Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Which pro laptop will win?

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020
(Image credit: Future)

This Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 face-off comparison shows just how powerful today's laptops have become.

Microsoft’s Surface Book 3 is one of the most capable 2-in-1 laptops around, witch up to 50% more performance than the Surface Book 2 and up to 17.5 hours of battery life. And unlike the MacBook Pro, you get a detachable touchscreen, pen support and optional Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics.

Meanwhile, the MacBook Pro 2020 now offers up to 10th gen Intel core processors, faster 3733 MHz RAM and a new Magic Keyboard that's miles better than Apple's shallow and uncomfortable butterfly keyboard. Plus, Apple now offers double the storage on the MacBook Pro at all configurations.

We have yet to test the two laptops, but we know the main specs and features, so here’s our initial take on which laptop will the Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 battle.  And stay tuned for our full reviews.

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Specs compared 

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Header Cell - Column 0 Microsoft Surface Book 3Apple MacBook Pro 2020
Price$1,599 (integrated graphics); $1,999 / $1,999 (discrete GPU), $2,299 (15-inch) $1299 to $1,999
Display13.5 inches, 3000 x 2000 13.3 inches, 2560 x 1600
Battery life15.5 hours with keyboard attached (13.5-inch), 17.5 hours (15-inch) 10 hours
ProcessorCore i5-1035G7, Core i7-1065G7Intel 8th Gen Core i5 and i7, and 10th Gen Core i5 and i7
RAM8GB, 16GB, 32GB8GB, 16GB, 32GB
Storage256GB, 512GB, 1TB256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
GraphicsIntel Iris Plus, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Intel UHD, Intel Iris Plus
Ports2 USB Type-A, 1 USB Type-C, SD Card, 3.5mm audio2 to 4 Thunderbolt 3 USB-C, 3.5mm audio
Dimensions12.3 x 9.14 x 0.9 inches12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight3.38 pounds; 3.62 pounds with GPU 3.1 pounds

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Performance 

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 - Microsoft's machine is the most flexible

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Both the Surface Book 3 and MacBook Pro 2020 come with a reasonably expansive range of specs, which makes a comparison a little tricky. 

Let’s start with the MacBook Pro 2020. The $1,299 and $1,499 models make use of older 8th-generation Core i5 processors and Core i7. These chips are arguably a little long in the tooth. However, both the Core i5 and i7 are quad-core processors able to hit 3.8GHz and 4.5GHz respectively. So they aren’t going to be disappointing in real-world use. 

The $1,799 MacBook Pro is more future-proof, as it comes with a 10th-generation Core i5 chip or optional Core i7 CPU. The Core i5 is able to hit 3.8 GHz and the Core i7 in the $1,999 model is able to reach 4.1 GHz. And both Ice Lake CPUs come with Intel’s Iris Plus integrated graphics, so are able to handle more graphically demanding tasks than the 8th-gen processors. 

The $1,599 Surface Book 3 comes standard with Intel's latest 10th-generation chips, specifically the Core i5-1035G7 and Core i7-1065G7. These CPUs can be paired with up to 32GB of RAM.  Given the entry-level Surface Book 3 has access to newer chips than the cheapest MacBook Pro, it’s likely to have Apple’s machine beat.

Microsoft extends its lead with its optional discrete graphics. The $1,999 Core i7 model has a GeForce GTX 1650 GPU with 4GB of dedicated video memory. This  graphics card easily beats Intel’s Iris Plus graphics and is not just suitable for rendering tasks but can also handle some modern gaming. 

Early winner: Surface Book 3  

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Display  

The MacBook Pro 2020 comes with the same Retina Display as its predecessor, but it's still a great panel. This screen has a fairly sharp resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels and is bright at 485 nits based on our lab results. It also supports the P3 wide color gamut and Apple's TrueTone technology, which automatically adjusts color temperature to best suit the ambient lighting conditions.

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 - The Surface Book 3 has an impressive PixelSense display

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Surface Book’s 13.5-inch PixelSense display has a sharper resolution of 3000 x 2000 pixels, and it offers 10-point multi-touch support, something the MacBook Pro can't match. In our previous testing of the Surface Book 2, that display reached a brightness rating of 374 nits which is behind the MacBook Pro. 

