If you're looking for a 13-inch laptop with solid performance, Apple and Microsoft have deals that will tempt your wallet. The eternal rivalry of these venerable tech giants leads the MacBook Air to battle it out against the Surface Laptop 3. But which is the better device? That is the number of points we want to achieve.


Riley Young / Digital Trends

The MacBook Air is similar to the original version, but with a slightly thinner case and smaller bezels. It goes with Apple's usual design aesthetic, which is sleek and not ostentatious at all. It is available in the colors gold, silver and space gray, which are accentuated by black bezels.

The Surface Laptop 3 has a few changes compared to its predecessor. This includes a slightly larger trackpad and the introduction of an all-metal chassis in addition to the usual Alcantara fabric surface.

Both laptops are extremely well built, with a rigid aluminum body and no bending or bending. At 0.63 inches, the MacBook Air is slightly thicker than the Surface Laptop 3 compared to 0.57 inches. They weigh almost the same, however: the air at 2.8 pounds versus 2.79 to 2.84 pounds on the three surface units, depending on the finish.

The MacBook Air uses Apple's new Magic keyboard, which swaps the annoying butterfly switches for scissor switches for a better typing experience. The Surface Laptop 3's keyboard offers significantly more travel and is just as snappy, which makes it our preferred input option by far.

The huge Force Touch touchpad on the MacBook Air is excellent, while the smaller Precision touchpad on the Surface Laptop 3 is good but can't quite keep up – Microsoft could certainly have been a bit more generous with its size. However, Microsoft's laptop does benefit from a touch display and Surface Pen support, which makes it more flexible.

Connectivity is another major difference. The MacBook Air only has two USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3 for transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps. The Surface Laptop 3 has a USB-A port, a USB-C port, and a Surface Connect port for charging and docking. The lack of Thunderbolt 3 makes Microsoft's laptop less flexible in terms of supporting external displays and GPU cases, but you don't need as many dongles.


Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 13-inch in sandstone Joel Chokkattu / Digital Trends

The MacBook Air is now based on Apple's new ARM-based 8-core M1 processor, which is significantly faster than the two 10th generation Intel Core i5 and i7 chips in the Surface Laptop 3.

Single core score Multi-core score
Apple M1 1690 7302
Core i7-1065G7 1293 4878
Core i5-1035G7 1208 4470

While a single benchmark doesn't tell the full story, these numbers suggest that the M1-equipped MacBook Air should be much faster whether you're browsing the web, editing videos, or typing numbers in a large spreadsheet.

All desktop software originally designed for Intel-based chips must now run on the Rosetta 2 emulator built into MacOS Big Sur. On the other hand, MacBook Air owners should now see a more robust library in the Mac App Store.

The storage performance is also a win for the MacBook Air. Both computers are based on fast PCIe solid state drives (SSDs), but Apple tends to source the absolute fastest SSDs available. As a result, the MacBook Air can access and store data faster, although the difference in actual use is minimal unless you are dealing with very large files.

Display quality is an area that both Apple and Microsoft excel in – at least that's usually the case with MacBooks. Apple's laptops usually have excellent displays with wide and accurate colors, great contrast, and high brightness. However, the MacBook Air is an exception due to its average score across the board despite its 2560 x 1600 resolution.

But here, too, the device from Microsoft is a disappointment. The 2256 x 1504 display is very sharp, but the disappointing color accuracy can't compete with devices like the MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 15.


Riley Young / Digital Trends

None of these laptops weighs heavily on you or takes up a lot of space in your backpack, as they are almost identical in weight.

Tech-wise, the matte black Surface Laptop 3 device is slightly heavier than the MacBook Air at 2.84 pounds, while the Cobalt Blue and Platinum devices weigh a little less at 2.79 pounds. However, in real use cases, these numbers are irrelevant as you won't feel any difference between the two.

The same goes for their dimensions. The MacBook Air is 0.63 inches thick while the Surface Laptop 3 is thinner at 0.57 inches. Overall, however, you'll be happy to carry one of these laptops around with you.

While we have not yet tested the new MacBook Air with the M1 chip from Apple, the previous model with an Intel CPU achieved an average battery life of around 9.5 hours when surfing the Internet and 10 hours when watching videos in our test. The Surface Laptop 3 lasted seven to eight hours with low power consumption. Our test device was the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 instead of the 13-inch variant, but Microsoft gives identical battery life estimates on its website.

Apple's MacBook Air proves that performance matters

The MacBook Air offers 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD at a starting price of $ 999. The Surface laptop 3 comes for the same price and with the same amount of memory and storage setup.

If you want to go all out, you can get a MacBook Air for $ 2,049 with an eight-core GPU (seven cores on the base unit), 16GB of storage, and 2TB of storage. For a little less ($ 1,899), you can get the Surface Laptop 3 with an Intel Core i7 chip, 16GB of storage, and a 1TB SSD.

For us, the overall winner of the competition is the MacBook Air. While the Surface Laptop 3 has an incredible design, the M1 chip in the Apple MacBook Air ensures that it goes straight to the top. Both are not cheap, especially when you boot up the configurations. Both are expensive when you boot up the configurations, but they're worth every penny.

Editor's recommendations