Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: which is right for you?

As two of the best laptops for creatives, Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro is a compelling confrontation. They’re two powerful devices competing for creatives’ hard-earned cash, but they’re very different with specific design choices and specs that make each useful for particular demands. Here we pit Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro head to head to see what they do best, and which ultimately works better for your creative needs.

Both laptops come in different sizes, and both make it into our guide to the best laptops for graphic design. The Surface Laptop 4 is a thin and light laptop designed to help digital creatives with their daily projects. Its screen supports styluses, for easy doodling or annotating and it’s ideal for use on the go. We rate this laptop highly, as you’ll see in our full Surface Laptop 4 review. 

Apple’s MacBook Pro is a powerful beast of a laptop, designed to appease demanding digital creatives that work on a variety of resource-intensive tasks. You can find an in-depth analysis in our MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) and MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) reviews. 

There’s far more than that to consider when looking at the Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro, however, so let’s see how performance, design, price and more separate the two. Once you’ve chosen the right laptop for you, make sure you bookmark our regularly updated guides to the best Microsoft Surface deals and cheap MacBook Pro deals.

Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: which is best for you?

Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: Display

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 product shot

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 has 13.5-inch and 15-inch displays to pick from, and image quality really holds up on both. The larger model’s display has a higher resolution, giving it the same pixel density as its smaller counterpart. So whichever size you decide on, you won’t be sacrificing the clarity or sharpness necessary to do your best work. With an aspect ratio of 3:2, the laptop is slightly taller than the average laptop screen, which is great for working on documents.

What really sets the Surface Laptop 4 apart, however, is its multi-touch screen, which is configured to work with styluses. We’ve found Microsoft’s own Surface Pen gets the best results (although it needs to be purchased separately). Doodling and annotating is easy and intuitive on the Surface Laptop 4’s display, but the screen only flips a little over 90 degrees, meaning drawing isn’t really a possibility.

The MacBook Pro’s display is also one of its strong points. This is thanks largely to new mini-LED technology, which gives the display almost unrivalled resolution and pixel density. Again it retains the same pixel density across its 14 and 16-inch versions, so it’s just a case of deciding which size suits your needs.

A unique advantage to the MacBook Pro’s display is Apple’s ProMotion technology, which gives it an adaptive refresh rate of up to 120Hz. This means your device will change the refresh rate of its display dynamically based on what you’re doing at the time. The incredible colour accuracy is another huge advantage for digital artists, who can view their work in ultra-vivid clarity.

Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: Performance

MacBook Pro (2021) 16-inch

(Image credit: Apple)

Both of these laptops pack more than enough power to easily handle day to day tasks. When it comes to the Surface Laptop 4, it all depends on which configuration you go for. If your work relies on you running multiple apps at once, you’ll want to get yourself an Intel Core i7 configuration with plenty of RAM. However, even the slightly lower-spec models can make light work of projects in Photoshop and similar apps.

None of the Surface Laptop 4 models includes a dedicated graphics card, relying instead on integrated graphics from Intel or AMD. That’s fine for tasks like photo and video editing, but more graphic-intensive tasks like 3D modelling, animation and game development would be better served by a device with a dedicated GPU.

The MacBook Pro runs on Apple’s new M1 Pro and M1 Max architecture, powerful chips that open apps instantly and, in most cases, runs them better than ever. Such is their power that app makers are increasingly offering versions of their apps that are optimised for the M1. You don’t have to worry about resource-hungry software eating up your battery life either, as Apple’s managed to keep power consumption to a minimum, meaning you can create on the go.

If you’re a 3D artist, the MacBook Pro will allow you to work on complex scenes with real-time feedback, potentially supercharging your workflow. The M1 Pro chip provides more than enough power for most creatives, but the M1 Max is available for those in need of higher bandwidth memory and the very best graphic capabilities.

Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: Design

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 side profile

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 is one of the most stylish laptops around and will certainly please anyone that’s grown accustomed to Apple’s sleek MacBook designs. With Matte Black, Ice Blue, Sandstone and Platinum versions to choose from, you can be sure of a premium aesthetic, with the Microsoft logo on the back adding a touch of class.

