MacBook Pro or Surface Pro 3 for a College Student?

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by B..., Aug 1, 2014.

  1. B... macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2013
    Hi everyone.

    I've thinking of buying either the new rMBP 13" or the 2013 model. But I've also been looking a lot at the Surface Pro 3. I love the hardware of the SP3, but I'm most worried about the quality of the Type Cover as I do a lot of typing. I could buy a wireless keyboard, but it wouldn't hook directly into the Surface and it wouldn't be as portable. I also love the Surface N-Trig Pen integration.

    But, of course, the rMBP has a great keyboard and trackpad, as well as more ports and slightly better performance.

    So, which would you buy for a college student? The rMBP 13" or the SP3?
  2. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I'd go for the MBP, over the SP3.
    You get a better CPU, GPU, and of course as you mentioned the keyboard.

    The type cover keyboard which is improved from prior versions is still inferior to the laptop's keyboard.

    Many of the early reviews noted this, and even MS misstepped with its marketing in letting Tech reporters use the SP3 over their MBAs. Those early reports showed that the much preferred their MBA over the SP3.
  3. AnonDP macrumors member

    Jun 27, 2014
    SP3 I've heard has poor build quality compared to Apple macbooks.
  4. sdimas macrumors member

    Jun 14, 2014
  5. repentix macrumors regular

    May 26, 2013
    SP3 is better than a macbook air its got a docking station with which you can use it as a desktop replacement!
  6. leman macrumors G3

    Oct 14, 2008
    I am sure that any student that has to spend some time writing report will quickly appreciate a proper responsive laptop keyboard. I am clearly not a fan of the devices like the Surface at this time, because in my view, they makes too many sacrifices. Convertibles are neither good tables (too big, too heavy, bad battery life), nor are they good laptops (bad ergonomy). I don't see how they are suitable for doing any remotely serious work. I am sure that devices like that are the future — once the technology gets there. But for now, I'd always take a 'classical' laptop.


    And for a Macbook you don't need any docking station because it already has everything the SP3's dock provides (which are only ports BTW).
  7. TechZeke macrumors 68020


    Jul 29, 2012
    Rialto, CA
    I'd get an SP3 over an Air, but definitely not over a rMBP.
  8. repentix macrumors regular

    May 26, 2013
    Well for starters the SP3 dock has got 2 DP for 2 4k screens, an ethernet port and 3 usb 3.0 ports. The SP3 has also got a better screen resolution than a macbook air (1440p vs. 720p or 900p), as Tekzeke said the SP3 is better than a macbook air BUT the rmbp is better than both.

    BTW the macbook air has NO advantage over the SP3 + Dock in terms of ports, the only thing it has that the SP3 hasn't is a thunderbolt port!
  9. ob81 macrumors 65816


    Jun 11, 2007
    Virginia Beach
    To be honest, either one would be fine. It all comes down to what OS you want. I had a SP3. It was awesome, but I didn't want to readjust to windows. Ended up going with the 13" rMBP.
  10. Badrottie Suspended


    May 8, 2011
    Los Angeles
    Surface 3 can't beat MBA 13" long best battery life 12 hours vs 7 hours for Surface 3. :apple:
  11. GreatMightySymp macrumors member


    Oct 8, 2013
    The new SP3 type cover is helluva improved over the SP2's, although you need to have it in the "raised" position with the top part attached to the magnets at the bottom.

    It depends if you need to write notes down more than typing up stuff. The pen in the SP3 + OneNote is great for jotting down stuff.

    I'd suggest a MBP if you have issues with Windows software looking blurry, though. A lot of the apps I have on my SP3 don't scale well (*points to Chrome and Steam*).
  12. Meister Suspended


    Oct 10, 2013
    the mba doesnt need a docking station because its a real laptop.


    Just no!
    The mba is a way better deal and you do not have to use windows.
  13. Dilster3k macrumors 6502a


    Jul 20, 2014
    Frankfurt, Germany
    For a pure portability the SP3 is very interesting and is a great tablet hybrid with a practical touchscreen. (a rather heavy one as well) and not many people speak about it but wouldn't it be interesting to create a Hackintosh out of it?

    Anyway for the complete package, great overall experience & awesome operating system. Go for the MBP even if it may cost more, it may be heavier but it's so worth it.
  14. SarcasticJoe macrumors 6502a


    Nov 5, 2013
    Depends on what you're going to study if you ask me...

