Laptop Showdown: Google Pixelbook vs. Microsoft Surface 6 vs. MacBook Pro
The Google Pixelbook, Microsoft Surface 6, and MacBook Pro are among the best laptops on the market. Our shopping guide is here to help you find out which laptop computer is right for you.
What's Your Next Laptop Upgrade?
It seems like you can't go to a big box store without tripping over dozens of affordable laptops, each struggling to stand out from the rest. But the truth is, there's a pretty big divide between budget laptops and high-end machines, and it can sometimes be hard to tell which ones are which.
Thankfully, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have all stepped up to the plate to deliver solid laptops—each has created a laptop that makes no compromises and matches their respective operating systems with hardware to make it run as smoothly as possible. The Google Pixelbook, Microsoft Surface Pro 6, and Apple MacBook Pro 13" are all competing to be the best laptop on the market. So, which is best?
As with everything tech-related, the answer depends on your specific needs, but each laptop has definite pros and cons. Read on for the specifics, and pick the right high-end laptop for your life.
Our Three Favorite Laptop Computers
Editor's choice: Apple MacBook Pro 13"
Bottom line: The 13-inch MacBook Pro is the unsung hero of Apple's product line. It's as powerful as the larger models, but it's thin and light enough to tote around anywhere.
Editor's notes: Like all Apple products, the MacBook Pro 13" is expensive, especially when compared with non-Apple laptops. It's also more stable and easier to use, and it will hold its resale value longer than any other brand's laptop.
Best value: Google Pixelbook
Bottom line: The Google Pixelbook is the best Chromebook available, bar none. If you can live your digital life in a browser, it's an incredible value.
Editor's notes: While ChromeOS can take a little getting used to, the Pixelbook is a joy to use. It won't break the bank, and letting Google handle all the software security is a huge relief.
Best Laptop Tablet: Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Bottom line: The sixth-generation Surface Pro is a monster laptop hiding in a tablet form factor. It's ridiculously fast and much more portable than the competition.
Editor's notes: The keyboard and stylus really extend the capabilities of the Surface Pro—which makes it extra disappointing that they must be purchased separately.
What These Laptops Have in Common
If you're not sure which laptop to pick, there's some good news: They're all pretty great, so there aren't really any wrong choices. No matter which one you end up buying, you can count on it having some of the same core features.
- Screen size: With screens that range between 12 and 13 inches, the Pixelbook, Surface Pro, and MacBook Pro 13" are all built for portability—and they don't make any compromises on screen resolution. If you're looking for a laptop that can fit in any bag and delivers eye-popping graphics, any one of the three will fit the bill.
- Weight: The Pixelbook, Surface Pro, and MacBook Pro 13" weigh between two and three pounds each. While lighter laptops are becoming the norm, these are among the lightest machines available today. If you're already used to carrying around a heavy laptop all day, this will come as great news to your shoulders.
- Powerful processors: It used to be that getting a portable computer meant sacrificing speed, but that's just not true anymore. All three laptops support Intel processors that are real-deal CPUs that can handle any task with ease. The bottom line: the Pixelbook, Surface Pro, and MacBook Pro 13" are all very, very fast.
- Connectivity options: When it comes to fast downloads and third-party accessories, the Pixelbook, Surface Pro, and MacBook Pro 13" all provide the right hardware and ports to move information quickly. Whether you need the fastest Wi-Fi available (802.11ac, if anyone's asking), Bluetooth, or USB connectivity, each laptop can hold its own.
Unique Features That Tip the Scales
While the Pixelbook, Surface Pro, and MacBook Pro 13" bring the same core functionalities to the table, the similarities stop there. Google, Microsoft, and Apple have each worked hard to differentiate their thin-and-light flagship laptops. Here are the features that help them stand apart from one another.
- USB-C ports: Traditional rectangular USB ports (the kind you've probably been using for the last decade) are great, but there's a new standard in town that's a lot faster and more powerful: USB-C. USB-C ports are smaller than standard USB ports, and the new USB standard is reversible, which means you don't have to worry about which side goes up. Both the MacBook Pro 13" and the Google Pixelbook have USB-C ports, but the Surface Pro 6 doesn't, so it relies on the older, slower USB standard.
