MacBook Pro 13in vs Surface Pro 3 review: Which is better?

OS X and Windows 8.1 battle it out to see is if the hybrid is better than the laptop

Microsoft has openly mocked the MacBook Air in comparison adverts with the Surface Pro 3. But if you take a closer look at the specifications of the Windows 8.1 hybrid, you'll see it has more in common with Apple's premium MacBook Pro range.

Hence it's fairer to compare the Surface Pro 3 with a fellow high-end rival like the 13in MacBook Pro (mid-2014). The devices battled it out to see which had the best design, display, input, operating system, battery life, performance, ports, repairability and pricing.

If you're eager to find out which device we recommend - jump to our verdict.

Design and Versatility

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Microsoft has designed the Pro 3 as a 2-in-1 hybrid. It's got a detachable keyboard, which can be clipped in to use the device like a laptop. Or the machine can be used as a tablet with the touchscreen.

The built-in kickstand allows the Pro to be propped up on any flat surface and it tilts back to 150 degrees giving you multiple viewing positions.

The Surface Pro 3 has a beautiful and tough Magnesium-alloy chassis. It's got a thickness of 9.1mm and the tablet alone weighs 800g. Realistically, you're going to be spending most of your time with the Type Cover attached, which brings the weight of the device to just over 1kg. But even with the cover, the Pro 3 can be carried about comfortably.

The 13in MacBook has Apple's trademark aluminum finish. It looks great out of the box, but the light colour isn't good at disguising scratches and blemishes. Being the bigger device, the MacBook is bulkier with double the thickness of the Pro 3 at 18mm and a total weight of 1.6kg. The overall footprint isn't too much larger than the Microsoft device - and if you get a cover, this can easily be carried around too.

Designed as a content creation machine, the MacBook has a clamshell form factor. It looks great but it's as not as versatile as the Surface Pro 3 when it comes to viewing angles, with thescreen tilting back a maximum of 140 degrees.

Winner: Surface Pro 3 - It's thinner, lighter and can be used as a tablet or laptop.

Display

The Pro 3's 12in screen is made using reputable Gorilla Glass 3. Microsoft has squeezed in 3.1 million pixels (2160 x 1440). It's fully touch screen enabled and we measured a maximum brightness of 352cd/m2. It's excellent for web browsing and multimedia tasks.

The Windows 8.1 device lays down a high-marker but the MacBook Pro is able to surpass it. Users get a 13in display with 4.2 million pixels (2560 x 1660) and the brightness is a touch higher at 374cd/m2. The only area where it does not match the Surface Pro is touch screen functionality.

Colours are deep and vibrant on both machines, making it possible to use them for multimedia work. The Pro 3 does have more saturation, so colours look more realistic on the Mac.

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Apple does more work on optimising the panel with OS X so you won't find scaling issues in the MacBook. Conversely, this is a problematic area on the Surface Pro 3, as current third party apps, such as Adobe Photoshop cannot be used comfortably on the high-res screen as the icons are tiny.

Winner: MacBook Pro - Perhaps the most closely contested category in this head-to-head. There is little to separate the displays but the MacBook offers a bigger, sharper and brighter screen.

Input

The Surface Pro 3 has three forms of input. The touch screen is ideal for web browsing, as you can tap in web addresses, click on links, pinch-to-zoom and scroll. It's also there when you want to switch between apps or close them down.

The keyboard can be clipped in for long-form writing and editing. It's adequate when you're on the move but typing on it all day can lead to wrist and finger fatigue. The trackpad is the weakest part of the Pro 3, but this is compensated to some degree by the touch screen.

Pen input is available for note-taking via OneNote and can also be used to interact with design applications. It's got 256 points of pressure and the implementation is fantastic. You can click the pen-lid anytime and start taking notes immediately.

In comparison, input on the MacBook Pro is restricted to the keyboard and trackpad. The chiclet style keys are well spaced - although travel could be better. The sharp edges on the MacBook can also be punishing on your wrists and we've experienced wrist cramps when using it for long periods. The trackpad is outstanding in terms of responsiveness and there are a number of gesture controls available to switch between apps and desktops. These work flawlessly and aid navigation between multiple apps.

Apple has yet to integrate a touch screen into its laptop devices and there's no pen input either.

Winner: Surface Pro 3 - Both keyboards could be better. The Pro 3 might have a poor trackpad compared to the MacBook but the outstanding pen input and touch screen functionality give it the edge.

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