Macbook Pro vs. Windows Surface Pro

I am just starting and I haven’t even bought the Scrivener package yet. First things first - I am torn between the Macbook Pro w/ Retina and the comparably priced Microsoft Surface Pro. I am retiring soon and planning on starting a writing career, so the unit will have heavy usage. I have used both Windows and IOS products and I don’t have any particular preference. I like the friendliness of Apple products but turned off by being chained to ITunes.

I am leaning heavily towards the Macbook Pro, and this raises another decision point as between a Macbook Pro and the comparably priced Macbook Air.

Decisions, decisions - thoughts?



MBP 13". You can’t go wrong. Best machine I ever had

For writing, MB Air 13" gives you the best battery life in the Apple line. They’re entirely solid state, so are very snappy as well. Do you have any other major uses for the machine that might tax it’s microprocessor? I haven’t come across anything that stuttered or had any difficulty running on my one-year-old air.

If the main reason you’re buying is for writing, then IMHO there’s really only one choice: the Macbook Pro (or Air). Firstly, it’s a proper laptop, not a hybrid trying to do two things (laptop and tablet). That’s fine for occasionally use, but will it really be satisfactory for heavy duty writing? Seems doubtful.

Secondly, you will be able to run the Mac version of Scrivener (which will always be in a more advanced state than the Windows version). Depending on your needs (e.g. for heavy duty research), you will also be able to use programs such as DevonThink which are beyond anything available on Windows. You’ll also be getting a high quality keyboard and touchpad. If you want to run the occasional Windows program, you can do that through virtualisation programs such as Parallels.

The keyboard on the surface pro probably wouldn’t do for heavy duty writing – I tested one for (only a few) minutes and found it OK, if quite inaccurate, but couldn’t imagine using it for long periods. I would guess you’d have to buy a separate keyboard if you wanted to type for more than about half an hour at a time.

Of course, with the Surface Pro, you get a tablet as well, and if you need both, that might be a deciding factor. Although you’d have to use Windows 8, which is just cruel…

I’d also say if you’re writing… MacBook Air…

I write on a MacBook Air 11" it’s perfect for me… only slightly larger than my iPad 2… extremely light, the new 2013 models have a great battery life… as other have said as it’s all SSD, the machine flies… just make sure you get what ram and disk you require as these aren’t user upgradable after purchase…

Also the Mac version of scrivener is more mature than the windows version, although it’s catching up…

I eradicated PC’s from my life some time ago, and haven’t looked back or regretted anything…

The only other major use I would have in addition to writing is watching movies on Netfilx. I wonder if the retina display on the MBP is worth chasing after on the premise that movies are sharper when viewed on a retina screen - if yes, I go MBP with retina, if no, I go Air.

I also wonder if the screen size difference between 11" and 13.3" makes a difference to a guy who wears prescription reading glasses. If no, I go 11", if yes I go 13.3"

Tsk, tsk, more decisions…

I’m sure you’ll find supporters, zealots even, for both systems. In this particular sub-forum, given it’s the Scrivener for Mac OS X sub-forum, well, the views will be foreseeable. So discount the prejudice in the following.

There are two areas at issue: hardware and software. The MBP and the Air are regarded as amongst the best laptops that Apple has produced - sturdy, light and capable. I don’t think - haven’t seen or read - that the Surface Pro is the equivalent for the Windows platform.

Software: perhaps the days are gone when OS X was universally regarded as the best, possibly the only, platform for creative writing. Nevertheless, there’s still a remarkable preponderance of writing tools on OS X that you may find useful in the future, even if you don’t now. What is more, they work together more harmoniously than their rivals on Windows do, and once you’ve learnt one, others are easier to learn, thanks to an Apple-enforced greater consistency (some call it uniformity) of user interfaces. They also probably work more easily in harness with writing tools on the iPad, if you find yourself going in that direction one day. And you can clearly run Windows legally on a Mac if you need to, whilst the opposite? Not so clear.

