11-inch Macbook Air versus the Surface Pro 2: Which is best for you?

With Apple's price cut of the least-expensive 11-inch Macbook Air to $899, it now carries the same price tag as Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 tablet. Given that they cost the same, which is the better machine for you?

You might argue that the Macbook Air and the Surface Pro 2 can't be compared because the Macbook Air is a laptop, and the Surface Pro 2 a tablet. But the line between laptop and tablet is getting thinner each day, and Microsoft frequently pitches the Surface Pro 2 as a productivity machine. So it's worthwhile comparing the two. With that in mind, let's get to it.

Power and storage

On paper, the Surface Pro 2 seems like a more powerful machine, powered by an Intel Core i5 with a clock speed of 1.9 GHz. The Macbook Air also has an Intel Core i5, but a slower one, rated at 1.4 Ghz. But clock speed can be misleading, because Apple hardware typically wrings every last bit of power out of their processors. Both come with 4 GB of memory. As for storage, the Macbook Air comes out the winner, with 128 GB of storage compared to the Surface Pro 2's 64 GB. So overall, the Macbook Air noses out the Surface Pro 2.

Screen

This one's close as well. The Macbook Air has a slightly larger screen, 11 inches to the Surface Pro 2's 10.6 inches. But the difference is essentially too small to matter. As for resolution, the Surface Pro 2 comes out on top, with a 1920 by 1080 resolution versus the Macbook Air's 1366 by 768. So I'll give the nod to the Surface Pro 2.

Portability

The Macbook Air weighs 2.38 pounds, and the Surface Pro 2 weighs 2 pounds. Does that extra .38 pounds really matter? It might to you, but it doesn't to me. So I'll call it a tie.

Productivity

The Macbook Air has a physical keyboard, and a good one despite its small size. The Surface Pro 2 doesn't. It's true that you can buy a Surface Type Cover or Type Cover 2 for the Surface Pro 2, but that adds either $100 or $130 to its $899 cost. You can buy a 13-inch Macbook Air for that total price. So the Macbook Air wins here.

Apps and applications

Windows 8.1 can run more applications than can the Macbook Air, because there are far more applications written for Windows than for Mac OS X. However, the vast majority of those applications are written for the desktop, not the Windows 8.1 touch-based interface. So many of those applications aren't particularly useful on the Surface Pro 2. As for the Windows 8.1 touch-based Start screen apps, most are not particularly useful. So even though Windows beats Mac OS X when it comes to total number of available applications, the Macbook Air wins because it has more useful apps -- those that can be used with a keyboard. In fact, even Microsoft Office on the Macbook Air is better than Office on Surface Pro 2 because the Macbook Air has a keyboard.

Entertainment capabilities

Here the Surface Pro 2 wins. Its higher-resolution screen really shines when watching movies and videos. And its stereo speakers are truly spectacular.

Operating System

This one's easy: Mac OS X beats Windows 8.1. Mac OS X is simple and elegant and perfectly matches the device on which it rides. Windows 8.1, on the other hand, is a kludge even in its most recent incarnation. Half touch-based, half traditional operating system, it's an uneasy compromise. Even though the latest Windows 8.1 update does a better job of bridging the divide between the two, there's still a divide

Touch capabilities

Is a touchscreen important to you? Then clearly you want the Surface Pro 2, because the Macbook Air doesn't have one.

Bottom line

So which is better? Unless you're a Windows die-hard, want a touchscreen device, or are buying primarily to watch movies and videos, your $899 will be better spent on an 11-inch Macbook Air than on a Surface Pro 2. It's got more storage, a superior operating system, and a keyboard, and so is a better all-around machine.

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