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I’ve had the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 for nearly two months.
In that time, I’ve attempted to use it as often as possible in order to pitch it against what is, in my mind, its nearest macOS-based rival: the M1 MacBook Air.
I’ve not exactly been shy about my thoughts on the latter. I’ve described it as the best laptop I’ve ever owned – because it is.
That begs the question: how does the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 compare?
Here are my initial thoughts on the key points.
I was pleasantly surprised when I retrieved the Surface Laptop 4 from its MacBook-like packaging.
This is entirely unfair; I’m aware that there are many lovely Windows laptops out there that benefit from the same fit and finish and attention to detail that Apple lavishes on the MacBook. But I’d never held one in my hands until now.
It’s not perfect. The Surface Laptop 4 feels a smidgen below the MacBook Air in terms of build quality. Defining why that’s the case isn’t easy; they weigh roughly the same and both feature a tapered design. There’s just a tangible lightness and hollowness to Microsoft’s machine which reduces the premium feel somewhat.
However, special mention must be made of the keyboard, because it’s the crowning glory for the Surface Laptop 4. Easily the best I’ve used on a laptop, it even benefits from the curious amount of flex within the chassis beneath it.
And that Alcantara finish? I really like it – but I will report back in a few months regarding its wear!
Winner: M1 MacBook Air ( but the Surface Laptop’s keyboard ensures it remains on its feet until the final round).
I’m not a heavy MacBook Air user. It’s my writing device, email companion, and the do-it-all office laptop I’ve always dreamed of – but that’s as far as it goes. I therefore don’t push the M1 chip at all in that particular machine.
The same goes for the Surface Laptop 4. I have the base spec, which features an AMD Ryzen 5 468U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD.
As a do-it-all office laptop, it’s a great performer. It’s not as ‘snappy’ as the M1 MacBook Air, but that only results in a barely noticeable delay in waiting for apps to open.
I can’t get excited about the performance but, then, that speaks more of my use case than the capabilities of the laptop itself. These laptops will breeze through a normal day’s work without a murmur (and with only the occasional fan spin-up on the Surface Laptop’s part).
Winner: it’s a draw (for my use case).
Windows vs macOS
I’m not going to labour the point here, because I really don’t want the comments thread of this blog to deteriorate into the platform wars.
Although, it probably will.
Regardless, I can’t ignore the fact that, as a Mac guy, getting used to Windows again hasn’t been the most enjoyable experience. Part of this is due to the app ecosystem (I’ll get onto that in a moment), but also because it just feels… like Windows.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Windows 10, but the muddled Start Menu and presence of Windows user interface elements I remember from my considerable time with the platform over 20 years ago leaves me wanting.
This is totally unfair, but it just reminds me of work. It’s the operating system you’re stuck with if you’re chained to the same desk in the same corporate environment five days a week. Windows’ dominance in that arena has – for me, at least – given it that entirely unfortunate and undesirable connotation.
This is why I’m going to reserve judgment on this particular battle until Windows 11 arrives in October, because that’s the reason I bought this laptop; I want to see what Microsoft does next.
Winner: M1 MacBook Air. For now.
Everything was going swimmingly. Pretty much every app I rely on daily – from Trello to Toggl – was catered for on Windows.
I had a brief moment of panic when I struggled to find an email client that could match Spark, but I thankfully discovered Mailbird, who are very kindly sponsoring this blog post.
Mailbird provides the unified inbox I need for my multiple accounts, and one of the easiest ways to triage email, thanks to its uncluttered feature set and user interface. What’s more, it’s coming to the Mac soon, and it might be the email client that finally tempts me away from Spark.
But it’s another story when it comes to one of the key tools I rely on for my business. It’s why I’m writing this blog on the M1 MacBook Air… and it’s all down to a brilliant app called Ulysses.
I cannot find a competing Windows-based writing app that comes anywhere close to Ulysses. For some reason, this app category is badly underserved on Windows, and for no reason that I can think of.
Whenever you search for distraction-free writing apps on Windows, the results leave you with the sneaking suspicion that you should have bought a Mac instead.
It’s the one thing that has prevented me from switching to the Surface Laptop 4 wholesale, and I cannot be alone in this.
Winner: M1 MacBook Air. Because of Ulysses.
The M1 MacBook Air is a stellar performer when it comes to battery life, but the star of the show, as I’ve often highlighted, is the standby time.
The Surface Laptop 4 comes close, but I still have that all-too-familiar, ever-present concern about its battery life if I’m using it consistently each week.
The M1 MacBook Air has ushered in a new era for me when it comes to laptops. I no longer worry about taking a charger with me everywhere and don’t think twice about taking it out for the day without one when the battery percentage is below 50%.
Microsoft quotes up to 19 hours on a single charge, but as we all know, that varies wildly depending on a number of factors. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not up to M1 battery performance standards, I’m afraid.
But what is?!
Winner: M1 MacBook Air.
Part of me feels that this comparison is a little premature. Regardless, I needed to make it because I think the initial month or two with a device reveals so much.
But what I’m really waiting for is Windows 11.
Ham-fisted launch aside, I really am looking forward to the next version of Microsoft’s operating system. As great as the Surface Laptop 4 is (and it really is a genuine competitor for the M1 MacBook Air), it feels stuck in an old corporate landscape from which I removed myself many years ago.
So, should you buy the Surface Laptop 4 over the M1 MacBook Air? If you desperately need a Windows laptop now – go for it. As an everyday workhorse, it’s a superb laptop that offers plenty of bang-for-buck.
But if you’re stuck deciding between both devices and can wait, I’d hold on for Windows 11. I’ll report back then.