    If it involves writing a lot of text (or code) then I'd say a proper keyboard is a must. While the Type Cover isn't as woefully awful as on screen keyboards, it still can't hold a candle even to the not-so-good laptop keyboards out there. Somebody might bring up the non-flat Type Cover that at least has some tactile feedback, but I've personally tried it and concluded that it's on par with the cheap rubber mat type keyboard that you used to see on really cheap PC laptops or sold as external keyboards with tons of LED's inside of them.

    The only case where I might recommend a Surface tablet over a proper laptop is if you're doing some kind of art degree and want to draw on it. However even then I'd recommend looking into the previous model as the current model dropped support for pressure sensitive pen input and according to the guy who draws the Penny Arcade comic it's got an issue with input lag (thou this might have been resolved by now).

    Finally there's the issue of build quality and construction. The Surface Pro is built in a way where it feels like they deliberately made it so that you can't open it up without breaking it. It's THAT full of glue and double sided tape.
  15. Meister Suspended


    Oct 10, 2013
    Yes. i forgot about that. I also think the SP might be good for this particular use.

    But for every other purpose by god get the mba!!
  16. Justin Horne macrumors newbie

    Jun 3, 2007
    Even then, the # of pressure sensitivity levels is so low, it's hard to recommend.
  17. Michael Goff macrumors G5

    Michael Goff

    Jul 5, 2012
    And that's why those Penny Arcade people had horrible things to say about it...

    Oh wait, the guys at Penny Arcade had a rather glowing review of the pressure sensitivity.
  18. Justin Horne macrumors newbie

    Jun 3, 2007
    Maybe it's the style of art that they do, but 256 is hilariously low for actual digital art. I can't find the video offhand, but I saw a demo of the SP3 pen in Photoshop (And I've personally used it.) The pressure gradient is so rough. I'm admittedly used to an Intuos 5, and I don't expect that level of accuracy from a Surface (2048), but 256 is just... so rough, especially at the lighter levels. With all due respect, mine isn't really an opinion per se; it factually has a very low level of pressure sensitivity. While that's fine for normal work, real digital art absolutely benefits from more (Even a doubling to 512.)
  19. SarcasticJoe macrumors 6502a


    Nov 5, 2013
    Which is why I recommended going for the previous model in the next sentence...
  20. Michael Goff macrumors G5

    Michael Goff

    Jul 5, 2012
    256 seems low, but only because we're used to huge numbers. 256 levels are enough for most people. Most people won't be able to tell the difference between 256 and higher.
  21. Codevine, Aug 2, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2014

    Codevine macrumors newbie

    Aug 2, 2014
    The Surface Pro 1 and 2 has a Wacom Digitizer with 1024 levels of pressure. The Surface Pro 3 has a N-Trig Digitizer with 256 levels of pressure. While N-Trig is not that popular, people say it's still good enough for serious drawing.

    I kinda doubt the difference between 256 and 1024 levels of pressure makes a big difference for someone starting an art degree or doing hobby work. Even the guys from Penny Arcade said it's still pretty good.

    I still agree to the rest of SarcasticJoe's post.

    To further elaborate on the topic: I've done my Bachelor of Computer Science in the past 3 years, the first 1.5years with a MacBook Unibody from 2009 and till now using a Surface Pro 1. I especially thought that the Wacom Digitizer/Stylus would be an awesome addition - especially for taking notes in math classes - and it is indeed pretty great. However, I've noticed that I didn't use the stylus to take notes as much as I thought I would. And I also noticed that I programmed less and less as the time went by. I'm okay with the Type Cover's keyboard, it feels good and I can write pretty fast without making much errors. However, what really put me off is the touchpad. It just sucks ass. Can't even use 2-finger scrolling because it's so small. So I always had to carry around a mouse to do anything. Now I'm at the point where I will be buying a rMBP 15", as my Master of Computer Science is going to start in October.

    Keep in mind, that the touchpad has been improved a lot from what I've heard in the Type Cover for the Surface Pro 3. Still wouldn't count on it being awesome - at least not as awesome as a MacBook trackpad.

    If you, right now, take notes on paper all the time and maybe even do something art-related, you should seriously consider the Surface Pro (3). If you have to type a lot on a keyboard, code stuff and so on, I'd suggest a MacBook.
  22. Atomic Walrus, Aug 2, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2014

    Atomic Walrus macrumors 6502a

    Sep 24, 2012
    The real issue with N-Trig isn't the pressure sensitivity steps (Wacom's claims in this area are basically marketing BS). N-Trig's digitizers have very poor linearity compared to Wacom's tech, which makes them a questionable choice for actual art usage. Most people aren't aware of the concept of digitizer "linearity" and don't know how to test for it, but will report the issue as the drawing experience just not feeling right (or as seeing wobbly lines when they draw more slowly, which they often incorrectly attribute to the slippery glass surface)

    Mike Krahulik (PA) didn't seem to mind the linearity issue, but he also draws comics with a very distinct fast stroke style (thick black brush lines, no detail work). N-Trig may be okay for note-taking but I wouldn't really recommend it for anyone who needs to do professional work with a pen.

