and is actually more of a tablet than a laptop. For the Surface Pro to actually work like a traditional laptop you will need to purchase the Type Cover keyboard that is sold separately. So that means extra cost to factor in.

The Surface Laptop has a slightly larger and less sharp display. Its 13.5-inch PixelSense display supports a resolution of 2,256 x 1,504 pixels giving us a pixel density count of 201 PPI. The Surface Pro’s smaller 12.3-inch PixelSense display supports a resolution of 2,736 x 1,824 pixels, which gives us a pixel density count of 267 PPI.

Another key difference is in their operating systems…

 

Don’t they both run Windows 10?

Yes and no. The Surface Pro ships with Windows 10 Pro but the Surface Laptop ships with Windows 10 S. They are fundamentally Windows 10, but with some key differences.

Windows 10 Pro is the Windows that most people are familiar with. You can download apps anywhere from the Internet and run them and you can change your default web browser and search engine to anything you like. Compared to Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Pro just adds business/enterprise features like Client Hyper-V, Assigned Access, Remote Desktop, Group Policy Management, and so on. Basically, stuff that unless the device was issued to you by your office you won’t need.

Windows 10 S, on the other hand, is a slightly stripped down version with some important restrictions. It isn’t as terrible as Windows RT (remember that?) but we think it is no less insidious. Windows 10 S was designed primarily for low-end devices in the education market. Windows 10 S has a faster setup and login process, but most importantly, only allows users to install apps from the Windows Store. This means you can use other browsers like Chrome, Firefox, or Opera. You also cannot use all the other apps that you might be accustomed to but isn’t available in the Windows Store like iTunes, Adobe Photoshop, Steam, and many more. We have a more detailed post about the two OSes here.

In any case, this is frustrating since Windows 10 S and Window 10 Pro are fundamentally the same. In fact, Microsoft will allow you to upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro for a fee of US$49. Fortunately, Microsoft is giving all Surface Laptop owners to chance to remove this restriction by providing a free upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro. Last we heard, this offer lasts until March 31, 2018.

 

So, which one should you get?

If you are used to traditional laptops, the Surface Laptop might make better sense.

Looking at their specifications, there should be quite little to separate them in terms of performance. They are matched one-for-one in terms of features too, so all that matters is what form factor you are after.

Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro comparison (recommended retail prices)
Surface Laptop model Price Surface Pro model Price
Core i5, 4GB, 128GB SSD S$1,488 Core i5, 4GB, 128GB SSD S$1,488
Core i5, 8GB, 256GB SSD S$1,788 Core i5, 8GB, 256GB SSD S$1,788
Core i7, 8GB, 256GB SSD S$2,288 Core i7, 8GB, 256GB SSD S$2,288
Core i7, 16GB, 512GB SSD S$3,188 Core i7, 16GB, 512GB SSD S$3,188
Core i7, 16GB, 1TB SSD S$3,888 Core i7, 16GB, 1TB SSD S$3,888

The Surface Pro has been and still is one of the best detachable notebooks that you can buy. Bear in mind, however, that accessories like the Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen are sold separately. If you want these accessories (and you most probably will), be prepared to fork out a few hundred dollars more. So even though the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro are priced similarly, you’ll almost definitely end up paying more for the Surface Pro.

In light of this, if you do not need the detachable tablet feature of the Surface Pro, the Surface Laptop makes better financial sense, especially when you consider it’ll offer the same levels of performance. It looks really nice too, so at least you’ll feel proud when you take it out at your favorite coffee joint.


(1) Read Next: Our review of the Surface Laptop

(2) Read Next: Our review of the Surface Pro

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