Microsoft made a big song and dance about how great the Surface Pro 3 works as a laptop replacement when it unveiled the hybrid device. In fact, taking a page out of Samsung's book, Microsoft went so far as to claim the Surface Pro 3 will outperform Apple's ever-popular MacBook Air in a variety of ways.
However, given the number of niggling design flaws that hampered the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 from really taking off in the enterprise as full-on laptop replacements, many buyers will be wondering how the Surface Pro 3 really compares with the MacBook Air, and here we put the two head to head.
Design and build
The MacBook Air's travel-friendly, super-thin dimensions and light carrying weight have been a constant selling point drawing users to them. Because of this, Microsoft appears to have deliberately designed the Surface Pro 3 to be thinner and lighter than Apple's current-generation MacBook, with the tablet section measuring in at 292x201x9.1mm and weighing 800g. By comparison the 11in MacBook Air measures in at 300x192x17mm and weighs 1.08kg.
Microsoft has also made several design changes to make the Surface Pro 3 more pleasant to use as a laptop. It redesigned the Surface Pro 3's kickstand so it could hold the device at a variety of angles. While only a small tweak, it makes the Surface Pro paired with a Type Cover keyboard far more pleasant to use than its predecessor, which could only be set to stand at two preset angles.
Microsoft has also re-designed the Type Cover itself for the Surface Pro 3, increasing the size of its trackpad and adding full left and right-click buttons. This is a big deal, as the previous Type Covers had trackpad that were small with unresponsive buttons, which made doing even basic things such as highlighting text a fiddly and often frustrating experience.
While we have to applaud Microsoft for its work to improve the Surface Pro 3, the MacBook Air is still more pleasant to use as a laptop.
Comparing keyboards, the MacBook Air's is noticeably more comfortable to type on. This is largely because the keys feel significantly more responsive than those on the Surface Pro 3, but also because the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover still has a slightly bendy quality that makes typing on it feel slightly odd when transitioning from a regular laptop. However, to being fair to Microsoft, we did soon get used to this with ongoing use.
The same was true when we compared the trackpads. While the trackpad on the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover is a welcome step up from those on past models, it still isn't as responsive as the MacBook Air's, especially when being used for multi-touch input.
It's also worth noting that the Surface Pro 3 has fewer port options than the MacBook Air and comes with just a single full-sized USB 3.0 port, a Micro SD card slot and a Mini DisplayPort. By comparison the MacBook Air has two USB 3.0 ports as well as a Thunderbolt port and MagSafe 2 power port.
Winner: MacBook Air
Next: Display and operating system