Go air. Movies are limited in resolution by definition. And the reality is that you will be hard presed to really see a difference (especially as a wearer of spectacles).

You can not undervalue a completely solid state solution. Even if you go windows get as few moving parts as possible.

13" is a sweet spot in portability. Under it and you lose definition (even with retina) for tired eyes. larger and you add unneeded weight.

Full laptops beat tablets for one very simple reason; nothing gets separated on purpose. You will never leave your keyboard at home. Or your mouse.

As to the OS issue: it is irrelevant. Pick the one that will provide you the application feature set you need/want. As mentioned earlier, Scriv on OSX will have a few more features. Then again, a windows OS will give you more “high school kids” to choose from when you need help (think of “high school kids” as a just-in-the-workforce type; they work much cheaper than curmudgeons like me).

I will always go mac. But that has nothing to do with any of the above factors. OS/HW is much more personal than many realize…

Go to an Apple store and look at the screen of MBP 13" retina and then compare to the Airs. In my opinion, it’s not even close. Retina all the way (I wanted to get an Air 11" for extra portability, but after the 13" retina I can’t work with the Air 11" display anymore). You may disagree with me, of course, but the key thing is, look at the machines you are considering, compare them side by side. That’s the best way to decide. Performance-wise, you can bump up both machines to very similar high end specs now, so, I don’t see that as a major factor (well, there is a budget issue, of course, if you really bump them up to the best specs, even the Air can get expensive)

I don’t believe it has been specifically pointed out yet, but don’t confuse iOS with what you get on a Mac. Unlike Microsoft, Apple hasn’t tried to merge the desktop and tablet experience (well, they did a bit, but in such a way that can largely be ignored, it’s not like Metro), and the two are distinctly different in almost every important way, but of the most important:

  • The UI is designed for a keyboard and mouse, not fingers. It will use the familiar window & desktop metaphors, and you can run as many programs side-by-side as your screen can allow for.
  • You are not chained to any distribution system or vendor. While there is a “Mac App Store”, that some like to use for convenience, nothing forces you to use it, and indeed the vast majority of Mac software is available from other sources. So it’s nothing like iTunes and an iPhone where there is only one shop and every piece of software you use has to be approved by Apple. You can download anything you want to, just like Windows.
  • If you have a “docking station” at home, you can go on using the keyboard/mouse you’re used to if you want, and probably the printer (if its USB) and monitor too (though you most likely will need to buy a converter cable for the monitor, as Macs have switched over to a high-performance universal connector some years ago).

Agree 100%! Especially about looking at the Air and rMBP side by side in a store.

Last Friday, I was going to buy an Air at the Apple store until I looked at a rMBP13". In my opinion, there is no, repeat NO, comparison! At first, I tried to convince myself that I could get used to the Air screen. But every time I want back to the rMBP, I stayed longer and longer. And longer and longer and longer… The rMBP screen is so much better that I happily forked over the extra money to buy the rMBP. (Note that I use reading glasses while working on my computers.)

Everyone has their own needs, wants, and constraints - especially budget constraints. For heavy usage, I think you will be happier with the rMBP because you will spend long hours looking at it. If money is an issue consider this… How long will it take to forget the extra money you spend on the rMBP vs how long will you be looking looking at the screen?

The downside of both units is that the CPU, memory, and disk can’t be upgraded. I got the 13" rMBP with the 2.8GHz Dual-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 256Gb flash disk, and 8Gb memory. 256Gb flash disk is fine for me because I can always archive off files to a backup disk. OTOH, I think I should have ordered 16Gb memory. I don’t know how much memory other folks have on their MacBooks, but you should consider your memory size carefully.

FYI… I’ve been a Windows software developer for more than 20 years. When I retire early next year I will be writing and developing iOS software. I think the Microsoft tablets come a long way and may be quite good. But I no longer have faith in Microsoft. They keep making product mistakes and are still focused on whiz-bang features instead of building a cohesive ecosystem that focuses on meeting customers key needs.

