Transitioning from MacBook Air to Microsoft Surface Pro 4

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Many Apple users hesitate for changes. They tend to fall in love with both OS and their hardware, tending to resist any big changes. I have been a Mac user for a long time now and I understand from their perspective.

In this article, I will explain with my first hand experience the transition to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 from the MacBook Air. Hopefully, this article will help making decisions to those Apple users thinking about switching to the devices like the Surface Pro 4. Unfortunately I have only been using the Surface Pro 4 for a short period of time, hence I can not go over all the features of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, just yet. Nevertheless, I will identify some of the pros and cons of switching from the MacBook Air to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

Operating System

Comparing the interface of Windows 10 to Apple’s OS X El Capitan is like comparing two opposite extremities. The Apple OS is super simple and uber user friendly. Consequently, it is less customizable and has a shorter learning curve. I was able to get used to MacBook Air features faster than I could on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. It has already been 3 weeks since my transition from OS X to Windows 10, and I am still discovering new tools and features from the Windows 10 OS. Nevertheless, I found the extra customization capabilities extremely useful. Windows 10 OS system has a wider range of audiences beyond the average user like me, whose primary use is for school and media/entertainment.

Gestures

In my opinion, the navigation of both devices are quite elegant. They both utilize gestures to open different windows and switch between windows/applications. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 uses the side of the screen to navigate while the MacBook Air uses the track pad. Although this might be purely subjective, I think MacBook’s trackpad based navigation is faster/easier to scroll and also to switch between apps. The MacBook also features wider range of gestures despite lacking touch capability. On the other hand, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 has the Action Center gesture which gives you a quick access to all your notifications, settings, and toggles. The Action Center acts as a notification bar, similar to the one on your mobile device. The MacBook Air also has better response to sensitivity than the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 overall.  Nevertheless, I found both approach very usable for my needs.

Screen and Keyboard Ergonomics

In terms of screen size, MacBook Air does have a slight edge on paper with a 13-inch screen compared to the 12.3-inch screen of the Surface Pro 4. But in my transition from the MacBook Air to the Surface Pro 4, the difference in screen size was not noticeable with any daily use. Could this be because of the higher resolution?

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4’s type cover felt slightly more compact compared to the MacBook Air but it was easily adaptable. Despite its compact size, the keyboard was surprisingly easy to get used to and type at a near full speed. Furthermore, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 has the option to use a third party Bluetooth keyboard such as the Cooper Case for a more comfortable typing experience.

Initially, I completely wrote off the on-screen keyboard on the Surface Pro 4 and was disappointed to find that no 3rd party keyboards were available in the Microsoft App Store. But after some additional trial and error usage, I found that it worked quite well after all. You can’t replace a full size keyboard with an on-screen keyboard of course, but for short quick touch-ups, it worked surprisingly well. Still, I would like to see some of the nicer on-screen keyboards currently available on the smartphones ported to the Windows platform.  I’ve tried some free-to-try 3rd party keyboards but it was pretty clear to me that Microsoft doesn’t want anyone to replace their on-screen keyboard as other keyboards felt they were not well integrated into the OS.

Portability

The portability of both devices are definitely very good. There were no problem with how it fits in hand or in my bag. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is lighter in weight and it is also thinner than the MacBook Air so there is less discomfort carrying it around. Furthermore, Microsoft Surface Pro 4 can be used as a tablet, therefore it can be a more portable media device for movies or videos for traveling. I prefer carrying the Surface Pro 4 more so than the MacBook Air.

In the near future, I will be writing an article that compares different cases for the Surface Pro 4, so stay tuned.

In conclusion

My final thoughts on the transition (so far) from the MacBook Air to Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is impacted more by the operating system than the hardware. Personally, I find the Windows 10 operating system to be more useful than the OS X El Capitan despite my recent years of reliance, and the Window 10 OS integrates the touch capability quite well both as a laptop and as a tablet. I find myself enjoying the tablet mode quite a bit more than I had expected.

Overall, I still have much to learn, but I have to admit the Windows platform has come a long way, both on the hardware and on the software fronts.


23 COMMENTS

  1. Can people PLEASE stop comparing the surface tablet to an actual laptop? it isn’t nor was it meant to be. On the otherhand take the Surfacebook which was, and compare the macbook air to the surfacebook. then your actually doing a valid comparison since the SB does gestures via both the touch screen as well as the trackpad ala 3 finger side swipe to switch applications… i swear this site has gone downhill. tim never would have written a piece like this.