- Kickstands: Both the Pixelbook and the Surface Pro have built-in kickstands, so it's easy to prop up the screen and watch movies in bed, on an airplane, or on practically any flat surface. While the MacBook Pro 13" has a hinged keyboard that holds the screen up, the keyboard will always be in the way. If you expect to use your laptop for mostly "lean back" activities like watching videos, check out the kickstands in the Surface Pro and Pixelbook to see which feels most comfortable for you.
Which Operating System Is Right for You?
Along with hardware differences, the Pixelbook, Surface Pro, and MacBook Pro 13" all come with unique software operating systems, so when you're picking a laptop, you're also picking the platform that you'll run applications from. Because the operating system defines your experience as a user, it's important to pick the right one for your needs. Here's what you need to know about the three options.
Apple OS X is featured on all Apple computers and includes built-in software for doing anything and everything, from making movies to writing the great American novel. OS X focuses on making everything easy to use, and it's incredibly stable. Forget the old Mac stereotypes—Macs aren't just for creatives, and the vast majority of applications aren't just for Windows anymore. If you need an operating system that "just works," OS X lives up to the hype.
Google ChromeOS is based on the popular web browser, bringing an unprecedented level of simplicity to laptops: the browser is the operating system. While that may sound limiting, it means two things. First, it's perfect for people who mostly use web-based applications. Second, you probably already know how to use it. Best of all, Google's outstanding track record with keeping Chrome secure means you don't need to install or manage third-party antivirus software.
Microsoft Windows 10 is the most popular operating system around, and the platform has matured over the years to become one of the most reliable options available. If you're a veteran Windows user, you'll find a lot to like in Windows 10—and if you're into tablets, you'll love the built-in "tablet mode" that makes everything touchscreen friendly and gives you an entirely different way to interact with your laptop.
Although the Pixelbook, Surface Pro, and MacBook Pro 13" have similar feature sets, they're priced quite differently. Here's what you need to know about cost before you break out your credit card.
- The Google Pixelbook's base configuration starts near the $1,000 mark, and the most powerful model goes for almost twice that. The Pixelbook has the narrowest price range, making the RAM, processor, and storage upgrades an incredible value. If you're strongly considering a Pixelbook, get one with all the bells and whistles.
- The Apple MacBook Pro 13" starts around $1,299, but with all of the available upgrades, it can cost three times that amount. Apple charges more than other companies for faster CPUs, more RAM, and more hard drive space, which can be a tough pill to swallow. On the other hand, Macs retain their value, so if you plan on selling your MacBook down the road, it pays to invest upfront.
- The Microsoft Surface Pro 6 starts around $899, but it can be configured with upgrades—a fully maxed-out version costs close to $2,500 at the time of this writing. The available upgrades on the Surface Pro are nearly identical to their competitors, but they're priced smack in the middle between Apple's high prices and Google's impressively low prices. Previous generations of the Surface Pro have been a little pokey and slow at their base configurations, so if you're planning to buy a Surface, get as many upgrades as you can afford for the smoothest experience possible.
Which Laptop Should You Buy?
So, which one is right for you? It all depends on how and where you'll use it most. Here are our picks for some common use cases.
For work-from-home warriors: MacBook Pro 13"
If you're a remote worker, you know how important it is to have a stable, reliable machine that can keep up with you. This makes the MacBook Pro 13" an easy choice. Mac OS X is the kind of operating system that gets out of your way, and the 13-inch form factor strikes the perfect compromise between portability and power. While the price tag may be steep, remember that it's a professional investment (and that its longevity and resale value will make every penny worth it).
For college students: Google Pixelbook
No matter where you are in your college career, you need a laptop that doesn't require a lot of care and feeding, so the Google Pixelbook is your best option. Forget about waiting for the operating system to load or any spinning wheels making you wait for an application; the Pixel is all browser and all speed. It's also incredibly affordable compared to the competition, which is just right for most college students' bank accounts.
For frequent travelers: Microsoft Surface Pro
The Surface Pro has the form factor of a tablet, but make no mistake: it's a fully capable computer that just happens to be much thinner and lighter than the competition. Whether you need a laptop that won't weigh down your bag or one that will easily fit on an airplane tray table, the Surface Pro gives you all the flexibility of a tablet with no compromises.