With dimensions of 308 x 223 x 14.5 mm, and weighing just 1.27kg, the Surface Laptop 4 is also thin and light enough to be taken anywhere, an impressive feat given its power. You don’t have to worry about damaging the lightweight aluminium body as you carry it around though, it’s sturdy enough to survive travel. 

The keyboard is comfortably arranged, making for a great typing experience. There are, however, a disappointing number of ports in the Surface Laptop 4’s design. With only one USB-C and one USB-A port, you may want to consider using a hub if your work necessitates numerous USB devices.

Apple’s MacBook Pro, meanwhile, has proved enduringly popular for its design, and the latest model has made some significant improvements. Most notable is the slimmed-down bezels around the screen’s edge, resulting in a much more modern aesthetic. If it’s portability you want you’re better off with the 14-inch model, as the 16-inch is significantly larger and actually weighs slightly more than previous models.

Another noteworthy improvement to the MacBook’s design is the number of ports, it now offers three Thunderbolt 4 ports, one HDMI port, an SDXC card slot, a headphone jack with upgraded power for higher impedance headphones, and a MagSafe 3 port for charging.

Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: Battery life

Apple MacBook Pro 14 and 16-inch

(Image credit: Apple)

Good battery life is a definite advantage of Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4. Whilst Microsoft claims the AMD version can last for 19 hours and the Intel model for 17 hours, our own tests found the limit to be around 13 hours. For such a thin and light laptop, that’s still very impressive and means you can work for an entire day without needing to plug it in.

The Surface 4’s improved battery life is a significant improvement on the Surface Laptop 3. This is largely thanks to new components that, whilst performing to a higher standard, are also more power-efficient and use up less of the battery’s juice. All this means that creatives on the go can work without worrying about where to find the next plug socket.

The latest MacBook Pro 16 has the highest battery life of any Mac laptop to date. Even with the most resource-intensive of creative software running, both the 14 and 16-inch models should give you a whole working day’s worth of power. That kind of battery performance is unmatched by any laptop as powerful as the new MacBook Pro.

Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: Price

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 back

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Both of these laptops are premium devices, with price tags to match. That said, the Surface Laptop 4 is slightly less of an investment. The 13.5-inch model that includes an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, starts at around $999/£999, with the larger 15-inch model starting at around $1,299/£1,299. The latter may be the best option for creatives, thanks to a bigger high-res display and a more powerful processor. Though, as always with Surface devices, you can configure one to suit your needs.

The MacBook Pro is an expensive laptop, but the build quality, features and performance are undeniably great. What’s more, they have a great track record of lasting and maintaining their high performance for a very long time. The base 14-inch model starts at around $1899/£1899 and gives you an 8-Core CPU, 14-Core GPU M1 Pro with 16GB of memory and 512GB SSD. The 16-inch version starts at around £2,399 and offers an M1 Pro processor with 10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores and 16GB of memory, plus 512GB of storage.

It’s worth noting that deals aren’t unheard of on either laptop and, whilst you’ll still be investing a fair amount of money in either device, it’s worth keeping an eye out for these savings.

Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: Deals

Surface Laptop 4 vs MacBook Pro: Our verdict

If you’re a creative in need of a powerful laptop for a variety of tasks, including complex animation or 3D work, the MacBook Pro emerges as the clear winner here. Its powerful specs are more or less unmatched when it comes to a laptop that can handle demanding creative software. Now, with boosted battery life and extra ports, it’s an even more useful tool for creators.

On the other hand, if your work consists of photo editing, video editing or writing and you need a powerful laptop that’ll see you through the working day, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 is a brilliant choice and a slightly more affordable option. Just remember that you may need to invest in some extra equipment, like a stylus for the touch screen or a hub for extra USB devices.

Whichever laptop you decide is best for your needs, you can rest assured you’ll have a powerful and stylishly designed device that’s sure to boost your creative workflow and take your projects to the next level.

Related articles: