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Microsoft takes on Apple’s pretsige: Surface Book 2 15-inch vs. MacBook Pro 15

Jayce Wagner
surface book 2 vs macbook pro 15 microsoft inch review 325

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There are quite a few premium laptops that can outperform the MacBook Pro 15, but it’s tough to compete with Apple’s build quality and engineering expertise. The MacBook Pro 15 might be expensive, but as a luxury device it has few competitors. Or well, it had few competitors, until Microsoft released its Surface Book 2.

The Surface Book 2 is slick, well-built, and every bit as expertly engineered as the MacBook Pro 15. In a lot of ways, it’s the culmination of Microsoft’s pursuit of premium hardware, and it might even be slick and stylish enough to sway some MacOS die-hards. Let’s find dig into the details to find out for sure in our Surface Book 2 vs. MacBook Pro 15 battle royale.

Specifications

 MacBook Pro

Apple MacBook Pro OLED with Touch Bar

 Microsoft Surface Book 2

surface book 2 vs macbook pro 15 microsoft inch review 325

Dimensions 13.75 x 9.48 x 0.61 (in) 13.5 x 9.87 x 0.56-0.90 (in)
Weight 4.02 pounds 4.2 pounds
Keyboard Full size backlit keyboard Full size backlit keyboard
Processor Up to seventh-generation Intel Core i7 Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8650U
RAM 16GB 16GB
Graphics

AMD Radeon Pro 555 w/ 2GB of RAM

AMD RAdeon Pro 560 w/ 4GB of RAM

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 w/ 6GB of RAM
Display 15.4-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology 15.-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology
Resolution 2,800 x 1,800 (220 ppi) 3,240 x 2,160 (259 ppi)
Storage Up to 2TB PCIe-based onboard SSD Up to 1TB PCIe SSD
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Ports 4x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C 2x USB-A ports, 1 Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, 2x Surface Connect ports, SD Card reader
Webcam 720p FaceTime HD camera 5.0MP 1080p front-facing camera, 8.0MP 1080p rear-facing autofocus camera
Operating System MacOS High Sierra Windows 10
Battery 76 watt-hour 90 watt-hour combined
Price Starts at $2,400 Starts at $1,500
Availability Now (Apple Store) Now (Microsoft Store)
Review Full Review of 13-inch Model: 6/10 Full review: 8/10

Design

surface book 2 vs macbook pro 15 microsoft inch review 325

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Sitting on a table, closed, both laptops are striking. The MacBook Pro exemplifies a slimmed down streamlined elegance, an artistic refinement of the traditional laptop. The Surface Book 2, on the other hand, looks like something from the future.

Both devices feel solid and sturdy, like they were machined from a single solid piece of aluminum — or in the Surface Book’s case, magnesium. There’s no give, no flex, nothing moves when it shouldn’t. Both devices feature strong, stable hinges, and killer build quality.

The Surface Book 2 has a trick up its sleeve, though. The display detaches from the base to become a fully-featured Surface tablet. When used as such it offers full support for the Surface Pen and Surface Dial.

This versatility means the Surface Book 2 works how you want it to. Laying on a couch, or sitting at desk, the Surface Book 2 is designed to fit your needs. The MacBook Pro 15 offers an excellent desktop and laptop user experience, but you can’t exactly pop its screen off and read a book while lying in bed.

Even though these two devices are evenly matched when it comes to aesthetic design and engineering, we’re going to have to give the Surface Book 2 the win in this category. Its clever design allows it to do things the MacBook Pro 15 just can’t.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Hardware

Looking at processor performance, the MacBook Pro 15 actually has a leg up on the Surface Book 2. According to Geekbench, the MacBook Pro 15’s processor earns a score of 4,644 in single-core performance and 15,665 in multi-core performance. The Surface Book 2’s 8th-generation processor hits 4,547 in single-core performance, and 13,900 in multi-core performance.

What does that mean, in practice? It means they’re going to be close to evenly matched in day-to-day performance. The MacBook Pro 15’s processor, though older, is quicker because it’s designed to use more power than the processor in the Surface Book 2.

Looking at graphical hardware, though, there’s not much of a contest here. Even the most expensive MacBook Pro 15 features a graphics card that can’t keep up to the Surface Pro 2’s GTX 1060.

Not only is the GTX 1060 a quicker card, it has 6GB of RAM to the AMD Radeon Pro 560’s 4GB. That effectively puts a speed limit on the Radeon Pro, meaning it can’t outperform the GTX 1060, even if they were on even footing — which they are not. You’re going to get a lot more graphical horsepower out of the Surface Book 2.