    • There are people who compare ultrabooks vs 2-1 laplets and if you google around, there are plenty of articles written for it. When situations arise (i.e. when Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book 2 gets released), we will do all kind of comparison articles with others. I personally don’t see why you need to take nearly identical models. Even I was curious how laplets compare to conventional light laptops when I got into it. In case of university students, I’m sure there are many who would be cross shopping for both.

      • because people want to see the fine detail that comes from comparing similar devices. but then again if you take the 30k foot viewpoint its really easy to pump out articles. I’d much rather see relevant high quality articles than filler quality garbage just like the other surface enthusiasts.

        • I have to say that you are wrong on this one jon. There is a lot of merit in comparing the two machines, namely because the Surface CAN be used as a laptop and people ARE transitioning from the Air to the Surface. These articles are worthwhile for the people that are interested in seeing if moving to a 2 in 1 is a worthwhile venture. I have kept my Air, and I have the Surface and I am finding that I am using the Surface for almost everything except specific software that I have licensed to the MacBook.

    • Function-wise, I don’t see why you would not compare them to each other. A Surface Pro 4 isn’t even all that different from a Surface Book, their OS are the same and even the internal hardware is almost the same. The Surface Pro line is no matter how you look at it more so a laptop than a tablet, unless you detach the keyboard which turns it into a mere brick when it comes to productivity maybe even more so than iOS/Android tablets because not all software is optimized for touch and the screen is just too big for tablet-use alone. (Please don’t compare the Surface to a mobile OS device)

      For me, the appeal in the Surface comes from its high specs for its form factor and the form factor itself, as well as the addition of touch support. Otherwise it’s no different from any other laptop out there. This article also points out the OS being the biggest change (obviously), and what this really tells you is mostly just the experience of switching from a Mac to a PC with touch support.

      I agree that the quality of these articles aren’t as good as before, but they can be interesting or useful nonetheless. (and hey, they just started out) I just appreciate the fact that people put effort into writing anything at all as long if it’s not complete rubbish. XD

      • its true but you cant compare a macbook air with a surface pro 4 when the 4 doesnt have a trackpad. the argument im pointing to is the one about gestures. if you use a surface book which has a trackpad it does the same thing that a macbook air does + it has the touchscreen capability as well. when you compare things against each other they have to be similar to begin with. the surface pro line can function as a laptop but thats not their default state they are a tablet first and formost while the surface book is the opposite. all you need to do is look at the fact that the pro doesnt even come with a keyboard. you have to buy it as an accessory. a MORE accurate comparison would be the ipad pro to a surface pro #, and a surface book to a macbook air.

      • Yes I was mostly trying to point out the differences from the OS X compared to the Windows 10. To help Mac users to think about getting a Surface Pro 4. I will try harder to write better quality articles and thank you for the support.

    • It was Microsoft who started the comparison of the Surface Pro 4 (originally the SP3 to be exact) with the MacBook Air, so Daniel’s comparison is spot on. In fact, if you go for the Iris graphics based SP4, you should be comparing it to the MacBook Pro 13 for comparable specs and capabilities. Unless you have actually used the new SP4 Type Cover you will not know how well the trackpad actually works – no, it is not a MacBook Air trackpad, but pretty close.

  2. Not quite what you mean by gestures, but I highly recommend installing touchme gesture studio. It allows you to configure multitouch gestures for things like volume, screen brightness, closing tabs, etc. It’s dramatically improved the usability of my SP4 especially when in tablet mode.

  3. I am also not sure what you mean by lack of touchpad gestures on the SP4. Between the three-finger swipes, (up, down, left, right), and the four-finger taps, there are many things you can do on the SP4 quickly with touchpad gestures.

    • See this site has gone downhill noticeably. The information being put out isn’t even terribly accurate or relevant (sometimes).

      • I am sorry you feel that way, I was just trying to introduce a user experience in switching drivers from MacBook Air to the SP4. Will continue to learn more and I hope it can be more accurate to your liking.

    • Thank you for sharing. I have recently been testing the the Surface Pro 4 and I am continuing to learn more feature on a daily basis.

  4. If you’re a tech enthusiast you should know that the iPad Pro is a ridiculous comparison simply because of its OS. If you want a tablet “first and foremost” go buy an iPad or Android tablet or maybe at most a Surface 3, unless you’re one of those rich people that buy everything that looks like the latest fancy expensive piece of hardware. No serious user will buy the Surface Pro to only use as a tablet and to compare an iPad to the Surface Pro is only for those who don’t know any better.