While Apple may not be perfect (iTunes is an excellent example), overall it seems like it is less hassle to get their products working as an ecosystem. I’m tired of Microsoft hassles (including 10 year-old unfixed bugs) and want a system where the focus is on efficient work output.

My rMBP will be here Friday. If anyone is interested, I’ll report back on my first impressions.



I am now 99% persuaded that the Macbook Pro with Retina display is for me. However, I just read about two issues a few minutes ago that gave me pause, and I’m trying to psych myself into believing that these are isolated incidents:

  1. that someone sued Apple because there was ghosting on his retina display, and

  2. that the retina display causes the fan to cycle on and off unpredictably, especially on Macs equipped wit the later model Sandisk SSD drives, not so much on the earlier Samsung SSD drives.

Please, please tell me that these reports are untrue, or that they were isolated cases and the right fixes have been implemented.

Thanks once again,


I heard about ghosting with a screen made by one of the two vendors apple used (don’t remember which one), but that was a long time ago, I doubt they are still selling machines with that problem

Never heard of the second problem, and my machine is so silent i don’t think i have ever heard the fan!

fan spin up is determined by heat build up. If you run the CPU/GPU hard, do not allow for adequate airflow, blah blah blah the fan will spin up. use common sense and you won’t get fan noise when you don’t want it.

If you get fan noise, you probably need it.

Well let’s clear something up straight away.
With the exception of including the word “Pro” in the name, the Surface Pro is in no way comparable to an MBP, and isn’t supposed to be. That includes price.

There are much better pieces of kit available on the Windows 8 platform that are indeed comparable to the MBP (or the MBA) for similar cash.

Firstly, you are considering two very different operating systems so your first decision should not be about hardware, but more importantly:
Mac OS X or Windows 8?

If you’ve not used Mac OS, try it in an Apple Store for a period of time. It has a lot (really an awful lot) to commend it, but some people (myself included) simply don’t get on with it. The same is true of Windows 8, of course, although I do find I quite like the system now.

After that you can consider questions of portability, screen size and resolution, memory, hard drive, processing power and of course price that will bring you to an ultimate decision.

I’m not sure movies would be any better viewed on a Retina screen (anything more than full HD would be wasted for all but a few Super HD movies available on Netfilx, I think?). But for that sort of use, a screen is clearly important. Sony’s latest line of Win8 machines basically have Bravia TVs as monitors, so are amongst the very best you can find for deep blacks, rich colours that cover the entire RGB gamut, and wide viewing angles. The Sony Pro is a fantastic, light ultraportable and worth a look if you prefer Win8 to MacOS.

As for screen size: my personal preference would be a 13" anything. They tend not to be noticeably heavier, have better ports, and have more screen space. Remember portability really means two things: weight and thickness. Those are the only two measures that will make a real difference in any bag / briefcase / rucksack appropriate for carrying a laptop.

[Moved to the general discussion forum.]

Seconded. 8)

The Suface Pro is a very cool machine, but if writing is your main goal for it, I don’t think I’d go for that one. You’ll be best off to get something with a good keyboard. So if it were between those two, I’d get the mac.

I’ll add this suggestion, the Lenovo X1 Carbon. It’s a very thin 14" ultrabook made of, you guessed it, carbon fibre. I’d be willing to put my money on this over the MBP in terms of durability, as Lenovo’s laptops are spec’d to military durability standards. On top of that, the keyboard beats the one on the MBP, or any other laptop for that matter. Lenovo’s keyboards are the undisputed champs of laptop-land.

Have fun customizing your own: … x1-carbon/

Another suggestion, the X240. I want to get this one for myself soon. It’s a 12.5" powerhouse with the features of a normal-sized laptop. In a month or so, they’re coming out with a full-HD screen option. On 12.5", that’s in “retina” territory, and again, you get the legendary build quality and best-in-class keyboard.

More customizing fun: … ries/x240/