Editorial

Surface Pro 8 vs. MacBook Air M1

macbook and surface

Unlike many reviews you’ll read, I buy my devices and they have a use case in my computing life. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading a glowing review of a device by someone who didn’t actually pay money for it. Nothing makes the pros and cons of a device more real than the connection between your wallet and the device.

I have a use case for a device that is extremely portable, can be hooked up to a dock to do light desktop level work and provides a pleasant experience for reading emails, writing documentation, office work and browsing online.

The device I use for this use case changes from year to year based on the particular state of hardware of the time. This year, 2021, I’m faced with the MacBook Air M1 and the Surface Pro 8.

There is a big price difference between the MacBook Air M1 and the Surface Pro (once you add in the keyboard). My MacBook Air is about $1,200. The Surface Pro 8, once the keyboard is added, is $2,000 (this is the I7 configuration). So let’s just get this out of the way: The MacBook Air is a much better deal than the Surface Pro 8.

The MacBook Air is noticeably faster than the Surface Pro 8. Loading apps is faster. Doing things in them is faster. That’s not to say the Surface Pro 8 is slow, but it’s definitely not in the same league as the MacBook Air.

Below is a table of the things I care about and how each device handles the given task. I suspect you care about many of the same things.

Category Surface Pro 8 MacBook Air M1
Screen Refresh rate 120Hz 60Hz
Battery life (my experience) Good (12 hours) Awesome (15 hours)
Performance Good (1,320 Geekbench) Great (1,750 Geekbench)
Touchscreen Yes No
Can write on screen Yes No
Operating System Windows 10 Pro MacOS
Screen brightness 450 nits (meh) 400 nits (meh)
Price $2,000 $1,200

Both of these devices are amazing.

Apple MacBook Air M1

When I am just sitting down and browsing or reading email, the MacBook Air is the obvious choice. It’s just so much peppier and MacOS is so much better for switching between full-screen apps with the trackpad.

When I need to do more real work, the Surface Pro is the obvious choice for me. Windows is just, for me, so much more productive when connected to a hub and does so much better with multiple monitors.

Being a daily Mac and PC user means I know both really well. But when it comes to juggling a lot of different types of work, Windows is, for me anyway, much better. Which is a bit of a bummer because the M1 is such a great piece of hardware and despite Parallels 17 with Windows 11 Arm, it’s not a good machine for running Windows.

The MacBook Air M1 also doesn’t support touch and writing. I don’t do a lot of writing or drawing on my Surface but it’s amazing how often it comes up when dealing with documents or proposals coming in. I still use my iPad Pro for any serious drawing (it’s a shame that iPad OS is still so awful when it comes to productivity). Ultimately, the Surface Pro 8 does handwriting, signatures and quick markups “good enough” whereas the MacBook Air doesn’t do that at all.

The MacBook Air M1 performance is pretty amazing and the M1Pro and M1Max are even more impressive but are housed in devices that are well outside the ultra-portable range and thus would end up in my “daily driver” production work where they can’t really compete with the monster PC desktop boxes I have (if I were mainly a video editor I’d get the MacBook Pro M1Max 16).

Surface Pro 8 device images

When I travel for work I only have room for one device and that choice is the Surface Pro 8. The MacBook Air continues to be my go-to device for browsing the Internet and doing light work at home.

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