    Here's a thread from another forum where linearity is tested on a number of devices:

    You'll see that Wacom Penabled digitizers (SP1/2, Thinkpad Yoga) do better than N-Trig, but still show some wobble. Only the Cintiq was able to more or less "pass" the linearity test which is how Wacom manages to charge such absurd prices for them (no competition at that quality level). The tests largely involve drawing straight lines, but these "wobbles" will appear on any stroke done at a slow to moderate speed.

    N-Trig also has a kind of strange pressure curve, with higher minimum activation force and a much higher peak force (too high for a device like the SP3, we're talking enough pressure to deform the glass until it presses on the LCD panel). Whether or not that's an issue really depends on usage.

    Edit to add personal experience w/ SP1:

    I should mention that I picked up a new SP1 when MS was selling them for $500. The main advantage of this kind of device is that you can do work that would normally require pencil and paper: Solving equations, drawing out diagrams for complicated word problems, or doing chemistry work like electron transfer diagrams. Anyone going into a field which uses lots of math or diagrams (engineering, physics, mathematics, maybe chem and bio?) would probably get a lot of use out of a system with a digitizer.

    On the other hand if the notes you'll be taking are largely of the ... softer variety (words!) it probably makes more sense to use a keyboard, and I couldn't say much about the SP experience in that context because I never even picked up a keyboard for mine.

    I'll end with the disclaimer that I've worked with digitizers for years so I'm pretty familiar with the usual issues (parallax, calibration issues, and linearity issues resulting in pointer offset, some latency). Someone who's never used a digitizer might not find this kind of device as useful and see at as awkward compared to a pencil on real paper.
  23. M5RahuL macrumors 68030


    Aug 1, 2009
    [ typed on my Note 3, so please excuse the grammar...punctuation..spelling etc ]

    Been using both for a while and for college..I'd go with the Macbook w/o a doubt.

    The SP3 is great, especially One Note + Stylus + Cloud Sync, but the keyboard [ onboard and external ] aren't the best for long typing sessions.

    Having said that, the build quality on the SP3 is A+ i.e. at par with Macbooks IMHO. It feels solid, light and very well crafted.

    The pressure sensitivity [ down to 256 now with N-Trig ] is still just as good as on SP2 [ using Wacom ]

    I think of the SP3 as a hybrid between laptop and tablet..As I read somewhere on AnandTech it's a tabtop or laplet ? lol..

    Why would I recommend getting a Macbook [ or Windows Laptop, if you prefer that OS ] ?

    - Lapability [ yea, read that somewhere too :p ] The SP3 isn't very comfy on your lap, a regular laptop [ or ultra-book ] is just the opposite.

    - Easier to type for extended periods on a regular laptop.

    - The SP3 comes with ONE USB port. Sure, you can use USB expansion but that + keyboard + mouse etc defeat the purpose of a laplet!

    - If you throw in a MBA in to the equation, the battery itself is reason enough to pick it over the SP3

    - If you're considering the retina Macbook, the screen is SO MUCH BETTER over the ain't even funny! Sure that's Windows scaling issue...but, for the end consumer, it's the results that matter..

    Believe it or not, I prefer using my 15" rMBP over the Samsung UD590 [ 28" 4K UHD, non IPS ] monitor because there's barely any eye fatigue from the rMBP.

    That's all I could muster up waiting for my ride ... :D

    Things I don't like about SP3 :

    - Single USB Slot
    - No built-in pen storage
    - Gets a bit too warm for my lap, especially when running a VM !
    - The Keyboard needs to be called in certain situations, i.e. it doesn't automatically pop up everytime
    - If you change the default browser [ to say Chrome from IE ] from *desktop view*, it still opens IE from the ' Metro UI '.
    - TouchPad...TouchPad...TouchPad!! Damn it non-Macbook vendors... why can't you get it right! It's FAR superior to the one on SP2, but still no match for the Macbooks'.

    Love the SP3, but it has ways to go before completely replacing my laptop!
  24. B... thread starter macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2013
    BestBuy is now offering the SP3 for $150 off for college students, so the decision just got more difficult. I'm still not convinced about the Type Cover keyboard...I just don't know if it could hold up to how much I type.

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