A Microsoft Surface tablet is seen during the launch of Microsoft Windows 8 operating system in Hong Kong October 26, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
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Unlike its more portable sibling, the Surface RT, the Surface Pro offers a full version of Windows 8, complete with access to third-party applications.
As a tablet, it possesses some drawbacks. The charge doesn't last all day and it's more unwieldy than most competitors. The Surface Pro is really a small laptop.
How does it stack up against Apple's flagship ultraportable?
Both come with Intel Core i5 processors and an Intel HD graphics 4000 card, offering much more computing power than a tablet. Both also come with 4 GB of RAM standard.
The Surface Pro's form factor compares favorably to the Macbook Air. At its thickest point, the Air is slightly more than two-thirds of an inch thick, while the Surface Pro comes in a just more than half an inch in thickness.
The Macbook Air is just about an inch wider and nearly and inch deeper than the Surface Pro, but its screen is a full inch larger (though with less resolution, as mentioned above).
Both computers are featherweights, with the Surface Pro weighing two pounds and the Macbook Air just a third of a pound heavier than that.
OS X Mountain Lion is a fine operating system, but Windows 8 has mixed reviews. It's new and different from previous versions of Windows, built specifically for mobile computing. Some people love that; some people hate it.
The Surface Pro shines here. Its 1920 by 1080 pixel display has a much higher resolution than the 1366 by 768 pixel screen on the 11-inch Macbook Air. The Surface also supports 10-point multitouch input and a stylus.
Both the Surface Pro and the Macbook Air come with 64 GB hard drives, with a 128 GB optional upgrade. Microsoft is fielding complaints that Windows 8 takes up 45 GB of space, leaving only 23 GB usable space on the 64 GB Surface Pro, and 83 GB free on the 128 GB version. But the Surface Pro also comes with a microSDXC slot.
The Macbook Air gets 5 hours of battery life, quite good for an ultrabook. The Surface Pro gets a comparable 4.5 hours, good if the Surface has somewhere to top off, but it's atrocious battery life for a tablet. It also means the charger needs to be brought along for the day, adding to the bulk.
The Macbook Air has a very ordinary keyboard and trackpad. The Surface supports 10-point touch and a stylus. The physical Type Cover keyboard doesn't come standard; it'll cost an extra $130.
The Type Cover is affixed to the Surface Pro with magnets. While that's fine in a normal work environment, it's difficult to operate when on the go, which severely cuts into the Surface Pro's portability.
The $899 baseline Surface Pro is $100 cheaper than the base model 11-inch Macbook Air. But throw in the keyboard and the Surface Pro is more expensive. Toss in upgrades and warranties and the two are pretty evenly priced.
The Macbook Air has proven itself to be a capable and convenient machine. Final word on the Surface Pro still awaits, but for all-around use, the Air is likely more suitable, while the Surface Pro promises useful features suited to business-minded users who prefer a Windows environment.