I've had the opportunity recently to compare the Microsoft Surface Book 2 and the Apple Macbook Pro side by side and I learned a lot from the differences. The following comparison review is from my perspective as a visual content creator, someone who creates digital art, graphic design, edits photos and videos on a daily basis.
Before I start, I've got to thank Microsoft Singapore for providing me with the Surface Book 2 review unit. The Macbook Pro being compared to is mine, a 2015 quad core 2.5Ghz model.
Alright, let's talk about the different workflows.
The main selling point of the Surface Book 2 is the detachable screen that you can use as a tablet to draw on.
When it comes to digital illustration, being able to draw directly onto the screen can save a lot of time. If you're a comic artist, you can draft out your page and panels, and ink directly. You no longer have to draw on paper and scan your work. If you have been spending lots of time on the drafting stage, you're going to be save a lot of time.
The Surface Book 2 tablet is also quite an accurate screen to work on. It's compatible with the Surface Pen (and other Surface Pen alternatives). The Surface Pen supports pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. You can definitely create professional work on the tablet from start to end. The Surface tablets in the past were not as good as the one with the Surface Book 2. This is now a tablet product that has matured and ironed out many of the irritating things that annoyed digital artists in the past. The issue with jitter diagonal lines is almost non-existent here. There's almost no parallax.
The Surface Pen is not as sensitive as the styluses of tablets from Wacom, Huion and others, but it's certainly good enough for digital illustration, at least for me.
To do the same with a Macbook Pro, you would need a separate graphics tablet. So there's really no comparison here.
Both the Surface Book 2 and the Macbook Pro are more than capable enough for graphic design, the 2D type of work for print or web. There's not a lot of difference between the dual core and quad core models when it comes to graphic design. Computers nowadays are way more powerful than the graphic design apps we are using nowadays, e.g. Photoshop, Illustrator, Affinity Photo and Designer.
I've calibrated the screens for both and got a readout of 94% sRGB support on the Surface Book 2 and 96% sRGB on the Macbook Pro. Colour accuracy is quite good, more than satisfactory for graphic designers. For print designers, you'll still need to connect to an external 100% Adobe RGB monitor to check colours.
Both systems use SSD storage so when it comes to booting the system, launching applications, loading and saving large files, performance overall is quite snappy.
Both systems are more than capable when it comes to editing photos, making adjustments. But when it comes to exporting your photos from RAW to other formats, that's where the processors matter. Here are the different timings I got when I tried to export 100 RAW 16MP photos with Adobe Lighting using the different systems I have:
- Mac Pro 2013 Quad 3.7Ghz Xeon - 3 min 17s
- Macbook Pro 2015 Quad 2.5Ghz - 3min 21s
- SB2 15" i7-8650U (1.9 to 4.2 GHz) - 3m 49s (50 to 80% utilization)
- SB2 13.5" i5-7300U (2.6 to 3.5 GHz) - 8min 57s (30% utilization)
- Surface Laptop i5-7200U (2.5 to 3.1 GHz) - 8min 26s (40 - 70% utilization)
- Lenovo Miix 520 i5-8250U (1.6 - 3.4Ghz) - 4min 40s
There are some interesting findings.
The Surface Book 2 is not too far behind the Macbook Pro even though it's a quad core 1.9Ghz vs 2.5Ghz. The dual core Surface Book 2 and Surface Laptop took more than twice the time.
While the Surface Book 2s were exporting photos, I could see the CPU utilization fluctuating wildly. It was never able to maintain high utilization. So even though the turbo boost of the Intel i7 can go up to 4.2Ghz, in real life you'll seldom see that sort of performance. The Macbook Pro on the other hand has high CPU utilization throughout.
In short, if you work on photos a lot, you may want to invest in the quad core processors.
Working on 4K videos on both systems felt quite smooth. When it comes to exporting the videos, again, the processors are important. These are the timings I recorded when I exported a 5 min 4K clip without any special effects and filters
- SB2 Premiere Pro CC - 13m 19s
- MBP Premiere Pro CC - 20m 47s
- MBP Final Cut Pro - 2m 32s
Again, the findings are quite interesting.
With Adobe Premiere Pro CC, it took the Macbook Pro significantly longer to export the video. It was excruciatingly slow actually. The Surface Book 2's quad core 1.9Ghz exporting the video much faster than I expected. If you're using Adobe Premiere Pro for editing videos, the Surface Book 2 is the faster system.
One of the main reasons why people buy Macs is because of Final Cut Pro. When it comes to exporting video files with Final Cut Pro, the Macbook Pro is 5 times faster. That's due to the Quick Sync technology that's built into the Intel processors on certain Macs, and the Macbook Pro has it. The quad core 3.7Ghz Mac Pro that I have does not have Quick Sync and exports videos really slowly too.
So if you plan on editing video, it's important to know which app you'll be using and choose the appropriate system.
Design and build quality
Both systems are extremely well build and feels like premium products.
The ports on the Surface Book 2 are 2x USB 3, SD card reader and a USB Type C (Thunderbolt 2). The ports on the 2015 Macbook Pro are 2x USB 3, 2x Thunderbolt 2, SD card reader and HDMI. The ports on the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Macbook Pros are 4x Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type C).
When we compare ports, the 2015 Macbook Pro has the best selection no doubt, followed by the Surface Book 2. I still use a lot of devices that require the full-sized USB ports so having those ports around is incredible convenient. I don't like to use dongles whenever possible. It's not like dongles are heavy. It's just that you have to remember to bring them and if you forget about them, it could be disastrous and you may not be able to get work done.
With the Surface Book 2, if I need to connect to an external monitor, I do need a USB Type C to DisplayPort adaptor though.
Another thing about the design is the keyboard. On the Surface Book 2, there's no Control button on the right side of the keyboard. When I use the mouse or stylus, I am not able to access certain keyboard shortcuts because the Ctrl button is missing. For example in Photoshop, I cannot Ctrl+< or Ctrl+< to change font sizes, cannot Ctrl+L to create a Layer adjustment, can't Ctrl+O to open, and more. And that's in Photoshop. I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts in Adobe Illustrator as well, Ctrl+[ and Ctrl+] to move objects on top and below. Even thinking about the lack of the Ctrl button frustrates me.
Another issue with the Surface Book 2 is, when flip the tablet around and close it against the keyboard, you can't access the keyboard anymore, so you can't use keyboard shortcuts.
You can detach the screen, but the keyboard is not wireless so you can't use keyboard shortcuts as well.
It's not difficult to choose between the two.
Get the Surface Book 2 if you need to use the tablet often. Get the Macbook Pro because of Mac OS or Final Cut Pro.
If you're just doing graphic design and does not require tablet usage, there are actually cheaper laptops options available. To get the Surface Book 2 or Macbook Pro, you're buying something you can't get with other laptops.