In this arena, we’re going to call it for the Surface Book 2. The MacBook Pro 15’s victory in CPU power isn’t even close to the performance gulf between the Radeon Pro 560 and the GTX 1060.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Display

MacBook Pro Touch Bar

When it comes to display quality, Apple is hard to beat. Their slick glassy displays possess a clarity and depth that very few manufacturers can compete with. Given how well Microsoft has done with the Surface Book 2 so far, it might be a close contest.

Looking at display contrast — the difference between the darkest part of the screen and the brightest part — the Surface Book 2 has a solid lead over the MacBook Pro 15, and that’s impressive.

The Surface Book 2 hit a contrast ratio of 1,410:1 in our tests, while the MacBook Pro 15 topped out at 910:1. Both are stellar scores, and lend each display a unique sense of depth and character but the Surface Pro 2 wins this round. Let’s see how they do with display gamut and color accuracy.

When it comes to display gamut — the breadth of colors the display is capable of reproducing — the MacBook Pro 15 wins, hands down. Hitting 91 percent of the finicky AdobeRGB spectrum, the MacBook Pro 15 easily outpaces the Surface Book 2, which came in at 71 percent.

Apple’s displays are typically professional-grade, so their color accuracy is typically hard to beat. And that’s definitely the case here. The MacBook Pro 15 scores an impressive 0.61 average color error. Any score less than 1.0 is considered almost impossible to see with the naked eye, so that’s excellent.

The Surface Book 2, on the other hand, hit an average color error of 3.96. The colors are vibrant, but a bit too vibrant. With a score like that, the Surface Book 2 features color issues that are definitely noticeable to the naked and untrained eye.

With its solid victories in display gamut and color accuracy, this round goes to the MacBook Pro 15.

Winner: MacBook Pro 15

Portability

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There are really two facets you need to look at when you’re comparing the portability of different devices: Form factor, and battery life. A laptop’s form factor, its size and weight play an important role in how “carryable” it is. Whether or not you’ll really feel it when you carry it around in a bag or just around the office.

In that way, the MacBook Pro 15 has a bit of a leg up based solely on its dimensions. It’s thinner and lighter than the Surface Book 2. It’s a narrow margin, but the MacBook Pro 15’s uniform thickness and slightly lighter body make for a laptop that’s easier to tote around.

There’s another important component here, though. When it comes to battery life, the typically best-in-class MacBook Pro 15 falls short of the Surface Book 2’s impressive, unbelievable longevity — and it should. That’s because the MacBook Pro 15 has one battery tucked in under the keyboard, while the Surface Book 2 has a battery in the display — for the tablet portion — and a larger battery underneath the keyboard, for a whopping total of 90 watt-hours of battery life. The MacBook Pro 15 features a 76 watt-hour battery.

According to manufacturer estimates, that means the MacBook Pro 15 can last about 10 hours of wireless web browsing. During our testing of the Surface Book 2, it managed an impressive 15 hours of wireless web browsing.

The winner here has to be the Surface Book 2, because those extra hours of battery life are going to mean a lot more than than an extra fraction of a pound when you’re trying to make it through a whole workday on a single charge.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Software

Here’s the thing about comparing MacOS to Windows: It’s a moot point. These days there are so few software exclusives — not including games — that you can get just about any software suite on Windows or MacOS. Both platforms are quick, modern, and stylish, and they each have their own weird eccentricities.

This one is solely a matter of preference, and it’s so easy these days to install Windows on a Mac that the division between these two diametrically opposed operating systems is becoming less and less important.

MacOS High Sierra doesn’t do anything that Windows 10’s Fall Creators Update doesn’t do, other than maybe integrate with iCloud — but on the other hand, Windows integrates well with Microsoft’s OneDrive.

These two operating systems are ultimately different flavors of the same thing, and some users will prefer one over another. That’s why this round is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Bottom line

The overall winner is the Surface Book 2, due to its superior hardware, versatile design, and unbelievable longevity. Not to mention that its most expensive, top-end configuration is still about $900 cheaper than the comparable configuration of the MacBook Pro 15 which tops out at $4,200. MacOS is great, but it’s not worth that much!

It’s clear the MacBook Pro 15 has a real competitor in the premium laptop space. Sure ,there have been laptops that have been almost as well-engineered as the MacBook Pro 15, but the Surface Book 2 really takes the competition to another level, and offers a compelling alternative if you want something slick, stylish, and engineered like a fine watch.