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How the Microsoft Surface Pro compares to Apple's best

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

After more than a year and a half, Microsoft (MSFT) has debuted its long-awaited update to its Surface Pro 4 laptop-tablet hybrid. Called simply the Surface Pro, the latest member of Microsoft’s homegrown device lineup looks to be the best piece of hardware the company has ever built.

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro is taking on three different Apple products, and winning.

Its 12.3-inch display has been upgraded with improved colors, its popular kickstand stretches further, its processors are faster and its pen has been redesigned.

Compared to Apple’s (AAPL) own MacBook, MacBook Air and iPad Pro, the new and improved Surface Pro has all of the makings of a serious Apple fighter.

Size and design

When it comes to portable devices, size and weight are everything. That’s good news for Microsoft, which made the Surface lighter and thinner than the MacBook Air but heavier than the MacBook and iPad Pro.

When attached to its Signature Type Cover keyboard, the Intel Core m3 version of the Surface Pro weighs just 2.37 pounds, while the Core i5 and Core i7 models weigh 2.41 pounds each.

The Surface Pro with its new hinge.

Apple’s super-thin, 12-inch MacBook, meanwhile, weighs 2.03 pounds, while the MacBook Air comes it at 2.96 pounds. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro, on the other hand, weighs a mere 1.57 pounds without a keyboard.

Of course, we’re talking about a few tenths of a pound here and there, so it’s not like choosing the MacBook Air over the Surface Pro means you’ll have to get some extra squats in at the gym just to lift your laptop bag.

In terms of styling, the new Pro hues incredibly close to the Pro 4, though Microsoft managed to round out the Pro’s edges ever so slightly. That should make it a bit more comfortable to hold like a tablet.

Apple’s insanely thin and light MacBook.

Microsoft also offers the Signature Type Cover keyboard in three colors: blue, platinum and burgundy. The iPad’s keyboard is available in one color: grey.

It’s also interesting to point out that the Surface Pro’s new kickstand has a 165-degree range of motion, meaning it can be laid nearly flat to make it easier to write on.

Displays for days

As with the Surface Pro 4, the new Surface Pro comes with 12.3-inch display with a resolution of 2736 x 1824 pixels. This time around, though, Microsoft has made it easier to switch between color profiles with the Surface. So now you’ll quickly be able to go from SRGB to enhanced color modes, which should help creative types.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro has a 12.3-inch display with two color switching options.

Apple’s MacBook has a 12-inch Retina display with a lower resolution of 2304 x 1440 pixels compared to the Surface Pro. The MacBook Air gets a 13.3-inch panel with 1440 x 900 resolution, which is incredibly low for a laptop screen in 2017.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro gets a gorgeous 2732 x 2048 resolution Retina display, giving it a slight edge over the Surface Pro.

Keyboards on the go

The Surface Pro new Signature Type Cover is largely unchanged from the previous generation Surface keyboard in that it offers 1.3 millimeters of key travel, which makes it feel more like a traditional keyboard rather than a flat piece of cardboard.

At $159, though, it’s also fairly expensive for a keyboard cover. That price likely has to do with Microsoft’s decision to cover the keyboard’s deck (the part you rest your hands on) in Alcantara fabric. I don’t see why you couldn’t instead opt for the Surface Pro 4’s cover, which you can grab for $139.

Microsoft’s Surface keyboard is now covered in fabric.

The MacBook’s keyboard has been controversial from the start, especially since the MacBook Air’s board is just about as perfect as a keyboard gets. The MacBook’s feels a bit too shallow for my liking and the tapping sound isn’t quite as satisfying as the Air’s. I’ve got my money on the Air still having the best keyboard of this bunch, but I’ll have to wait until I can get my hands on the new Surface cover.

Apple’s $169 iPad Air Smart Keyboard Cover is the standout in the group for the wrong reason: it’s just plain not good. The keys feel mushy and typing without making a slew of mistakes is pretty tough.

Styling with the stylus

I’ve always appreciated the fact that Microsoft included its Surface Pen with the cost of a Surface device. But now the company is charging $100 for its improved Surface Pen. That’s a huge letdown considering that including the Surface Pen gave Microsoft a huge edge over Apple’s iPad Pro, which also requires you to spend $99 to get that company’s stylus.

Still, Microsoft says it has a reason for charging for the Surface Pen this time around. It’s better than last generation’s offering. According to the company, the new Surface Pen is more sensitive than the older Pen.

The Surface Pro’s stylus has gotten some major improvements, but will now cost you $99.

Microsoft also claims the new Surface Pen is the fastest stylus around, with an almost imperceptible amount of latency when writing. The stylus also gets a new tilt feature, which means when you lean the pen to the side, you’ll draw a wider pen stroke, which is something Apple’s Pencil already did.

We’ll have to try out both styluses side-by-side to determine which is better, though.

Performing on the go

Most importantly, Microsoft has made the Surface Pro more powerful than its predecessor. The new slate now gets seventh-generation Intel Core M3 and Core i5 and Core i7 processors, rather than the sixth-generation chips found in the Surface Pro 4.

The Core m3 and Core i5-powered Surfaces also drop their built-in cooling fans, which means they’ll be quieter than the Core i7 versions with fans.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro gets a serious performance upgrade with Intel’s seventh-generation Core i5 and i6 processors.

The Core i5 version with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD will likely be more than enough power for most people. At $1,299 and an additional $159 for the keyboard and $99 for the pen, that brings that total for the Surface Pro to $1,557.

A similarly outfitted MacBook will cost you $1,299, but sports a less powerful Core m3 processor and no touch screen display.  A more powerful Core m5-equipped MacBook with 512GB of storage will cost you $1,599, but still won’t top the Core i5 chip in the Surface Pro.

Apple’s MacBook Air has solid performance, but can’t match the Surface Pro.

A MacBook Air with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD will cost just $1,199, but its display isn’t as sharp as the Surface, it doesn’t have a touch screen, and it’s not as slim and light as Microsoft’s offering.

The $999 iPad Pro with 256GB of storage, can’t really match up to a full-on PC or MacBook when it comes to horsepower, but it’s certainly more than powerful enough to run iOS apps. Add the $169 keyboard and $99 Apple Pencil and that’s $1,267 for a machine that can’t run full computer programs.

The early winner?

Of the four devices, the Surface Pro looks like an early winner for the power and price. It’s got a better screen and more power than the MacBook and MacBook Air and can run actual programs unlike the iPad Pro.

But we’ll have to see how the Pro stacks up to the competition in the real world in the next few weeks before we can say for sure.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.