Apple's pricey MacBooks have me taking a second look at Microsoft's Surface Pro 4

Commentary: I had my eye on a new MacBook Pro, but a little sticker shock has me rethinking my purchase.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
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David Carnoy
4 min read

For the past six months I've been in the market for a new laptop, and like a lot of people, I put off making a purchase until Apple unveiled its redesigned MacBook Pros, which were officially introduced in late October and shipped last month.

For those who missed the release, the new MacBook Pros come in entry-level and premium versions. Both are slimmed-down versions of their predecessors -- essentially a MacBook Pro in a MacBook Air chassis with USB-C ports instead of standard USB -- but the premium model has an integrated Touch Bar OLED strip that takes the place of the old-school function keys at the top of the keyboard.

CNET editor Dan Ackerman gave that MacBook Pro with Touch Bar a 4.5-star rating, calling it a "second-screen dream machine" and thanks to that "smart, useful Touch Bar," the premium model was well worth splurging on over the standard streamlined 13-inch MacBook Pro.

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Apple's Touch Bar is a nice touch, but it'll cost you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's a great machine. I've played around with it. I've touched the Touch Bar. I've looked at this laptop longingly, open and closed. There's only one problem: It starts at $1,800 for the 13-inch model and $2,400 for the 15-inch model, which includes a step-up Core i7 processor and more RAM (16GB) in its base model. It's also worth mentioning that the new entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, sans Touch Bar, starts at $1,500 -- or $200 more than last year's MacBook Pro.

These high prices and some heated debate online over the utility of the Touch Bar may have raised some eyebrows, but Apple managed to put up record sales number during the launch windows.

"We are proud to tell you that so far our online store has had more orders for the new MacBook Pro than any other pro notebook before," Phil Schiller, Apple SVP, told The Independent on November 2.

Not surprising, considering that months of rumors of a pending MacBook Pro redesign left plenty of folks -- like me -- holding off on their MacBook purchases. Demand was sky-high.

(Apple did not respond to CNET's request for follow-up comment on the MacBook Pro's pricing or demand.)

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Select models of the Surface Pro 4 are frequently on sale.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While I was tempted to bite, I didn't. I felt that if I was going to get a new MacBook Pro, I might as well get the one with the Touch Bar because if I got the standard one I thought there'd always be a little part of me that would wish I'd paid a few hundred bucks more and gotten the extra touch strip. Once you're $1,500 in the hole, you might as well go to $1,800, my reasoning went.

But then I thought, "$1,800 is a lot of money, do I really need to spend that much on a laptop?" I'm not a graphic designer. Sure, I might do a little editing of family videos, but on the whole, I'm not doing anything that would tax most current laptops -- why not get a lightweight Windows tablet PC with a full touchscreen interface that costs significantly less? After all, I'm kind of in the market for an iPad, but with prices for iPads also being high, I haven't bothered to buy a new one (I use an iPad Air that was given to my wife as a gift and still works fine). So, why not combine two purchases into one?

Then came Black Friday . Best Buy was selling the entry-level Surface Pro 4 with an Intel Core M3 plus a keyboard for $600. By comparison, Apple's beautifully designed M3-powered 12-inch MacBook, which I also had my eye on, starts at $1,300.

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Apple's super-svelte 12-inch MacBook is powered by an Intel Core m3 chip and starts at $1,300.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I haven't tried the entry-level version of the Surface Pro 4, but I have tried step-up models with Core i5 and Core i7 chips. I like the Type keyboard cover well enough, although my one gripe is that the integrated touchpad isn't nearly as good as the MacBook's (using a wireless mouse or Surface Pen for navigation is my preference). I may be slightly more partial to Mac OS X, but I'm also a little bored with it, and have never had anything against Windows 10 , so it's all good.

Am I open to another tablet PC or lightweight convertible PC (a laptop that converts into a tablet)? Microsoft's Surface Book, for example, or something from Lenovo or HP? Sure, but for the moment I've zeroed in on the Surface Pro 4. It's a mature product, on its fourth iteration with presumably a fifth-generation model coming next year, and there are deals to be had on it.

As part of its 12 Days of Deals US sale, on Thursday, December 8, Microsoft will have the entry-level M3-powered Pro 4 on sale for $649, with a sleeve but no a keyboard cover. And on Friday, December 16, it's offering a $200 discount on select Pro 4 models, with a free Type Cover thrown in. I wouldn't be surprised to see post-holiday sales on select Surface Book Pro 4 models. (Microsoft has different selections of seasonal deals in Australia and the UK.)

I'm not sure that "Apple just handed Microsoft the keys to the kingdom," as my colleague Sean Hollister wrote shortly after Apple first unveiled the new MacBook Pros. But those high prices on MacBooks have certainly opened the door to folks to look elsewhere for a more affordable lightweight laptop that has the added appeal of doubling as a tablet.

If Microsoft could improve its Windows app store -- and by improve, I mean offer a wider range of cheap apps to compete with Apple's huge selection of iOS apps -- it'd be a no-brainer. As it stands, however, depending on the deal you can get, it may be a jump worth making.

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