Early winner: Draw

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Design  

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 - Microsoft's laptop is a premium machine

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Things are a little dull here as the design of the Surface Book 3 and MacBook Pro 2020 hasn’t changed from their respective predecessors. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that rings true here. Both devices are rather attractive premium machines, but which looks the best will be down to individual tastes. 

There’s no doubt that the MacBook Pro 2020 is a strong example of industrial design, with a well-made aluminum unibody and that clean, minimalistic Apple aesthetic. We’d have liked to have seen Apple trim the display bezels a little, but we’ll probably have to wait another year for that to happen. 

The Surface Book 3 is undeniably the more interesting machine, what with its fulcrum hinge connecting the tablet and the rest of the laptop together in a secure fashion. However, the hinge lends bulk to the laptop, and it’s smaller, squarer trackpad and rounded edges aren't quite as smart as the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s design in our eyes. 

The MacBook Pro is more portable, though, as it weighs 3.1 pounds and is 0.61 inches thick, compared to 0.9 inches thick and 3.38 pounds for the Surface Book 3. The Surface Book 3 with the Nvidia GPU brings the weight to 3.62 pounds.

Early winner: MacBook Pro 2020

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Keyboard and trackpad  

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 - The Mac machine has an excellent industrial design

(Image credit: Apple)

The Surface Book 3 has the same keyboard as its predecessor, which is a very good thing, as much like the Surface Laptop 3, the Surface Book 2 delivers an excellent tactile typing experience. 

The MacBook Pro 2020 marks the final death of the Butterfly keyboard mechanism that was a literal sticking point for many MacBook users. The low-profile keyboard has been replaced with a scissor key mechanism that delivers 1mm of travel. 

From using the MacBook Air and 16-inch MacBook Pro, which both have the new Magic Keyboard, we can expect the MacBook Pro 2020 to deliver a comfortable typing experience. However, the 1.5mm key travel on the Surface Book 3 is likely to deliver a more responsive overall keyboard, so we suspect the Surface Book 3 will be the winner here. 

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 - the Mac has the impressive Force Touch trackpad

(Image credit: Apple)

But things are likely to get flipped when it comes to the trackpad, as the MacBook Pro has the well-established Force Touch trackpad, which has long been the best, as well as one of the largest, laptop trackpads. As the Surface Book 3 continues with its predecessor’s smaller, albeit thoroughly decent trackpad, we’re going to say the MacBook Pro 2020 will win on the trackpad front.

Early winner: Draw

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Ports

The first two models of the MacBook Pro 2020 get just a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the two higher-specced models get four.  There's also a headphone jack, but that's it.

The Surface Book 3 does not support the high-speed Thunderbolt 3 standard, but you do get one USB-port plus two USB Type-A ports to accommodate peripherals with a standard size USB connection. And, unlike the MacBook Pro 2020, the Surface Book 3 has an SD card slot, which photographers will likely appreciate it.

Early winner: Surface Book 3 

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Battery life 

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 - the Surface Book 3 has a better range of ports

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The 13.5-inch Surface Book 3 is estimated to last 15.5 hours of "typical device usage" when in its laptop mode. The MacBook Pro 2020 is rated for 10 hours of wireless web usages and 10 hours of Apple TV app movie playback. 

Based on our previous testing, the Surface Book 2 lasted 13 hours and 8 minutes on our wireless web surfing test at 150 nits of screen brightness, and the new MacBook Pro 2020 lasted 10 hours and 21 minutes on our test.  

Early winner: Surface Book 3

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020: Early verdict 

Surface Book 3 vs MacBook Pro 2020 - the MacBook Pro has a 10-hour battery life

(Image credit: Apple)

This is tough one to call. Both the Surface Book 3 and MacBook Pro 2020 have strong points and few shortcomings. 

The MacBook Pro offers a lighter design, a brighter display a larger touchpad and should deliver great performance. You also get excellent battery and much improved keyboard. However, you'll need to spend $1,799 if you want the latest Intel 10th gen processors and faster RAM. The MacBook Pro also doesn't offer full-size USB ports, which could be a turn-off to some.

The Surface Book 3 is the more versatile of the two machines, offering a 2-in-1 design with a sharper screen that you can use as a tablet or laptop. On paper, Microsoft's system also delivers longer battery life and available discrete graphics. The only drawbacks are the chunky design, lack of Thunderbolt 3 support and relatively small touchpad.

Right now we would say the Surface Book 3 has the edge in terms of sheer power for your money, but check back once we have reviewed both laptops for our final verdict.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.