Microsoft's just-unveiled Surface Laptop is its own approach to take down Chromebooks, but that much remains to be seen. Like Chromebooks, the Surface Laptop features a lightweight operating system. Windows calls it Windows 10 S, similar in aesthetics to the standard Windows 10, but significantly less able.
For one, it can't run desktop apps: only those downloaded from the Windows Store will work, in addition to apps ported over via the Universal Windows Platform. For this reason alone, Microsoft's other Surface device, the Surface Pro 4, becomes a much more attractive purchase than the Surface Laptop.
Microsoft says the Surface Laptop is mainly for students, and that the laptop is meant to last them all throughout their college education without the need to upgrade along the way. This is the pitch Microsoft heralds: Buy a Surface Laptop, and you won't need anything else for the next four or five years.
But Microsoft might have missed one key detail — not all students are willing to cash out that much for a relatively underpowered laptop. If you consider the Surface Laptop's starting price of $999 against the Surface Pro 4's $749, you can already see which one is the more attractive option.
So which one should you get? We think you should opt for the Surface Pro 4 instead, and here's why.
Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro 4: Operating System
There's no question. Windows 10 beats Windows 10 S by a mile. With the Surface Pro 4, you get the full Windows 10 experience, one you can't get with the Surface Laptop. Paying a premium for a laptop that can't even run full Win32 desktop apps is a major dealbreaker.
Granted, Microsoft allows customers to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free until the end of the year, but it'll cost $49 after that. But come on: a $999 laptop that can't run non-Windows Store Win32 apps out of the box? That puts the device's Kaby Lake chip to shame.
Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro 4: Display And Resolution
While the Surface Pro 4's display is small, the 12.3-inch screen packs in a 2,736 x 1,824 resolution, which, coupled with Microsoft's PixelSense IPS technology, looks visually stunning and sharp.
On the other hand, the Surface Laptop has a larger screen at 13.5 inches but only packs a resolution of 2,256 x 1,504. This means that the screen's pixels are spread out over a larger area.
Clearly, if you want the one with the better display, choose the Surface Pro 4.
Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro 4: Camera
The Surface Laptop only has one camera: a lowly 720p front-facing one for video calls. Meanwhile, the Surface Pro 4 has two: a 1080p front-facing 5-megapixel camera and a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera. This shows the Surface Pro 4's versatility as a tablet, which can often be useful in the classroom setting because it'll allow students to easily capture what's on the board.
Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro 4: Price
Neither laptops are on the cheap side of the spectrum, and as you opt for better specs and higher memory, the price shoots up. The Surface Laptop starts at $999, and that includes 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB of SSD storage, and a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor. The most expensive model, one with 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, and a Core i7 chip, will run you $2,199.
The Surface Pro 4, on the other hand, starts at $749, and that base variant comes with an Intel Core m3 chip, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of SSD storage. Bump that up to an Intel Core i5 chip, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage, and prepare to shell out $849. Note, however, that all configurations won't come with the detachable keyboard accessory — you'll have to pay an extra $130 for that.
It's worth noting that the highest configuration of the Surface Pro 4 — with an Intel Core i7 chip, 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage — is still much cheaper than the Surface Laptop, even if you purchase the keyboard accessory.
In terms of price, the Surface Pro 4 has an advantage here, but some may treat its lower-generation Skylake chips as a dealbreaker against the Surface Laptop's higher-generation chips. Still, if Microsoft's aiming the Surface Laptop at students, it's easy to imagine that they'd balk at the Surface Laptop and turn to the cheaper Surface Pro 4.
If you don't want Windows 10 S's limited desktop experience, the definite choice here is the Surface Pro 4. Yes, it doesn't have the latest Intel chips, and its detachable keyboard doesn't come bundled. But it's lighter, it's cheaper, its screen is sharper, and it's more versatile in that it is a tablet at its core.
Disagree? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!