For years, the Apple MacBook Air has been one of the most desirable computers in homes and on school campuses. Various iterations have won multiple PCMag Editors' Choice awards for ultraportable laptops. The the 13-inch version hasn't been updated since 2015, and that has incoming students and their parents looking at alternatives like the Microsoft Surface Laptop.
Earlier this month, it was rumored that the Surface Laptop would be a Chromebook killer, going after the education market with low-priced units. What we actually got was a third-party Windows 10 S laptop from traditional PC manufacturers like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba. They certainly have the same specs as Chromebooks, including 1,366-by-768-resolution screens, Intel Celeron processors, 4GB of RAM, and a 64GB of eMMC flash memory storage. Priced around $299 with the centrally administered Windows 10 S operating system, these are obviously the systems aimed at supplanting Chromebooks in schools.
The Surface Laptop starts at $999, and comes with more robust components like an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, up to 16GB RAM, up to 512GB SSD storage, and an option to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free. Along with its 13.5-inch screen and comfortable keyboard, these specs line up closer to the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch than any Chromebook.
The 12-inch MacBook is Apple's cheapest up-to-date laptop, but at $1,299 for a system with 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and a lower-powered Intel Core m3 processor, it's simply not in the same sweet spot as the 2015 MacBook Air. We also dinged the MacBook for having only a single USB-C port for charging and data transfer duties and an uncomfortable keyboard. A Surface Laptop with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD has the same $1,299 price tag, but with a much more powerful Core i5 processor.
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As a result, we see the Surface Laptop in the same enviable position as the now-venerable MacBook Air: an aspirational laptop that's reasonably priced, with enough power to do day-to-day tasks quickly with minimum fuss. We have yet to test it in PC Labs, but from its specs, it will likely be a good choice for your high school or college student.
Unless Apple releases a true MacBook Air replacement this year, I foresee lecture halls for the class of 2021 displaying many shiny Surface logos on their laptop lids, gradually equaling or even replacing Apple logos as graduation approaches.
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