    • I couldn’t agree with you any more Jun. It is absolutely preposterous that people think a mobile operating system (iOS) can be remotely compared to a fully-fledged operating system. Not to mention that one uses a mobile chip vs an i series CPU. Comparing the iPad Pro with the Surface Pro is like comparing a regular car with a super-car, that is they both have 4 wheels, an engine, seats etc. so if you were to apply the same argument then they would be a perfect comparison. However, everyone knows that there is no comparison between the two and proposing such a comparison is quite honestly ridiculous. Similarly, both the Surface Pro and the iPad are in no way in the same class of tech. Moreover, would people be able to use the iPad pro as their only computer? Because I can tell you (with 100% certainty), that the Surface Pro will and currently does for me. I use SP3 as my one and only computer, running everything from chrome to programs such as AutoCAD without a hiccup.

  5. I made the switch from Mac to Surface Pro 3 last August, figuring it would simplify my life because I use Windows at work and my girlfriend has a Windows laptop, so I’d only have to deal with one operating system. But after four months I switched back and now use my Surface mainly for travel. I took notes on all the problems I found (about seven pages worth of notes), but most of them are related to Windows 10 rather than the hardware itself. My Surface only sporadically recognizes my micro-SD card (which works flawlessly in every other device I’ve tried it in), the microphone works only about 70 percent of the time and randomly fails to record, OneDrive has been a consistent disaster and has never worked for me, battery life has never exceed 3.5 hours, tablet mode is underwhelming and many apps are not optimized for touch, some of the excellent free programs that come with the Mac have no free Windows counterparts so I ended up having to spend more money, the built-in mail app in Windows 10 doesn’t play well with iCloud and Outlook is even worse, and on and on.

    I like the Surface and have no complaints about the hardware. But I think Windows 10 needs a few more years of development before I’d be ready to switch to it fulltime. I went back to the Mac.

    • I am sorry to hear all the problem with the Windows 10, I haven’t had too many problems with my Surface Pro 4 yet. Just wondering which Mac were you using?

      • I’m using an iMac currently, but I’ve had laptops etc. in the past — the iMac and my previous MacBook have been rock-solid reliable. My plan is to get another Mac laptop for mobile use, as I can’t even rely on the Surface when traveling; it has let me down too many times.

  6. Have to agree with Brad on the above, and I certainly could add much more items. To keep it short, the SP4 is great device from a conceptual / hardware perspective, but the software is a disaster.
    At the moment, I’m restoring my SP4 to factory settings after software updates this morning rendered Touchscreen and Pen unusable without a chance to get them back working (Watch out for something called “Surface integration driver update”, it will give you a hard time).

    Luckily, I did not sell the MacBook Air 13″ from mid 2011 as I originally had planned after buying the SP4, otherwise my workday today would have been a loss. In all that time, I have never ever had so many issues with the MB Air as I had with the SP4 since it’s release late last year and never had I to factory restore the Mac.

    • You and Brad are right the MacBook Air is a great reliable device! I am hopping Microsoft can fixed these problem with software updates.

      • I’m looking forward to Microsoft’s one-year anniversary update to Windows 10, which is supposed to bring a lot of new features and bug fixes. I keep hoping those will make it worth reconsidering the Surface, as I’ve invested a lot of money and time into it.

    • Hello all
      I made the transition after ten years on Mac OS as well. Mainly because Apple missed to update the MacBook Air line (the MacBook is no option for me) and because I was wondering on how it is to work with a tablet. Beside the touchscreen, the hardware is comparable – the OS isn’t. I’m really thinking of switching back. Some points I have to criticize:

      – I had to restart my surface in those months more times than during MacBooks livetime
      – The surface screen is great but Windows can not handle the resolution consistently. Icons in several progs I have are hard to use.
      – a closed surface has to be switched off. Why do I have to change settings first, so that I’m not out of power in the train?
      – Switching on the surface takes longer than the MacBook; while in Windows Hello screen, the fan starts blowing
      – Even with similar hardware working on surface feels stickier: saving a file, changing a directory in Explorer sometimes takes seconds
      – “No Microsoft, I don’t want OneDrive!”
      – any idea why I can’t backup the micro-SD-card (error code 0x80070032)

      so sorry, I don’t love my surface so much

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